This summer, I’ve ventured into consulting as a Decision Analytics Associate Intern at ZS. Over the course of the internship, I’ve enjoyed the vibrant downtown San Mateo location. Along with a building in South San Francisco, these twin locations form the “San Francisco” office, one of many that ZS has across the world.
A lot of people ask me about what exactly I do, or how consulting works. The brief overview (from my perspective at ZS) involves tackling issues companies are struggling to solve, either because the company doesn’t have people who can figure out good solutions to this particular challenge or because the company wants an unbiased perspective on the issue. Management consultants at ZS rise through the ranks with the following hierarchy: Associate, Associate Consultant, Consultant, Manager, Associate Principal, and Principal. As a Decision Analytics Associate Intern, I’m trusted to do the more quantitative parts of consulting projects, but also have the skills to present quantitative info in an easily understandable and concise manner.
Here’s a sample day in the life of my management consulting internship:
7am: My phone alarm rings, and I wake up. I throw on some gym clothes, sling on my backpack, and carry my business casual attire out the door.
7:30am: I arrive at work, then walk across the street to exercise at Equinox. ZS is doing a challenge called “Project Run” over the summer, so I get free access to all the swanky amenities for a couple months.
8:15am: I finish my workout, then go enjoy a nice shower (Equinox has this great coconut shampoo, and warm towels). I change into a typical consultant’s business casual attire (today, I’m wearing a dark blue striped shirt, black slacks, and nice black shoes), and head off to work.
8:30am: I sit down at my desk. Even though you can book any space available on the floor, people tend to gravitate towards one desk over time, and I have made this desk my own. Working from the top floor of the building comes with great views – you can see planes coming in to land at SFO, and really scenic views of the Bay.
8:45am: After catching up on the main things needed for the day, I get some breakfast from the open kitchen. They’ve stocked avocados today, so I grab one, along with a couple pieces of whole wheat bread, and make a millennial staple: avocado toast.
10:30am: I send some slides I’ve been working on, along with the Excel sheet I’ve done calculations in, to the Associate and Consultant on my team for QC (quality control). I get on a call with the Associate about the next thing we should proactively work on (he’s onsite with our client at the moment), and start pulling some research to aggregate.
12pm: There’s a Lunch and Learn today, featuring another “space” in the Summer Space Series. At ZS, a “Space” is a way that projects are grouped. An extremely large client can be a Space itself, and the three broad areas these Spaces cross into are Biopharmaceutical, Medical Products & Services (MPS), and Priority Industries (PI). People from across the office gather to eat the catered lunch (bento boxes today) and watch the presentation going on in our sister location, South San Francisco, via livestream.
1pm: The Lunch and Learn is over, so we head back to work. ZS has a fractional staffing model, which means that your time is often split between multiple projects. Although I’m officially staffed on only one project right now, I’m do some work on another understaffed project that I volunteered to help out.
3pm: the Associate and Consultant on my main project have returned from their on-site work. Another perk of ZS is its low/no travel ethos – most clients are close to ZS locations. We set aside an hour to debrief the next steps of the project and do a working session together. I book Half Moon Bay (a conference room – they are all named after famous natural areas in California), hook up my computer to the screen, and go over what I’ve been working on. I pass the HDMI cable, and we start to discuss the major things our client has asked of us.
4pm: We wrap up the meeting, and I go back to my desk to work on my part of today’s tasks – some ad-hoc slides our client wants before her presentation to her boss’s boss tomorrow.
6:30pm: I meet with the Consultant on my team to QC my slides. He points out an error I have made on my slide: one number is double the amount it should be. I check my Excel workbook, find the error, and correct it. ZS believes in delivering 100% accuracy, but mistakes do happen. The trick is to make sure everything’s good before sending it over to clients, and always work on improving your ability to self-QC your work. Before coming into the meeting, for example, I caught two other mistakes I had made in the calculation process, as well as one formatting error (everything on the slide was in Arial font, except for one small text box with Calibri font).
7pm: My meeting wraps up, the slides are good, and the Consultant sends the end-of-day email to our client. I grab my backpack and head home.
7:30pm: I put my stuff down, and throw my gym clothes into the hamper. I grab ingredients out of the fridge, pour a little olive oil into a pan, and whip up a glazed honey garlic salmon, served on a bed of spinach. Since I like to cook, making dinners like these is rewarding after a day at work, not another chore.
9:30pm: I unlock my violin case, rosin my bow, and practice a string trio that I promised to play for the upcoming ZS talent show with a couple colleagues (one of them, a Manager, is a very good violist). I take some time to work through a particularly challenging part, going slowly to improve my intonation and phrasing.
10:45pm: I’ve long since put my violin back and started browsing the Internet. I research a couple things that popped into my head today, like the state of bike and scooter sharing economy startups in SF, but also enjoy scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds, where dozens of my classmates pop up in photos around the world, enjoying vacations before they go to work in the fall.
11pm: Time to sleep. I turn off the lights, set my alarm for 7:00am sharp, and snuggle under the covers.
That wraps up one day in my life as a management consultant, but days can vary wildly. During one particularly challenging day, I came into the office before 8am and left at 10:30pm. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been out the door at 5pm a few times. I’m salaried, so the amount of hours doesn’t really matter; you put in the effort needed, and people at ZS don’t believe in staying late just to look like you’re busy.
As the summer comes to a close, I’ve gained an appreciation for the work that goes into consulting. Although I came into it hesitant at what seemed to be the “mainstream” path for people from my academic background to follow after college, I now consider consulting to be an interesting potential pathway to follow after I wrap up my Master’s this year.