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For the past year we have been hearing about the new wave of B2B and B2C: “Back to Banking” and “Back to Consulting”. The question on the minds of many EC students is which of these options to go for. Given the weight of this decision in determining quality of life post our HBS honeymoon from the real pressures of work. This article gives you the inside scoop on both banking and consulting. This comes directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. So here is the “honest truth” from someone who has experienced both banking and consulting after an insightful summer experience in the latter.

It’s true that bankers think consultants are a step below even lawyers; that they produce nothing but PowerPoint presentations that are destined for the wastebasket; and that they spend too much time intellectualizing about issues without really providing any definite answers. On the other hand, consultants view bankers as pure number crunchers that are only good at process, something that anybody with a computer can do. The truth? Bankers definitely do have a brain and are asked to use it in their job, and consultants are not all form without substance. This was a somewhat reassuring conclusion of the summer.

Another conclusion of the summer was that the language of these two service industries is very different. Consultants talk about adding value, answering the “so what?” question – discovering if the answer is 1 or 100. Bankers talk about deals, quantifying synergy, and determining whether the value is 99.5 or 100. In an investment bank if you are not 100% right, then you’re wrong. In consulting in contrast, the margin for error is far greater. However, in exchange, in consulting you will have to be up to participating in what may at some points seem like endless debates over the “right” approach with your fellow colleagues so that you can all “learn” and “grow” as an organization.

What about lifestyle then? It would be a gross understatement to say that consultants care a lot more about what they term their key resource – you. Banking pays more, while consulting loves more. Another trade-off.

So which does one go for? Not a very easy question to answer, but hopefully the above very brief categorization of the two will help sort out some of the issues involved. You may be a lot happier staying on the fence than jumping off to one side or the other for now, but keep in mind that decision time is just around the corner.

September 17, 2001
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