Deliverable #4: "On the Beach"

What to do when you find yourself in between clients in consulting

[Musical Intro]


Jay: “Welcome to Out of Bandwidth, the podcast guide for future consultants. I’m your host, Jay Alexander, and I’m here with my colleague, Lisa, to share advice and stories about being an analyst at a major consulting firm. Our fourth episode is about being on the beach, aka at home and unstaffed searching for a project.”




Jay: “Lisa, welcome to the show.”


Lisa: “Hi Jay, happy to be here.”


Jay: “It’s good to have you.”


Lisa: “Thank you.”


Jay: “Before we get started with the interview, we’re gonna do your profile. How long have you been with the firm?”


Lisa: “I’ve been with the firm almost three years.”


Jay: “Okay, and how many projects have you been on?”


Lisa: “I’ve been on three projects. Two short projects and then a two-and-a-half-year project.”


Jay: “Wow.”


Lisa: “Uh, not the normal trajectory.”


Jay: “You’re still on that long one?”


Lisa: “Yes, I am.”


Jay: “What type of consulting do you do?”


Lisa: “Yeah, so I’m in the strategy practice at our firm, and I have mainly focused on cost transformation and operating model transformation within our strategic practice.”


Jay: “How many industries have you worked in?”


Lisa: “So I’ve worked in two industries, the first being industrial projects and then I’ve spent a lot of time in the life sciences, which is where my current project is.”


Jay: “Which did you like better?”


Lisa: “Um, they’re both pretty different, but I find that the life sciences is a little bit more easy to relate to because every human has pharmaceutical needs, and I work for, uh, my client is a larger pharmaceutical company.”


Jay: “Okay, okay. Do you have a focus or a target industry?”


Lisa: “Not right now, I’m kind of leaning into the consulting model where you try a lot of different things. And I know I’ve been on one project for a while, but I’ve been within many sectors within that client, and so at least until I consider what’s next, it’s good to explore a lot of options and then I’ll decide.”


Jay: “Sounds good.”




Jay: “Today’s topic is ‘On the Beach.’ First, I think we should define what the beach is, can you help me with that?”


Lisa: “Yes, absolutely. So, being on the beach or on the bench, sometimes it’s called, is when you’re not currently staffed on a project.”


Jay: “And, we should point out, you still get paid.”


Lisa: “Yes, that is a great feature, too. Um, I think one of the most common ways is when you first join the firm. You’re fresh out of training and suddenly you’re on the beach, suddenly you’re available to be on a project. Um, you’re a fresh resource, there’s only so many roles available, sometimes it just takes a little bit for things to line up. There’s that scenario where you’re fresh starting out and you’re on the beach, and then there’s, kind of, later on as you’ve been on some projects. You get some experience and inevitably between projects, you might end up rolling off before you’ve found a new role. And it’s both you trying to find a role that you can take on as well as when projects are looking for new junior staff or staff to fill positions on the team to meet the client deliverables.”


Jay: “A few key words we touched on. Resource is a person?”


Lisa: “Yes, exactly. So like a junior staff, staff member, yourself joining a bunch of other resources to make a team.”


Jay: “Rolling on a starting a project.”


Lisa: “Yes.”


Jay: “And rolling off is leaving a project.”


Lisa: “Yes, exactly.”


Jay: “How does the beach compare to being on the road, as we talked about in the previous episode. That’s your life, usually, but all of a sudden you’re just…at home!”


Lisa: “Um, I personally love it, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who really doesn’t like being home for a week. Uh, I remember my first time being on the beach after a while, I got to go the grocery and buy groceries for an entire week, and put in three meals…”


Jay: “Wasn’t it weird?”


Lisa: “It was amazing!”


Jay: “You have to figure out how to estimate it, though, like we don’t usually buy that much food.”


Lisa: “Yeah, absolutely. I bought more than one apple for my, like, time home. Now that I have some friends outside of consulting, suddenly being able to go to a Tuesday night trivia is a rare occasion, and it’s just a nice break to reset. And even if you love travel, you, eventually it wears on you. So no matter how much you love it, um, so being able to sleep in your own bed…”


Jay: “Yeah, it’s a great time to go the doctor, get an oil change…”


Lisa: “Yes, absolutely. I mean, take full advantage of being home. Even now I get remote weeks occasionally on my project, which we get to be home for a week, and I have, like, dentist, doctor, eye doctor, any possible thing.”


Jay: “Haircut.”


Lisa: “Oh yeah, absolutely.”


Jay: “Be a person.”


Lisa: “Just like, live your life, do your laundry, change your sheets, like appreciate being home.”


Jay: “For the first time in months.”


Lisa: “I mean, if you only sleep in your bed twice a week, you can go awhile.”


Jay: “I wish we were making this up.”


Lisa: “Me, too.”




Jay: “What is the difference between being on the beach and taking vacation time or PTO, personal time off?”


Lisa: “Yeah, so being on the beach you are still an active kind of employee. You’re supposed to still be ‘working.’ Um, and so…”


Jay: “Working. In air quotes.”


Lisa: “The way you define working is a little flexible in that time frame, just because you’re not, obviously working for a specific client. And so there are still things you should be doing, though. Um, previously I’ve used that time to complete all my mandatory training, which is a good time filler. You can also spend some of it networking, trying to find a new project, which could involve calling people, um, introducing yourself to people doing work in industries that interest you. Another thing we do at our firm is, kind of, our internal initiatives, and these fall into a couple different buckets. We have firm-specific things that are related to, either building out internal infrastructure related to our internal operating model, or developing industry expertise. So things like writing…”


Jay: “White papers…”


Lisa: “Yes, exactly. Writing research papers, putting perspectives, um, POVs we call them.”


Jay: “Jumping on proposals…”


Lisa: “Yeah.”


Jay: “Which is how we sell work.”


Lisa: “Exactly. And that’s a great way to get experience and to build your network, because it’s maybe an afternoon or a couple days at a time, sometimes longer. That being said, there are people I helped with proposals who, six months later I could reach back out to and be like ‘Hey, I’m available now. We worked together, you liked my work.’ That’s just a good way for you to build out your network…”


Jay: “That’s true.”


Lisa: “So later down the line you have those resources.”


Jay: “What is an average day like on the beach, what do you do?”


Lisa: “Sure. So, you can either go to your local office or you can stay home. Um, when I first joined the firm I went to office almost every single day. I would be there on a random Tuesday and would see three other people the entire day…”


Jay: “Yeah.”


Lisa: “So I started working from home. Um, so I’d wake up, you know, make some coffee, check your email. Um, you might have proposal work in the morning, turning around some slides, which is processing edits, working on feedback and turning over a new set of slides. I would occasionally go meet friends for lunch, which felt like such a luxury.”


Jay: “That is.”


Lisa: “But you have to take advantage of those opportunities when you get them. Um…”


Jay: “Or happy hour.”


Lisa: “Oh, yes. So the thing that’s nice about the beach is it is very open and you, kind of, can schedule things how you decide to. But it also, suddenly you can have proposal work come up and if you thought you were on the beach and can meet your friends for happy hour, suddenly you get an email that says ‘Hey, jump on a call, we need your help.’ Um…”


Jay: “And you’re like, oops!”


Lisa: “Alright then!”


Jay: “So much for nothing.”


Lisa: “BRB, guys.”


Jay: “What is the craziest thing you’ve done taking advantage of beach time?”


Lisa: “Yes, so I have taken beach time, definitely not from my home city, and sometimes…”


Jay: “So just travel while you’re on the beach.”


Lisa: “Yes, exactly. So I have used beach time as a good opportunity to travel. Um, what I found is so long as you’re still online and working in the right time zone, people don’t really need to know where you are.”


Jay: “That’s true.”


Lisa: “As long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, um, and some cell service, I’ve found you can get more done than you might think in some interesting locations.”


Jay: “And be ready to get on a plane as soon as they ask.”


Lisa: “Yes, and you usually have, you know, until the Monday morning, give or take, but…”


Jay: “That’s fair.”




Jay: “How do you go about searching for a new project?”


Lisa: “So, to get on a project, there are a few different approaches. Networking is key, especially at our firm, um, so that can involve emailing and setting up phone calls with people, often starting with your local office is a great option and starting with your peer group. Your colleagues at your same level can connect you with more leadership that they’ve worked for or that they know, who, as long as you have some sort of connection, they’re usually very receptive. So, when I first started I was emailing, um, mid-level leadership in our local office saying, ‘Hey, we’re both from the same office. I’m new, and I’d love to hear about what you do.’ And usually during that conversation, there’s an opportunity to say, ‘I am looking for a project, if you know of anything, and in the meantime I’m on the beach but available to help with proposals if you need it.’ So, kind of that give-and-take of, I will help you, and maybe you could help me, too, if you found an opportunity. You tell somebody who then, two days later hear that a project’s available and then they get back to you. And so it’s not always instantaneous, but just continuing to do that, as more people know of you, you often see more success in getting opportunities thrown your way.”


Jay: “Let’s move forward a little bit. You’ve been on the beach, you have some opportunities you’ve found. You finally have a call schedule about an opportunity, an opportunity meaning ‘potential role.’ How do you vet that role and how does that conversation go, usually with whoever’s staffing it?”


Lisa: “For sure. So I’ve actually been on both sides of this call, which is an interesting place to be. Um, to get staffed on my current project, I had that exact scenario. I had been talking to somebody and my name got passed forward. Uh, we set up a call. And so, what they’re doing is trying to see your personality, your skill set, how you might fit into the team and deliver the work itself. And then on your end you want to be thinking about, ‘Will I have new experiences here? Will I be doing something I’ve been doing for six months already, or will it be something brand new that gives me new skills and helps me build out something else?’”


Jay: “Now, in your mind, you should probably also think about, where’s the location, what’s the flight schedule? Is there a good hotel, restaurants?”


Lisa: “You know, there are three components: the people you’re working with, the kind of work you’re doing, and the place you’re doing that work. Um, so just thinking about the role itself, the lifestyle of the project, the day-to-day, um, those are the kind of things that can help you decide.”


Jay: “And you should know that, like, any conversation you have with somebody who’s looking, that could be your project as of, like, the next Monday.”


Lisa: “Yes, exactly. Things move super quickly often, because projects can start up unexpectedly and suddenly they need a new resource and so you could get a call. Like, when I was first staffed, I got a ping, an instant message, Friday afternoon, and Monday I was leaving. So, things can happen super quickly so it’s a little bit…”


Jay: “Feast or famine.”


Lisa: “Yes, exactly.”




Jay: “When does the beach get boring?”


Lisa: “Yes, so, you know, one to two weeks on the beach is a great window to give yourself some time to figure out what’s next, and figure out the right role for your next step.”


Jay: “More than that gets kind of old.”


Lisa: “Yes, definitely. Um, that’s when it starts to be a little bit more stressful. Just starts to wear on you, and after a while, you do want to be back out on a client site, um, working with a team. If anything, the biggest thing to be concerned with on the beach is that most firms will have some sort of utilization tracker or metric that measures…”


Jay: “Define utilization.”


Lisa: “Yeah. So utilization is essentially a fraction of time spent working for a client over your total available hours. And so when you’re on the beach, you’re obviously available, but you’re not working for a client. So, if you spend too much time on the beach, that can make your utilization…”


Jay: “Your metrics go down.”


Lisa: “Yeah.”


Jay: “That’s a good point. Lisa, we’re approaching the end of the show. This is always my very last question: what advice would you give to a future consultant?”


Lisa: “I guess the advice I’d give to a future consultant is to (a) make sure that you’ve considered the lifestyle and the style of work and have understood what you want to do with it and, then (b) other thing I’d say is to keep in mind your personal goals as well as your professional goals. And consulting is a great industry for people who want to do a lot of things, and get exposure to many different areas. Just remembering to be intentional and to not get swept up in the opportunities to the point where you’ve forgotten, kind of, the things that you want to do and are still working towards those larger goals.”


Jay: “That’s good advice.”


Lisa: “I try.”


Jay: “Lisa, thank you very much for coming on the show.”


Lisa: “Awesome, thanks so much for having me, Jay.”


Jay: “Thank you for listening. Please be sure to subscribe and give us a rating wherever you get your podcasts. Links can be found at Until next time, this is Jay Alexander singing off. We’ll catch you at the client site.”


[Musical Outro]

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