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Future Proofing a Consulting Career for 2024 and Beyond


A Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association Q&A with Dorie Clark, Instructor of Executive Education at the Columbia Business School.

Dorie Clark, a consultant and keynote speaker, teaches executive education at Columbia Business School.

Dorie Clark, a consultant and keynote speaker, teaches executive education at Columbia Business School.

Dorie Clark has been named three times as one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50. Clark, a consultant and keynote speaker, teaches executive education at Columbia Business School.

She is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Long Game, Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. Magazine. At 18, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College, and two years later received a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School.

Q. With restructurings taking place at McKinsey1 to many of the Big Four consulting firms2 and others, opportunities seem to be contracting for not only students, but also career consultants. Given your work with professional services firms, as well as guest lecturing at Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Wharton, what have been your observations and thoughts about job prospects?

A. Clark: 2024 has been an extremely challenging time given continued layoffs at professional services firms. And the fact that consulting has been one of the preferred destinations for students of top graduate schools of business;* it has been challenging for them given cutbacks in hiring and or delayed start-dates.

*2023’s employment reports of students entering the consulting industry

  • Columbia: 36.3%3
  • Harvard: 25%4
  • MIT: 33.7%5
  • Stanford: 15%6
  • Wharton: 28.8%7

With generative AI and other emerging technologies, they are disrupting this industry in that lower cost commoditized consulting tasks like collating data points from annual reports, creating basic narratives/analysis and preparing PowerPoint slides of such insights can, and are, being automated. For recent college grads earning $100k and doing such work, the uncomfortable truth is that there are now some $20/month subscription services, which are providing valuable content that such consultants are tasked to do.

In turn, it has been interesting to observe some narratives about employees doubling down in gaining “human-centered experiences” for their resumes, but conversations with some of my clients point to how AI can craft sensitive/nuanced emails even around tricky subjects. Now, I’ll caveat this point around the fact that seasoned subject matter experts on a particular subject still need to be sought after for editing such narratives.

The good news for your consulting readership is that human relationships still matter and what generative AI can’t do is land new clients. Rather, human relationships are key as people still buy from people. And if you have deep relationships with existing clients and potential prospects, a sustainable career in consulting is still possible. Having deep relationships and a strong personal branding that others can’t touch will help support a long-term consulting career.

Q. To secure deep relationships and a strong personal branding, what are specific recommendations that you have for current undergraduate and graduate students as well as employed consultants at leading firms?

A. Clark: For these segments, my call to action is you should avoid back-office operations, unless you are digitally transforming the area. To the extent possible, be frontline facing with clients. Not only answer their questions, but also ideate around questions that they have not asked and could generate tangible value for them.

Moreover, create evidence of your ideas and actions by “social proofing” your efforts. Social proofing includes writing intellectual capital, speaking at conferences, and networking within your existing vertical and outside. These steps can help build a strong personal brand so that hiring companies want your specific talents.

Undergraduates: College students should take steps that demonstrate their resourcefulness. This can include college students engaging with faculty members and perhaps organizing an event that addresses a pain point of the faculty member like bringing in speakers and/or participants for a research study. Don’t be afraid to try different things like tapping into simple platforms like YouTube. Consider Broad City, whose humble origins started on YouTube and the critically acclaimed Web series has progressed to Comedy Central as a half-hour scripted series.8 Don’t wait to be discovered, create your own interesting stories.

MBAs and other graduate students: Similar to undergrads, my advice is to demonstrate resourcefulness, but I would also emphasize relationship building. Many MBAs have not tapped into their alumnae/alumni clubs, and I recall reading one article that pointed to how, “…90% of alumni would prefer to hire a fellow alum, yet it happens less than 4% of the time.”9

Still, when you attend such alumni events, be thoughtful about initiating and building genuine connections. At these events, it’s extremely easy for one to become transactional and grabby since you’re striving to get something accomplished in a few hours. Instead, I would argue that it’s recalibrating your mindset to take the long view of your career and perform small things over time to achieve one’s goals. Of equal importance, we need to be persistent and keep at them, even when they seem pointless and boring.10

Finally, for those of you currently working at professional services firms; certainly, you need to learn how to leverage AI effectively. You can’t be a luddite. While we’re in the early innings of AI’s impact on consulting firms, we’re already seeing how hiring of entry-level consultants has been scaled back. Embrace these new technologies to create value for your daily activities so that clients ask for you on billable engagements.

Let me wrap up with one challenge for all existing consultants and would-be ones. Consider how a strong personal brand can provide greater job stability in the future. For me, my first job after graduate school where a surprise layoff occurred, taught me the importance of never allowing myself to be put in a place of vulnerability again.

While students often pursue large consulting firms as a traditional career journey, did you know that 35% of the American workforce, that’s approximately 55 million people, are working as independent workers, including roles as consultants. Take steps today to future proof your career for tomorrow.11

About the Author

Michael Wong is an emeritus board member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.


  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-04-10/mckinsey-begins-hundreds-of-job-cuts-with-client-demand-muted
  2. https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/what-deloittes-overhaul-means-for-the-big-four-the-job-cuts-are-coming-20240321
  3. https://business.columbia.edu/sites/default/files-efs/imce-uploads/CMC/cmc-employment-report-2023-10_accessible.pdf
  4. https://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/employment-data/Pages/default.aspx
  5. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/sites/default/files/2023-12/MBA-Employment-Report-2023-2024_2.pdf
  6. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/2023-12/report-2023-mba-employment-report.pdf
  7. https://statistics.mbacareers.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/Wharton-2023-Career-Report_.pdf
  8. https://www.youtube.com/show/SCAQgSYa2WM3e9K4fFCitN1A?season=1&sbp=CgEx
  9. https://www.alleywatch.com/2015/05/connecting-is-all-about-networking-and-alumnifire-is-about-connecting-with-alums/
  10. The Long Game: How to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world | Dorie Clark (19) The Long Game: How to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world | Dorie Clark - YouTube
  11. How to Future-Proof Your Career | Dorie Clark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6leLPN8ipI&t=6s
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