Consulting Firms Struggle to Keep New Hires Busy Amid Economic Uncertainty

In the fast-paced world of consulting, where recent business school graduates are often seen racing to and from airports,

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practicing presentations, and checking emails late into the night, an unexpected phenomenon is emerging: consultants getting paid to wait. 

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many new consultants find themselves with an abundance of free time due to a lack of client work amidst uncertain economic times. This trend, often referred to as being "on the beach" or "on the bench," is not entirely new to the consulting industry but has become more prevalent and prolonged in the current economic slump.

For young professionals, especially those fresh out of business school, landing a job with prestigious consulting organizations like Bain, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), or McKinsey is a dream come true. These positions come with six-figure incomes, with the median salary for MBA graduates from top schools reaching an impressive $175,000.

Last year, the "Big Three" firms, including Bain, McKinsey, and BCG, further sweetened the pot by raising their base salaries for Graduates to between $190,000 and $192,000, making these jobs highly lucrative. However, this generous compensation does not shield consultants from the challenges of downtime.

Many consultants are finding themselves with unexpected idle hours, filling their time with errands, sleeping, binge-watching TV shows, or even applying for new jobs. One consultant shared their experience of having only two client-facing assignments since the previous fall, resorting to activities like walking, shopping, napping, and streaming entertainment to pass the time.

This phenomenon raises concerns among young consultants about the impact of this idle time on their careers. Consulting jobs are highly competitive and can serve as a stepping stone to lucrative corporate positions or even entrepreneurship. Some worry that extended periods of downtime could negatively affect their performance assessments and long-term goals.

Consulting firms, recognizing this dilemma, have started to take measures to address the issue. For instance, Bain is offering certain new hires the option to defer their start dates and explore other activities while still receiving compensation. These options include working for a nonprofit, going on a safari, or even teaching yoga.

The situation facing these new hires comes on the heels of consulting firms making significant workforce reductions in the previous year. McKinsey, for instance, trimmed 3% of its personnel in an effort to streamline its growing workforce.

In response, consultative approaches to talent management were offered, offering creative solutions to retain and engage their valuable workforce in these unpredictable times.