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  Imagine being several years into your management consultancy career and having to start over from scratch.
Consulting-Times E-zine
Having to compete at interview to win your place, then being thrown in the deep end on your first assignment, without any prior experience relevant to the task. This was the image that sprang to mind as we watched Serco consultant Rob Archer face the challenge of Channel 4’s Faking It programme this week.

Regular readers will recall that last year we ran an article encouraging consultants to contact Faking It’s programme makers – as they were in the process of shortlisting Management Consultants to appear in the new series. Over 100 of you responded in total – from the likes of McKinsey, Accenture and PwC; together with dozens of consultants from smaller firms.

From a shortlist of 20 high-flyers, 31 year-old bachelor Rob Archer was selected after acing a phone interview and a filmed interview with the director and producer of the show.

That in itself was no mean feat, but at this stage Rob was like a fresh recruit turning up for his first day at work. He hadn’t a clue what challenge the programme makers had devised for him, and arriving for the show in suit and tie he was greeted…

…by a dog trainer! Four weeks on, he was to perform a dance routine at a Crufts-like dog show – with a stray dog that hadn’t undergone so much as a day of training. How’s that for a first assignment?!

Now in his everyday life, Rob works for the consulting firm Serco, advising senior civil servants and Government ministers how to get the best out of their departments. So why on earth had the Producers chosen a Consultant for this particular task? According to Rob, “The programme makers wanted to test whether core consultancy skills – ie. the ability to really listen, to ask the right questions, to work out a solution quickly and to get the thing done would translate into a completely different environment / challenge. I hope to have done this to some extent and also to have shown a 'human' side to consultancy – which perhaps sometimes the media does not reflect?!”

Fortunately for us all, this is the impression that came across. Media Guardian have reported the show attracted some 3 million viewers – up 10% on the previous episode – and that’s before Wednesday’s showing on E4 is taken into account. So hopefully Rob’s charismatic performance will have won over a fair few of the profession’s critics. Asked how Rob had managed to pull through in the seemingly impossible challenge, trainer Mary Ray commented “Rob pulled it off because he was able to appear confident despite being nervous underneath”. A lesson for new consulting recruits everywhere!

The value of taking time off from consulting

On a more serious note, the show has also highlighted the value of taking time out from your consulting career. Many of the major consultancies – including the likes of Bain and Accenture – have for some time allowed consultants to take a break from their careers and embark on a period of “recharging”, working on charity assignments or in a start-up venture.

Rob’s experiences have been very similar. Although this wasn’t his reason for taking part in the show, returning to work with a new perspective and fresh momentum has certainly been one of the upsides of the month-long experience:

“Re. time off – I wasn't looking to recharge or feeling run down at the time, but I do think that anything like this which brings another perspective to your life is positive. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the world of consultancy and to think that that's all there is to life. This sort of challenge keeps you humble and grounded, and makes you realise what a big and diverse world there is out there… So, definitely recommended.”

With employee retention becoming a major concern for senior management, consultancies could be more receptive to you asking for time out. Rob was pleasantly surprised by the reaction of management at Serco when he put in his request for time out to film Faking It

“The reaction of Directors here was very positive and very supportive – I was on the clock so was expecting (and would have understood) a negative reaction. However I explained what it was about, that it was a great opportunity both personally and for the firm, and to my amazement – and to their credit – the Directors agreed.”

As for the show itself, if you missed it you can revisit this episode by clicking here to visit the Faking It site. If you saw the show and are interested in finding out more about Rob’s experiences, or about his employer Serco, email: [email protected]
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