Lesson 3: Consulting equipment
Suit / Dress
Wearing suits is still the standard in consulting. Although you always want to adapt your own clothing style to your client, you are guaranteed to regularly wear suits as a strategy or management consultant. Here are a few tips you should consider regarding your suits:
– When you start, you should have at least two suits. Most consultants travel with two suits (always wearing one of them) and switch them on a daily basis. This approach has many advantages: First, you will always have a spare suit in case something happens to the suit you are wearing – this is especially relevant when traveling every week. Second, by switching between two suits on a daily basis, you allow the fabric enough time to get fresh again. Third, you have a suit to wear once you have to bring the other one to the dry cleaner. Some stores will offer a pair of two trousers for one suit. This is also a great option as trousers tend to need cleaning / refreshing quicker than the suit jacket.
– In terms of colors, go for rather dark and elegant tones like a dark grey or dark blue. Don’t go for the black suit (this one is for funerals) or other colorful options. Basically, you want to look stylish but not flashy.
– In terms of quality and price, you should aim at least for a medium quality suit. Don’t buy a cheap suit for under 300 USD. Remember, the client will most probably pay a four digit daily rate for you and you won’t be able to build a good reputation if you look cheap. However, this definitely doesn’t mean you have to invest thousands of dollars in a suit. Go for the popular brands and spend at least 500 USD per suit and you should be fine.
The female business dress code brings a lot more flexibility compared to the standard “suits only” style of male consultants. The most formal dressing form for women is the female suit, either with trousers or skirt. However, many female consultants like to wear business dresses or combine different blouses with skirts. Women also have a lot more flexibility in terms of colors besides the formal dark blue and grey tones – if you aim at looking formal and elegant you will always be fine.
In terms of shoes, you want to go for a pair of high quality welted shoes with a leather sole. I personally prefer black shoes as they fit well with all suit colors, however if you prefer blue suits, you can also go with dark brown leather shoes. Most consultants switch between two pairs of leather shoes during a week. However, if you are short on budget, one pair will be enough until you receive your first pay check. If weather isn’t always great in your country, it can be advisable to ask your local shoemaker to add a really tiny rubber sole under your shoes, so they work better with rain and snow. An even more effective method is to use galoshes (see below).
You want to go for elegant looking ballerinas or pumps. Always travel with at least two pairs, as shoes tend to brake easily especially when traveling and you don’t want to be stuck on the client site with only one pair of shoes with a broken heel.
This is one of my absolute favorites I don’t want to miss on any business trip. If you have never heard about galoshes, basically it is a rubber cover for your leather shoes. You can easily pull them over your shoes when you leave the office and have to walk through wet streets or snow. This will keep your leather shoes and your feet dry and clean. At the same time, galoshes significantly increase the lifetime of your expensive leather shoes. I really recommend galoshes to everyone who likes to walk back to the hotel in the evening or travels a lot in cold or rainy weather.
I recommend you to buy at least 10 shirts. The calculation is simple: Basically you will need 5 shirts per week so this leaves you with one week for your dry cleaner to take care of your shirts. Most consultants prefer white shirts, but you can also go for light blue colors. You should definitely avoid to buy very colorful shirts. Also, go with the standard collar shapes like kent.
In recent years, the importance of wearing a tie has decreased substantially. However, especially if you are new on a project, you should bring one or two ties just in case. Especially when dealing with very senior clients, you might want to wear a tie. Again, try to select elegant ties and not very colorful ones. Don’t go for pure red ties, as they are perceived to be reserved for bosses.
You should buy a proper leather belt in the same color as your shoes.
2) Drugs, food & medicine
Transparent drug case
This is really a favorite among consultants. Since you will usually travel only with hand luggage, in most countries you will be required to put your liquids into a transparent 1 liter bag whenever you want to take a plane. Consultants like to buy a rather robust version of this transparent bag and keep a separate set of drugstore products in their luggage. You can save yourself a lot of time if you don’t need to pack and unpack all your drugstore products every week and instead leave a separate collection in your luggage over the weekend.
I recommend you to prepare a dedicated medicine bag. No worries, you typically don’t need a first aid kit when traveling as a consultant, however just like with your bag for liquids, it’s recommended to have a second little bag with all the medicine you need to take regularly, as well as some standard products. The list below will give some guidance on standard medication you should always have with you just in case:
– Pain relief
– Fever medicine
– Medication for stomach problems
– Medication for sore throat
– Cough medicine
Additionally, I personally always have some vitamin products with me to help me in case I feel like I’m getting sick.
Especially if you start in consulting straight after university, chances are high, you are used to being able to get food whenever you need. When working as a consultant, continuous access to food is sometimes not that easy. Some clients simply don’t have any option on site to buy food. Also, sometimes it can get very busy on a project and you might need to finish a presentation before being able to head for lunch or dinner. If you can’t work well on an empty stomach, you should always try to have some emergency solution with you. Popular among consultants are cereal bars and nuts.
Ohropax are always great if you need to decrease the noise around you. Whether you want to sleep on the plane, need to concentrate in a busy team room or your hotel is right next to the train station.
As a consultant, your cabin luggage will be your constant companion. You will need to store everything you need for the week in it and will walk hundreds of kilometers together with it. Therefore, I recommend you to invest in a high quality cabin luggage. You don’t want your 50 USD cabin luggage to break down in the middle of the project. Most consultants go with high-quality brands like RIMOWA, TUMI or HORIZON. Ideally, it should have four roles, a strong frame and a dark or aluminum color.
Laptop / office bag
Most firms will provide you with a cheap laptop bag when you join. However, I recommend you to buy a proper laptop bag that is a little more practical and good looking. The case should definitely have a few separate pockets with a good system to organize all your stuff. Also it should definitely have a strap on the back to attach it to your cabin luggage. Again, if you are on a tight budget in your first months this is definitely not a must, since your firm will provide you with a cheap bag on your first day.
Laptop & smartphone
Your firm will provide you with a laptop and smartphone on your first day. These really are your most important tools when working as a consultant so make sure you get everything ready to work.
Something some firms don’t give you unless you ask them is a privacy screen for your laptop. You really want to have a privacy screen with you if you want to work in public places like on the airplane or when waiting in the lounge. Confidentiality is always an important topic in consulting, so be aware and use a privacy screen whenever you work in a public space.
Separate charging cable
Just like with your medicine and liquids, you should have a dedicated charging cable for your phone in your laptop bag. You want to minimize your packing every Sunday and forgetting a charging cable can happen quickly and will be super annoying. In most cases, your firm will be able to provide you with an extra set of cables.
Noise canceling headphones
Noise canceling headphones are an absolute must for all consultants traveling a lot. Especially on flights and in loud environments, these headphones can really make your busy life as a consultant a little more peaceful. The most popular model among consultants are the Bose QuietComfort headphones. These are great if you just want to relax or concentrate on the 6am morning flight.
A bluetooth presenter is not required from the beginning on, but most consultants will buy one within their first years. They are rather cheap and really help when presenting in front of clients. Some firms will provide you with a presenter if you ask them, so try that before buying one yourself.
A mobile wireless speakerphone is another great tool most firms won’t buy for you, but which is totally worth the money. They build up a wireless connection to your phone and you can use them whenever you want to attend a telco together with colleagues and do not have a proper conference system in place. Since most project team rooms won’t have a proper telephone, the mobil speakerphone will make telcos much more convenient compared to switching your iPhone on loudspeaker. I have one myself and so far on every project my colleagues were super happy with this little gadget.
While this one is optional, it becomes more and more popular among consultants and you should definitely consider buying an Apple Watch when starting out as a consultant. Smart watches and especially the Apple Watch can make your life as a consultant a lot easier. It will notify you silently in case of any new calls, messages, meetings or emails and you can get a quick sense about the urgency of notifications and messages without being required to look at your phone all the time.
Ask your firm for a display adapter for your laptop. Every client has a different projector and you want to be able to connect to all different kinds of adapters in case you want to present something. For example, there are adapters that will enable you to transform the HDMI plug from your laptop into VGA or other common connectors.
Almost every firm has a dedicated material room where you can find all writing tools you will need (e.g. notepads, pens). Try to find that room within your first days and always have enough writing material with you on projects. You should have an organized-looking notepad to take dedicated notes as well as some scribbling paper.
Once you onboard the firm, make sure you order your personalized business cards. You should always have them on you and be able to hand them out whenever you meet a new client.
Something most consultants have at home is a special steamer for suits. These are great for getting your suits back into shape after a busy work week and you don’t need to bring your suits to the dry cleaner that often.