So, you’ve put in the hard yards for a couple of years (or more) at a consultancy, what happens if you decide you no longer want to be a consultant?
Welcome to the world after consulting.
It’s very common for consultants to decide they don’t want to work their way up the consulting ladder to be a partner and exit after a few years. The good news is that consulting is a great springboard for other careers. The path after consulting is wide and varied and really depends on your personal preferences.
Many consultants apply to a business school to do an MBA after a couple of years, and for some firms, this is widely encouraged – and necessary in order to progress further. Many firms will subsidise your studies on the proviso that you return and work with them for a few years. While doing an MBA is a common choice, if you’re doing further study in order to switch careers, you may also consider doing a PhD or Masters.
Sick of being at the beck and call of your client? Why not become the client instead! This is the most common track for consultants and allows you the chance to specialise in a particular industry that you’re interested in. In fact, most corporates are constantly on the lookout for talented consultants, after all, consultants are known for their problem-solving skills, hard work ethic and ability to effectively communicate. It’s common for consultants to be poached by clients to work on their side of the fence! The great thing about working at a corporate is that the work-life balance is often much better – shorter hours, more stability and an opportunity to develop a specific set of skills, for example, running your own P&L. The trade-off is potentially reduced pay, limited career progression and being pigeonholed into specific projects.
Alternatively, you may be interested in working for a startup rather than a large corporate. If you’ve got an entrepreneurial streak, working at a startup gives you an opportunity to help build a business from the ground up. You may join a startup as head of business development or in a strategy or organisational role. Startups are often notorious for their long hours and demanding pace, as well as much lower pay in exchange for equity (and hopefully a bigger payoff in the future!).
This option is similar to joining a corporate or startup. Only in this instance, you may be extra motivated by ‘doing good’ – after all, who wouldn’t be motivated by seeking to reduce child mortality rates, increasing access to education or improving water sanitation in developing countries. You may decide to join an independent not-for-profit such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or a non-profit consulting firm closely linked to a traditional consultancy, for example, McKinsey’s Touch Foundation or Bain and Company’s Bridgespan. Of course, the trade-off factor for feeling good is reduced pay and lower working conditions.
Love the idea of influencing public debate, developing public policy or affecting the lives of millions nation-wide? Joining the public sector or government may be another way to ‘do good’. From health to education, transport and defence, we know of ex-consultants who have gone to join government departments in areas that they are particularly passionate about.
Alternatively, if you love the cut and thrust of politics, you may consider joining a political party or working for your local federal or state member. This is a great way to get a taste of what it’s like to advise on political matters, and you may even have an opportunity to work on an election campaign.
Unlike the US though, in Australia, it is more challenging to move between the public and private sectors with ease. The private sector may not appreciate your public sector experience, so you may find if you do want to come back to corporate or professional services, you may be at similar level to where you were previously.
We often see consultants become investment bankers and vice versa. Sharing a similar skill-set (hello, excel and powerpoint), consultants can be a great fit for jobs in asset management and equity research.
Private equity, venture capital and hedge funds are also other common landing pads for consultants. Entry into these fields can be challenging, given their relatively small size, and these firms may often prefer those with finance experience. A typical path into a hedge fund, for example, is through investment banking or after an MBA. The best approach is to focus on firms or funds where your skills as a consultant may be sought out such as market analysis or operational due diligence.
Want to be your own boss? Running your own show has many benefits – greater flexibility, autonomy and a chance to create something of your own. The flipside, as many a business owner will tell you, is that the work never seems to stop. But if you love what you do, you may not mind! Plus, as a consultant, you will have been exposed to many industries, organisations and networks, not to mention, an ability to problem solve and recommend optimal solutions – all very handy when you’re trying to start your own business.
An alternative is to become a freelance consultant – as we saw in the Consulting Overview. With a few years of consulting under your belt, this is an increasingly viable option. Be warned though, stepping out as a contractor may mean limited career progression and may be difficult to progress beyond the level you left your consultancy.