[This article was updated in May 2022 in order to keep it remaining relevant and accurate for our readers, as well as reflect our reputation for quality.]
As someone who speaks to experienced professionals every day, I always ask the fundamental question of whether they would consider both client-side and client-facing roles for their next move; the responses I get are mixed.
People with a consulting background usually have a very clear idea of whether they would ever go back into the profession. However, some industry experts who have never worked in consulting have never even considered this as an option. As such, I thought it was time to address this and explain a bit more about whether consulting at a senior level is a good idea if you are coming from a predominantly ‘in-house’ industry background.
Becoming a Consultant: What Does It Involve?
To start with, here are a few things that a typical senior consulting role might entail:
Meeting with clients to define their needs and project deliverables.
Building teams and communicating key project milestones.
Managing the project lifecycle and being the escalation point for all stakeholders, both internally and externally.
Presenting findings and recommendations for actionable results to senior stakeholders.
Potentially managing longer-term implementation projects.
The key skills that candidates may need to be successful include:
Analytical skills that were achieved within a strategic setting such as Consulting, Banking, Private Equity or Corporate Development teams.
Excellent communication skills and the ability to manage multiple stakeholders and build long-lasting relationships.
Leadership skills and the ability to effectively manage teams.
Project management and problem-solving skills.
Gravitas and presentation skills.
When outlined like this, candidates with the in-house industry experience begin to quickly realise just how transferable their existing skillset could be into a generalist consulting role (read more on the transferable skill-set at executive hire). With this in mind, understanding how industry knowledge can be applied to a consultancy which is focused on their sector becomes clearer. So, industry professionals definitely have what we call at Freshminds the “consulting skillset” even if they don’t necessarily describe it in the same terms. (read more about the Freshminds Consulting Skill Set).
Once a candidate understands how to identify their transferable skill-set, there are often obvious concerns and questions about what it means to join the consulting industry. Additionally, more experience will help to strengthen your consulting skills. But is consulting a good career? Here are a few things to bear in mind.
1) Work-life balance
We have all heard at least one terrifying story about the intense working hours suffered by consultants. There is no denying the fact that this is, indeed, sometimes true; when consultants are on a busy project, travel and longer working hours are sometimes required, and 6 am-11 pm is by no means an exaggeration- perhaps even at times representing an easy day! What is important to remember is that this is not the routine for all consultancies all of the time. Also, as a result of consultancies being so aware of this bad press, they often try to overcome the work-life balance stigma.
A lot of these companies have very supportive and collaborative cultures, and in many cases, you can simply ask to travel less, work on a different project or focus on a different sector. It‘s also worth noting that each consultancy is very different in the way that they tackle the work-life balance dilemma with different mechanisms and ways of ameliorating the problems.
2) Perceived seniority
Another concern that often arises when moving into consulting is about candidates losing their perceived seniority. The consulting salary bandings and job titles vary massively from company to company and, as such, we have seen Senior Directors join new consultancies as a Junior Consultant. Even executives and C-suites can join consulting in simple Manager bandings. This isn’t for everyone, and if you are concerned about nomenclature, then this move might not be for you! Retraining a little and taking a hit on seniority can be very important, though, so it’s worth exploring further and making sure you are comfortable with this change.
3) Losing a specialism
Another concept even relatively junior industry professionals are concerned about is if their last five years have been focused on a specialist sector, function or market, how will this translate into the consulting world, and will they have to start again in terms of knowledge building. The great news about this query is that it just depends on what you want.
There are enough boutique consultancies that will want your specialist experience and hands-on knowledge and will, therefore, happily teach you the consulting toolkit. Moreover, they will want to actively leverage this and use you as the credibility they need to tell their clients that although they are a consultancy, they have deeper sector knowledge. As a result, a candidate can fly into high powered client engagements from the get-go if there is a suitable relationship between their specific experience and the clients of the consultancy.
However, on the flip side, we often see candidates from particular industries actively wanting to move sector in order to explore a more generalist pathway. This is also a very valid route, and if you are willing to acknowledge that this may come with a momentary dip in seniority, it can be a great way to broaden your horizons.
What Are the Positive Aspects of Becoming a Senior Consultant?
Working as a consultant can offer a highly fulfilling and dynamic career. Many people who choose this path find it provides:
Clear career trajectory
Training and skill development
Culture and Collaboration
There is a lot to weigh up when considering the move into consulting. However, there is no doubt that industry professionals have the necessary skills to thrive in a consulting environment if they pick their approach carefully.
My advice to experienced individuals who might be thinking about leaving their industry role for a more diverse consulting position is to be confident they have the necessary transferable skills and be patient when looking for a consultancy with a culture that matches their own personality and expectations.
How to Get into Consulting as an Experienced Hire?
Consultants may choose to work on a more flexible path, one that avoids the potential challenges highlighted above. Instead of working for a consulting firm, you can also choose the freelancer path. In this instance, you'll work on a project basis, choosing interim roles that appeal to both your aspirational consultant salary and expertise level.
At Freshminds, we help manage this landscape for our network of consultants. We bridge the gap between your expertise and a myriad of high-profile clients needing additional and interim talent on their teams. Aside from giving you support throughout the interviewing stages, you'll be introduced to our exclusive network that has access to incredible career opportunities and other consultant experts. Find out more about this process and register today.