Transition from Management Consultancy to Industry
By Dominic Moore
Tim Carroll and Dominic Moore, of 325 Consulting, conducted interviews with professionals in Australia that had transitioned from management consulting into industry. The interviewees had transitioned to companies in a diversity of industries including retail, media, technology, financial services and industrials. The most recent transition was 6 months prior to the interview.
There has been lots of research conducted and content produced about the transition into management consulting but not much published on the converse. This whitepaper has been created to: Help consultants better understand the decisions and factors surrounding a transition into industry Help industry executives attract and retain from a rich talent pool of consultants looking to move into industry It captures the perspectives of those who have already made the transition to industry.
The Migration – A well trodden path
For as long as the best and the brightest young guns have been striving for the opportunity to work in the illustrious management consulting industry, management consultants themselves have been considering their next steps. Equipping professionals with a formidable strategic toolkit and supreme critical thinking, consulting is a powerful springboard into any corporate role, in any industry. However, the fears and hopes associated with the decision to leave this familiar environment are complex and the challenges, real.
Whilst former consultants rarely regret their decision to move into industry, many wished they had possessed a better knowledge of the resources available to support them. At 325 Consulting, we knew we were in a unique position to capture one of the most important resources of all – a collection of the perspectives of those who have made the transition. With this paper, we hope that organisations that are hiring and individuals embarking upon this welltrodden path can be informed, enlightened and above of all, guided by their stories.
Insight #1 Pre-move
Management consultants are almost always open to, if not seeking, “the next thing”
The average tenure held in corporate roles is on the decline and the statistics clearly show the impermanence with which roles are increasingly viewed by professionals of the up-and-coming generation. That said, management consulting seems to be in a league of it’s own. For most, management consulting is seen as a stepping stone or a springboard into the next opportunity.
All of those interviewed acknowledge the rapid up-skilling they experienced whilst in their former roles but 84% claim that they were passively open to or actively seeking new opportunities from day 1, even for postgraduates. Whilst transience can be correlated with the types of individuals that enter consulting, not simply caused by it, the fact remains that “career consulting” is seen to be attractive to a select few.
"The desire to leave can be building up for a long time, years even, but you often don’t have the time to think or consider life outside your project.”
Most consultants interviewed see their consulting careers as a collection of phases, with clear entry and exit points. These can be broadly categorised by, but not limited to, points of:
Achievement such as reaching a promotion or achieving a big client success
Change in personal life such as a sick parent or the birth or a child
Adversity such as trying to go for a manager promotion and realising the risk reward does not stack up or getting “smashed” on a case
New opportunity a job offer comes across their table
Reflection such as a holiday, LOA, reaching a certain depth of expertise or simply looking at the people around you and realising that you were no longer on the right path.
Insight #2 Pre-move
Greater perceived “life balance” is one of the key pull factors to industry
Virtually all respondents noted the same reasons, in varying degrees, as to the factors that pushed them out of consulting and the forces that pulled them into industry, and it was almost always a combination of the two.
Every professional interviewed calls out the sheer effort required to keep up with the unrelenting pace of consulting. The “constant travel and lack of visibility” were initially sustainable but quickly became out of hand. The inability to see recommendations through was considered deeply unsatisfying for most and the sentiment usually compounded over time.
“There was a sense in consulting that everyone lived and breathed work – I didn’t want that.”
Former consultants are largely aligned on the perceived drawcards of industry. Almost all consultants were attracted by the opportunity to see implementation through (with the exception of strategy roles in some cases). Industry has a reputation for better worklife balance, stability and visibility. This pull factor gained strength in the middle and upper echelons. Many consultants also wanted to explore specialising in a passion of theirs such as technology or consumer.
Many consultants also craved the ability to form, deeper, more meaningful relationships. Interestingly, money was rarely a key driver; for most it was a hygiene level factor. At the lower echelons, feeling underpaid for the effort required was a moderate theme.
Insight #3 Pre-move
Consultants utilise 4 key channels to find new opportunities
Over the course of their consulting stint, many former consultants interviewed underwent longterm passive searching, for example, “exploring and considering life on the other side of the fence” amidst their day-today interactions with clients. This pre-research undertaken by 53% of interviewees, formed the foundation for the active search that entailed sometime later.
Before engaging in the “real search”, professionals usually outlined a broad set of role criteria for which they were solving, derived from the push/pull factors they had defined in their own minds. On average, consultants spent between 1 month and 1 year actively searching. In addition to speaking to individuals at a new potential employer, consultants engaged various combinations of 4 key resources:
Desk research: One of the first activities undertaken by 47% of respondents was to get a list of the top players in a geography or an industry and from there narrow down choices based on other criteria
Alumni: The source of knowledge and insight most frequently and commonly drawn upon was alumni. “Speaking to alumni that had recently left – very helpful as the transition is still very fresh in their minds”
Search firms: 89% of individuals actively engaged search firms and one individual quotes that “headhunters really helped me understand that step and the options I would have.”
Clients: A lot of people were subconsciously considering what it would be like to work on the other side of their client and often instigated discussions.
Insight #4 Pre-move
Preconception of omnipresent red tape within large corporations
With any large transition, there comes an array of fears and anticipated challenges. Management consulting is a unique microenvironment with its own processes, culture, mindset and even language. The decision to leave its parameters can be daunting. In fact, the fears outlined below have admittedly paralyzed consultants out of action for months, sometimes years. Conversely, several say they didn’t perceive any challenges but all of them say that that was naïve in hindsight.
63% of consultants were worried about their lack of functional expertise and an associated fear of “where do I fit in?”. Secondly, there is a general perception of the prevalence of red tape within industry. Furthermore, consultants had a preconception that everything moves slower because you do not have a mandate from the top as you’re not getting paid a huge amount of money.
“I knew that I was stepping down in terms of the level of conversation I would be having, visibility and strategic importance to the company.
Insight #5 Post-move
Biggest challenge: learning how to get things done
The fears consultants had before the transition were reasonably diverse but the reality of the challenges experienced turned out to be quite different. However, there are striking similarities in what they found.
Consultants took anywhere from several weeks to 2 years to feel settled in with an average around 6 months. One of the most prevalent challenges that ex-consultants say they confronted is “learning the mechanics of driving change for the business”.
“It took me 3 months to feel settled...1 year to feel at home, 2 years to feel really embedded”
One consultant captures a widespread sentiment about bureaucracy with: “Red tape exists not because I don’t have access to a senior audience, because I do, but simply because it’s a large organisation”. Many felt that “It’s not just enough to have an idea and frame it well, like it is in consulting, you need to know how to communicate that effectively to induce action. That’s the key difference.” Some consultants even found it hard to settle into lighter workload. One individual recalls coming home for months and thinking “what do I do now? I should be busy. I feel like I’m slacking”.
Unfortunately, some professionals did not gain the change in pace or lifestyle they sought out. One individual argues “you will bring yourself to your new role... the passion, commitment, drive, workaholic nature it comes too”.
Insight #6 Post-move
Coming back? Probably not but never say never
No respondent regretted his or her move. Many would have liked to consider the decision more thoroughly, engaged a search firm earlier to understand their options or talked to more people. Most former consultants lament the quality of people, as one exPartner quotes “I miss the pipeline, the machine around the pipeline, the ability to delegate work and know that in hours it will be done to a high standard.”
“I miss the wining, dining, the drivers, flying across the country for an offsite, the budget, the platinum status – but it’s not enough to get me back now.”
Insight #7 Post-move
Listen. Learn. Observe.
As a consultant, the nature of your work conditions you to walk into businesses with a conscious or subconscious belief that “I’m smarter, faster, better, brighter. Leave it to me”. The primary advice dealt by interviewees is that this attitude simply does not fly. When going into your new corporate role “you must listen, learn and observe what is going on, how people and process work – for months”.
Getting a deeper glimpse into the thought process and psyche of the former management consultant, we can infer that the notion of always looking for new opportunities is more pervasive here, than in almost any other industry.
There are benefits reaped, skills acquired and lessons learned in both management consulting and industry. Should I move? When is the right time to move? To which company should I move and into which role? It is clear that these are tough questions with no clear answer. What we do know is that there are a plethora of people and resources to support you in this decision and transition. This document will serve you as good starting point