Leaving Consulting: The Why, When, How and What For?Navigating Career Transitions

Planes at the airport

You have criss-crossed the country like a presidential candidate ahead of Super Tuesday — Columbus, Kansas City, Tulsa, Des Moines, Omaha, Pittsburgh, and back to Columbus again. The layout of the Marriott Courtyard executive suite is more familiar to you than your own apartment. You are always first on the business class upgrade list. Clients have drunk deeply from the fountain of your infinite wisdom. Your minions across the world salute your intelligence as translate your chicken scratch to slides that will change the course of business history. Its time to take your career to the next level. But what and how?

1. Why Leave Consulting?

There are many excellent reasons to stay in consulting but for most people, it has been designed as a transition career. One that gives you the turbo-boost you need early in your post-college or post-MBA career. The hours are long, and the travel grueling but you make up for it in the chance to work on a range on challenging projects across industries. But as I speak to people who have decided to move on from consulting careers, there are typically 3 key reasons:

  • Lifestyle — especially as you are on the cusp of change in your personal life
  • Long-term career aspirations. At some point, you stop learning a general-purpose skill set and start to train in selling and delivering consulting services, which are less useful if you don’t want to be a lifelong consultant
  • Wanting to take on leadership and operating roles at a corporation. Having given advice to top clients, a few consultants start to feel the itch to be a decision maker instead of an advisor

2. When to Leave Consulting?

Post-MBA, its usually at between year 3 and year 5. At this point, you are potentially senior enough to join a client at a Director level or higher, thereby fast-tracking your corporate career, and it also tends to be the point where people are looking to settle down and choose a less travel-intensive lifestyle. Pre-MBA, it depends largely on whether and when you want to go to business school.

3. How to Leave Consulting?

Most top-tier consulting firms give you “search time” to find your next career, and actively help you land that next gig. So if you are at one of those firms, the question isn’t as much about how to resign, but rather, how to use this search-time well.

The Working with McKinsey blog, has an excellent post on how best to use your search time. There is no one model so you should find what works best for you. If we can offer you two pieces of advice on how to use this time well, it would be to:

  • Make sure to use this time to build new relationships and strengthen old ones, with colleagues, clients and friends. As we go through phases in our careers, its easy to put this off, let the un-replied personal emails pile up and never get around to reconnecting with people we spent a lot of time with, in projects, or in college. These transition windows are precious and are excellent for reconnecting with people
  • In keeping with refreshing your personal network, this is the time to find out whats out there. Read about new careers, speak to people about their companies, industries and jobs and expand your horizons

4. What To Do After Consulting?

This is the hardest question of them all and often leads to people vacillating on the decision to even leave consulting. While it may feel daunting and definitive, you are only really choosing the next stepping stone of your career and approach it as such. The Muse has an excellent list of 5 post-consulting career options. We have some excellent job channels compiled right here to help you browse typical post-consulting career options. And if you browse those lists, you see that the world is your oyster. You can go to corporates, or startups, or non-profits. Most people tend to do strategy roles, but consultants also tend to go on to do sales and business development, equity research, finance roles, investor relations jobs, product management gigs, and so much more. So here are my three rules to figuring out your next move:

  1. Use compensation as your last criteria. Its still a criteria but just defer that until you can broaden your list of potential options. Too often we stumble by going on “median salary ranges” for careers not recognizing that we can tailor our jobs or that economics of a career can change dramatically in some careers as you go from a mid-level role to a senior role
  2. Identify your interests, not your dreams. Do you enjoy working with technology? Do you prefer roles that are project managerial, or ones that are more siloed and specialist. Interests will help you point to what you will enjoy doing every day, all year long
  3. Look beyond silos at companies. If you are interested in shaping strategy, sometimes you need to examine where strategy making happens at different companies. Sometimes the strategy team in an organization is really just the “benchmarking team”. So find out who shapes strategy and how to work there. Same with product management, or design, or financial strategy. Titles and divisions aren’t always what they seem, and they are so often neglected when people do their career diligence

Maybe consulting is your calling after all, or maybe there is a better job for you out there. Either way, make that decision actively and make your career a daily habit. Hope we can help. If you have ideas of job channels that we can add to help your career search, let us know at info@tapwage.com

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Pathfinder Paul is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who discuss career paths and how to navigate important transitions in your career