Career Crossroads: Considerations When Entering and Exiting Management Consultancy

Management consultancy is a fluid industry. The sector has long been characterised by its steep career trajectory and even the somewhat extreme up or out approach to career progression. And whilst there are countless professionals who’ll work their whole career in the sector for many it will simply form an act of their working lives rather than the whole play. Owen Thomas discusses the considerations for consulting professionals on entering and exiting the Management Consultancy arena.

Moving from Industry into Management Consulting

So what are the considerations for those experienced professionals looking to enter the consultancy sector having previously spent time in the industry?  There a number of things management consultancies look to assess when bringing in new talent, including, but not limited to; functional and industry experience, the ability to influence, exposure to a project based environment and, of course, cultural fit. If you’re looking to enter the consulting sector you’ll need to be able to demonstrate those core competencies. It’s also important to consider your entry level because there’s a tipping point. Typically those operating at the top two or three rungs of the ladder in any consultancy organisation will be actively engaged in business development. This isn’t cold-call selling but rather content and relationship led business development. Nonetheless, most people at those grades will carry a formal business development target. For some people, that’s an immediate turn off (more on that later) but it’s also a real blocker to people looking to move into consultancy.

Whilst there are exceptions in areas where there is high client demand and lack of content rich consultants, those joining at the more senior grades will be expected to have a demonstrable track record of business development within the last 1-5 years of your career. If you don’t have this experience it’s possible you’ll find yourself having to take a step back or sideways from a financial and seniority perspective in order to facilitate the step into the sector.

What about the considerations for those consultants looking to move in the opposite direction?

From my experience there are a couple of common themes as to why consultants want to move into industry and they are; wanting to reduce their travel time to client sites and have a guaranteed base location, they’ve reached a level where they are expected to and targeted against business development and don’t enjoy this aspect of the role and finally because they want to see the benefits of their labour come to fruition and see how their projects have added value to an organisation five years down the line.

”The management consultancy sector is a well-oiled machine of career development where you are given increasing exposure and responsibilities and the financial reward to boot”.

Just as there are windows of opportunity for joining consulting so too are their considerations for exit points. The management consultancy sector is a well-oiled machine of career development where you are given increasing exposure and responsibilities and the financial reward to boot. It is not unusual for consultants to be better remunerated than their peers of similar tenure in the industry. There is an even steeper ascent at the more senior grades. This doesn’t always map across to industry rules so people can often be asked to take the party or retrograde steps when it comes to financials.

It’s also worth acknowledging the scarcity of some industry roles and the cultural impacts of hiring. Whilst some consulting service lines will develop deep specialisations (e.g. People & Change and CFO Advisory) others, such as Strategy and Operations, develop a much broader skill set where adaptability is built on a bedrock of consulting skills. It can, therefore, be difficult for consultants to find line roles in the industry outside of the transformation and programme management functions. The key here ultimately boils down to timing. Consultants may have to flex their career timetables to match market opportunity. This is also true in the more senior grades. Organisations often value senior executives who are embedded in the business and understand its culture and working mechanisms. As a result, senior consultants can find roles of suitable seniority in short supply.

Ultimately management consultancy will continue to be seen as an attractive career option, be it as a long term home with the ultimate goal to make Partnership, or, as a building block as part of a wider career objective. It’s important for anyone considering a role in consulting to think about those windows of opportunity for entry and indeed exit from the industry.

If you are thinking of changing career direction in consulting get in touch with Owen Thomas for a confidential discussion – Owen Thomas  on +353 1 661 0444 or 

Donal Whelan avatar
Managing Director
+353 1 661 0444