CEO and President of ECA Partners, Ken Kanara, discusses a career in consulting with expert guest Sean Wheeler in the Beyond Consulting episode titled “Changing Consulting Firms.” Ken and Sean – who spent nearly his entire career in consulting – discuss the motivations behind each of Sean’s career moves, considerations for staying in consulting long-term, and possible career trajectories after a career spent as a consultant.
Sean began his career working at an investment bank before completing his MBA in London. After earning the MBA, he started his journey into management consulting by joining EY and eventually moving to Deloitte. Later, he spent a number of years at Booz Allen Hamilton as a Partner and also spent time as a Senior Partner at Kearney before joining Stanford University as a Fellow.
There were many things that Sean loved about consulting: the team dynamics, multi-faceted problems, and a variety of clients and workstreams. Ultimately, he found the work rewarding and engaging enough to make a career out of consulting.
On the podcast, Ken and Sean dive into 5 questions consultants should ask themselves when evaluating their career paths:
1. Large firms have concrete career trajectories but, would you give that up for more autonomy over project selection?
With clearly outlined performance expectations and timelines, the predetermined career paths at large consulting firms have their advantages. The steps you need to take to advance your career are plainly outlined. However, Sean explains that this predictability comes with a price: you’ll likely be asked to do a very similar type of work repeatedly. Although Sean does highlight that the larger firms do seem to be opening more doors/opportunities for their consultants and he expects that trend to continue.
2. Do you love the problem-solving aspects of consulting, but want to be around to see the results of your labor?
Management consultants bring immense value to their clients, but they are often not around long enough to see the results. At ECA, we find that many management consultants are motivated to leave consulting because they are hungry for ownership and want to enjoy the fruits of their labor more directly. If you are eager to truly own the results of your work, Ken and Sean recommend taking a look at industry roles.
There are a number of possible routes available to consultants, and the nature of consulting itself provides many opportunities for exposure to corporate teams (you get to see several different types of jobs as a consultant as you work with clients).
Also, the management consulting skillset makes consultants an asset to a variety of teams. In Why Consultants Make Great Project Managers, Ken discusses why the consulting toolkit works well in product roles – a career we find many consultants interested in, but unsure whether they are a strong fit.
3. Are you finding the type of work you’re doing interesting?
Whether it’s CDD, IT transformation, M&A, PMI, etc., you need to find your work fascinating if you are going to stay in consulting for the long haul. Sean advises not to be afraid of lateral moves to other consulting firms as different firms specialize in various types of work. Thus, lateral moves provide two potential benefits: 1) an increased skillset and 2) a broader network of clients.
4. Want to grow a company but are hesitant to leave consulting?
During the episode, Ken and Sean recount their multiple consulting projects around the world. Sean emphasizes that new locations can be promising because even premier firms are not always big YET in certain countries.
Sean Joined Kearney in part because they had a relatively small presence in the Middle East, and he was offered the opportunity to grow the firm’s presence across the region.
5. Eager to leave consulting but concerned about risking the network you’ve built?
Sean recognizes that burning bridges is something that many consultants likely worry about when they consider making a jump from their firm. However, he wants to assure consultants that your skills drive your network and that solid preforms will be welcome on any team.
It’s also important to recognize, as Sean points out, that moving to a new firm, or a new company, will enhance your network since you’ll be working with new people.
Finally, Sean emphasizes that, while there is a risk to leaving your consulting firm (or any role you are currently in), making the leap is vital to developing new skills and growing.
About ECA and the Beyond Consulting podcast: ECA specializes in value add talent solutions across strategy, operations, and finance functions. ECA has made a name for itself by taking a consulting approach to finding the best talent and placing candidates in exciting roles. Tune in to Beyond Consulting to hear Ken Kanara answer all your questions about life after a career in consulting. For a list of current openings, visit ECA’s website.
April Gould, Ph.D.(c) is a Project Manager of ECA Partners. She can be reached at email@example.com.