Four Career Paths to Consider after Management Consulting

by: Steven Haug, Ph.D., Karen Lee, Olivia Hanninen, Ph.D. and Tony Topoleski, Ph.D.

 

For most ambitious early-career consultants, a primary experience in the industry will be one of constant growth and continuous education. The mentorship models and wealth of knowledge at each firm frequently produce highly versatile and uniquely skilled individuals able to produce keen insights and recommendations for any problem. As Atta Tarki, a talent leader, founder, and former CEO has written, this makes “consulting a good training ground for individuals early on in their career” and “crucial preparation for a CEO.”

 

As such, for many who pass through this process, the education that comes with the job is only the beginning. Consultants often leave the industry ready to apply their knowledge to specific challenges or help drive a company to success with strategy chops, ownership, and hands-on execution. And this readiness is what savvy employers often seek from individuals they’ll want to cultivate into the most coveted positions.

 

Finding the right springboard when coming out of consulting can marshal your skillset in compelling ways and set you on a path to the top jobs in almost any industry, where you’ll drive results and ensure the impact you were trained to make. At ECA Partners, an executive search firm run by ex-consultants, we have placed countless consultants into these important roles and watched as they rose into top positions in their new industries.

 

Corporate Strategy

Strategic thinking is highly sought after in the business world, and a skill required for those looking to take the driver’s seat of any company. Consultants in corporate strategy roles will use superior data-gathering, market, and competitive analysis skills- as well as a little bit of imagination- to identify parts of the business that are thriving or struggling, assess what the competition is doing, and ask which markets should be entered next. While consultants often produce decision-making frameworks without leading the execution, corporate strategists provide internal recommendations and then witness the flawed or triumphant effect of their ideas, and in the process learn what it takes to run an organization at the highest levels.

 

Portfolio Operations

For consultants who enjoy project-based work and have some hesitations about moving to an “in-house” position, a Portfolio Operations role might a be great post-consulting landing pad. Portfolio Operations professionals work directly for Private Equity firms and are tasked with identifying opportunities to drive value across the portfolio. These roles may involve a seat at the leadership table of a PE firm and require a strong problem-solving toolkit. You’ll work alongside the management teams at portfolio companies and help solve their toughest problems. When interviewing for Portfolio Operations roles, it’s important to highlight your operational and strategic abilities to spell out any experience generating value or owning the results of your recommendations.

 

Chief of Staff

For consultants seeking in-depth exposure to executive leadership or who aspire to become a CEO, an exit to a Chief of Staff position may be an ideal next step. The Chief of Staff supports the CEO’s agenda by championing company-wide initiatives, acting as a sounding board for critical decisions, and managing the CEO and executive team’s priorities. Top-tier consultants are often well-positioned for Chief of Staff roles as they are generally able to hit the ground running with an arsenal of analytical, problem-solving, and diplomacy skills to achieve measurable results for the organization. The individual will typically enjoy 2-4 years working on significant projects and initiatives before moving into a leadership position within the organization.

 

Operations

For management consultants looking to make the jump, an operating role may be the surest way to round out an existing skillset. Consultants from top firms are often well-trained strategists with a proven ability to structure ambiguous problems and provide recommendations, but they have less experience on the implementation side. For this reason, positions that involve rolling up sleeves and owning something with accountability and distinctive measurables – such as managing a P&L, building up a new division, or overseeing direct reports – can be the most rewarding first step after consulting, and one that lays the ground for significant future success.

 

 

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