Ask Me Anything - Federal Consulting at a Tier Two Firm

habu987's picture
Rank: Senior Baboon | 235

In light of the posts I've seen here and there regarding federal consulting, I figured I'd give a shot at an AMA. We all know that commercial consulting has all the glamour, but federal consulting *can* be just as glamorous. I say *can*, because it is very easy, in my experience, to get trapped in pretty drudgery federal consulting.

Background on me:

I've been a consultant in the federal space for 6 years, the first 4 years at a boutique firm and the last two years at a Big 4, all in the technology space. Prior to consulting, I was a financial analyst at a hospital for a couple of years. Consulting for the government, I've bounced all around across agencies and project roles. I have extensive experience in project/program management, risk management, IT strategy, organization strategy (can't really call it corporate strategy in this context...), business and systems analysis, business transformation, business process mapping/re-engineering/transformation, test management, and financial analysis.

I was a liberal arts major at a complete non target, then got a part time MBA at a likewise complete non target (both are state schools in the south) while I was at my first consulting firm.

I'm currently in the process of leaving my Big 4 and moving back to the boutique space, still in the federal sector.

Ask away! I will answer any and all general and specific questions, although questions that require too specific answers will result in a reply via PM.

Comments (49)

Mar 3, 2015

@"habu987" thanks for doing this.

do you see a lot of federal employees making the transition over to the consulting side as experienced hires? and if so... are there certain roles that federal consulting firms are looking for/seem to transition the best into private industry?

Mar 3, 2015
Mo Money:

@habu987 thanks for doing this.

do you see a lot of federal employees making the transition over to the consulting side as experienced hires? and if so... are there certain roles that federal consulting firms are looking for/seem to transition the best into private industry?

Mo Money: I don't see a ton, outside of specialized roles. For example, there are firms such as MITRE that recruit pretty heavily among federal employees, but in my experience the employee transfer usually goes the other way, with consultants becoming feds. Case in point, the client I reported to on my last engagement had previously consulted with my firm before making the jump to being a fed a few years ago.

Usually the feds I've seen come over to the consulting side have been pretty senior: flag officers from the Pentagon, senior executive service members transitioning over, former political appointees, that sort of thing. I've also seen the next level down, the GS-15s and O-6s in the government, make the transition over, but they have been in more specialized roles. I heard of a former lieutenant of the surgeon general making the switch over to one of the Big 4 as the lead of a healthcare practice. I think the specialists I've seen make the transition have all been in highly specialized fields like medicine.

Does that help?

Mar 3, 2015

thanks for doing this! will frontpage now

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Mar 3, 2015

Thanks for doing this.

Have you seen anyone in the federal practice transfer into the commercial side of big 4 consulting? Is the path to making such a transition networking + picking up some work on the side from commercial projects?

Mar 3, 2015
IHaveAQuestion:

Thanks for doing this.

Have you seen anyone in the federal practice transfer into the commercial side of big 4 consulting? Is the path to making such a transition networking + picking up some work on the side from commercial projects?

Personally, I haven't seen anyone make that transition. That being said, it should be a fairly reasonable process. The biggest hurdle would be networking and getting a partner/director/principal on the commercial side willing to sponsor the switch. At the end of the day, it comes down to one leader being willing to give up your revenue and take that hit to his pocketbook.

That being said, my current engagement is about 60% federal/40% commercial practitioners. I've got a good working relationship with my commercial counterparts and their leadership, so if I wanted to make the switch, I think I'd have a decent shot.

Mar 3, 2015
habu987:
IHaveAQuestion:

Thanks for doing this.

Have you seen anyone in the federal practice transfer into the commercial side of big 4 consulting? Is the path to making such a transition networking + picking up some work on the side from commercial projects?

Personally, I haven't seen anyone make that transition. That being said, it should be a fairly reasonable process. The biggest hurdle would be networking and getting a partner/director/principal on the commercial side willing to sponsor the switch. At the end of the day, it comes down to one leader being willing to give up your revenue and take that hit to his pocketbook.

That being said, my current engagement is about 60% federal/40% commercial practitioners. I've got a good working relationship with my commercial counterparts and their leadership, so if I wanted to make the switch, I think I'd have a decent shot.

Great, detailed response. Thanks! @"habu987"u987"u(This was very helpful)

Final Questions- Why are you transitioning back to the Boutique Firm? And what are the advantages/disadvantages of working in a smaller, boutique firm in the federal space?

Mar 3, 2015
bballer4life999:
habu987:
IHaveAQuestion:

Thanks for doing this.

Have you seen anyone in the federal practice transfer into the commercial side of big 4 consulting? Is the path to making such a transition networking + picking up some work on the side from commercial projects?

Personally, I haven't seen anyone make that transition. That being said, it should be a fairly reasonable process. The biggest hurdle would be networking and getting a partner/director/principal on the commercial side willing to sponsor the switch. At the end of the day, it comes down to one leader being willing to give up your revenue and take that hit to his pocketbook.

That being said, my current engagement is about 60% federal/40% commercial practitioners. I've got a good working relationship with my commercial counterparts and their leadership, so if I wanted to make the switch, I think I'd have a decent shot.

Great, detailed response. Thanks! @habu987u987"u(This was very helpful)

Final Questions- Why are you transitioning back to the Boutique Firm? And what are the advantages/disadvantages of working in a smaller, boutique firm in the federal space?

There are several reasons for wanting to make the switch back to a boutique firm, but I'd say the two biggest ones for me are:

1) At a Big 4, I'm one of several thousand in the federal sector and one of several tens of thousands of employees in the US, combining all the tax/consulting/etc employees. I'm a number on a spreadsheet and it is hard to see myself making an impact on the firm at times. At a boutique firm, I will be more positioned to make a direct impact on my firm, its bottom line, and its growth prospects.
2) Desire to take on more responsibility. At a smaller firm, it's easier to take on the role of an engagement leader or other type of leader, whereas the Big 4 are very regimented in their roles and responsibilities.

The advantages of working for a boutique (in my opinion) are that you can potentially make a direct impact on the bottom line of the company. That's something you can't say at a Big 4 unless you're at the very senior levels. You can also experience much more rapid growth in responsibility and salary (obviously depending on your performance) at a boutique than under the Big 4 regimented career path, but that can vary based on which boutique you're working for. Salary might not top out any higher than at a Big 4, but the path from point A to point B can be traveled much quicker if you put the work in. I have a friend who went from a Big 4 to a boutique a few years ago and recently got promoted to VP at his firm, which brought him up to about 300% salary growth from his last B4 salary in just under 5 years, along with now leading up a practice area for his firm. That progression would have taken him about 12 years if he'd stayed at his B4, according to him.

One big disadvantage, also in my opinion, is that you stand the risk of getting pigeonholed. I know of several boutiques that only do software implementations, for example. They've carved out a lucrative niche of the federal consulting market for themselves, but man, you gotta hope you love implementations! Another disadvantage, for some of the really small boutiques, is that they are entirely dependent on government largesse. If the government pulls a contract, you can say goodbye to your job (there was a subcontractor on my last engagement who had that happen--his firm lost their main contract and folded). A third disadvantage is that it can be hard to win a bid when you're going up against the big boys, although with the government increasing its small business set aside provisions, that disadvantage is starting to lessen.

All in all, I've evaluated the situation and gone through all the pluses and minuses, and think it'll be a good move for me.

Best Response
Feb 2, 2017
habu987:

bballer4life999:habu987:IHaveAQuestion:Thanks for doing this.Have you seen anyone in the federal practice transfer into the commercial side of big 4 consulting? Is the path to making such a transition networking + picking up some work on the side from commercial projects?Personally, I haven't seen anyone make that transition. That being said, it should be a fairly reasonable process. The biggest hurdle would be networking and getting a partner/director/principal on the commercial side willing to sponsor the switch. At the end of the day, it comes down to one leader being willing to give up your revenue and take that hit to his pocketbook.That being said, my current engagement is about 60% federal/40% commercial practitioners. I've got a good working relationship with my commercial counterparts and their leadership, so if I wanted to make the switch, I think I'd have a decent shot.Great, detailed response. Thanks! @habu987u987"u(This was very helpful)Final Questions- Why are you transitioning back to the Boutique Firm? And what are the advantages/disadvantages of working in a smaller, boutique firm in the federal space?

There are several reasons for wanting to make the switch back to a boutique firm, but I'd say the two biggest ones for me are:

1) At a Big 4, I'm one of several thousand in the federal sector and one of several tens of thousands of employees in the US, combining all the tax/consulting/etc employees. I'm a number on a spreadsheet and it is hard to see myself making an impact on the firm at times. At a boutique firm, I will be more positioned to make a direct impact on my firm, its bottom line, and its growth prospects.2) Desire to take on more responsibility. At a smaller firm, it's easier to take on the role of an engagement leader or other type of leader, whereas the Big 4 are very regimented in their roles and responsibilities.

The advantages of working for a boutique (in my opinion) are that you can potentially make a direct impact on the bottom line of the company. That's something you can't say at a Big 4 unless you're at the very senior levels. You can also experience much more rapid growth in responsibility and salary (obviously depending on your performance) at a boutique than under the Big 4 regimented career path, but that can vary based on which boutique you're working for. Salary might not top out any higher than at a Big 4, but the path from point A to point B can be traveled much quicker if you put the work in. I have a friend who went from a Big 4 to a boutique a few years ago and recently got promoted to VP at his firm, which brought him up to about 300% salary growth from his last B4 salary in just under 5 years, along with now leading up a practice area for his firm. That progression would have taken him about 12 years if he'd stayed at his B4, according to him.

One big disadvantage, also in my opinion, is that you stand the risk of getting pigeonholed. I know of several boutiques that only do software implementations, for example. They've carved out a lucrative niche of the federal consulting market for themselves, but man, you gotta hope you love implementations! Another disadvantage, for some of the really small boutiques, is that they are entirely dependent on government largesse. If the government pulls a contract, you can say goodbye to your job (there was a subcontractor on my last engagement who had that happen--his firm lost their main contract and folded). A third disadvantage is that it can be hard to win a bid when you're going up against the big boys, although with the government increasing its small business set aside provisions, that disadvantage is starting to lessen.

All in all, I've evaluated the situation and gone through all the pluses and minuses, and think it'll be a good move for me.

I wanted to circle back on my response to this. There are a TON of federal boutiques, I'd guess way more than commercial boutiques out there. They range from mid size business with ~1000 employees down to hyper-specialized firms with only a handful of employees. Some focus on particular areas (government financial management, for example), while others are basically just smaller versions of the big firms and have more of a generalist focus. Some are more focused on pure consulting work, others are purely staff augmentation focused.

In the federal space, if you're looking at a boutique, take a hard look at it. There are several areas (besides the actual project work and your role) I'd especially investigate if I were to look at a federal boutique again:

  • What kind of work do they do? Especially for smaller firms, it's hard to easily understand if they do true consulting work or are a butts in the seat staff aug firm, and they'll likely tell you they are consultants, whether or not that's what they actually do.
  • What's the outlook for the firm? Past projects, what their current book of business is, what the outlook is. No one can know for certain, but if all their projects are nearing the end of their POPs and they don't have new work lined up, that's a big warning flag.
  • What is the clearance situation? Most federal jobs require a clearance of some sort, and if you already have one, make sure the boutique can hold your clearance for you.
  • What is the career path? Some boutiques have rigid models like the big firms, others don't have career models at all, and you keep the same title the entire time while just (hopefully) advancing in pay and responsibilities.
  • Do they know what they're doing? A lot of times, boutiques (usually the really small ones) are formed by SMEs who are experts in the work they do, but don't have a good grasp of how to actually run a business and/or don't hire a good admin team, and that can negate much of the satisfaction you get from working on a good project.

I got burned by the small boutique (<50 employees) I joined due to them not having their administrative act together. Got brought on as the project lead for a business transformation/modernization project at the client and discovered after a month on the job that my employer hadn't transferred my security clearance when they hired me despite their assurances during my interviews, actually had no way to transfer the clearance, and that I couldn't continue to work on the project until I got a brand new clearance, which could take upwards of 6 months. They had a whopping 1 week bench and no other projects I could switch to (they had a few other projects, but they were all very technical implementations, way outside of my wheelhouse), so I was out about a month and a half after being hired. I hadn't done enough due diligence ahead of time, otherwise I would've turned down their offer, and it came back to bite me in the butt.

Lesson learned the hard way, thought I'd pass that on to anyone looking at federal boutiques.

Mar 6, 2015

If you don't mind, I can chime in here. Some Big 4 have segregated the Public Sector entirely form Commercial counterparts. My friend's at Deloitte, for instance, say that is is near impossible to get staffed on a commercial project from the Federal side of the house. That said, a strong network can make a world of a difference. With regards to PwC, they have made significant steps toward tearing down those walls to provide everyone opportunities to engage on projects they desire. PwC has a much smaller Public Sector practice than Deloitte, so that is something to also consider that definitely aids in the cross-pollination. I do not know much about EY & KPMG's Federal practices.

I have a friend in PwC Public Sector who has supported a number of commercial projects in addition to his primary Federal clients.

Another point to note, joining Big 4 Commercial as a lateral hire from Federal is also doable. I did that a few months back and left a Tier 1 Federal consulting firm for Commercial at a Big 4. One of my interviewers did make the comment that anything more than a few years of experience in Federal tends to make the jump more difficult. With only a few years of experience, you can more leverage your capabilities and experiences, versus industry knowledge.

Mar 3, 2015

Thanks for doing this @"habu987" !

3 Questions:
1. What are examples of exit opportunities that you've seen your colleagues take advantage of/positions that have been offered to you throughout your consulting career?

2. Is having an MBA as respected in the federal sector as it is commercially for your firm?

3. Is the salary progression on par with the commercial sector?

Mar 3, 2015
bballer4life999:

Thanks for doing this @habu987 !

3 Questions:

1. What are examples of exit opportunities that you've seen your colleagues take advantage of/positions that have been offered to you throughout your consulting career?

2. Is having an MBA as respected in the federal sector as it is commercially for your firm?

3. Is the salary progression on par with the commercial sector?

My pleasure, bballer!

1) The biggest exit opportunity I've seen by far has been switching to another firm, whether a MBB, another T2, or a boutique. I'd say about 80% of the exits I've seen have been for that, with T2 and boutique exits being the overwhelming majority of those exits. The other 20% of exit opportunities has broken down to about 25% becoming feds, 25% completely switching careers (one guy left to become a high school English teacher, for example), 25% going to grad school to initiate a career switch (mostly law school in my experience), and 25% going into various private sector companies.

2) Nope. And I think with good reason! If you ask me, despite having an MBA myself, my personal opinion is that an MBA is quite overvalued, and the importance given to the pedigree of said MBA by the commercial side is absurd. At the senior consultant/associate level and above at my firm, I'd say no more than 50% of folks have MBAs, and most are from schools outside the M7. You'll still see your Harvard and Yale MBAs on the fed side, but most who have MBAs are from schools like Georgetown, UVA, etc. There is also no stigma attached to pt MBAs that I've seen. I got my MBA as a pt program at a state school in the south, and I don't think it has hindered my career at all.

3) Nope. Billing rates are generally much lower on the federal side. You can still make a decent chunk of change, but don't expect to be pulling in $200k+ by the time you hit 30. Here are the general salary ranges at each level at my firm:

-Analyst (1-2 years): $50-75
-Consultant/Associate (1-2 years): $60-85
-Senior Consultant/Associate (2-4 years): $85-125
-Manager (3-5 years): $100-155
-Senior Manager (4-5 years): $150-200
-Partner/Principal/Director: $250+

That's all just for base salary, and consultants/associates on up are eligible for performance bonuses, too. Those can range anywhere from 0-30% (pretty sure it goes up to 30%) depending on your level. My firm is in the process of increasing the bonus pool over the next few years, so I expect that maximum bonus percentage to increase.

If you're a rock star, you can generally make it through the first three levels at the bottom of that time range (ie, analyst-senior consultant/associate, up for promo to manager, in 4-5 years, but I only know of one person who's done that). If you want more detailed info, shoot me a PM. Hope that helps!

Aug 13, 2016

I assume the ranges given are for all employees. Do you know what the salaries are for MBA hires? Do they get a premium over non-MBAs? I could only find salaries on ManagementConsulted (https://managementconsulted.com/consulting-salarie...) but it's for the commercial side. TIA.

Mar 3, 2015

Is there any clearance you generally need for federal consulting?

Mar 3, 2015
Sil:

Is there any clearance you generally need for federal consulting?

It all depends on the engagement. I've been on engagements where no clearance was needed, ones where a public trust clearance was required, and ones where a secret clearance was required. There are also engagements that require a top secret/sci clearance, but I haven't been on any of those. I'd say secret is a good base--it covers you for pretty much all engagements outside of the intelligence/national security sectors, and is much easier to obtain than a top secret/sci clearance.

Mar 3, 2015

I find that everyone generally refers to consultants as contractors at the client sites on the federal side. Its not a huge deal but sometimes contractor carries a negative connotation. Does it bother you? Do you see it as an issue?

I've never heard someone refer to a Big Four in federal consulting. What firms are you referring to? Additionally, im interested to hear what firms you list as tier one, two, etc.

"Not me. Im in my prime"

Mar 3, 2015
Southern Gent:

I find that everyone generally refers to consultants as contractors at the client sites on the federal side. Its not a huge deal but sometimes contractor carries a negative connotation. Does it bother you? Do you see it as an issue?

I've never heard someone refer to a Big Four in federal consulting. What firms are you referring to?

It depends on the type of engagement. A LOT of the engagements in the federal space are staff augmentation. In those, you're just a contractor who has replaced a federal employee, or at least are doing a job that could theoretically be done by a federal employee. One of my engagements involved a team of consultants coming in to do an IT strategy analysis. We were in and out in about 3 weeks, but then had a followup team that came in to actually implement our suggestions--that team was on the client site for about 2.5 years. The client viewed my team as consultants and the implementation team as contractors.

Generally, the way I view it is that consultants in the federal space are brought in to deal with a specific issue, usually fairly short term in nature. Contractors, on the other hand, are usually on the client site for extended periods of time and generally do work that could theoretically also be done by the federal employees. For example, someone brought in to do a market segmentation analysis would be considered to be a consultant, while someone brought in to fill a seat in the client's accounting department would be a contractor. Over my 6 years in the federal sector, I've been on both sides of that divide, but have exclusively been a "consultant" at my current firm. I don't particularly care for being a contractor and much prefer to be a consultant. At the end of the day, it's a very fine line, and one engagement to the next can blur that line.

I'm referring to Deloitte/EY/KPMG/PwC in regards to the B4. Eh, should probably include Accenture in that group, as well. In industry, we don't actually refer to them as B4, I just used that to follow some of the naming conventions on WSO.

Mar 3, 2015

I couldnt agree more with your contractor/consultant comparison or your outlook. I agree the line is often blurred. Especially when your firm refers to you as a consultant but the client views you as a contractor, but like you said it really depends on your body of work, timeline, etc.

I figured you were using a similar naming convention for conformity but wasnt sure if you were referring to firms like Lockheed, Boeing, BAH, Northrop, etc. Thanks for expounding.

"Not me. Im in my prime"

Mar 5, 2015

@"habu987" on a typical day, are you on the client (government) site -- similar to the "a day in the life" commercial consulting posts i have read? secondly, is most of your travel within the -- i am assuming -- washington, dc area?

Mar 5, 2015
Mo Money:

@habu987 on a typical day, are you on the client (government) site -- similar to the "a day in the life" commercial consulting posts i have read? secondly, is most of your travel within the -- i am assuming -- washington, dc area?

@Mo Money: I'd say about 80-85% of the time I'm on the client site. My current engagement is so large (I think it totals something like 500+ consultants from my firm, not sure the exact number) helping this particular client deal with various issues, most intertwined) that my firm has a satellite office very near the client site. In that case, I'm usually split about 50-50 between firm site and client site, although I've spent days 100% at the client site and 100% at the firm site. The engagement I was on prior to this one was 100% client site, but the one before that was only about 50% client site, and so on. It really depends on the particulars of each engagement.

Probably 95% of my travel is within the DC area. Especially for some of the larger federal agencies, they tend to have a handful of offices around the metro DC area, and I might have to travel from my main client site to the local headquarters of the client, or something like that. All depends on the agency. I've had engagements where I spend 100% of my time in one office and others where I'm spread out between several different offices. Pretty much just depends on the client and the particulars of the specific engagement. Beyond that, I've done a bit of non-local travel, but in my experience that's been

EDIT: As you get up to the senior manager level on up, you can generally expect to do pretty significant local travel, even if you're only staffed on local projects. Most senior managers (and I'd say a fairly significant portion of the principals/directors/partners) I know are splitting between 2 or 3 different engagements. I know of one who had been the lead on simultaneous engagements at DoD, IRS, and Treasury. He'd split his week as 1 day at Client #1, 1 day at Client #2, two days at Client #3, and 1 day remote working on all three. The next week would be 2 days at Client #1, 1 day at Client #2, 1 day at Client #3, and 1 day remote, then rotate the schedule again the third week. Honestly, that kind of schedule sounds worse to me than a 100% travel schedule!

Mar 8, 2015

Random question but did you ever have to rent out a car/get a car for one of your engagements?

Mar 5, 2015

How hard is it to go out and start your own shop?

An example is something like human capital consulting --> it wouldn't be a gigantic leap to end up with a small shop and make great money just because of the amount of under-utilized job sources (small and medium companies needing consulting services) that Big 4 (larger companies) don't see as worth the cost.

Is this true from the federal/government side? I would assume then you're looking at more political (heh) factors tying it down.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Mar 6, 2015
UTDFinanceGuy:

How hard is it to go out and start your own shop?

An example is something like human capital consulting --> it wouldn't be a gigantic leap to end up with a small shop and make great money just because of the amount of under-utilized job sources (small and medium companies needing consulting services) that Big 4 (larger companies) don't see as worth the cost.

Is this true from the federal/government side? I would assume then you're looking at more political (heh) factors tying it down.

I can't speak for the human capital guys, since my work has almost completely been with the strategy and technology folks, but I assume they are in the same situation we are in.

For the strategy and technology folks I've been dealing with for the last 6 years, it isn't terribly hard to go out on your own. Most of the boutiques in the DC area are ones founded by folks who did just that, and most are pretty small, as in

1) You need to have relationships with the agencies you want to pursue. I've seen folks who've spent a sizable portions of their careers consulting for a large firm at one agency, say the Department of State, and then turn around and start up their own small firm that almost exclusively targets State. It's much harder to break in if you don't have an already established relationship with the movers and shakers in the agencies you want to target.

2) Federal contracting rules are becoming more and more small-business friendly. The vast majority of government contracts that I've seen have small business set asides or (in fewer cases) even require that a small business is the prime. That's a golden opportunity for anyone looking to open up their own shop, and can help mitigate any issues with my first point. (Sidebar--if you're new to the federal consulting space, don't get hung up on the term "government contracts." All government work, whether it's a 2 week strategy engagement or a 10 year staff augmentation gig, is based on a contract. That threw me through a loop when I first started consulting and was having trouble understanding the difference between me and a contractor when both of our teams were on contracts.)

3) If you start your own shop, I'd definitely recommend staying lean and mean. Most of the big names in federal consulting have a ton of overhead and pad their bill rates accordingly (my firm included). Where Big Name Firm might be billing the government $175/hr for a manager, a significant amount of that is going to overhead. You could most likely bill that same person out in your lean and mean shop for $125/hr and have the same or larger profit margin. This is rudimentary math, of course, but it is something to consider, especially with how the feds generally like to squeeze every last drop of profit out of their contracts. I know my firm has run some loss leading engagements and others have less than a 5% profit margin, so that delta is a prime place for smaller firms to make a play.

4) Tying in with all three of the above points, most of the engagements I've been on have involved cross functional teams of consultants. Opening up a boutique would make it hard to compete for those contracts until you have a sizable employee base, but it would allow you to go after smaller contracts or being a sub on a larger contract.

Hope that helps!

Mar 6, 2015

it's not letting me SB but you definitely will get one as soon as it's fixed. thanks man.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Mar 6, 2015

How would you recommend not getting 'trapped in pretty drudgery federal consulting'?

Mar 6, 2015
lost6097:

How would you recommend not getting 'trapped in pretty drudgery federal consulting'?

I would say avoid joining a federal practice of a firm. If you do, have a clear exit strategy, such as business school in X years.

The thing is, many skills and experience aren't directly translatable into non-federal consulting. Some of the more specialized areas may be--IT, Human Capital, etc.--but for the most part, the exit options for federal consulting are other federal consultancies or the government itself.

Now let me be clear: this is nothing wrong with federal consulting. You can easily make $200k+, raise a family without traveling Monday-Thursday each week, and work fewer hours(but not much fewer) than your commercial counterparts. Partners make $500+ plus. There are a countless number of millionaires in the DC area who gained their wealth from starting their own firms. However, you do have to put up with archaic contracting rules, clients in inefficient organizations, and projects that aren't as "sexy" as a commercial engagement.

While the trade-off is there, but there are many appealing aspects of federal consulting.

Mar 12, 2015
lost6097:

How would you recommend not getting 'trapped in pretty drudgery federal consulting'?

@"lost6097": My apologies for the delay in responding! Attended both a funeral and a wedding over the last six days, so I've been pretty out of it.

The biggest source of drudgery in my experience has been getting stuck on the contracting side of the fence that I described earlier in this thread. If you're at one of the lower tier firms, their bread and butter is contracting vice consulting. I started off my federal career at one of those firms, and moving to my current firm was a great escape route. At the lower tier firms, while they do have some consulting projects, most are butts in the seats staff augmentation work. Sure, some of the consulting projects can be boring, but that's the same across any consulting firm in any industry. By and large, though, being on the consulting side of the fence in the government sector is the way to go. That's going to be harder at one of the lower tier firms, although they do generally have their own consulting work, too.

Mar 6, 2015

I'll chime in with a few points and a question:

1) If you start your own firm, not only have contacts at agencies you want to focus as @"habu987" advises, but also have good relationships with the big players in your field. Many "big whale" contracts for government work start in the low 8 digits and only go up. The dominate players (Deloitte, Booz, Accenture) can do a lot of it themselves, but also farm out some of the more specialized work--this is where the small shops come into play. That way you have a two-prong attack: target the manageable, focused work to prime on yourself, and build upon existing relationships with the larger firms so sub-contract on the more complex jobs.

2) Not only are small business set-asides hot, so are the SDVOSB-- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. Sometimes contracts are set specifically for these categories of firms, which is a subset of small businesses. This is why so many former military set up federal consulting shops--for many projects, they're only competing against similar businesses.

3) Agree on your comments about proposals. I work at a boutique firm so part of my work is business development for the federal side and commercial. Proposals for the government are horribly arduous and time-consuming. The most frustrating part is that often they go lowest-bidder despite the rankings given on technical part of the proposals. Nothing sucks like dumping 500+ firm hours into a proposal in a month and losing it because the competition undercuts you on price by 1%.

Now to by question about hiring MBAs, since our firm is a specialized boutique and we don't target MBAs:
What is compensation for MBAs? I know on the commercial side of these firms, there is pretty standard packages ($135k for Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte, for example). I know the federal side is lower, but how much less than the commercial side? Is it as regimented as the commercial side, or is compensation also influenced on experience and the group you're placed?

Mar 12, 2015
Blueapple:

I'll chime in with a few points and a question:

1) If you start your own firm, not only have contacts at agencies you want to focus as @"habu987" advises, but also have good relationships with the big players in your field. Many "big whale" contracts for government work start in the low 8 digits and only go up. The dominate players (Deloitte, Booz, Accenture) can do a lot of it themselves, but also farm out some of the more specialized work--this is where the small shops come into play. That way you have a two-prong attack: target the manageable, focused work to prime on yourself, and build upon existing relationships with the larger firms so sub-contract on the more complex jobs.

2) Not only are small business set-asides hot, so are the SDVOSB-- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. Sometimes contracts are set specifically for these categories of firms, which is a subset of small businesses. This is why so many former military set up federal consulting shops--for many projects, they're only competing against similar businesses.

3) Agree on your comments about proposals. I work at a boutique firm so part of my work is business development for the federal side and commercial. Proposals for the government are horribly arduous and time-consuming. The most frustrating part is that often they go lowest-bidder despite the rankings given on technical part of the proposals. Nothing sucks like dumping 500+ firm hours into a proposal in a month and losing it because the competition undercuts you on price by 1%.

Now to by question about hiring MBAs, since our firm is a specialized boutique and we don't target MBAs:

What is compensation for MBAs? I know on the commercial side of these firms, there is pretty standard packages ($135k for Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte, for example). I know the federal side is lower, but how much less than the commercial side? Is it as regimented as the commercial side, or is compensation also influenced on experience and the group you're placed?

@"Blueapple": Ditto on your points. On a side note regarding #2--one of the boutique firms I researched is a female minority SDVOSB. A bit tongue in cheek, but I'm pretty sure the government is just throwing money at that firm and any other firm in that particular subset.

In regards to your question, I can only speak for my firm. It isn't a huge deal if you have an MBA, and offers vary widely. I've seen MBAs come in at $125 and others come in at $85, and everywhere in between. On the federal side, the MBA is much less important than experience. If you've got two folks coming in with the same experience, but one has an MBA while the other does not, there most likely wouldn't be much of a pay gap. Make sense?

Mar 10, 2015

Awesome thread, thank you!

I'm about to start a full-time MBA program and if I eventually wanted to start my own government consulting/contracting business, would you recommend applying to a government program such as Presidential Management Fellows, a federal consulting job at a Big 4 firm, or business development at Raytheon, LM, etc.?

Mar 10, 2015

@"BRM21o" i guess it depends on what type of government consulting/contracting business you would be looking to start, but federal consulting for a big 4 firm seems to be the way to go... since, the services they provide is what you would be trying to mimic on a smaller scale.

the presidential management fellows program won't teach you how to win government contracts, and business development at raytheon/Lockheed Martin would be more focused on major weapon systems, i assume (not the type of contracts you'd be going after)...

hope this helps.

(i've been a contract specialist/contracting officer with the dod for the last 5 1/2 years and am starting at a top-25 program this fall with the same "long-term" goal)

Mar 11, 2015

That's what I figured. Seems like you would have a huge leg-up with the contracting background.

I'm conflicted with eventually pursing something like this. The inefficiencies that drive me absolutely batshit crazy as the only AD military in my office are also appealing since our GS's waste soo much money hiring contractors to do their jobs for them haha.

Mar 12, 2015

@"habu987"

Hello, I'm trying to evaluate two offers for internships this summer. One of the positions is for a Systems Engineering Internship at Lockheed Martin. The other one is a Business Analyst Internship at Agilex. Which one do you think will look the best when it comes to full time recruiting for Federal consulting? FYI, I go to a semi-target university but I have a rather low GPA (2.9)

Mar 13, 2015

@"habu987" what's the best way for someone to break in as an experienced hire?

Feb 8, 2016

@habu987

Have you switched over to another firm? A question for you if you're still responding. Why would a consultant switch over to the feds? Is it pay, worklife balance, stability? Thanks.

Feb 1, 2017
jkids807:

@habu987

Have you switched over to another firm? A question for you if you're still responding. Why would a consultant switch over to the feds? Is it pay, worklife balance, stability? Thanks.

Dredging up this thread after taking a long hiatus from the forum...

I have switched. I moved to a tiny boutique for a disastrously short lived tenure (terrible admin on their part, loved the work I was doing), dabbled in the private sector, and am now at another big firm, not the same one I was at before.

The allure of the feds depends on the person. For me, yeah, the allure is pretty strong. At my level, the fed jobs I'd be looking at would be in the same ballpark for salary, or in some cases would actually be an increase, so that's one factor. Another factor (generally speaking, with the current administration, it's up in the air) is stability. As a federal consultant, your livelihood depends on government spending, so there have been periods of feast and famine just in the timeframe I've been consulting, and I know a number of former coworkers who've gotten laid off due to contracts getting cut and firms downsizing. On the fed side, once you make it through your 1 or 2 year probation, you're generally quite secure. Worklife balance is also an issue, while upper GS level employees rarely have strict 40 hour workweeks, they rarely put in 50-60+ hours week in, week out like many consultants do (unless you're an SES, and all bets are off there). For me, at this stage in my life and career, I'm actively pursuing fed jobs. The last 4 years have been a career roller coaster for me, and I'm looking for a change of pace. If I can maintain the same general compensation level while getting a better worklife balance and stability, and continuing to drive the government forward, I'm all for it.

Aug 6, 2016

@"habu987"

You mentioned 90-95% of travel is local, where are you going the rest of the time? State capitols? Major US cities? Elsewhere in North America?

My assumption (and hope) would be, similar to commercial, you're more likely to get a project with the Massachusetts Department of Health than the Kansas Department of Transportation, though I guess in states like New York/California/Illinois/Florida/Pennsylvania that's little relief...

Feb 1, 2017
jsmith112:

@"habu987"

You mentioned 90-95% of travel is local, where are you going the rest of the time? State capitols? Major US cities? Elsewhere in North America?

My assumption (and hope) would be, similar to commercial, you're more likely to get a project with the Massachusetts Department of Health than the Kansas Department of Transportation, though I guess in states like New York/California/Illinois/Florida/Pennsylvania that's little relief...

It really depends on the project. For example, I worked on a DoD project where my firm had about 350 consultants working on various components of an enormous acquisition. I traveled to Norfolk, which was the extent of my non-local travel. Other folks on the team traveled to Army hospitals on the west coast pretty frequently, but that was the extent of their non-local travel. It also depends on what your skillset is--if it's in high demand and you're senior enough (if you're 1-3 years out of school, it's not likely that you'd be considered crucial enough), you could be staffed on projects all around the country.

Feb 1, 2017

can you give a few specific examples of federal consulting work that could be done by a very lean (2-3 person) startup?

Feb 2, 2017
ironnchef:

can you give a few specific examples of federal consulting work that could be done by a very lean (2-3 person) startup?

Pretty much anything that requires deep subject matter expertise. For example, if you and your team have deep expertise on military health, you could easily be subs on a military health contract as SMEs. Or if your team has substantial experience with public policy, that could be another SME area.

Off the top of my head, outside of being SMEs, you could also do specialized analytics. I'm not too familiar with that realm, but I know there are small groups out there that specialize in logistical analytics, for example. A lot of the big firms use Tableau or proprietary analytics software for their data visualization, so if you have a homegrown package or some alternate analytics solution, you could carve out a niche.

Really, it comes down to what you have to offer. Deep subject matter expertise is most likely the easiest way to go, as you don't need much at all in the way of overhead or staff to pull that off. There are plenty of small shops around that only have 1-10 SMEs subbing onto larger projects, or doing projects themselves. Beyond that, if you can come up with a more general service offering that is differentiated from the big players, you've got a shot there.

Happy to chat further via this forum or via PM if you want to bounce ideas off me. I promise, I won't steal your idea and run with it! :-)

Jun 1, 2017

Have you seen anyone successfully move into federal Consulting from finance? I'm a 3rd year analyst at a top tier private bank and I'm looking to transition into federal consulting. Have you seen it done before and do you have any advice on how to do it successfully?

Aug 8, 2017
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