Can I transition into a mainstream consulting firm? - Profile inside

Hello All,

I likely do not fit the typical profile of this forum's membership but would appreciate any relevant feedback you can provide on my next career steps.

Introduction/ Background: I am a 37 year old with an engineering degree from a top 10 engineering school. After working in process and mechanical engineering roles for 7 years in a large global automotive company I transitioned into our internal management consulting group where I found my niche.

I am now a manager level MC with 6 years of internal consulting experience. Up to the end of last year my company maintained an internal management consulting group (~100 people in Europe, Asia, and the US). At the end of last year my company made the decision to outsource its management consulting team (all good things must come to an end).

Current Situation: One of my former clients created a position for me to continue working within the company, still in a management consulting capacity.

Complications: Six months into the job I am enjoying the work but find it less stimulating than my former role (assignments tend to be of lesser scope and breadth). The company will likely continue to consolidate until my only opportunities will be in line management.

Questions: What steps should I take now to secure that 5 years from now I am in a stable position that fulfills and stimulates me? What career opportunities exist that I can reasonably transition into?

Answer: Pursue an executive MBA at a top 10 university and secure and opportunity that provides work/life balance* and long-term viability. Target these five opportunities:

  • Apply for a line management role in my current company
  • Switch into financial services industry by leveraging my technical background, management     consulting experience and newly minted EMBA status
  • Switch into a pure management consulting firm
  • Switch to a different corporation that that targets EMBAs (MBA management development programs)
  • Switch to a different corporation that has internal consulting (automotive, financial services, health care, pharma)

*In this context 'work life balance' means 50 hours or less per week, three weeks of vacation or more and less than 50% travel.

Supporting Logic:
• An EMBA will further build the skillsets required to succeed in a line management role if I find a good opportunity within my current company.
• An EMBA will provide opportunities to switch careers
o Some Investment banking roles recruit EMBAs with technical backgrounds
o Pure management consulting firms recruit EMBAs with technical backgrounds
o Corporate organizations recruit EMBAs with technical backgrounds
• An EMBA will provide opportunities to teach at small universities during retirement years

Help me with the flaws in my logic. What advice do you have?

Comments (5)

Jul 10, 2016 - 2:06pm

It is hard to answer specifically without knowing more about the types of projects you have worked on - internal consulting can mean a lot of different things.

If you like the industry, your experience could translate into a niche firm serving that industry, which would be the most direct path to something that meets your quality of life criteria. Have you looked into boutique options that match your industry and functional experience?

Any general consulting firm - a big major - would be hard pressed to meet your working hours and travel expectations. I guess the thought behind the EMBA is to escape from the bucket of undergrad-only candidates that the big firms may place you in. Maybe you could find some industry experts in those firms on LinkedIn, and then use an informational interview to find out how much your experience helps jump the queue vs an EMBA?

Switching to another internal consulting role would match the lifestyle, but I would think it could be challenging to switch industries without experience in that industry.

Hope this helps ...

Jul 11, 2016 - 7:11pm

Hi Ken,

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Our team works on short term deliverable based assignments for the SVP and EVP management staff. There is a large variation of work content depending on the business unit that we are working for, but most assignments have a strong strategic component. Some recent examples of my work include leading analytical assignments to improve our sales process, to deliver better price performance, to segment our products, to benchmark competitor activity and to drive continuous improvement throughout the organization. We are also tasked with leading larger implementation projects or programs (consisting of international teams, highly cross-functional work and/or budgets exceeding $10MUSD).

In the limited search that I have done so far my experience rings true to your advice. My best opportunity will be to secure a stimulating line management role within my existing company, second best to pursue internal management consulting in a similar industry and third best to pursue internal management consulting outside of my industry. Without relaxing my work-life balance expectations the major consulting firms will likely be out of the equation.

Jul 12, 2016 - 9:14am

Your profile would definitely be welcomed at most consulting firms (especially AT Kearney, Roland B., Arthur D. Little). That said I don't think they will bring you as a manager and that's mainly due to the lack of client services experience. An MBA, or EMBA could help making the case. Your background is definitely interesting, but external consulting firms spend a whole lot of time managing clients, especially at the manager level.

Jul 12, 2016 - 1:04pm

As a current MBB employee, I'd say a "classic" consulting role would be difficult. Consulting firms would find it difficult to "slot" you. You're obviously too old and experienced to be a basic consultant, but it is very rare that they would hire someone into a manager/principal position with no equivalent experience at another firm. It might also be problematic for you, because, as an experienced leadership-type consultant, you would be expected to start developing new business rather soon (which you might or might not have a talent for). Also, the probability that you would be able to work under 50 (or even 60 or 70) hours a week is exactly zero. This position in the hierarchy (between analysts/consultants and partners) is the worst place to be in terms of quality of life at a consulting firm. You run your project, but at the same time tons of unrelated shit gets piled on you by the partners, while YOU can't pass this shit down the hill to your team, because the team is staffed on a specific project and you can't give them tasks outside of it (sometimes it happens, but it's usually considered a favor from the consultant's side).

What I would actually recommend instead is looking at the knowledge/research roles within a consulting (preferably MBB) firm. There are many many non- or barely-client-facing roles within the organization that provide "practice area expertise" on some industrial or functional topic. This involves accumulating and managing available outside and inside research and resources on the topic, creating "blueprints" or inhouse non-client-billable materials, "consulting the consultants" and being a cool and knowledgeable guy in this area in general. They normally work much less than the consultants and are not eligible to become partners, but they do earn good money and have opportunities to make a career within the firm. This is called "Knowledge team" (KT) at BCG and "research analysts" at McK. Bain and top tier-2 firms probably also have something similar.

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