Consulting Career Advice

why_yes's picture
Rank: Chimp | 6

Hi All. I think some of the consulting people on this forum may be able to shed some light on what may be the best possible short term (5 years) path for me to follow, post MBA.

I have an ugrad and masters from H/S/W/P/MIT and have been working in a F100 firm for the past 5 years. I have a lot of experience with China/Taiwan through my projects, even though I'm based in the US, and I speak fluent Mandarin, and passable Spanish. I am heavily technically oriented by trade and title. Although I have quite a bit of experience with consulting internally and have worked on projects in Latin America, mostly with building up proposals and being an architect of their new systems for future technology deployments. I've had a fair amount of interaction with EVP level people across the region. The people, dynamic challenges, and back and forth were why I decided to stop doing hardcore engineering, and focus on the bigger picture.

I am heading off for an MBA program this July, and would like transition to consulting. Now here is my question. Long term, I want to be involved with Southeast Asia, with a focus on China. The obvious thing to me, is to start my consulting career in Asia... either in Beijing, Shanghai, Hongkong, to build local experience in consulting and connections.... right? Another part of me believes in fundamentals, and is saying that because I don't have the traditional consulting background, I should go somewhere big like San Francisco, Chicago, or New York or somewhere else where consulting is more established to get up to speed. Would it be out of the question to even ask for gigs in Asia when I am based in the US? Then in a few years, I can do a two year stint in China or South America or where ever China decides to spend its yuan/dollars. I do want to come back to the US though.

Given my technical / slight consulting leaning background, my goal, and my desire to leverage my English/Mandarin/Spanish, where should I start my consulting? Should I start in Asia and eventually move back to US? Should I start in US and do a stint in Asia, before coming back? I know Singapore has a very well developed consulting environment that covers across SEAsia. However playing devil's advocate, why not go for broke and do something in China and then do US, or vice versa.

Much obliged for any opinions.

Comments (6)

May 25, 2012

Sounds like you have a lot of exciting choices to make.

I think it is reasonable to try and find a firm in the US that will let you do work in Asia. I know in my current firm, opportunities in Asia are always popping up, and often times they are not that popular due to the upheaval they cause in your personal life (e.g., really long flights and not much time at home).

I also have worked with a couple people that started in the US, did a stint in Asia and came back. I know this route is pretty easy to get into. In other words, the Asian offices of US firms love having people come from the US that have local language skills.

I don't know anyone that started in Asia and then came to the US permanently. If you think about it, this makes sense. If you are already specializing in Asia stuff, and working in Asia, why would a US firm want to hire you to work in the US?

May 26, 2012

TopDGO, are all these people fluent in the local language? Conversational? No experience? What type of firm are you with if you don't mind me asking (MBB/Mid-tier)?

May 28, 2012

As things currently stand, it is significantly easier to get hired in Asian MBB offices and thus harder to move to the U.S. from Asia than vice versa. I believe all of the top firms have international programs at the consultant level (ranging from international staffing on a single project to ambassadorships).

That being said, it is not easy to get staffed in China earning a U.S. salary simply because the math doesn't work out (your billing rate barely covers your salary in some cases) - I hear this is getting better, but was still a major challenge for U.S. consultants looking for Asian experience when I left my firm.

I think this one comes down a lot to what you mean by "I want to be involved with Southeast Asia". If you mean involvement as in living and working in a country, then you should definitely start there. Relationships are incredibly important in Asian business culture, as you no doubt know, and you will be hard-pressed to make up the lost time. The differences in learning experience between regions will be minimal compared to this gap.

On the other hand, if you mean you want to occasionally fly out to Southeast Asia or spend stints there on expat packages while still primarily working out of the states, then I would absolutely start in the U.S. In most of these cases, you will travel for expertise, representing HQ or American interests at an Asian operation, or because you are backfilling senior management roles (employee turnover is high in Asia for multinationals, so this is a pretty common situation). In these cases, you will be able to plug into your firm/employees' networks fairly seamlessly for the short term and you shouldn't be badly handicapped so long as you know the language and local customs.

I don't mean to suggest that the above are the only examples of international work - just pointing out that a big part of this decision comes down to your vision of working internationally in SE Asia.

Hope that helps - feel free to add more details or other questions if you feel I can clarify anything.

May 29, 2012
signposts:

As things currently stand, it is significantly easier to get hired in Asian MBB offices and thus harder to move to the U.S. from Asia than vice versa. I believe all of the top firms have international programs at the consultant level (ranging from international staffing on a single project to ambassadorships).

That being said, it is not easy to get staffed in China earning a U.S. salary simply because the math doesn't work out (your billing rate barely covers your salary in some cases) - I hear this is getting better, but was still a major challenge for U.S. consultants looking for Asian experience when I left my firm.

I think this one comes down a lot to what you mean by "I want to be involved with Southeast Asia". If you mean involvement as in living and working in a country, then you should definitely start there. Relationships are incredibly important in Asian business culture, as you no doubt know, and you will be hard-pressed to make up the lost time. The differences in learning experience between regions will be minimal compared to this gap.

On the other hand, if you mean you want to occasionally fly out to Southeast Asia or spend stints there on expat packages while still primarily working out of the states, then I would absolutely start in the U.S. In most of these cases, you will travel for expertise, representing HQ or American interests at an Asian operation, or because you are backfilling senior management roles (employee turnover is high in Asia for multinationals, so this is a pretty common situation). In these cases, you will be able to plug into your firm/employees' networks fairly seamlessly for the short term and you shouldn't be badly handicapped so long as you know the language and local customs.

I don't mean to suggest that the above are the only examples of international work - just pointing out that a big part of this decision comes down to your vision of working internationally in SE Asia.

Hope that helps - feel free to add more details or other questions if you feel I can clarify anything.

Ok. I have to disagree with some points raised by signposts. Some of the things this poster said might be true, but I think that using Asia as a category is not the best way to go about this. It is even a little ethnocentric (And I don't say that with the intention to offend), as it obscures the HUGE diversity in the region. I mean it is not the same to do business in China (eastern Asia), in Kazakhstan (Central Asia) or in Singapore (southeast Asia).

Since the original poster (OP) wants to focus on China I have to disagree even more with the following two points:
1) "it is significantly easier to get hired in Asian MBB offices"
2) "it is not easy to get staffed in China earning a U.S. salary"

1) I don't know how much easier it is to get hired in the MBB offices in smaller countries (Thailand and Malaysia, etc), but getting hired in China, whether in the mainland or in Hong Kong is NOT easier than getting hired in a US office. This is just a fact.

I won't elaborate much, but it suffices to say that 1) MBBs in China are increasingly uninterested in foreigners in general and particularly in ones that want a brief stint in the region 2) Everyone wants to be in China. I know people that successfully transferred there and they say it was near impossible and getting harder. They told me point blank if you plan to start in a US office planning to start in China, you might get very disappointed. Think of it you have to compete with thousands of smart graduates from top Chinese universities, with all the returnees that studied at the top schools abroad and with legions of American Born Chinese and other Mandarin speakers.

2) For the post-MBA positions all Chinese consultants at MBB make global pay, dollar for dollar. And for pre-MBA employees make less in absolute terms, but the same in terms of cost of living. Why would anyone think that a Chinese employee in Shanghai would be making much less than someone in Atlanta or Charlotte? This people also went to MIT, Harvard, Stanford, or the Chinese equivalent.

What I am not qualified to comment on is how easy it is to transfer to the US from China, but I can't imagine that it would be too hard. At MBB in China you would not only learn how to operate in China, but would also acquire all the skills that a consultant acquires in another office. Those skills travel! It might be harder to move to the US if you are a Chinese consultant (especially if you were educated in China and have little international exposure) for many reasons among them the green card, but if you are American you would still certainly have all the cultural skills that would allow you to operate in your home country and be legally eligible to do so.

I think that if you wanted to move back it would depend more on what specific MBB you are at (McKinsey, for example, is more global in its structure and might be more flexible for this sort of transfer), the availability of positions in the office that you want to, and of course your performance.

I am really not trying to just disagree or be uncouth. My intention is to help the OP. Btw, knowing Chinese will be key for getting an opportunity to go there, but be prepared to be thoroughly tested.

    • 1
May 29, 2012

Ash_nash brings up a good point that talking about Asia as a whole doesn't make a ton of sense. Although, I would say a good portion of advice on WSO will be general in nature but helpful in a wide variety of experiences.

If we are talking about China, which is mainly what I was speaking to anyways, my comments still stand, but could use some more clarification.

Local language = fluency. If your skills are questioned, they will test you.

When I am referring to people that went to Asia and came back, it's important to clarify that they technically quit their job for the US firm and were a new hire for the Asian firm (even though they still worked for the same firm by name). This is an important distinction. In some cases, consultants are asked to move to another country to work for an extended period of time. In this case, at least within my firm, the consultant receives the same salary and if there is a big difference in what they would be receiving in the country they are going to, the US firm would compensate the foreign side. By technically leaving their jobs in the US, the people I am familiar with all took pay cuts in absolute terms. For them though, it was much more about the experience. That said, when they came back, they were given compensation packages in line with or better than people who had worked in the US for the same amount of time.

This is a totally different game for India, I have a bunch of experiences with that as well.