Options for Post Consulting Careers

Question:

First, let me tell you that LOMS has been of great help.

It was interesting and very concise.

Thanks to it, I was able to get an offer from BCG and Oliver Wyman.

I really enjoyed meeting the consultants, but ultimately feel BCG is a better fit.

In any case, I have a question for you regarding Consulting vs. industry. I have been told that one year in consulting = 2 - 3 in industry.

How accurate is that in practice? If I leave a consulting firm, what's next?

I hear many people go into positions in strategy. But is there something else?

I imagine someone interested in product/marketing management is better off going into industry. Any thoughts?

My Reply:

First off, congratulations on your BCG and Oliver Wyman offers. I am glad my guidance has been helpful to you in this next step in your career.

Let me start by answering your question about career options after consulting.

The short answer is that you can pretty much do anything... literally.

So yes, I do think that 1 year in consulting is worth 2-3 years in industry... but more important than the years' ratio is the quality of those years.

In consulting, you work on very high-level strategic issues, board-of-director-level issues.

There are many, many, many people in industry who work 30 years and never work on a board-level issue. In my three years at McKinsey, I worked on close to a dozen such issues.

Board issues are very different than functional issues, which is the more common experience you see in industry.

If someone works in industry for three years in marketing, they have three years of experience in marketing.  The experience in consulting is more akin to CEO-in-training-type experiences.

You are simply able to "connect the dots" between disparate functional issues that those in industry are simply unable to see.

For example, if a customer complains that customer service is lousy: Why is it lousy? Is it because the company hired the wrong CSRs (customer service representatives)? In which case, it's a human resources issue.

Or did the company hire the right people, but how they are being deployed is causing the complaints. In this case, it is an issue with a client services’ incorrect decision.

Or are clients unhappy because your products stink?  Is that a design problem? A manufacturing problem? Or a problem involving sales and marketing over-selling and over-promising in their messages, causing the client to have unrealistic expectations?

Or are retail partners selling the product in such a way that is somehow incomplete? Thereby causing the end consumer a negative customer experience.

Given something as simple as a recurring customer service complaint, what is the actual problem?

A VP of client services with 20 years could not tell you the underlying cause of the problem.

They would tell you how many more people are needed to staff up to handle the complaints, but they are generally not cross-functionally and big-picture-oriented enough to "see" how the pieces of the puzzle (the different functions in the company) interconnect.

The VP of human resources could not either. They could tell you how to hire better CSRs or implement a re-training program, but doing a cross-functional root cause analysis is not in their usual job description either.

Generally speaking, in many companies (perhaps Fortune 500 companies with strategic planning departments excluded) there is often one person who has this cross-functional and big-picture perspective -- the person running the business.

Yet, in just 18 months of work in consulting, you quickly develop this skill, which is in extremely short supply in industry.

This allows you to tackle any role with this particular perspective in your tool bag.

Here are some examples of jobs and roles my friends took after 2 - 3 years at McKinsey.  Keep in mind my colleague group started at McKinsey after undergraduate, so you'll see some go to grad school.  The career choices for Associates after three years is similar in terms of industry (minus the grad school).

* Harvard or Stanford MBA

* Yale Law

* Started an internet company (two sold theirs for $80M+)

* Work for an LBO firm

* Help run a non-profit

* Work for a mid-size movie studio

* Become chief of staff for a CEO

* Work in product management

* Become a chief information officer of a startup

* Work for a client and run a division of the client's company managing 300 employees

*Work in strategy or business development for a big company

* Become an independent film writer and producer

* Go get a PhD in Psychology

* Run their parent's family-owned small business

* Work for one of the major fashion designers in NYC

Here are where some of my friends from BCG, Bain, Mercer, etc... ended up working.

* Ran a part of gap.com

* A partner at a venture capital firm

* Partner at a private equity firm

* VP of marketing for Ghiradelli Chocolates (after working in brand management at Clorox)

* Ran a product management group at Paypal

* Worked in finance at Pepsi, HBS, Brand manager at Oral-B

* In charge of global marketing launches for Gillette

The mix of industry and roles is constrained not by your skills, but by your preferences. You will notice the roles are really all over the place -- very much reflective of personal interests that any kind of restriction based on qualifications.

The only field I can think of where consulting is a major negative is a highly creative field. One of my friends at McKinsey tried to break into Hollywood -- working for one of the big Hollywood agents.

He found that McKinsey on the resume was a liability.

If you went to work for a fashion designer on the design side, I think consulting would be a liability... a degree from the FIT - Fashion Institute of Technology (I think is the name) would be more credible.

Though I know several people who went to work for high-end designers on the business side, and the experience was very much valued.

Personally, I went down the startup route.  I started one of the first social networking companies in the world -- about five years before Facebook got started.  60,000 users in the first 60 days, no revenue model in sight, end of story.

I later became what is now known as chief of staff to the CEO of another startup company, stepped in as interim chief information officer, helped the company go public writing parts of the SEC filing documents, and took on a permanent role as VP of product management.

Ran a $20M division of another publicly-traded company while my wife went to Harvard to get her MBA, decided to focus on having kids. Ditched the career in software.

Started my current company, which over a few years of fumbling my way around in ecommerce, morphed into the consulting company that is it now.

Published four business books. Serve as an expert source for various media organizations - Fox, MSNBC, TIME magazine, the Wall Street JournalInc magazine, EntrepreneurForbes, etc...

Basically, I answer business questions for reporters in much the same fashion I answer your questions for you.

So, that has been my career path. Lots of startups, technology, product management, product marketing and consulting (for small and mid-size companies).

One thing that is worth pointing out is that in the two companies where I worked as an executive, I was very consistently seen by many in the company as the likely future CEO of the company.

This was the case in large part because I could see how all the pieces of the company fit together, and others with deep functional experience did not have this breadth of perspective.

Though this did cause some resentment with some, due to my age only being in my mid 20's at the time.

So, the value add of the consulting experience was that I could run my department or division effectively while being able to see how it fit into the whole... and I was one of the few, if not only, people in the company capable of troubleshooting a cross-functional issue. Nobody else had the breadth of experience to do it.

My career trajectory as an employee in industry was equally as fast as my trajectory at McKinsey -- and I believe the latter enabled the former.

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40 comments… add one
  • Jules Mar 14, 2018, 10:43 am

    Hi Victor,

    I’ve had 2+ years of strategy consulting experience at a Big 4 firm and wish to move into the industry. I want to move into manufacturing/consumer markets, retail and/or eCommerce, but I’m curious as to the possible roles I could move into. You mentioned strategy, marketing, sales, business development and product management in your post, but I want a role that can provide as much diverse experience as consulting offers, and the specialist experience required for the industry. I’m looking at companies like Amazon, P&G, Google, but they seem to value technical skills (specific expertise) more than generalist, strategic/consulting abilities. Would an MBA help to penetrate these companies?

    Thanks for your apt advice!

  • Ken A Aug 11, 2015, 1:06 am

    Hi Victor,

    I really wanted to thank you for all the guidance you provide. Your advice helped me get an offer at a non-MBB (ala Strategy&). It’s been about a year and I’ve been thinking about moving on since the travelling lifestyle has been a little rough. My background is engineering and I have an MBA from a top 3 school and I was thinking about leaving the firm before I finish my second year. What are some realistic exit options with my amount of experience and how can I minimize any questions about leaving before the 2nd year was up?

    Thanks Victor,

    Ken A.

  • Bobby May 2, 2015, 9:12 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I have 3 years of strategy consulting experience at a top boutique (strong ties to top business school faculty) that specializes in technology.

    My long term interests are in either running technology companies (in a CEO/COO/VP Product/VP Growth role) or joining a VC firm.

    I’m debating whether to join a large, well-known software firm and jump around in a few different roles in operations, product, and marketing, OR go for a more sales / analytics role at a fast-growing later stage startup. I think the startup would be more exciting, but the pay and focus on career development might be greater at the larger software company, vs. the startup that just wants people to get stuff done and fast-track the company to IPO.

    Any thoughts? I value the experience you have in seeing so many different career paths play out.

    Thanks,
    Bobby

  • Daniel Apr 27, 2015, 1:01 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I am coming from a 3 years boutique consulting firm in operations and restructuring background, educational background is non-finance. I would like to get into MBB in Europe after my MBA graduation and switch to PE or VC later on.

    Maybe you could advise me on which MBA you think would be best for my case (as I have no finance background): INSEAD, LBS, …? And do you think my post MBA goal is achievable and a good way to get into PE?

    Thank you very much in advance!

    Best,
    Daniel

  • Joe Apr 20, 2015, 7:16 pm

    Victor,

    I am graduating in a month with a bachelors in accounting and a M.S. in finance from a large public university. I am starting at a boutique energy-sector management consulting firm (<50 people). Though it is not a firm I see as just a stepping stone, I have been trying to get a grasp on exit opportunities if I don't end up loving the work.

    For a shift to corporate development, corporate strategy, or an energy focused P.E. shop, is my best bet to start looking at MBA programs?

    Thanks,
    -Joe

    • Victor Cheng Apr 21, 2015, 3:41 am

      Joe,

      There are generally far more corporate development and strategy roles than PE. MBA most likely for a PE role, for others MBA and/or developing a network of professionals in your area who may know people in those other fields.

      -Victor

  • Seth Jensen Apr 8, 2015, 8:44 pm

    Hi Victor,

    thank you for the information. I am an MBA and also obtained a second masters in Finance. I will be working for a technology consulting firm upon graduation. My goal is to enter into PE or VC after a few years. Being in the tech industry, what would be my best strategy?

    Thank You,

    Seth

  • Ben Feb 20, 2015, 5:03 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I am a 1st year MBA at a top 5 program in the U.S. I have a summer internship offer from a boutique (under 100 people) growth strategy oriented consulting firm. What are the exit opportunities for people with boutique consulting experience after 3-5 years? Would the top 5 MBA brand mitigate the lack of recognition of the boutique, given that most MBA hires at the firm are also from top MBA programs?

    In the long run I am interested in a career in either a) venture capital or b) emerging markets social impact investing.

    Ben

    • Victor Cheng Apr 7, 2015, 9:24 pm

      Ben,

      Working in industry jumps out as the most likely / easiest option in your scenario. This would especially be the case if the work you did at the boutique were focused on a particular industry or functional field.

      The top 5 MBA always helps period.

      Venture capital is a very slim possibility. As a field, they are very pedigree focused — even more so than consulting. VC is heavily concentrated around the top 2 mba programs (Stanford and Harvard) — though not exclusively. They value high pedigree consulting firms, or technology firms as work experiences prior to VC. VC is very, very competitive.

      I don’t know anything about emerging markets social impact investing. If that role is a capital markets / sales & trading role, I don’t know how they would view your background. If it was more asset management oriented, I don’t know either. I would suggest developing a network in those fields and getting input from people in those fields.

      -Victor

  • James Dec 14, 2014, 5:57 am

    I’m an undergrad who is joining BAH after I graduate. What are your thoughts on exit opportunities post spin off? I’m interested in public sector consulting for now, but as a former IB summer analyst, I’d like to keep finance still on the table.

    Thanks,

    James

    • Victor Cheng Apr 7, 2015, 9:19 pm

      James,

      I don’t know investment banking very well, so I can’t speak to how they would evaluate your candidacy in the future.

      I would suggest developing a networking in IB and staying in touch. I’m certain that would be helpful and certainly not harmful to keep options in finance option in the future.

      -Victor

  • Paul Nov 25, 2014, 6:02 pm

    Victor,

    I’m graduating with a top 15 MBA in May and trying to decide on which offers to take. To what extent do boutique firms restrict your ability to exit? I had a private consulting practice before my mba and now am having difficulty getting traction at the major firms. (I think too much and challenge their frameworks; they want someone who can reliably implement their tools instead of trying to improve them at the associate level). I really enjoy strategy consulting work but I don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into a niche I might not want for my whole career.

    • Victor Cheng Nov 25, 2014, 8:12 pm

      Paul,

      It depends where you want to exit to. In general, the easy exit from a consulting firm is to a client that you’ve worked with, followed by an job in the industry in which you worked the most in while in consulting, and then broader opportunities — generally in that order. As you go out of your sector where you lack industry experience and you lack consulting firm brand recognition, the exit opportunities shrink. If you have brand recognition, there are more employers willing to take a chance on a “good athlete” (someone smart, good track record, but no direct industry or functional experience). If you have industry experience but not brand recognition that’s still considered a safer hiring bet than the reverse.

      So if you’re going to go to a boutique, it’s a very good idea to make sure the kind of work they do and the kinds of clients they serve are what you want to be doing. If you want to do a major lateral shift a few years down the road, that’s harder especially given you already have your mba. The MBA is a good transition point to do something totally different. Much harder a few years later.

      -Victor

  • Billy Nov 17, 2014, 2:42 am

    Dear Victor,

    I was wondering if you can share your thoughts. The company that I work for majors in problem solving and I mostly run workshops for the whole year and get roped into projects maybe once or twice a year.

    My question is how do you move up the value chain quickly in management consulting?

    • Victor Cheng Nov 17, 2014, 2:53 am

      Billy,

      I would need significantly more information about your situation in terms of the firm, the work it does, your role, the career path you face, etc… In general, start doing the next level role while in your current role. Do this by doing your current role well and volunteering to take on more responsibility..

      -Victor

  • Frank May 6, 2014, 10:38 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I currently work for a mining company as a Manager, internal audit mainly focusing on operational audit. I also hsve a background in project financial controls and public accounting at PwC. I am trying to go into more ops and strategic role. With about 11 yes of experience in public accounting, internal audit, business school in France, do you think that I can break into consulting?

    Thx

    • Paul Nov 25, 2014, 5:53 pm

      Frank, check out “Partners in Performance”. They do a lot of mining ops and strategy consulting projects

  • Pamela May 1, 2014, 6:43 am

    Hello!

    Thank you for your insights, they are always very helpful! I am a little lost concerning my career path, and I thought you could be of great help.

    I have an offer from Booz & Company – Beirut Office, now Strategy&, and I am also considering Cisco (Associate Network Consulting Engineer, Beirut Office) and P&G (Assistant Brand Manager, Dubai Office). You should also know that I am a computer and communications engineer, this is why Cisco is one of the options.

    Thank you in advance for you time!

    • Victor Cheng May 1, 2014, 9:43 am

      Pamela,

      What is your goal? Choose the opportunity that moves you closest to your goal. If you aren’t sure of your goal, take some time to reflect about what you want.

      If a business career of some sort is what you seek, the Booz and P&G offers offer you many long term career options. Both offer good business training and are well respected in the business world.

      Victor

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