After spending several years in a consulting firm, it’s not unusual to start considering what your next move will be. Many consultants reach a point where they yearn for a change, but the path forward can seem unclear. This is where consulting exit opportunities come into play.
Consulting exit opportunities refer to the variety of career paths that consultants can pursue outside of consulting firms. From joining a startup to working for a big corporation or starting a business of their own, consultants have a wide range of options to explore.
However, navigating consulting exit opportunities can be challenging without a clear plan in mind. It requires careful consideration and research into the various paths available and mapping out what your long-term career objectives are. Having a solid exit plan can help consultants transition smoothly to their desired career path and continue to thrive in their professional lives.
In this article, I’ll take you through the vast array of consulting exit opportunities available to you and help you find a path that aligns with your career goals and aspirations. Let’s dive in!
Why Do People Leave Consulting?
There are many reasons why people exit consulting. Factors such as compensation, work-life balance, personal passion, and career stagnation have all played a significant role in their decision-making process.
One of the most prevalent reasons consultants leave their jobs is the lure of higher compensation. Despite the well-established six-figure salaries of most consulting roles from top firms, more lucrative opportunities often present themselves after a few years of experience.
Consultants from top consulting firms like MBB (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) and Big 4 (PwC, Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG) frequently receive enticing offers from non-consulting firms that promise a significant pay raise. By leveraging the skills and expertise honed in consultancy, these professionals can see an increase in compensation by 20-40 percent, depending on the industry and role.
The Quest for Work-Life Balance
The pursuit of a more balanced lifestyle is another significant factor prompting consultants to seek employment elsewhere. The consulting world is notorious for its long hours and high-pressure environment, which includes frequent business travels and tight project deadlines.
Many consultants find it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and when personal circumstances change, such as starting a family or other personal commitments, the appeal of a less demanding job increases. Shifting into roles with a more predictable 9-to-5 routine can drastically enhance their quality of life.
Passion for New Ventures
Not every consultant finds long-term fulfillment in their role. As they traverse through various industries and business functions, they may develop a passion for a specific sector or topic.
This passion can eventually overshadow the allure of consulting, propelling them to pursue a career in an area they’re genuinely excited about. This transition allows them to marry their consultancy-honed skills with their interests, leading to a more satisfying professional life.
The Need to Overcome Career Stagnation
Finally, a sense of career stagnation can trigger an exit from consulting. Despite the continuous learning and development opportunities in consulting, some consultants may feel frustrated with lack of their career progression. This is especially true for those who have hit a senior level, where promotions are less frequent and highly competitive.
Leaving the consulting sphere allows them to explore roles with clearer progression pathways or opportunities to take on leadership positions sooner. This shift can reignite their career progression, ensuring their skills and capabilities continue to be challenged and developed.
Why Consultants Easily Succeed After They Quit
Consultants’ post-exit success is no coincidence but the culmination of their skill set, the prestige associated with their previous role, and the robust network they’ve nurtured.
Diverse and Coveted Skill Set
Consulting equips professionals with a comprehensive skill set that includes leadership, communication, problem-solving, and project management. These skills, which are transferable and sought after across industries, often make ex-consultants strong candidates for high-level roles in various sectors.
Consultants often work with multiple clients across diverse sectors. This provides them with a broad understanding of different industries and business functions. Such cross-sector exposure is a valuable asset, equipping former consultants with a unique perspective that enables them to navigate and excel in their new roles with ease.
The prestige attached to top consultancies adds a feather to ex-consultants’ caps. They’ve survived rigorous recruitment processes that notoriously accept less than 1% of applicants. This is particularly true for MBB and Big 4 consultants, whose firms’ reputations command respect in the professional world.
Former consultants often leverage their network of C-level clients and the consultancy alumni community to navigate their career paths post-exit. Their previous engagements with top executives of large companies and the access to a vast pool of successful alumni can open doors to opportunities that may have otherwise remained closed.
When Is The Right Rime To Exit Consulting?
There is no universally right time to exit consulting; it largely depends on individual circumstances and career goals. However, a common trend is to leave after two to three years post-MBA. By this point, consultants are likely in a senior enough position to start their next job at a director level or higher. Another consideration is if you’re seeking a role that demands less intensive work culture.
Top 8 Consulting Exit Opportunities
1. Corporate Management
Corporate management is one of the leading exit options for consultants. Corporate management roles typically involve strategic planning, team leadership, project management, and operational oversight.
They require a holistic understanding of business functions, industry trends, and operational efficiency – all areas where consultants excel due to their diverse project experience and analytical skills gained from management consulting.
According to CNBC, McKinsey has a large number of alumni who hold top executive roles, including 70 Fortune 500 CEOs. This is a testament to how well consulting skills align with corporate leadership.
Consultants transitioning into corporate management often experience improved work-life balance, as these roles typically entail less travel and more predictable hours.
Compensation can also be significantly higher. Salary.com reports that the average Top Compensation Executive salary in the United States is $222,909 as in May 2023, but the range typically falls between $200,034 and $248,893.
However, the transition from advisory to operational roles presents its challenges, requiring consultants to adapt from suggesting strategies to executing them.
2. Banking and Finance
Banking and finance, particularly roles in investment banking, private equity (PE), and hedge funds, frequently appeal to consultants eyeing an exit. These roles are often considered among the highest paying jobs after consulting.
These roles involve analyzing financial data, advising on investments, and managing financial portfolios.
The analytical, strategic thinking, and problem-solving skills gained from consulting fit seamlessly into these roles. Furthermore, the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly, honed in consulting, is crucial for client-facing roles in finance.
These roles can be highly rewarding, both in terms of financial compensation and the potential for advancement. As per a 2022 survey by Wall Street Oasis, investment bankers’ median compensation was $150,000, while private equity associates made a median of $227,500.
However, just like consulting, these roles can involve long hours and high stress levels, which may prove challenging.
The finance industry is vast and opportunities abound, particularly in top investment banks like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley, or prominent private equity firms and hedge funds like Blackstone and Bridgewater Associates.
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3. Venture Capital
Venture Capital (VC) is one of the most sought-after exit opportunities for consultants, offering a dynamic and rewarding career path. This sector involves investing in early-stage companies with high growth potential, and consultants often find roles as associates, principals, or partners in VC firms, sometimes even leading specific business units within these organizations.
Consultants bring a unique set of skills to these roles. Their experience working with strategy teams across various industries and functions provides them with a broad perspective, enabling them to spot trends and identify promising startups.
According to a report by the National Venture Capital Association, 42% of VC professionals have a background in consulting, highlighting the strong alignment between consulting skills and VC roles.
The rewards of a career in venture capital are significant. VC professionals often have the opportunity to shape the future of industries by investing in innovative startups. They work closely with entrepreneurs, providing strategic guidance and helping them scale their business units. According to Glassdoor, the estimated salary for a venture capital associate is around $111,678 per year, with partners earning significantly more.
However, the transition to venture capital comes with its challenges. The VC industry is highly competitive, with many more candidates than available roles. Furthermore, unlike consulting, where success is often measured by the quality of analysis and recommendations provided by strategy teams, success in venture capital is ultimately determined by the financial performance of the portfolio companies.
Venture capital also requires a long-term perspective. It can take years to see the results of an investment, and there is always the risk that a startup will fail.
4. Non-profit Organizations
Non-profit organizations are an increasingly attractive exit route for consultants seeking to align their professional expertise with societal impact.
Non-profit roles typically involve strategic planning, fundraising, advocacy, and operational management. These tasks closely align with the skillset developed in consulting, including strategic thinking, problem-solving, and project management. Moreover, the communication and persuasion skills honed in client-facing consulting roles are invaluable in fundraising and advocacy.
While compensation in non-profit roles may not match corporate or finance salaries, the reward lies in contributing to societal good and work-life balance. According to Salary.com, non-profit executives’ median salary was $83,528.
The challenges in this role include operating within constrained resources and navigating the complexities of stakeholder management.
A wide range of non-profit sectors appeal to consultants, from global health (e.g., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to education (e.g., Teach for All) and environment (e.g., Greenpeace).
Government roles, particularly in policy-making and advisory positions, are among the top exit opportunities for consultants due to several reasons.
Consultants are often involved in high-stakes decision-making processes, dealing with complex business problems, and developing strategic solutions. These experiences equip them with a unique skill set that is highly applicable to policy-making roles.
Moreover, consultants often have exposure to a wide range of industries, which can be beneficial in advisory roles within government. They can bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to public sector challenges, drawing on their experience from the private sector.
The rewards of transitioning to government roles are multifaceted. While the financial compensation may not match that of the private sector, the intrinsic rewards can be substantial. Consultants often find satisfaction in influencing public policies that have a direct impact on society. They also enjoy the prestige associated with high-level government roles and the opportunity to work on issues of national importance.
However, there are challenges to consider. The pace of work in the public sector can be slower compared to the fast-paced consulting environment, which can be frustrating for some. Additionally, navigating the political landscape and dealing with bureaucratic red tape can be complex.
Several organizations offer promising opportunities for consultants. These include central government departments, regulatory bodies, and international organizations like the United Nations or World Bank.
Entrepreneurship is a highly attractive exit opportunity for consultants due to the transferability of skills, the potential for high rewards, and the opportunity to create and lead their own ventures.
As consultants, individuals are exposed to a variety of industries, business models, and strategic challenges. They develop robust problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, and a deep understanding of business operations. These skills are directly applicable to entrepreneurship, where one must identify market opportunities, devise strategic plans, and overcome a myriad of challenges to establish and grow a business.
The roles and responsibilities of an entrepreneur include identifying business opportunities, raising capital, managing operations, and leading teams.
The rewards of entrepreneurship can be substantial. There is the potential for significant financial gain if the venture is successful. Moreover, entrepreneurs often derive immense satisfaction from creating something of their own and seeing it grow. According to a survey by the Harvard Business Review, entrepreneurs generally reported a higher level of job satisfaction compared to their previous careers.
However, entrepreneurship also presents significant challenges. It involves a high level of risk, long hours, and the pressure of making decisions that could make or break the business. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years.
7. Freelance Consulting
Freelance consulting is a highly attractive exit opportunity for consultants, offering the chance to leverage their skills and experience in a flexible, self-directed context.
As freelance consultants, individuals essentially take on the role of an independent business owner. They are responsible for sourcing clients, managing projects, delivering results, and handling all aspects of business administration.
The rewards of freelance consulting can be significant. There is the potential for high financial gain, as freelance consultants often charge premium rates for their expertise. The average annual pay for a Freelance Consultant in the United States is $70,872 a year, according to ZipRecruiter.
Moreover, freelance consulting offers a high degree of flexibility and autonomy. Consultants can choose the projects they work on, set their own schedules, and work from anywhere. This can lead to a better work-life balance and greater job satisfaction.
However, freelance consulting also presents its own set of challenges. It requires a high level of self-motivation and discipline, as well as the ability to manage the uncertainties and risks associated with self-employment. Freelance consultants must also continuously market their services and build their client base, which can be time-consuming and challenging.
Academia is a compelling exit opportunity for consultants, offering the chance to leverage their skills and experience in a context that values knowledge creation and dissemination.
In academia, former consultants often take on roles such as professors, researchers, or administrators. These roles involve responsibilities such as conducting research, teaching, mentoring students, and contributing to the strategic direction of the institution.
Consultants bring a unique perspective to academia, having worked on real-world business problems and strategies. This experience can enrich their teaching and research, making it more relevant and applicable to the current business environment.
According to a study by the Academy of Management Learning & Education, professors with industry experience, such as former consultants, are often rated higher by students in terms of teaching effectiveness.
The rewards of a career in academia can be significant. While the financial compensation may not match that of the private sector, the intrinsic rewards can be substantial. Academics often find satisfaction in contributing to knowledge, influencing the next generation of leaders, and having the freedom to pursue their intellectual interests.
However, transitioning to academia also presents challenges. The pace and culture can be different from the fast-paced, results-oriented consulting environment. Academics often spend years conducting research before seeing the impact of their work. Additionally, securing tenure-track positions can be highly competitive.
How to Transition from Consulting to Other Careers
Transitioning from consulting to other careers can be a significant move, but with the right approach, it can be a successful one. Here are some key steps to ensure a smooth transition.
Identify Your Transferable Skills
Consultants acquire a wide range of skills, such as problem-solving, strategic thinking, and project management. Identify these transferable skills and highlight them in your resume and interviews.
According to a LinkedIn survey, 92% of hiring managers and recruiters say these skills are as important, or more important, than direct experience.
Leverage your existing network and build new connections in your target industry. Networking can open doors to opportunities and provide valuable insights about the industry.
A report by the Linkedin states that 70% of jobs are found through networking.
Understand the Industry
Gain a deep understanding of the industry you’re transitioning into. This includes its trends, challenges, and key players. This knowledge will help you tailor your approach and stand out as a candidate.
Prepare for Cultural Shifts
Different industries have different cultures and ways of working. Be prepared for these changes and show your adaptability. A survey by the Harvard Business Review found that 80% of employers believe adaptability is important when hiring new employees.
Seek Professional Guidance
Consider seeking guidance from a career coach or mentor who has experience in your target industry. They can provide valuable advice, support throughout your transition and help you on case interview prep.
While the consulting journey is intense, it’s filled with opportunities for those who know how to leverage it. There’s a world of possibilities beyond the consulting horizon, and with careful planning and a strategic approach, you can unlock the door to exciting and fulfilling roles in the wider business landscape.
Good luck with your journey, and here’s to the myriad of consulting exit opportunities that await you!
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