A career in consulting may seem glamorous, but has its own issues – so be careful what you ask for, you might get it. I strongly recommend to anyone thinking of a significant shift in his or her career to seek career assessment advice. Most major universities offer a free assessment for students and only require a nominal fee from professionals. This is money and time well spent in the form of a totally objective third party helping you to make an honest assessment of your skills, personality and traits.
There are many excellent books and free resources to help you do some self-introspection. Many can be found at your local library or through a search of various sources. In my first job at a top 10 consulting firm, part of the orientation was reading The Consultants Calling, by Geoffery M. Bellman. Reading this and other works are easily some of the best investments in yourself ever made.
Making a shift to a consulting career is not as risky as it may seem. For example, you must build a good skill set to offer before considering consulting in the first place. Your worst-case scenario is to go back into your old line of work if things don’t work out. Another important consideration is the “life learning” mandate consultants must commit to. Consider that when you enter the consulting field for the first time, you are bringing a current set of skills based on actual application. The relevance of your experiences will fade over time, and continued learning is the best way to keep yourself sharp and at the top of your field.
Pros and Cons to a Career in Consulting
|Money||Often will earn more than a counterpart in industry.||More effort will be required after you “leave the shop” – the consultant’s work goes with them 24/7/365. There is unrelenting pressure to perform.|
|Travel and time from home – high travel consulting jobs||Visit a lot of great places with exposure to new ideas, industries and cultures. Probably will earn more than your industry counterparts.||Not for the family man – count on the spouse and children to weary quickly. Consider how lonely you will be eating and sleeping alone in a strange place.|
|Job in consulting with “no or low travel”||Works better for the family person or single parent.||Kiss the money advantage goodbye. Your earnings may be less than your industry counterpart. When things get tight, you will be the first to go, as avoiding a big (non-billable) bench is good business in consulting.|
|Opportunities to learn||Are endless. A big advantage in consulting is that you will typically get a lot of exposure to new things.||If you are not by habit a life learner who consciously works to expand your knowledge and skills, you will quickly lose relevance. What value is it to you to take your modern car to someone whom only knows how to fix older models?|
|Job security||Successful consultants (people who demonstrate effectiveness for clients) are in high demand in good times and bad.||Consultant turn over is typically higher than in almost any other employment sector you might pursue. Remember that you are a commodity – a set of skills and ability clients pay a premium to get when needed, and get rid of when not. Consulting firms that say they “never have layoffs” as their sales pitch ultimately do in fact have to trim their workforce when the market shifts.|
Getting your first consulting job requires you to “think out of the box.” Let’s assume you need a job with minimal travel. While it is obvious you will watch the paper and the various job websites, consider this passive approach a small part of your search effort. At least 90% of your search time must focus on proactive contacts with potential employers. Research potential employers in your geography first. The short list below presents some ideas:
- Is there a branch office of a large ERP software provider nearby?
- Check out all of the CPA firms in your area with more than 25 people in an office. Chances are they have clients who are struggling and need help, or already have a practice area established to do ERP implementation support.
- Look for the boutique firms that are VARs (Value Added Resellers) for various market segment ERP systems.
- Some colleges have training departments and technology centers partnered with ERP providers or consortiums of manufacturers that need resources.
- Become active in your local APICS chapter on the Board of Directors, as you will get to meet a lot of great people and contribute to a good cause at the same time.
Ideally, all of your efforts should result in names, phone numbers and addresses. Ask for a short appointment to meet with decision-makers. For other ideas on getting to the hiring manager, an excellent resource (hopefully in your local library) is the book, Rites of Passage, by John Lucht. Ignore the sales pitch – focus on the invaluable information and in particular the section on consulting as a career toward the end of the book.
Now that you have put yourself in front of the decision-maker that can tender an offer, one last piece of advice: Ask for the job. If you have done your homework, you will know if the job makes sense or not. By making it clear you want to be part of the team before parting ways, you will stand out. Ask about next steps that must occur before a final written job offer will be tendered. Your decisive and direct behavior will go a long way towards your success in getting the job, and in actually doing the work later.