Companies in industry have often tempted consultants advising them to step across the divide and join them permanently. However, with consulting such a hot market at present consultancy firms are not just poaching from one another but increasingly looking to industry to attract key staff.
The switch from industry into consulting is a big adjustment. One that not everyone will be able to make successfully.
That’s not to say that one is better than the other as a career path. Some people switch between the two several times in their career to great effect.
Ultimately career path comes down to an individual’s preferences, skills and personal drivers. From our experience, individuals who successfully move from industry into consulting bring a credibility and understanding of practical issues that consultancies really benefit from.
These are some of the key differences to focus on when assessing if someone can make the transition into the world of consulting.
1. Variety of work
Within industry, senior managers typically have a specific functional responsibility within their business that they focus on. For instance, a Capital Projects Director at a water company will lead a programme of water asset related projects.
At a consultancy, a Projects Director could be required to work on a rail project one month and a highways project the next. This requires someone to be flexible enough to adapt their skills and transfer knowledge across sectors.
This also applies to other functional areas of expertise, with consulting teams constantly forming and demobilising new teams for different projects. It is a great opportunity to learn new skills from other experts and allows individuals to gain exposure to a variety of challenges to quickly develop.
People who will benefit from this type of environment are those that thrive on continual stream of new challenges and enjoy steep learning curves.
Typically companies utilise consultancies to assist with solving their more complex, urgent or unusual problems, which results in consultants continually working on the big challenging problems.
In industry, the major challenges tend to be more cyclical, and in the down time you might have more business as usual issues to deal with.
An example of this might be major planning applications such as Development Consent Orders. If you are good at developing DCO’s, then within consulting, you might be the go-to person to work on them. Within a client organisation, a DCO may only be required once every decade, requiring major planning experts to move job every few years from one industry client to another.
Consultants are constantly challenged and engaged but it can be a very fast paced environment, which will not suit everyone.
3. Advising (not deciding)
Consultants come up with solutions to recommend to their client, who then make the ultimate decision which option to take. However great your advice is, at the end of the day it isn’t your decision. For some, this could lead to frustration.
In industry, senior managers will often have delegated authority to take decisions within their given remit.
Business development is crucial to succeeding in a consulting environment. To progress at senior level, you need to win work and build strong client relationships.
Sales is probably the biggest reason that people fail when moving from industry to consulting, so it is pivotal to gauge how comfortable candidates coming from industry will be in this area.
Building strong client relationships is more than just winning work. Candidates must have the ability to build rapport, understand the client’s issues and make sure that the project is successful.
Dependant on the type of advice, consulting can involve more travel than roles in industry. Particularly if the role means that you need to be on site to work with your client.
While this is a lesser factor since COVID, it is definitely still a major consideration. Understanding the typical work pattern is key.
I would love to hear what your experience has been. Do you have experience recruiting from industry into consulting, or have you made that leap yourself? What were the major challenges you faced?