The following article is part of the serialisation of more than 100 pages of career editorial from The Definitive Guide to UK Consulting Firms. Professionals seriously considering the option of furthering their career in consulting may download the full guide.
Moving from industry to management consulting
There is a steady demand in people looking to move from industry into consultancy. There are many reasons as to why this might be. Consultancy is seen by many as an attractive industry to work in due to the variety of work and the opportunity to really contribute towards the success of a business. Jeremy Riley, UK Managing Partner at Distinct, proposed that: “There is a lot of demand to move from industry into consultancy as people are attracted to the diversity of work that a consultancy may offer. However, it is by no means an easy move and those who will succeed need to be able to bring either specific capabilities or industry knowledge, but preferably both, and understand and be prepared to work in a demanding performance culture.” To explore why people move from industry into consultancy, we will also be considering the way in which people do this, taking into account when it is the right time in your career to make the move. We regularly speak to candidates who want to do exactly this and often aid them in their transition.
Who looks for industry candidates?
Every consultancy company will value industry experience differently. Some consultancies will actively look for people with industry experience, whereas some concentrate on those with consultancy experience. This may be for a variety of reasons such as the size of the company.
Some consultancies will choose to focus on candidates with experience purely in consultancy, feeling they are in a better position to hit the ground running. Tim Cook, Partner of Retail and Consumer Goods at OC&C; Strategy Consultants, commented that they “don’t have that many consultants that came from industry. The number of consultants coming from industry will change by market and company; however I suspect that less than 5% within OC&C; came from industry.” Tim Cook also said that “small niche players can’t justify having these people sat around building core consulting skills.” Another reason why some consultancy companies may not focus on candidates from industry is because of the structure of the company. Simon Dorris, Managing Partner at Lansdowne, commented: “In some companies they may be able to, but the level Lansdowne work at means flaws show up. They are not used to the fast paced nature of work.” There are some consultancies that will take someone from any background. Lars Finskud, Managing Director at Vanguard Strategy, said: “We consciously seek to attract high performers with varied backgrounds to have a team with people that complement each other. Field of study or industry background can be variable as long as they have the abilities to become an excellent Vanguard consultant. We have had good experiences with people both from industry and from previous consulting backgrounds.” Heath Jackson, Director responsible for global clients division Xantus, said: “Broadly we hire 50% from industry and 50% from other consultancies. Clients value the insight and understanding that having worked within industry provides. There are a lot of professionals within industry looking to move into consulting, as long as they have the capabilities, the differentiator for us is the right attitude and an engaging personality.”
James Platt, Partner at The Boston Consulting Group, said: “We have spent time looking at the backgrounds of successful people and one thing is apparent: your background does not dictate, in any wait your potential for success. Along with this, neither does your degree, your school or your university. Within BCG if you have first class academics and the right characteristics, you can be successful from any background.”
Some consultancy firms look for people who have come from industry, as those candidates will have experience in what they are advising. Richard IIsley, Partner at The Sales and Marketing Consultancy Group, said: “In many ways, candidates have more credibility coming from industry. They have a good pedigree and are well connected. There is undoubtedly a demand for that person to come in and either do what they are already doing or to come in and advise.” Volker Schloenvoigt, Manager at Edgar Dunn and Company, said: “Ultimately, when you are a consultant you are there to advise and help your clients. Clients want to have someone who knows what they are talking about. People with a background in industry will have that sector specific knowledge.” Candidates with this experience can make a great addition to a consultancy firm. They are able to put their clients at ease as the client knows they are dealing with someone who understands their situation. Shane Mugan, Executive Director at Novo Altum, said: “The best consultants are those that have been there and done it in industry, having walked in the shoes of the client and having the scars on their back to prove it. However to be a really excellent consultant, their experience in industry must have been founded on a consultative approach.” Leo van der Borgh, Manager at Credo, agreed stating: “We would consider candidates from industry if the core skills were right.” Frank Esson, Senior Partner at Curzon & Company, supports this saying: “A consultant who came from industry can look a client in the eye and say they know what’s going on. This level of understanding builds credibility and trust.” Mike Melling, UK President at Alexander Proudfoot, agrees stating that: “credibility around having ‘been there and done that’ is key.”
There are a variety of benefits for moving into consultancy and the reasons vary for everyone. One of the most popular reasons we hear for making the move from industry to consultancy is feeling unchallenged, often due to the repetitive nature of the work. We also find that candidates are attracted to the more project-based work of consultancy, where they get to deliver the results of their hard work. Consultancy provides the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, where no day is ever the same. Volker Schloenvoigt, Manager at Edgar Dunn and Company said that “the huge benefit of moving to consultancy is the variety of work that you see. There is no one ‘normal’ day.” Rick Simmonds, Managing Partner and Head of Financial Services at Alsbridge, supports this view by saying that in consultancy “there is no same routine”.
Consultancy also adds value to your career, because it can be said that working in consultancy for two years is like working in industry for five years. This is because consultants often work on multiple projects at the same time, addressing the needs of several clients. Volker Schloenvoigt, Manager at Edgar Dunn and Company, supports this saying: “As a consultant it is probable that you will work on a number of projects at one time.” The fast-paced nature of consultancy means the work is more intensive and you build key relationships quicker. Ultimately it is the variety in consultancy that adds value to your career.
Another reason we hear on a regular basis from candidates is that there is a greater chance of career progression within consultancy. Candidates within industry often feel they have reached a glass ceiling where they are unable to develop any further. When they feel they are starting to stagnate in their current position, they look for a new challenge in a role which provides clear growth opportunities. Tony Tarquini, Head of Financial Services at Capita Consulting, said: “Consulting is a lifestyle choice; the work is very demanding and requires a lot of commitment but the rewards and opportunities for progression are equally lucrative.”
There is inevitably going to be travel within a consultancy role and this is often perceived as a drawback. Consultants travel on a regular basis in order to meet their clients face to face. Through travelling to client site, consultants become the face of the company. In consulting you will engage with multiple clients who may be spread across different locations. Consultancy offers the opportunity for international travel, allowing you to gain exposure to different cultures and markets. This opportunity is generally not available to those who work in industry. Volker Schloenvoigt, Manager at Edgar Dunn and Company, said that travelling as a consultant “you can be in the UK one day and Europe the next; it isn’t just a “5 day in the office job’; you have the opportunity to gain a wider perspective.”
What is looked for?
There are skills that consultancy companies will look for in a candidate to demonstrate that they have the potential to be a good consultant. Consultancies are particularly interested in the specialist skills set and knowledge that can be gained from industry. Harry McDermott, CEO of Hudson & Yorke, said: “Skill set has to be specialist; without a specialist skill set the consulting market is at mercy of the contractors.”
Consultancies have their own idea of what specialised skills they would expect and look for in a candidate. Stephan Butscher, Chief Talent Officer at Simon Kucher & Partners, said: “The success rate from people moving into consulting from industry is mixed. The more a candidate is used to these three things, the higher the rate of success:
1. Experience of project work or managing projects.
2. An analytical role with an understanding of business and a keen desire to learn.
3. An intense working day. The average consultant works longer hours during a week, but coupled with that is a far higher intensity of work; the days are fuller and there is pressure coming from more angles. Not everyone is used to this and some struggle.”
These are some of the most important skills a candidate should have in order to make a successful transition into consultancy. Tim Cook, Partner of Retail and Consumer Goods at OC&C; Strategy Consultants, said that candidates from industry need analytical skills: “If they don’t have the analytical basis, then it is tricky to make the transition. If they have a lot of industry expertise, then bringing this into consulting in a short space of time is very difficult.”
Another skill that consultancy companies look for in candidates from industry is the ability to sell and deliver projects. Harry McDermott, CEO of Hudson & Yorke, said that “candidates from industry can struggle as consulting is a very unique skill set.” How ever, he also said: “We are more likely to consider someone from industry if they have been in sales.” Tom Blacksell, Head of Consulting at Capgemini, stressed the importance of sales and project delivery experience: “As you become more senior within consultancy the ability to sell becomes more important; taking this into consideration can you sell it if you haven’t delivered it?” Steve Bevan, EMEA HR Director at A.T. Kearney, said: “At a senior level, everyone needs to sell as well as deliver work. They cannot deliver consulting projects without well developed consulting skills (the consulting toolkit), which cannot be gained from their industry experience.”
Consultancies differ in their views on the amount and type of industry experience that is beneficial. Stephan Butscher, Chief Talent Officer at Simon Kucher & Partners, said that: “Once a candidate gets about 3-4 years in industry they find it more difficult to learn new ways and might struggle to move into consulting. But it is less a question of time in industry than of what their roles were and how they can adjust to the demands to a consultant.” Frank Esson, Senior Partner from Curzon & Company, agrees: “Typically around 5 years’ line experience is very useful in maturing a consultant’s outlook and given them some real content and credibility. Without that, a client can look them in the eye and make some pretty disparaging comments!” An ideal time to move into consultancy can be when a candidate is a specialist in their chosen industry. Tim Cook from OC&C; Strategy Consultants said: “It depends on experiences and getting the full value from industry. People looking to come into strategy have to wait until they are an industry guru before moving and when they do a large strategy house is the place as they can afford to bring these people in.” Shane Mugan, Executive Director at Novo Altum, commented: “The transition from industry to consultancy will be easier at a lower level. At a senior level when a candidate has worked solely in industry their network will be relatively focused to a particular company or area, potentially impeding their ability to connect with a wider network.”
The right time to move is not just measured by time; it ultimately depends on the candidate in question. lan Hellens, Managing Director at Project One, said: “The right time to move isn’t dependent on the actual time, but on understanding what they want from the next stage of their career. They will be successful at what they do and seek the opportunity to develop their skills and experience across a range of industry sectors and challenges.” It is up to each individual candidate when the right time is for them to make the move into consultancy. Richard Goodson, Vice President and Head of Management Consultancy at Hitachi Consulting, stressed the importance of thinking it through first as it is a very challenging move to make: ‘Have they really thought it through?’ Heath Jackson, Director at Xantus, has a different opinion: “Someone who is considering moving into a consulting career from industry should just make the jump; consultancy is a fantastic place to go to work.”
In fact Richard’s career can be taken as an example of a successful transition from industry into consulting. He worked at an oil and gas company where he worked alongside consultants on projects before moving to one of the ‘Big 4’. He suggests that the people consultancies are most attracted to have been internal consultants and would suggest getting experience in a business before moving, as your credibility is strengthened if you have been in a ‘normal environment’ first.
David Newland, Vice President at Sapient Global Markets, very much enjoyed the transition from industry to consulting. Coming from a background in investment banking operations, he found the role wasn’t commercial enough. He started his own consultancy which was subsequently acquired by Sapient. He said: “I had the deep sector knowledge and found the sales element exciting. The change isn’t for everybody. It is a lot harder being an external consult ant; only certain types of people can make the transition.”
There are a number of routes in which candidates can move from industry into consultancy. Along with applying directly to companies many candidates post their CVs online, use their contacts within their target companies or even look up the recruitment manager from Linkedln. However the best route into consultancy from industry is through the use of a specialist recruitment firms such as Huntswood. We have a number of positions which are looking for industry experience and a great place to view these is Huntswood’s website.
The current demand for moving from industry into consulting is one which looks set to continue. There will undoubtedly be consultancies that are reluctant to employ candidates who lack consulting experience. However there are many consultancies that do look for people with the specialist experience that industry provides. There are a number of routes into consultancy from industry and, for those who take the leap, they will find a rewarding and challenging career ahead of them.
This piece is reproduced from The Definitive Guide to UK Consulting Firms, a 400+ page careers guide for candidates looking to pursue a career in management consultancy. A free resource, this guide contains over 100 pages of career editorials followed by a directory of consulting firms active in the UK market – with over 380 employers listed and 189 employers profiled.
The guide is free to download in PDF format, with hardback copies also available from October 2011 onwards. Access your copy of The Definitive Guide to UK Consulting Firms (2nd Edition).