"What do consultants do after being in consulting for a few years?" I can't even tell you how many times I asked myself that question! Why? Because a Consulting career is one of the biggest roller coaster careers in life. Whether you're struggling to keep your dating life fresh, trying to balance the family with the crazy demands on your time, or if you're just annoyed with a senior's continual "Pls fix" comments, you know you want out. You are just not sure where to.
As for me, I loved consulting. I still do. What I didn't enjoy though was that I could only have limited impact on a client in 6 weeks with my hundred pages long strategy deck which would probably be shelved even before we invoiced them. And then there was another thing- I wanted to grow fast. Ever heard of those A type people? That was totally me! So when I found a role in industry that ticked all my must-haves and then some more, I obviously jumped ship.
The key here is finding a role that ticked all the must-haves and more. And this is what so many people miss when it comes to discussing consulting exit opportunities. They take a pick off the hat, get lured by the short terms gains that the role is likely going to offer and then wonder why their consulting career didn't end like Indra Nooyi's. Or worse even, they've been talking about quitting since you know them but are still hanging in there in the temptation of an unachievable carrot! Sounds like someone you know? Do them a favour and share this before we continue further!
Okay! So, now that you've literally quadrupled your karma by sharing this post with someone who needs to hear this, let me share the top five consulting exits that I was considering and debating:
1. Smaller consulting firm with a promotion
There are a few reasons smaller boutiques are worth considering. They are indeed very good in the niche that they play in. Basically, they know a lot about a few things really well and don't pretend to know everything about everything. This helps them get noticed by the people who matter in the industry. And because they're smaller, they can offer you a higher designation and salary.
However, on the flip-side, they are compromised on creativity and knowledge. Personally for me, who is curious about everything, this was severely restricting. They are also not a great exit unless you either want to spend considerable amounts of time with them (which personally I think you should want to do if you're thinking of joining them) or have a story to line up when you want to exit again.
2. Exit to tech aka FAANG
This is one that I considered quite seriously. In fact, I had a few chats with recruiters and alum from Facebook and Google. Those chats made me realise that in spite of how glorious things look from the outside, the roles there would be boring for me because I'd be a specialist working on one area only. I was used to the excitement of ever changing consulting projects. So the ADHD part of my brain wouldn't be satisfied. And as far as growth was concerned, I looked at Mr. Pichai and wondered if the leadership roles (which was my ultimate ambition) in FAANG would ever consider someone with an Economics degree and no MBA. I didn't want to go do a MBA. So this didn't seem like the best option to me.
3. Exit to PE / VC
I was definitely keen on this because of my interest in start-ups, and entrepreneurship. I'd mentored a number of start-ups pro-bono and even helped some of London's hottest Fintechs with their planning and set up. I definitely liked the excitement of the deal work and I am completely brazen when it comes to networking. But I had never real done any deal related work, which weighed against me. However, many PE firms were also setting up data science teams, which also I was on the look out for.
VC was more exciting to me than PE as well purely because the stage at which the firms intervene in the business. However, purely because you don't have enough data when you're starting out, VC roles wouldn't come with the data science option. I had realised that I love data. Also, career strategy wise, it would be silly to not capitalise on my data science career when the world was witnessing the data boom and people spending time, energy and money to get into data science and strategy.
While researching PE and VC, I also came across social impact investing. I loved the idea of this but yet again vetoed it based on the lack of data science or data that I could apply to it.
4. Exit to start-ups at a more senior role
This is what I kind of did. This made sense to me both in terms of the impact that I could have on the business and the growth trajectory I could get. Also, by the virtue of being smaller and lesser in terms of bureaucracy, innovative thinking is appreciated if you're logical enough and can hold your own.
I am an entrepreneur at heart. When people see chaos, I see opportunity. So irrespective of whether I would be an entrepreneur in my own gig or not, I knew I'd be entrepreneurial wherever I go. Entrepreneurship was something that I definitely was considering - not by completely calling quits but as a side gig. This is why I re-negotiated the terms on my employment contract with my employer. This is something 99% of the people would never think of and then blame their employment contract on not being flexible enough to allow a side gig. But obviously if there is an entrepreneur in you, I'd strongly advice that you think of this as a valid exit option from consulting. Once your work hours reduce, you can devote a couple of hours every day to a side gig and eventually build out your entrepreneurial dream.
Now, as for me, my goal was clear - I wanted growth and impact. FAST! The challenge is most people will go through this exercise before figuring out their goals and that is recipe for underwhelm.
Because I had my eyes set on a goal, I knew the opportunity when it arose. I quit consulting to head up a data science and strategy team in industry. In this case, I would be able to have an impact on my prospective employer's business across the departments. The company I exit to used to be a PE house but over the last few years had re-positioned themselves as an information services player and listed themselves on the London Stock Exchange. I would combine tech, data and strategy with the role since it was a relatively senior role (than what a Google would have offered me for example) in a smaller brand where there was scope for innovative thinking, but we were financially backed by a solid business. So, to me it felt like I was checking more boxes than I wanted, i.e. I would get the flavour of working with PE minded people without actually being in the PE deal madness. I was getting a more senior role at a start-up type brand without the financial risk. I was getting to use my tech and entrepreneurial hats too. So, I actually took the offer though I had better offers counting purely based on money. Why? Because this was my perfect exit at that point.
What's your goal with your exit? Let me know in the comments below.