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Change in consulting: What options you have and how you decide

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Some consultants consider moving to another firm after several years of experience rather than leaving consulting directly. The reason for this is the same as in other industries: The more work experience you have, the better you get to know yourself, your interests and career goals. If the current company does not match these ideas, you start looking for a company that suits you better.

There are many options available to you when moving within the consulting industry: From moving up to MBB to switching to a non-profit consultancy. Consultants transition at all levels of the hierarchy, but in our experience, the most common time to transition is at the senior consultant level.

Perhaps you yourself have often considered switching to another consultancy. However, as a consultant you are often involved in projects and lack the necessary time to inform yourself in detail about your options. That’s why we’ll tell you below what to think about, what opportunities are available to you, and help you make your next career move!

⇓ Directly to the options

What you should think about before changing consultants

As with any other career move, it is important to be clear about your motivations when making a change to consulting. If you don’t have a specific consultancy in mind yet, the key is to find the company that matches your goals. The following thought process will not only help you make your decision, but also help you be convincing at the interview:

Step 1: Actual state What is the status quo at your current company?

In the first step, you should make yourself aware of the advantages and disadvantages of your current consultation: What exactly do you like and what bothers you? Important factors include location, salary, work-life balance, colleagues, projects/industries, specializations and career opportunities. Feel free to take detailed notes and write down your own strengths and weaknesses as well. What is your expertise? Personal factors also play a role in documenting the status quo. Do family or friends influence your decision?

Step 2: Target state What do you expect from a change?

The second step is to determine what you want. What do you want? Are you interested in private equity, for example? Then look at consultancies like Bain, which are leaders in this field. Which points are most important to you and what are you willing to do without? What is not possible for you? Here you can also use your considerations from the first step and draw conclusions from them. For example, you should prioritize advantages that you appreciate about your current company in order of importance and mark disadvantages that you do not want to accept after the change. You should also think about what else you want to learn. Never lose sight of the next step in your career: What are your plans for the next five years? Are you planning to leave consulting in the long term, and if so, which one?

Step 3: Bridge – How do you get to the target?

The third step is to think about how you can make it from your current situation to your target state. If you don’t have a specific consultancy in mind yet, the most important and difficult part of this bridge is probably finding the right company that both meets your vision and fits your expertise. So it should be realistic for you to be able to get into this consulting. When searching for this company and specific job opportunities, you can use placement platforms specifically for consultants. At consultingheads we inform you, for example, weekly by e-mail about the most exciting career opportunities. You can see directly which jobs are suitable for you through our percentage skill match. You can then filter them according to your preferences. To give your application a bit of a push, you should definitely consider whether you have any contacts who could help you transfer to your dream company.

Infographic: Change of consulting – 4 steps to the decision [PDF].

Infographic: Consulting Change - 4 Steps to Decision [PDF] consultingheads blog consultingheadlines
An overview of important influencing factors and the thought process on how you will make the right decision to change consulting in four steps.

Step 4: Decision – Should you make the switch?

As a consultant, you are of course familiar with SWOT analysis. But have you ever used it to evaluate your career prospects? With your thoughts from step 1, simply enter your strengths and weaknesses into the matrix. Then it’s on to assessing a particular company that might be a good fit for you. Consider whether it meets your objectives compared to your current company (Opportunities) or not (Threats). This illustration will help you decide if the switch is really worth it. Because remember, you pay some sort of entry fee in the form of time every time you change companies. This is because you first have to start from scratch, so to speak, and rebuild your reputation in the new company. Therefore, you should have carefully considered this career move and see yourself in the new company for at least 2-3 years.

You can choose between these career steps

Change in consulting: MBB at last
From MBB to MBB
Move within boutique or lower tier companies
Advancement as a partner in a boutique consultancy
In-house consulting as an intermediate step into the industry
Non-profit consulting as a change of pace

➥Table: Which consulting change is right for you? [PDF]

Change in consulting: MBB at last

The move to MBB is seen as a career boost . Maybe you were already aiming for one of the big three MBBs when you started consulting, but unfortunately didn’t make it at the time. That’s why you first joined a Tier 2, Tier 3 or boutique consultancy, only to try MBB again after a few years of work experience.

Your skillset as a consultant gives you at least one advantage over other experienced-hire candidates in the industry. And if MBB is looking for experts exactly in your specialization, you have quite good chances. In any case, as always, a referral helps to push your application. If you didn’t apply to MBB originally, but now want to try, you should have a good explanation ready at the interview as to why you are only now applying to MBB. Otherwise, you should be prepared for the question of how you have improved in the meantime.

We have seen candidates where only one year of experience at Tier-2 was enough to get an offer at McKinsey or Bain. BCG is usually a bit more demanding, but in most cases the same applies to all MBBs: You need at least two or at best more than three years of experience to be considered for an experienced hire position. Even then, this change is difficult. Whereas with other switching options you can often expect a promotion, here you are more likely to be downgraded or at most be able to switch horizontally. However, this need not deter you. Once you’re in, you can move up quickly.

From MBB to MBB

It happens that an MBB employee does not feel comfortable in his company and wants to move to another MBB company for reasons of corporate culture. Nevertheless, this change is rather unusual, because if you are really unhappy at one MBB company, it is questionable whether you will really be better off at another. Therefore, think carefully about whether MBB and consulting in general is something for you at all.

If you do decide to make this switch, the hardest part will be explaining what your motivation is for making this switch. Since all MBB companies insist that they have a unique culture, you can use that for your interview, but it will be difficult to convince with that alone. It is better if you argue in connection with a change of location or practice. For example, if you’re at McKinsey and want to go to Bain, you can cite the private equity focus as a motivator. Another option would be for you to leave consulting altogether, for example to join a start-up, and then apply again to other MBBs after one or two years.

Move within boutique or lower tier companies

Here the change is a bit more common and easier, but actually the same applies:

  • You should make sure that the company you are applying to meets your expectations.
  • You can increase your chances of getting a contract with a referral or showing a certain expertise.
  • Last but not least: clearly communicate your motivation for the change in the interview.

Advancement as a partner in a boutique consultancy

Become a partner in a boutique consultancy

If you are an MBBer or work at another top consultancy, the road to becoming a partner is rocky and exhausting. Not every consultant lasts all the way to the top. If you didn’t make it, but still dream of a career jump to partner, moving to a smaller boutique consultancy still offers you the chance.

Flat hierarchies and more personal responsibility allow you to advance quickly and also offer a change of pace compared to the big top consultancies. But be careful: In small consultancies, the “too theoretical” MBB consultant is unfortunately not always a welcome colleague. If you are willing to put up with these biases, you need to be aware of your industry expertise , which is what the boutique consultancy in question focuses on. In this way, you will also be convincing regardless of your previous employer.

In-house consulting as an intermediate step into the industry

In-house consulting is the right choice for you if you want shorter working hours and a better work-life balance at a comparable salary. It also offers you increased opportunities for your exit if you want to move to other areas of the company afterwards. This is because many large companies look for their next generation of managers in their own in-house consulting departments.

To get your foot in the door, positions in in-house consultancies that are part of theICN Inhouse Consulting Networkare. This network now has 24 members with approximately 1,700 consultants. You shouldn’t wait too long to make the switch, however, because in-house consultancies are usually looking for people who have worked in traditional management consulting for less than five years.

Non-profit consulting as a change of pace

Even though management consulting isn’t exactly considered the prime example of community service, to do some good as a consultant, you don’t necessarily have to change your profession. Some consultancies offer pro bono or non-profit projects . Others support entire sabbaticals for consultants who have taken the “Volunteer Work” project into their heads.

If individual non-profit projects are not enough for you, then you also have the opportunity to join non-profit consultancies, such as the Grameen Creative Laba consulting firm for social businesses. In the States, there are even non-profit consultancies with MBB roots like the Touch Foundation (McKinsey) or Bridgespan (Bain). But of course, value-based work comes at a price: lower pay and long hours.

Table: Which consulting change is right for you? [PDF]

Overview table: Which consulting change is right for you? [PDF] consultingheads blog consultingheadlines
An overview and assessment of the various switching options according to security, responsibility, prestige, salary, work-life balance and flexibility. Also includes typical positions and the ideal time to change.

Career management in management consulting

As a consultant, many options are open to you both in and after consulting. If you have the urge to change and make a company move, it’s important that you don’t rush into anything. While your gut instinct is a good guide, you shouldn’t rely on it alone and think in detail about your next career move. Is switching really right for you? Are you considering leaving consulting or taking a break from education to study for an MBA?


Errors discovered or suggestions for improvement to our article? We are open to criticism and welcome your feedback – via comment or e-mail to [email protected].