There Are 3 Types of Careers in Management Consulting
If you have a career in management consulting, or are considering one, then you should know this – there are exactly three ways to achieve happiness and make your money. Hopefully both at the same time. You may be told that there are many careers paths or that you can evolve your skill set and diversify across multiple disciplines. This may be true, however, at the end of the day there are really only three paths to pick from which I call ‘The Holy Trinity of Consulting’. They are:
- Sales – plain and simple. Generate business for the firm. Find leads, convert them into sales, build good customer relationships and generate revenue for the firm. Sounds easy but really the most difficult thing to do in the consulting business. I have a huge amount of respect for people that can sell with integrity and remain genuine and not selling themselves out. Most cannot achieve these at the same time.
- Management – you can pick a path where you manage people or a practice full of people. If this is your thing then bonus! However, most of the folks I have seen take these roles end up disappointed in their lack of influence over the machine that is the firm. Yes, you can help guide consultants and career paths but more often than not you are dealing with staffing issues, delivery problems and endless conversations about wanting more money. It’s a yeoman’s job and only for those that are truly passionate about this kind of work.
- Delivery – performing actual consulting work. Yes, there’s a limit to how much you can earn here as well as the amount of influence you may have within the firm. That said, I think it’s the most liberating of all the potential roles you can take. When you boil it all down – you make good money, have a positive impact on the client (hopefully) and get to have a decent life outside of work most of the time. No dealing with the issues of deals falling apart. No wining and dining 4 nights a week. No dealing with other consultants complaining about their ‘career paths’. If you are a lone gun and satisfied with a decent six figure salary then pick this path and be good and happy!
It’s a Sellers Market
When I first started out in Organized Management Consulting (kind of like Organized Crime) I was anxious to prove myself and move up the chain. I distinctly remember a late night conversation I had with two of the partners of the firm I was working at while in a bar in Portland, Oregon. My question was simple: “How do I get ahead in this organization”. They answered almost in unison – “Sell”. They didn’t give me the old song and dance about being a really good subject matter expert in a particular industry or vertical. They didn’t tell me to go manage a bunch of people. They simply laid it out for me with that one word. Sell. And you know what? It was the best advice I ever received in the management consulting business.
Over the next several years I focused on selling the hell out of anything and everything I could. I didn’t care if it was technology work or pure management consulting. I sold it all. Developers, Architects, Infrastructure experts, Business Analysts, Project Managers – the whole kit and kaboodle. And I was damned good at it. You know what else? That advice I’d gotten years earlier was true – my success and influence were realized both in my bank account and the scope of my responsibilities.
Which Path do I Pick?
This is the real question. Do you pick the path you are good at or the one you like the best? It’s really a matter of both skills and priorities. Can everyone simply start selling if they decide that’s what they want to do? No, not really. I’m a firm believer that good business development people are born and not made. Sure, they can be trained to do better and pick up tricks of the trade. But it’s very, very difficult to take someone who doesn’t like selling and can’t build relationships and make them into an all-star salesperson.
Examine your personal priorities and be honest with yourself about what you like to do and what you are good at. Make a simple T-chart and map these things out along with the things you don’t like and aren’t good at. This should help you narrow down your path and to pick the right one.
What if I Can Do All Three?
Well, then you are the proverbial unicorn or purple squirrel. Congratulations. If you can Sell, Manage and Deliver then you can write your own ticket once you have proven your competence in these areas with your leadership team. Then it become a matter of positioning, opportunity and putting your money where your mouth is. Folks that have skills across all three disciplines are often those who rise rapidly in the ranks of Organized Management Consulting leadership. These are the Practice Leaders, Directors and Partners of the world. If this is what you want to be then make it known, deliver on your promises and start plowing ahead.
Do I Choose Money or Personal Fulfillment?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to have it both ways. If you are fulfilled by competing for deals, working lots of hours, going to dozens of meetings, seeing little of your home and family and spending time eating and drinking with people you may not personally like then you might just be cut out for a career selling management consulting work. If you are extremely resilient and can handle the ego hit of losing more than you win then this may be the job for you.
All that being said – I have rarely met a business development person in management consulting that has a personal life that isn’t dictated by the pursuit of clients and the almighty dollar. Yes, the successful one’s may enjoy their odd weekend away at the cabin or on the boat but more often than not they have accumulated more toys and perks than they have time to use. My advice – if you enjoy selling and aren’t afraid to fail then throw your hat in the ring and give it a whirl.
If you can manage your personal life and expectations without letting the job become you then you just might enjoy it. If not, find a path that allows you to deliver good consulting work to clientele and savor the work-life balance so many of us strive to achieve.