In the fast-paced world of management consulting, you quickly learn how to meet the needs of your clients, the partners, and your team. Expectations are clear, communication is near-constant, and the problems to be solved are complex and intellectually stimulating. What’s more, you get a fresh set of people to work with every few months—and quite often a new challenge in a whole new arena. When it’s time to make the move “across the table” from consultant to corporate employee, that seemingly small shift can feel like a whole new world.
When it’s time for you to move on from consulting, a role in the corporate world you’ve been serving seems like a natural fit. You understand their business model, the challenges they face, and how to communicate to the most senior levels of these organizations. For all of the similarities, though, meaningful differences exist.
How consulting and corporate roles are different
Management consulting prepares you for corporate work in the same way that riding in the passenger seat of a car prepared you to drive—you’re familiar with the view, you’ve seen it done up close, you’ve even provided valuable input on directions and such—but actually taking the wheel is a whole different experience. Change is slower and often smaller in magnitude. You work for the same person, with the same team, on the same types of challenges for years—not months. Project outcomes feel incremental compared to the major shifts in the consulting world. Feedback, career planning, and job expectations are more vague and less frequently discussed. In fact, in some corporate cultures, one or more of these things may be completely nonexistent.
Some of your colleagues have been in place for decades and have well-established ways of working that may not match the skills and style you developed in the world of client service. Your level of industry experience, age, and other factors beyond your control can feed into stereotypes that make it hard to become part of the team. Given these harsh realities, why even show up for work tomorrow morning?
You were hired for a reason
When a leader hires someone like you to fill a permanent position it is often because of—not in spite of—your differences. Your training, talent, and fresh set of eyes are likely what the organization values most. Ask the questions and offer the perspective that got you hired. The key is to do it in a way that’s appropriate to your new environment.
You know how to learn
Your hard-earned skills in data analysis and synthesizing information into insights means that, while you cannot close the experience gap right away, you can close the knowledge gap much more quickly than you think. Find a niche that you see as important but unexplored. Casually interview colleagues (over coffee, in the five minutes before a meeting, or another informal setting), pore over the data and reports that no one else reads. You don’t have to know everything that everyone else knows right away, but if you can fill a knowledge gap early on, it will be a big energy boost for you and help to establish your credibility with the team.
You have the best of intentions
At least, I hope you do. As a consultant, you typically deal with senior leaders and managers. It is in their best interest to make sure that you get what you need to solve their problem. This sometimes means making very transactional requests of them and their team. These types of requests can erode trust and create a negative impression of consultants. If your team has worked with consultants before, it’s likely that they’ve formed some opinions about them, and it’s your task to help them see that you are a former consultant and are now part of the team. You’re there to play your part on the team as best you can to ensure success.
Be genuine and open in a way that fits your natural personality. Relationships matter here—you’ll be working with these people for years, not months. Treat them accordingly and you’ll be fine.
You know how to solve all types of problems
As an entry-level consultant, you learn to solve problems of all shapes and sizes—and solve them fast. In your new role, keep your eyes peeled for opportunities outside of your daily work to make use of these skills. How many times has a projector or printer needed some attention minutes before a big meeting? How many hotel, rental car, and restaurant tips and tricks do you have that might be useful to your team members heading out on business trips? You do many things in PowerPoint and Excel without thinking that might completely change a colleague’s work life. A VP stopped me in a very large meeting once to ask me what I had just done in Excel. My recommendation was accepted, but people left the room talking about their new keyboard shortcut.
You still have a lot of work to do
You are not a fully-formed professional. The consulting world is an almost-cartoonish environment that cannot teach you certain things about how to excel in the corporate world. The rules—written and unwritten—are different. Value is created differently. Careers must be crafted with a very different set of tools.
You have been successful in many other environments, and there’s no reason to believe that this one will be any different
More than anything, the mindset that you will be successful can be your greatest asset. Your new corporate colleagues have seen many, many great ideas and important projects cancelled, postponed, or rejected outright. The erosion of morale and willingness to dive into the next project with excitement and energy is almost inevitable. Be the spark that keeps the enthusiasm for creating value for the business alive. Not in a patronizing, “rah rah” sort of way, but in the natural way you go about your business. It’s likely part of what drew you to consulting. You like tough problems. You work hard, and you don’t quit until they’re solved. It’s what you do—and when you let it show, it’s contagious.
Look at where you are with clear eyes. Use the skills that add value; don’t use the ones that don’t; and ask for help in developing new ones that you need. Success won’t require starting over, but it definitely won’t come from staying the same.