I was a recent guest on The Geek-Whisperers. On the podcast, the team asked me the question of how did I make the transition from a pure technologist to a management consultant or better put by Matt Brender, What the Hell? I talked about the aptitude of management consultants vs. technologists but not how I made the transition. I thought it would be beneficial to highlight the transition itself.
1st determine if management consulting is for you
Before we talk about the how, it’s important to answer the “if” question. I’ve discussed the differences between management consultants and technology consultants before. A common task I ask people to complete is to take an IT Strategy course or training. If, at the end of the course, you find yourself wanting to learn more then management consulting may be for you. However, if you walk away bored or frustrated then it’s a snapshot of what your experience will be working as a management consultant. You don’t necessarily have to invest in a course. You can pick up a book on IT business strategy to get a similar result.
Education and experience requirements
It’s very difficult to get into a Big 4 without a minimum of a Bachelors degree. I’ve seen exceptions when engineers possessed highly desirable experience in areas such as big data or Salesforce. These are rare exceptions and upward career mobility is limited. For candidates coming fresh out of school with no experience, a Bachelors is adequate to begin as an associate. If you are an experienced hire the requirements get a little more nuanced.
Most experienced hires that appeal to Big 4’s will have several years of customer facing industry experience. Big 4’s value the perspective that is brought from your years of experience talking with other clients. Engineers without customer facing experience will find it difficult to get far in the interview process. Management consultants have to be comfortable talking in front of customers. So, if you have experience in a pre-sales role then the skill will be directly transferable. However, if you have spent all your career in a data center or coding and have limited presentation skill you’ll find it difficult to make a transition that keeps you at the same compensation levels. If doing pre-sales is an undesirable way to gain the experience, then management consulting isn’t for you. You will do pre-sales.
If you just haven’t gotten the opportunity to do pre-sales then look into participating in a speaking program such as Toast Masters. Hiring managers love candidates that look to expand beyond their current role. Any work towards a Masters or MBA is appealing as well.
On the job learning
What are the expectations once you’ve gotten the job? I spoke about getting involved in high-level discussions with SVP’s of Fortune 50 companies. Is the expectation that you add this type of value day one? No. Depending on your career level, the expectation isn’t there that you lead these types of conversations. Coming out of a pure engineering role you will be brought in at an individual contributor level. Even if you were a manager in your previous role, you will more than likely be brought in a non-manager role within a Big 4.
A Big 4 manager is expected to interface with senior level clients, as well as sell services. It’s a big cultural shock to move in to a customer facing/management consulting role from an individual contributor engineering role. You need to check your pride at the door. Coming from a people manager role into an individual job title was an adjustment for me. I found that even in my first year, I still managed teams and had the responsibility I expected sans a sales quota. During your first year, the expectation is that you are in learning mode until you raise your hand to lead. Big 4’s do a great job of providing all the training needed to progress in your career.
So, I’m not special in the sense that I moved from being an engineer to a management consultant. Firms have well-defined transition plans and training. You may need to check your pride at the door. It’s safe to say that after 1 or 2 years at a management consulting firm, you’ll learn more than you ever thought you could. It will also be safe to say that you’ll know if it’s for you long term. The path isn’t as difficult as it seems.