Could Now Be the Perfect Time to Consider a Move Out of Management Consulting?

I reassure candidates I come into contact with that a lot of good can come from a period of economic woe. Which is just as well because the last 12 months in the management consulting industry have been pretty dire.

For many the combination of respectable growth in earnings and hefty (if not life-changing) bonuses has made leaving the consulting industry a very difficult decision to take. The slump that consulting has endured of late though means that bonuses are meagre, pay rises are for the lucky few and aspirations of promotion have mostly been shattered. The consulting juggernaut has screeched to a halt.

In fact, a more accurate assessment would be that it’s gone into reverse. Consulting commentators now believe our industry will see a decline of 10-12% from peak to trough – and that’s in an industry more used to seeing 10%+ annual growth being achieved. So the good that I expect to come out of this situation is that lots of consultants will be forced to look at their careers and decide whether consulting is really for them. With promotion hopes dented and the annual bonus no longer worth sticking around for, there will be many who take the opportunity to progress their careers in other directions. Many – through no fault of their own – will have been “pushed” by their firms in recent weeks and will equally be compelled to decide whether a continued career in consulting is something worth fighting for.

Invariably I can see many reaching the conclusion that now is the time to get out of consulting – particularly as the pick-up in other types of recruiting gathers pace. For the majority this will be a good long-term move and will simply be bringing forward the inevitable career switch (when you consider how few consultants will actually ever make it to Partner the vast majority are destined to leave sooner or later). The consulting industry I would hope will be left with a smaller pool of professionals who really relish the challenges of the work and who will be most driven to helping the sector return to decent levels of growth in the coming quarters.

For those who’ve been through this thought process already and decided consulting is still for them, the positive news is that hiring activity is finally picking up. Recruiters have noted that since early June there’s been a marked pick-up in new hiring assignments, though understandably the interviewing process is still dragging on longer than desired as firms feel their way back into the hiring market.

Off the record we’ve heard from some of the biggest consulting brands that there’s now pent-up demand for significant hiring to take place – and that this will translate into mass recruiting the moment the businesses are convinced that client demand has turned a corner. Most are also expecting an exodus of staff as other sectors of the economy pick up, meaning that replacement hiring will become business critical once again.

The interesting dynamic in the coming year will be just how many disillusioned consultants exit the industry and therefore how quickly we revert to hiring challenges being the number one growth constraint on firms. For those who’ve decided to stick with consulting, the odds would seem to favour there being a more attractive range of consulting jobs for you to progress into over the coming year.

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