Many graduates entertain the notion of becoming a consultant at some point. Some think about it briefly, decide it’s probably not for them, and then seek other types of employment in industry or elsewhere. Some try it for a few years, burn out and vow to never consult again, while others find they love it and build long and rewarding careers in the consulting profession.
Part of the decision-making process with respect to choosing whether or not to pursue a career in consulting is weighing the various options. One major option is a career in industry. Assuming the choice is between a career in industry and a career in consulting, we can make a few generalizations regarding the pros and cons of these two options.
Typically, a career in industry allows an individual to fit into a given role and then focus on that one role for a period of time. The perception often is that an industry career will provide greater stability than a consulting career, with less travel, fewer work hours, and a less intense work environment. This does not mean that careers in industry are easy, by any means. Many industry jobs require significant travel, long hours and hard work. In general, however, careers in industry are “lower intensity” than those in consulting.
A career in consulting almost always involves travel, sometimes extensive (40 or more hours per week), and generally high work intensity. Those can be drawbacks. On the plus side, careers in consulting can be extremely interesting. The nature of consulting work makes it difficult to ever get bored. A consultant may work on a project with a given client for several weeks (or months), complete it and then move on to another project with another client. This enables consultants to see new problems, tackle new challenges, learn new approaches, meet new people and see the inner workings of different client companies.
There are other benefits as well. Solid consulting experience can help make a consultant a more valuable candidate should he or she ever decide to look elsewhere for employment (in industry, for example). The reason is simple. A consultant is likely to see and deal with a greater number – and wider array – of business problems, strategic challenges and major corporate changes in five years than someone in the industry may experience in 25 years. Such “in-the-trenches” experience is extremely valuable to future industry employers and contributes to making the consultant more “marketable.”
Individuals who have spent years in an industry position, with no consulting experience, can be less prepared to deal with a career upheaval – such as a layoff – than those who have had consulting experience. Their sometimes narrowly focused areas of expertise and less well-rounded work experiences can make them less attractive to potential new employers. The perceived stability of an industry career discussed earlier may, in fact, be somewhat illusory and well worth trading for the opportunity to experience diverse business challenges, corporate cultures and problem-solving approaches. Such experience can be invaluable, whether the consultant stays in a consulting career or moves on to something else.