Changing Careers: Which Career Path Should You Take -- Consultant or Corporate Executive?

Julie Shenkman
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Every time the economy expands or dips, executives who are tired, bored, displaced, or in search of above-market earnings come out of the barn in droves looking for "greener pastures". They frequently assume that their experiences running a "real" company qualify them to provide insight and expertise as a consultant to other companies. Meanwhile, consultants looking for financial stability have thoughts of going corporate. Consultants are often confident of their abilities to lead organizations. Who could be better qualified than them to run a company from the inside? After all, they have been the guiding hand for many companies strategic, financial and technology direction. They have been trusted counsel for their top executives. Unfortunately, grazing in the other "greener" pasture is more complicated than it seems on the surface. What Life as a Consultant is Like The defining characteristics of the consulting environment are remarkably similar from firm to firm, regardless of whether it is a large global firm or a small local firm. First and foremost, at a senior level, success is based on the generation of sales revenue. Dollars equal power. As a consultant, engagements are driven by thought leadership and strategy. Your clients typically have a list of problems that need to be solved -- and the list changes frequently. Corporate decision-makers assure that consultants have special access to people and resources. After all, they have already or will shortly write a very large check for their services. From a delivery perspective, work is often standardized and methodology-based. Engagements have a beginning, an end, and a defined scope. Often little or no responsibility for implementation or outcomes is specified. But, there are some exceptions. Certain contractual arrangements have shared responsibility for results and that is reflected in the fee. Secondly, the consultant handles implementation of a system or process. However, once it is "done," the consultant still leaves and doesn’t have to live with the consequences. Supervision and personnel responsibility is usually limited to performance on the project by the team members. Should You Be a Consultant? * Are you energized by smart people doing interesting work? * Do you enjoy a continuously shifting landscape of new problems to solve? * Are you easily bored? * Do you like providing "advice and counsel" with little responsibility for operational activities or outcomes? * Is selling fun? Do you like the thrill of the chase? * Do you enjoy socializing and building a network of contacts? What Life as a Corporate Executive is Like In corporations, whether public or private, profitability and shareholder value are the bottom line. For most executives, success is based on contribution to operating results. Organizational leadership, from vision to planning through execution, drives performance. Decision-making and risk taking, with accountability for choices, is fundamental. Outcomes are everything. Activities are heavily implementation and results driven. Few projects are intellectually stimulating. Most of the work of the organization is continuous and predominantly operational. Much is policy and procedurally based. There is a broad distribution of people in a corporation, with a tendency to gather around the mean in intelligence, motivation and interest in their work. Comprehensive personnel management is required by line and most staff executives to maximize the contribution of all employees in the company. Should You Become a Corporate Executive? * Do you like being on the front lines, directing others, making choices? * Do you like to see things through to the end? * Do you gain personal satisfaction from positive, measurable results that you had a significant role in delivering? * Can you keep focus on the long-term while dealing with tactical and operational concerns? * Are you willing to stand behind your decisions and be accountable for and part of outcomes with continuing consequences? * As an insider, can you gain the respect of others for your business acumen? * Are you energized by motivating and leading groups of people to successful achievement of common goals? * Do others follow you and support you? How to Align Yourself with the Career Choice You Make If you are a consultant and still think you are a candidate for a change to a corporation, consider whether you are most suited for a consulting-like role or for an operating leadership position. Your business acumen, facilitation ability, and communication skills are key skills that will be valuable in a corporate role. If you are an executive and still want to try your hand at consulting, consider whether you are most suited for a partner (translate that sales) role or for delivery management (translate that project or multiple projects). Your experience of making things work in the real world and your ability to negotiate complex organizations will be helpful in a consulting role. Remember, both consulting and executive roles have challenges and rewards. Neither is as easy as it looks from the outside, looking in. As long as you find the one that works for you, you will be where the grass is greenest. Paula Asinof, Career Management Expert and Founder of Yellow Brick Path, accelerates the careers of successful executives and professionals who want to move up or move on to their next career opportunities. Throughout her career, she has helped clients, subordinates, and peers recognize their unique capabilities and position themselves as "A" players. Before, you even think about a career change, go to and let Paula create a customized roadmap just for you.

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  • Christine
    I am really interested in getting a consulting firm off the ground. What do I need to do? I need direction on advertising and developing finished product to post on a site...simply put I need help..................
  • Phillippa
    I am interested in consulting but as a Pastoral Consular. Do you handle consulting in that area?
  • Bill M.
    Bill M.
    I am very interested in consulting. Can I get more info about those opportunities?
  • Nini
    I agree with Brian L.We could use a little more information.
  • Jean R.
    Jean R.
    How common is the requirement of liability insurance for PR consultants?
  • Jean R.
    Jean R.
    How common is the requirement of liability insurance for PR consultants?
  • Cecil  M.
    Cecil  M.
    As a maintenance tech and certified home inspector I would love to start a maintenance consulting business, but I honestly do not know where or how to start. If any one can give me advise or leads I would be very grateful.
  • Cassandra W.
    Cassandra W.
    Please send me more information.
  • Matthew N.
    Matthew N.
    I am interested in consulting and executive positions
  • Diane Perry
    Diane Perry
    I would like more info on consulting.  I have thought of this option over the years and am not sure how to approach this.
  • DEEJ
    Please continue to send me information on consulting. The article printed really increased my awareness! DJ
  • Joe mooney
    Joe mooney
    Well written article.  I have done consulting for the last 20 years and are searching for new contacts.
  • John Thacker
    John Thacker
    I am a seasoned, certified food and beverage professional with over 25 years of experience in multi-unit, casino and start-up operations ranging from high volume to quick serve. I am seeking consulting opportunities where my experience and skills can make a difference.
  • Virginia Albert
    Virginia Albert
    I am a film major at GSU.  I am also a writer of novels and screenplays.  However, prior to now I was steeped in corporate -- legal -- to be exact as a wordprocessing operator, proofreader, writer.  While at Georgia State, I have worked as a student assistant and volunteer coordinator at the student-run TV station GSTV, i.e., gathering crews for specific shoots, etc., and found that I have an ability to solve problems.  Younger students call me Ms. Ginny; some I've never before seen or met except in terms of including them in email blasts.  Nonetheless, they know who I am.  Often I am placed in the position of advising the young people and have discovered a love for consulting and problem solving.  Apart from my love of the printed page, I know I could transfer this new-found ability elsewhere, and relish the opportunity to do so.
  • Vikram Mehta
    Vikram Mehta
    I would love to work in a consulting firm
  • Gratis de Bong Jr.
    Gratis de Bong Jr.
    This is interesting and a realistic goal for anyone to achieve. What else is needed, does one have to attend some kind of class to fine tune oneself?
  • Brian Lichterman
    Brian Lichterman
    I enjoyed reading the article, however, I wish it had gone further by suggesting where someone who wants to share their consultant talents should go to find users who might be interseted.  I think based upon over 28 years of public and private sector land use planning, I would be able to uniquely help a company that needed a fresh new strategic outlook for going into the future.  But how do I find clients?
  • Ida A.
    Ida A.
    Please send additional information relating to the field of consulting.  Thanks!
  • Jose A.
    Jose A.
    How can I get started?
  • Debra
    I am interested in consulting in my career of experiences in the medical field. Send me the info
  • Lewis W.
    Lewis W.
    I am a BA degree RN with a lot of experience in IHS offices on Indian Reservations.  I have recently been studying forensics and have purchased a forensics black light and attendant materials.  I would like consulting gigs with hospitals, law enforcement, paternity lawyers etc who need a knowledgeable DNA nurse to consult, train and test.  
  • Clifford M.
    Clifford M.
    I am very interested in consulting in my fields of experience, Real Estate and Construction for a total of 50 yrs. how do you get started.
  • Kenneth S.
    Kenneth S.
    I have been in the Construction Consulting business over the past 7 years as an Senior Level employee and now owning my own business. There are inherent ups and downs with both scenerios. As an employee, there is the stability factor of a paycheck and paid benifits etc. to which most people have become accoustomed and this is a great perk. The downside is that often you do not get to choose your specific assigments, clients or may be asked to work outside your comfort zone for locations of work. Line managers often make these decisions during client negotiations and salaried consultants are asked to take what is good for the business bottom line and their work is usually absorbed in the Corporate theater. There is no "I" in corporate consulting. Working on the outside offers the benifits of increased earning potential due to lack of corporate overhead, but the stability factor is lost. Consultants need to plan far in advance of current workloads and clients and constantly be aware of the necessity of selling your services to the clients. You are more visible to the client and therefore held to a very high standard of service for the fees you charge the client, and this is a no-excuses position. Performance is your responsiblilty and the success of your business venture depends on the satisfaction of each client, in real time. Be prepared, diligent and always strive to improve the product and services you offer. There is sweet success in knowing you have done a good for the client.      
  • Bill
    What is the best way to get started?
  • Bobbie B.
    Bobbie B.
    I am in the healthcare industry and find that consulting roles do not always  appreciate your professional background or performance expertise.Basically, get their issues resolved no matter the extreme pressure experienced personally to complete the job.

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