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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  • Ernest Bille
    Ernest Bille
    Would like more information on consulting opportunities and firms seeking experienced managers.
  • bill t.
    bill t.
    I would also like to find out more about the process to secure a consultant task
  • Bharat
    Your article is truly inspirational, I had been self-employed before; consulting is definitely a good outlet.
  • Thomas S.
    Thomas S.
    How do I get started and make money at it? Are there companies that I can start with and branch out on my own later?
  • C. Clark
    C. Clark
    I am more interested in becoming a consultant; it is my passion, and it is what I am pursuing in school.
  • Sheila A.
    Sheila A.
    I am currently a Corp. Executive and would relish having the next 20 years on the other side of the pasture.. greener or not.. I'm up for a new challenge. any info? thx!
  • Barbara
    I would appreciate some feed back on consulting for medical billing. There was a lot of comments on sales and marketing
  • Austin L.
    Austin L.
    With over 30 yrs. of experience, I bring a depth of experience to any consulting position that is invaluable. It is difficult to obtain full time employment, so consulting is a great outlet for an energetic 60 yr. old.
  • Peter P.
    Peter P.
    I have over 15 years experience of Project Management in Electrical Construction from project proposal, start up and finishing including commissioning and maintenance after. I have been working in the industry, now I just want to provide my knowledge to start my own Project Management Consultant Business.  Please let me know how I should start in doing this business , any advice and suggesting would be greatly appreciated.  thank you, Peter.
  • bob w.
    bob w.
    Good articles. I'd like to see more info about consulting assignments. Thanks
  • David H.
    David H.
    I am considering consultanting in the pest control and landscape industry as well as life coach to those that need assistance with making decisions with their lifestyle. If you have information that would assist me please email to me.
  • R. A. Miller
    R. A. Miller
    I would like to receive more information on consulting opportunities. Being on the verge of becoming an elder citizen, this may be an excellent source of income.
  • Nicholas L.
    Nicholas L.
    I am looking for a Senior Level Consultant position in Sacramento, CA.
  • David B.
    David B.
    I am very much interested in consulting in the construction industry.  I would like to get more information.
  • B Moore
    B Moore
    I would like more information about being a consultant in the machine design and electrical fields.
  • Ron Boroniec
    Ron Boroniec
    I would like more information about consulting.
  • wade henson
    wade henson
    After 30 years in corporate aeronautics and data storage I'm out on the street; consulting seems like a viable option at this point; if you are providing more info like the others are requesting I would like to be on that list as well thank you
  • Elvis
    please send me more information you have for financial institution, manufacturing company, construction company consultant. I had been in business for years as a controller in construction and industry for 15 years.
  • Joe
    Please send any info. you have for restaurant consulting/coaching. I've been in the business for years as a district restaurant manager, and would like to get into coaching, and only working with challenged, existing operations, or those who simply would like to benefit from my experience...thanks!!
  • Michael
    If you desire to become a consultant, any position needs research, prior to accepting any offer or engagement make certain you have signed contractual agreements prior to giving out information to anyone! TRUST NO ONE, even written emails are not an agreement, especially from an international entity.
  • Carole Banks
    Carole Banks
    I would appreciate more information in the area of Health care Risk Management Consultant work.  Please send any information or links regarding this endeavor.  I am well qualified and licensed.
  • John Gardner
    John Gardner
    Thanks for the read. I oddly enough have thought about political consulting. Since 2004 I have worked on US Senate, US House, County Judge and State House races. With good results.  Currently I am running for County Commissioner and am having to turn down advising campaigns do to it interfering with my own bid for County Commissioner. What advice do you have for me?
  • Peter M.
    Peter M.
    I'd be interested in more information regarding consulting in the area of construction administration for architects,  builders and/or owners.  I've amassed over forty years hands on experience in that area.  I'd be especially interested in per diem consulting rather than full time employment for one entity.  Please send any direction you can regarding that endeavor.Thank you!
  • Neil
    need help in getting started in Metro Phoenix areaThanks,Neil
  • Liubov
    I am very experienced in consulting, but I would like to learn more this kind of information.     

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