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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  • Ann
    Please provide information on how to start in the position as a consultant. I have 17 years in workers compensation and would like to become a consultant on claims as a nurse.
  • Gaye Dobay
    Gaye Dobay
    I would like more info on consulting. I have twenty five years experience as an automotive accounting controller and I think my expertise would be something that dealers could use.
  • David E. Dix
    David E. Dix
    I would like to know more about it. Please forward me some information, please!!
  • Nicole Anderson
    Nicole Anderson
    I would like to receive more research.
  • Clarence Robinson
    Clarence Robinson
    I am very interested in the consulting field.  I enjoy analyzing and being able to advise people on what to do.
  • Bill F
    Bill F
    I have been successful as a corporate executive and a networking consultant. I prefer the consulting role and I would encourage anyone to give it a shot... it can be very lucrative and will give you  freedom from the corporate political rat race... more freedom than you could ever imagine!
  • Vera Sherman
    Vera Sherman
    I have been a corporate business manager for many years and love the role of advice, counsel, leadership and support in the business environment. But at this point (over 20 years)and having been unemployed and looking for awhile, I really want to advise, counsel and "move" to the next challenge. How does one get started in the independent consulting buzz???
  • John Longtin
    John Longtin
    I have done some consulting the last three years, but on a hit or miss basis.   I would like to learn more about being more active in the enterprise.
  • Frank Steele
    Frank Steele
    Good article. Please send more information.
  • Tom
    I am trying to get into the consulting arena myself, as I feel that I can have a greater impact on an organization without the day-to-day political mess.I have 12 years experience in field marketing, demand generation and effective follow-through techniques.  I would like to hear more about how I can move ahead in a consultative role.Tom
  • Stephanie Perry
    Stephanie Perry
    I have nine years clerical experience (Medical Records File Clerk) and am somewhat in between jobs. I am currently enrolled at Angley College (a technical college close to home) in their Medical Clinical Lab Assistant program. Are there consulting opportunities for someone in my situation?
  • Vicky Daulton
    Vicky Daulton
    Great article!
  • jaye grant
    jaye grant
    I have been on both sides of the coin "corporate & consultant. If you are experienced in your area of expertise and enjoy training,consultant would be a rewarding field. Please make available more information on consulting......a very rewarding field but can be very cut throat!
  • francis greco
    francis greco
    thanks really like more info on insurance claim consultant
  • George Yurieff
    George Yurieff
    Proper consulting can only be done when one has the knowledge, the experience, and the resources for the task at hand. But even having all the above, it is still difficult to actually get paid for your work: everyone wants "advice" (consultancy) for free and only the Lawyers seem to be able to get paid upfront.
  • David Martin
    David Martin
    Timely article. I've been wanting to start a consulting business, but don't know the first steps to implement my plan. The heavy-truck parts business is a narrow field but that's my expertise.
  • Pat Pascarella
    Pat Pascarella
    Having 35 years of in automotive dealership management experience I would very much like to continue to apply what I know as much as what I can do. Passing on my "real world" automotive experience in consulting I find very interesting. I also believe that my senior management experience in the auto industry will transfer to many other industries. How do I persue this opportunity?
  • Javier R. Matias
    Javier R. Matias
    Would like additional information on Construction
  • Christopher Gipson
    Christopher Gipson
    This is a very good article I have been a restarunt Superintendent for 15 years and was recently laid off i would like more info on consultant work probaly more viable right now than ofice management or field Superintendent with the loss off jobs in construction field.
  • Steven Smith Jr
    Steven Smith Jr
    I have been unemployed for 12 months as a plant/project/boiler engineer. I have 14 years of experience in a power plant and I think that consulting is the way that I should go. What are the steps and guidelines for starting a consulting business?  If you have any info. or guidelines, please share.
  • Clarence Clark
    Clarence Clark
    I must say that this [Paula Asinof's Commentary] is the best I've read thus far regarding consultant vs. corporate executive. I am in the middle of a serious job/career search, and so far have wound up helping others to find jobs or even make decisions on relationships, just by giving a few words of advice, or sharing some strategies I've learned. Although I myself am not working, being a consultant is definitely my cup of tea. Thanks Paula, for those words of wisdom and insight.
  • Farid Malik
    Farid Malik
    Very interested in consulting. Good article
  • Lea Fowler
    Lea Fowler
    I'd love to become a consultant & have more free time to enjoy my interests while maintaining the level of income I currently have or increasing it.
  • Ralph Finch Jr.
    Ralph Finch Jr.
    I have done some consulting in the past for Auto Shops with good results. I would like to do this full time as I enjoy the challenge.I would look forward to have a hand in someone's success.
  • Pamela K. Converse
    Pamela K. Converse
    I would love to work in a consulting firm

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