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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  • Barbara Clark
    Barbara Clark
    I am interested in mental health counseling.  I have an associate's in clinical psychology. Is there anyway I can open a business on that level?If so, please advise.Thank you,Barbara Clark
    Consulting or teaching which ever you call it would be nice. I do not think I fit as a corporate person, my appearance is not of suit and tie though I have the ability. Suit and tie people in appropiate positions have limited thinking in my opinion.
  • Gregory D.Jackson
    Gregory D.Jackson
    I would like to get more information on the consulting business and firms that could use my services.
  • Geoof Walsh
    Geoof Walsh
    Good article; nicely defined some expectation for both positions.  
  • Richard Follis
    Richard Follis
    In partnership with my past employer we started a consulting company dealing primarily with recruiting and retention issues. Unfortunately, given the economic downturn, I lost my job. As a token, I was given the consulting company. The problem I face is that recruiting and retention issues are currently not at the top of corporate priority lists. I know that when our economy turns, this will once again be a major concern for employers. I am looking for advice on how I can get employers attention now.
  • Olga Skinner
    Olga Skinner
    I am a Registered Nurse working as a Home Wellness Consultant.  This job required a short training, only $46.00 investment, provides great satifaction in helping others live and achieve a healthier life-style. It is a geat home-based business opportunity!!! Thanks for the wonderfull article.
    Currently working on my Six Sigma Certificate at CCSU in New Britain Conn. I will graduate Nov. 4th 2009. I have to write up the Course Required Project Charter which the President/CEO & CFO have agreed to sign off as the expected saving will result in 7 less chem changes in the Etech Process in the Nameplate Manufacturing process. The firm has stated they want to hire me as their employees are for some reason anamoured with my "Positive and Encouraging Demeanor" That tells me I have that Charisma required to be a Consultant. Any opinions ?
  • Francine Byrd
    Francine Byrd
    I would love to get more information about consulting positions.  Bringing sustainability and leadership to medium sized organizations is an exciting prospect.
  • David Pollard
    David Pollard
    email me about consulting.I would like to check this out as a new career.
  • Nicole
    This is a great article! I am starting my own consulting business. From time to time I get fearful and question my decision. This article put my fears to under the bed! I will keep this article in my archives! I would like more information on Merchandise Consulting
  • Jay Young
    Jay Young
    Would like more information about the consulting business
  • Valerie Reilly
    Valerie Reilly
    I know nothing about the consulting business, however would love to learn more.  PLease send me more information to
  • Maria Andrews
    Maria Andrews
    Yes, I would like to learn more about being a consultan, insolving problems, as a traininer in any ( Bank)Training Tellers and New Accounts Department. as a Home care specialist for Snow Birds. Thank you.  
  • Mary Hammer
    Mary Hammer
    I am interested in consulting, I have done this a couple of times in the past 10 years for Human Resouces and Benefits.  How can I put myself out there during this time?
  • Zack Ahladas
    Zack Ahladas
    Article is great, I have been self-employed before; consulting is definitely a good outlet.
  • Richard Train
    Richard Train
    I would like more information on becoming a consultant in sales, marketing and customer service organizations. Over the last 17 years I have worked with some of the best sales and marketing organizations in a variety of companies, and been responsible for significant positive growth in operations, sales and business processes. I have always wanted to share what I have learned, and just need some advice.
  • Justin Bestel
    Justin Bestel
    I'd be interested in hearing more about being a consultant.Thanks,Justin
  • Kevin Porter
    Kevin Porter
    Hello,I was an accounting consultant specializing in setting up accounting and reporting systems and cleaning up financial statements. I enjoyed learning new systems and accounting procedure for different firms, when a recession hit like this one, most consulting gigs dry up. I would suggest that anyone who gets an consulting gig set your self up for financial stability during the dry times.
  • JulianneFrye
    I think this is an excellent source of reference
  • Mark Bryant
    Mark Bryant
    Having been on both sides of the fence for over 20 years, both have definite pro's and con's but as a Consultant, the politics of the whole organization play a much bigger role in your success vs. as an employee just your own department may.  You also have to be able to be "hired and fired" repeatedly while your clients take the credit...
  • Nancy Gavranovic
    Nancy Gavranovic
    Yes I would like more information on being a consultant.
  • Brenda Davenport
    Brenda Davenport
    Would like more information about becoming a consultant.BD
  • Nicole Pinnock
    Nicole Pinnock
    Hello Nichole,I am more interested in becoming a consultant. If you would, please send more information to my e-mail address.Thank You,Marilyn
  • Ed Harkins
    Ed Harkins
    I would like more information about being a consulant, particularly in the Automotive service department field.
  • Lacy Daniel
    Lacy Daniel
    Please send more information. I am very intrested.

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