Why management consultants exit the consulting industry

28 October 2019 Consultancy.eu 9 min. read

With record employment levels and heightened competition for talent empowering skilled labour to shop around for new employers, some consultants are weighing up life beyond the industry. Badenoch + Clark professionals Franca Gille and Guillermo Castillo spoke to Consultancy.eu about the trends driving consultants to exit the sector.

Founded in 1980, London-headquartered Badenoch + Clark is a global recruitment firm which also operates in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. The firm offers permanent and interim placements for senior professionals and executives across the full spectrum of industries to organisations around Europe.

Following an intern consulting position, Guillermo Castillo first entered the realm of recruitment in 2007, becoming a Senior Consultant in permanent recruitment at Michael Page, and progressed into a Manager role at a boutique recruitment firm. Five years ago he joined Badenoch + Clark in their startup phase, merging two years later with consulting headhunter Fairlane.

At Badenoch + Clark he focusses on consulting positions at companies in or at the start of a transformation, within consulting or as a consulting exit, with a focus on the Financial Services industry, the Deals environment, and GRC.Guillermo Castillo en Franca Gille, Badenoch + Clark“There are a number of motives that stand out in particular,” Castillo explained. “Consultants often want to feel more involved with an organisation for a longer period of time; they want to be part of it rather than only give advice or generate a report. They would like to help with the implementation of the ideas they generate and then also be responsible for the end result.”

Career perspective can also be a cause for consultants opting out of the sector. While a consultant is technically being rewarded with a promotion, it can often be a double-edged sword with heightened sales targets. According to Castillo, this can put off professionals who are “more content-driven than sales-driven,” leading them to decide whether they really want to work to become a Partner or not.

“The work-life balance also often plays a role,” added Franca Gille, Senior Consultant at Badenoch + Clark. “As consultants, you naturally have to be prepared for travel and be flexible on working location and working hours.”

Gille has been with the executive search agency since 2017, and was promoted to the rank of Senior Consultant in the spring. She arrived on the back of a two-year stay with Fairlane, where she cut her teeth as a consultant in the recruitment sphere. During her time there, she honed her skills in a number of service lines, including Supply Chain and Operational Excellence.

According to Gille, the majority of consultants still look for a project-based component in their work in a dynamic environment. This kind of work often leads consultants to find roles in corporates, private equity-owned companies, start-ups, scale-ups and freelancing roles.

She explained; “Often consultants like it when something really needs to improve and change structurally at an organisation. Where they can take responsibility, ownership, can solve problems and be part of a transformation. Not just run, but run and change. They want to have a mandate. A logical step is to move to an internal consulting role or project-based role to learn who the stakeholders are, increase visibility within a company, further grow management skills and gradually transfer to a line management role.”

“Why consultants exit the consulting industry? They often want to feel more involved, wanting to be part of a solution rather than only providing advice.”

Looking before leaping

When Badenoch + Clark works with consultants looking to exit the industry, the firm helps to focus them on their long-term ambitions. During the process, the company encourages individuals to explore their future prospects, and motivations for moving into another role. “Why do they want to take a step? Why does a consulting exit appeal to them or what do they encounter now? What do they ultimately want to achieve. We take it step by step,” Castillo expanded.

It is important for consultants looking for a change in direction to look before they leap, and talk through the criteria that they find essential in a new role. In order to help exiting consultants find roles suited to their expectations, as opposed to jumping out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire, Badenoch + Clark provides candidates with insights into the market and where they should focus on when making a decision.

Gille notes; “Examples of this can be what phase is a prospective company they might join in, what is the momentum? Is it at the start of a transformation? Is there a merger or carve out? Is a company doing well or not? What is the strategic calendar? We then help candidates explore what they can bring to the table as a consultant, what they can add and what they want to learn in the process.”

The firm also primes candidates to consider whether there are career opportunities at the new employer, in order to help chart out a plan for progression in their new role. Meanwhile, they consider what the team looks like and what the dynamics at the company are, to see if they will be a good cultural fit. Ultimately, Gille added, "we provide consultants advice on the salary level they can expect with a transfer, and if the company they hope to join meets their ambitions."

An unexpected twist

At the same time, Badenoch + Clark sometimes finds that the best option for a consultant is not an exit at all. In some cases, a planned consulting exit can be turned around into a move within the industry.

Remarking on the matter, Gille explained, “We focus on identifying the drivers and reasons why a consultant wants to leave the consulting industry, but we help them realise the differences between consulting firms and type of assignments. For example, often consultants are looking for a different type of assignment, less sales pressure or a better work-life balance. Often related to their stage of private life. We make them aware that there are firms that for example work locally and have a good work-life balance.”

Indeed, if consulting firms are to successfully compete for new talent in a rapidly changing labour market, they will need to pay attention to trends among those exiting the industry. The infamous 80-hour week which many consultants face, along with entrenched company politics, a profits-over-purpose attitude, and a lack of flexibility around remote working could all drive skilled workers into the arms of other industries in the future.Badenoch + Clark officeCastillo elaborated; “We do believe that a consultant chooses a certain way-of-working and living, [but] consulting firms should be able to show more flexibility and be more future-proof… Everyone has different motivations. We therefore advise clients to be aware of the people in the organisation; what motivates them and how are they intrinsically motivated. For example, what does someone think about sales? To what extent does someone think working from home is important? What is the company’s purpose and culture like?”

Life after consulting

At the same time, organisations looking to take advantage of this by on-boarding former consultants fed up with the industry also have a number of factors to consider. Gille explained that firms need to know exactly what they are looking for themselves to give their new employees a clear vision, while they also need to ensure consultants are adequately supported when they arrive in order to “land well”.

“A consultant is programmed to solve problems which they will quickly identify and want to change,” Gille expanded. “In general, they are result-oriented and ambitious. Therefore a company hiring an ex-consultant will need to show flexibility and be prepared to give mandate. Lastly, with a line function, it is important to realise that consultants don’t have extensive line management experience. It is therefore important to pay attention to this, to guide them where necessary and to allow them to land softly.”

While the Badenoch + Clark professionals have primarily guided consultants out of the sector, however, they have also seen some ex-consultants ‘coming home’ to their original industry. This can be for a multitude of reasons, but usually connects to these professionals craving the constant stream of fresh challenges consulting work can provide.

Castillo stated that consultants are used to solving complex puzzles, having a lot of freedom, and are asked to speak their mind and often give unsolicited advice. They are used to working with like-minded people with a high drive and ambition to challenge the status quo. As a result, former consultants often miss the complexity of their old work.

“They miss the variety and find it too repetitive,” Castillo states. “Furthermore, the environment can be disappointing. They get into politics, work with people that promote the status quo and work with less like-minded people with a different educational background.”

The booming gig-economy is not immune to this trend either. According to Gille, many in freelance consulting come to miss life at a firm, where clients are more likely to come to them, presenting them with a greater diversity of work in the process.

She concluded; “With freelancers we notice that they might struggle finding interesting roles, their development may lag and ultimately it remains a lonely role. That is why we are eager on being sharp at the start of the process and always seek to properly manage expectations.”