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How to break into Strategy consulting....

#1 How to break into Strategy consulting....
28/01/2010 02:14


I am a IT Service Management professional about to complete a MBA, and trying to break into Strategy Consulting.

For some further background, I have 10 years in IT including several years financial services and managerial experience, much of which has revolved around implementing service improvement and IT governance. However I really would like to get out of the frontline of IT, there is little scope for me to progress other than eventually getting to a IT type director role. To be honest after doing the MBA and really getting to the strategic management aspects of the course, my previous career options are ones I am no longer interested in persuing. When I see consulting roles they all ask for previous experience, one option I guess is to try to get into an IT strategy role and use this as a stepping stone to a more business strategy position later in the future. Even these seem to be asking for specific experience, and I feel I am often getting categorised as a "IT support" person, although I think there is a lot more to my experience than that. Any ideas as to what steps I should take to increase my chances of getting into a consulting type position?

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#2 RE: How to break into Strategy consulting....
28/01/2010 09:59

Mr Cool to Neil (#1)

Hi Neil,

Sadly, for many people the undertaking of an MBA creates more aspirations than the opportunities afforded by its completion. Few are able to to totally escape their past and move to a completely new field. You pretty much need to be on the Dean’s List at a top 10 B-school.

Otherwise, an MBA will accelerate your existing career, or allow you to move from a “technical” role (I don’t just mean IT, but also engineering, science, etc) into a management role. I suggest you look at firms like E&Y, KPMG and others that have IT transformation practices. Some of their engagements are with large retail banks and insurers, addressing big issues such as total cost of ownership of IT functions.

I am familiar with IT Service Management in retail banks. To be attractive to an MC firm you should ensure your CV is written to stress your involvement in cost of ownership of technology, management of large scale budgets, strategic transformation projects (e.g. moving from mainframe to decentralised systems or vice versa), transforming the operating model of the SM function, etc.

Remove all references to being on-call 24/7, having to keep the bank’s systems in a state of high availability, or meeting SLA’s. That's the bit that sounds like IT support.

I would also keep your strategy consulting aspirations a secret from any of the above firms. There is nothing in it for them if you use them as a stepping stone to where you really want to be.

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#3 RE: How to break into Strategy consulting....
28/01/2010 12:22

Ian Brodie to Mr Cool (#2)

I went through exactly your experience about 15 years ago.

I had a role in project management in software development for one of the big IT manufacturers, did an MBA and really wanted to break into strategy consulting.

The advice from Mr Cool is good. I'd add the following:

I managed to break in to the strategy side for a few reasons. One was that the firm I joined was relatively small (probably a hundred or so consultants in the UK when I joined) and didn't have huge demarcation between practices. I suspect it's more difficult to transfer between practices in very large firms (and there's a lot of individual empire building going on).

And we primarily did integrated transformation projects: strategy, operations, people, IT. So people in the non-IT practices got to see me at work and could build a picture of how good a consultant I was.

Secondly, the firm placed a lot of emphasis on consulting and process skills - not just content expertise. So it was easier to transfer between practices.

Thirdly, I worked on quite a few initial analysis projects. Short, sharp assessments done with a small team at a rapid pace. Everyone had to pitch in, and you inevitably end up working in areas outside your theoretical areas of expertise. So people got to see me do non IT stuff.

But I'd say do be careful. I had a tendency early on to be so worried about proving I could do more strategy related work that I neglected the IT side. You must prove yourself in the area they hire you for first, before you get a chance to go broader.

Having a good mentor in the firm who you can share this with is useful. In my case, my mentor was a VP outside IT and that helped.

Also, as you grow in seniority and begin managing integrated projects and working with more senior clients it's inevitable that you need to know a "bit of everything" and get to focus more on the strategy side.

Specialising in a sector can help too. If you're an expert in a particular industry, you may get to work on more strategic roles where sector knowledge is mandatory but most of the strategy team don't have that knowledge.

Anyway, a combination of the above worked for me. I ended up doing work in marketing and strategy for some of the world's largest companies. And had a lot of fun doing so.

Hope that's useful.


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