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Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion

#1 Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
05/03/2011 23:21



By August I'll have worked for 3 years at one of the Big 4 professional services firms in London.

I have been working in advisory/consultancy regarding project management and IT operations.

I am PRINCE2 qualified (practitioner level), I have a relevant academic background in economics and management (BSc and MSc), a top 20% GMAT score, fluency in English and another European language, conversational level for two other European langauges. I should finish the first level of CIMA (missing the law paper only, being a bit lazy about it).

However, the career perspectives at the current firm do not see amazing. Although the consulting practice is well established and many senior people are experts in either strategy or operations, at the end of the day they just seem to project-manage the work with client. The pay doesn't seem great either and if you are unlucky the hours can be close to those of banking. I have grabbed all the training I could and now I don't feel like I am going to learn much for a year or two.

Also, I am slightly wary of the way people with relevant degrees and other interesting things (e.g. GMAT, clearly good skills in Excel modelling etc) are pretty much considered the same as people who read film studies or English... I know it's typical in the UK, but coming from Europe I still find it strange.

And a lot of people are happy to get the consulting experience for a while, to learn a “broad and flexible set of skills” to then move to industry already after 2/3 years. I'm not one of those, I didn't just fall into consulting, I know what it was and I know I wanted at least that if not more (see below)

At this point there are three possibilities (or so I thought):

1 – Look for a similar position in another Big Four, hoping that their growing management consulting practices would offer me a faster career and a bit of a salary increase as I join

2 – Try and approach the more “boutique” firms such as Booz, Bain, OW (I don't think MK and BCG would ever consider me)

3 - Ditch consulting altogether and move to something in banking/funds/finance that is usually approachable from people who worked in consulting but loved Excel over PowerPoint (definitely my case!)

Any suggestions? Option 2 seems the most balances, although I'd be sorry to end up selling smoke and mirrors on PowerPoint. I've heard Bain do something close to financial engineering, which sounds quite interesting...

Thanks for the help!

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#2 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
06/03/2011 11:48

Fury to Prometheus (#1)

1) look at the strategy & operations units of your Big 4. They do market entry, operational improvements, M&A commercial due dilligence etc..

2) Bain is not a boutique firm and on the same level of prestige and 'hard-to get' als Mckinsey and BCG. Actually, the same goes for Booz and OW. You might need an MBA or some great networking to get in there.

3) 'Liking excel' probably isn't the best of motivations to go into banking :D It does happen that accountants move to banking sometimes, but your background isn't clear to me (project management and IT- but with CIMA?)

Good luck with it.

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#3 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
06/03/2011 21:04

Prometheus to Fury (#2)

1) good to know, thanks

2) I've always thought that MK and BCG were the very top and always hoped that the others were a tad easier to get into. The whole MBA idea does not appeal to me. It costs a lot (plus the cost of not having an income for one or two years) and its usefulness seems to depend on networking and all that, which seems quite out of one's control. Considering everything, what's the actual cost of a 2 year MBA? 30-40k plus another 20-30k for living? If I had that money I'd be quite happy where I am.

3) I'm not an accountant, I have a background in economics/statistics and management. Not a lot of finance, but willing to learn. I was wondering about finance because a young colleague of mine is interviewing with private equity funds and similar places, despite having been with the firm only 6 months and being 22 (although with an economics degree from a top 10 UK uni and definitely knowledgeable about finance).

I'm 27 now, with three years of experience in project management advisory/assurance, a bit of software testing, quite a bit of ops work for white collar environments, exposure to methodologies like continuous improvement and LSS. But I feel overqualified for my role. I've heard people complaining about the fact that my firm has the least relaxed work culture of the big 4s but I think it's actually very relaxed and I'm ready to work in a less forgiving environment.

Have I been in consulting too long already?

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#4 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
07/03/2011 13:49

Mars A Day to Prometheus (#3)

Prometheus Ive read through both posts and still cannot quite see what it is you are wanting from a move. What's your clear objective? This might make it easier for everyone on here to offer some advice/suggestions.

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#5 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
08/03/2011 20:45

Prometheus to Mars A Day (#4)

I guess it's the usual: I'd want more money or better experience or both.

I know that the other Big 4s which are trying to build/grow their management consulting practices are often offering better money.

Smaller, proper boutique consultancies would appeal to me too (my bad for labelling MBBB and OW as boutiques, earlier) and I trust they pay better.

Likewise, I've heard of people moving from consulting to finance. OK, definitely not any field of finance (for sure they haven't ended up pricing derivatives), but for some they are suitable.

But I'm happy to hear other suggestions. The bottomline I think is really just more money and better experience (happy to put up with longer hours, up-or-out environments and the likes).

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#6 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
09/03/2011 11:51

rc to Prometheus (#5)

my read is that you see yourself to have a particular skillset which is not being leveraged in the kind of work you are doing. if your background in economics etc were genuinely pertinent to your work, then you should be flying high above the film studies grads. you could add Oliver Wyman to the pot of suggestions already made here - but you might also want to do a bit of introspection around how much success in consulting in general is attributable to the 'generic toolkit' skills and whether you have some ground to make up in those (e.g. there was a hint of aversion to networking in your MBA comment, and networking is an absolutely fundamental skill/propensity for success in MBB or BIg4)

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#7 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
30/04/2011 20:23

Prometheus to rc (#6)

Sorry for the long delay in this reply.

My aversion to networking is given by a couple of things

1 - The realisation that the work we do is too simple, therefore the skillset is not so important

2 - The feeling that most people could cover most roles well enough (which is not good enough IMO, considering how muchw e cost to our clients) pushes senior managers to just pick up anybody junior or somebody they know, without really realising where these people belong in the normal distribution of analysts/consultants

3 - The result is that people with poor skills and attitude (and academic background!) might be put on great projects and on role that some other people would have covered in a massively better way.

I'm all for networking when it comes to build good relationships with the project team, the client, etc.

I'm extremely annoyed by it when relationships and "popularity" become more important that CVs and actual skills.

I honestly start to think that consulting/advisory practices in the Big4s are just to big to work fairly.

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#8 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
03/05/2011 11:33

Mr Cool to Prometheus (#7)

Feel free to show some guts and come back to me on this but your posts come across as follows…

You feel you are academically superior to many of your colleagues.

You feel you are not progressing fast enough because your environment is paradoxically TOO EASY.

You feel the world should have discovered you by now.

Its unfair that less capable people are being chosen ahead of you - the only answer can surely be that the process is random.

You have lots of pieces of paper but very little experience to back it up.

You are being wasted in your current position – (I’m assuming you applied for the job and were not illegally pressganged?)

You describe networking in a way that suggests your aversion to it is a personality issue – i.e. you might have to speak to people.

You ask grand questions (have I been in consultancy too long? – after just three years) that are likely to have people laughing behind your back

Buddy – your less academically gifted, less special colleagues are going to keep on overtaking you. This is because you are quite clearly still embedded in the world of the university where achievement is calculated on a single metric of exam marks and can be calculated arithmetically to three decimal points. You’re 27 and now you’re slightly concerned that even younger colleagues are getting interviews that you’d quite like. Get used to it.

You sound like the guy on the sidelines of the singles bar, quietly assessing which of the beautiful girls he should take home, while the “ugly” guys do all the chatting up. We all know how that ends? Ugly guy gets supermodel, you go home alone.

If life at your firm is so easy, set the hardest possible target and achieve it in record time. Then do it again. Then enjoy being fought over by headhunters and your own management as they offer you fantastic options.

…or keep telling yourself it’s all too easy to be worth trying….

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#9 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
03/05/2011 11:43

DCF to Prometheus (#7)

You make the mistake of thinking that places such as your (I think our?) employer is a meritocracy. The people who prosper at such firms are those who know how to "work" the firm. The correlation between this ability and the ability to do the best job of the actual work at hand is not necessarily very strong. This is in part due to the fact that little of what such firms do is particularly intellectually demanding.

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#10 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
20/07/2011 21:58

Prometheus to DCF (#9)

Sorry I have been away for a long time.

Mr Cool, thanks for the strong feedback. You're probably right about a number of things (except the interviews, I am getting them!) and there is definitely an element of "working the firm" and "working the senior people" that ensures career progression. Which, all in all, is pretty safe, but if you want to accelerate, you need to end up on the right projects and that's absolutely out of your hands for the first 3 years or so.

All in all, at junior level it all seems some sort of beauty contest, everybody is blowing their trumpet with the senior management, but back at their desks it's all about your new smartphone, your holidays and your weekly disco night. Fine. It took me a while to realise it, I've been busy doing Excel spreadsheets that could actually work and PowerPoint decks that didn't look like a Picasso painting.

And I don't mind talking to people, but on the other hand I don't need to get drunk with somebody to be able to consider that friend a colleague worth of my respect. Therefore I guess you are right the so called "networking" is not my cup of tea.

However, if that is the situation, I'm not expecting to change it, so I just want to change type of firm. Because, as DCF said, most of the work is not particularly demanding and I can't really see myself learning much more for at least two years.

Back to the original question: would I be better off in some smaller firm that only accepts experienced hires, with smaller teams where everybody knows everybody without having to attend weekly social events on top of the already longish work hours etc?

What about a transition to some branches of capital markets/finance that are usually approachable by people with a consulting background (project finance?).


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#11 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
23/07/2011 18:25

Buffett's brother to Prometheus (#1)

"(e.g. GMAT, clearly good skills in Excel modelling etc) are pretty much considered the same as people who read film studies or English... I know it's typical in the UK, but coming from Europe I still find it strange."

I think Europe perhaps be your next move then. I'm from a Capital Mkts background and have been a consultant for quite a number of years now, and for your guide can price derivatives. I really would not enjoy having someone like you in my team.

You want to basically get out there and interview for IT spreadsheet roles that pay more money 'cos, lets face it that's what you are really after. After 3 yrs I can't see anyone letting you manage teams and gaining any sort of respect (imagine if one of your team had a poxy English degree - god forbid!) And with your apparent non existent networking/human interaction skills it ought to be a blast!

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#12 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
24/07/2011 11:42

Prometheus to Buffett's brother (#11)

Wow, thanks for another unhelpful reply.

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#13 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
25/07/2011 10:51

baykus to Prometheus (#10)

Have you ever considered the possibility that there might be things for you to learn at your current firm?

Not only from the senior ranks, but even from the junior ranks?

Of course I don't know you or your firm, but it appears to me that you have at no point considered the option of actually learning from what goes on around you. Here's a newsflash: you don't know what consulting is, and you definitely have not been learning any of the more valuable skillset consulting gives you.

If you can't get staffed on projects of your choosing on yr3, you are really failing at either finding your place or building any form of network. You think the human part of consulting (or pretty much any work, for that matter) is easy, and that it's the hard / excel parts that should matter. Take a look at the best / most successful partners in your firm. Do you think it's their excel skills that set them apart, or their silly english-lit loving people skills?

I guess my point is this: your options 1 and 2 in the OP will not give you an escape from having to build some EQ/RQ - option 2 sure as hell won't. There may be some place in banking / PE where you can escape behind the comforting glow of a monitor.

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#14 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
04/08/2011 12:42

Prometheus to baykus (#13)

Sure, directors don't become partners because of their attention to detail and speedy delivery of "technical work".

But I was hoping that people with those skills could get an advantage up to consultant/senior consultant grade. It doesn't seem to be the case, blowing your own trumpet is the key factor.

I am well in touch with the senior people who run the projects I'd like (i.e. something a bit more towards the management consulting type of work rather than, guess what, another case of implementation/project management), they are aware of my background and they acknowledge it but it doesn't work anyway.

Unless their project's start date falls within two weeks from my current project's end date, there's no way I can get to it. They can't make any specific request or a business case because it is totally true (as DCF said) that very little of what gets done actually requires any serious skills or significant prior knowledge up to manager level...

I'm not questioning the "we-call-it-management-consulting-but-it-is-in-fact-change/project/implementation-consulting-at-best" industry. It does work, the firms make the money. It just dawned on me

- what the nature of the work is

- how little you learn

- the fact that certain skills I'd like to develop are not really used

- what the career dynamics at pre-manager level in a big company are

and I don't want to be part of it anymore.

There's so much talk about talent and performance. Yet we have analysts who failed the same CIMA exam 2 times already and analysts who had offers from two top banks and McKinsey but for some other reasons (wrong or right that they were) decided to join the firm I work for. To the seniors' eyes, there's no difference between them. I find it depressing.

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#15 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
04/08/2011 14:48

Barbie to Prometheus (#14)

OK, I'm going to be pretty brutal but I'll try to be constructive.

Can I set some context. I'm 37, have been in and around consulting most of my career and have a strong academic background (MSC - with distinction - in Operational Reserach). First 2-3 yrs of my career was in big brand consulting, then I spent seven years in very small boutique consultancies that just did OR and the last four years back in big brand consulting. I recently joined a big 4 advisory at Senior Manager level. A large proportion of my peers are 4-5 years younger than me.

Why is this context important? Because I spent the first 6-7 yrs of my career saying exactly the same things as you are saying ("I'm brighter than them", "I just want to do Excel", "That person promoted above me only got a 2:2", "It's unfair", blah blah blah). But in the end, it's you that needs to adjust, or you'll only end up with the type of regrets that I have had to come to terms with.

First of all - and the bit that really betrays your naivity - is the statement in your last reply, that you are no longer learning anything. If that's what you really think, then you need to move out and move on from consulting. Sure, what you are learning from a technical perspective may be diminishing, but pure technical skills make up about 25% of a good consultant. What about your people skills? What about your presentation skills? What about your business development skills? What about your report writing skills? What about your sector knowledge? Fact is your technical skills and brain power can take you to the top end of snr consultant, but beyond that, you need to demonstrate all the other elements of a well-rounded consultant.

Second of all, you've been in consulting three years. Already your academic background and qualifications are a mere footnote to your cv and certainly no longer a differentiatir with regards to resourcing. Give it another couple of years and it will be meaningless compared to what you have done in five years of consulting.

Third of all, those colleagues creating 'Picasso like powerpoints' - guess what their doing?? Answer: meeting client needs. Remember, a picture paints a thousand words. Your client doesn't want five pages of bullet points if you can distill the mesage into one picture. If you don't like or are not capable of distilling your thoughts into a picture/diagram, then steer clear of all of those strategy houses you listed.

Fourth of all, as someone who runs engagements and has a large say in who is on my engagement team. I'm not looking at CVs to start with. I'm seeing if those Managers, Seniors and Consultants who did a damn good job for me on my previous engagements are available. Why? Because I trust them and have an existing relationship with them. I don't care what qualifications they have. I don't care if they have failed an exam ten times. You need to focus on your relationships with past engagement managers/directors and that means badgering them constantly for work.

Finally, rising to the top in consulting is about (in my view) a combination 15% technical ability, 15% how you present yourself, 15% how you network, 40% what you sell, 15% luck. On this basis - and others may disagree - your technical ability will have as much determination on your progression as luck.

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#16 RE: Looking for a change, would like to hear your opinion
24/08/2011 09:12

Mynona to Barbie (#15)

I recommend you read a book titled "So smart but" by Weiner

As for banking: don't be fooled, in any front office role* you will face everything you hate about your current job - but to the power of 10. Technical skills may get you through your first two years, max. You will spend many more hours in your cubicle and the main thing to occupy your colleagues' long hours of facetime will be to gossip about you.

You could try product control / risk - but they are not glamorous and your chances of moving to FO are nil. Plus prepare to take lots of abuse from people who have never seen the insides of a university (traders).

My recommendation: stay where you are and get as close as you can to all those younger people who bypass you. Study them. Ask as many questions as you can. Then copy them. Repeat.

* You keep mentioning completely unrelated fields with realy different profiles.

- Project/structured finance: is like Leveraged finance, you need experience, experience, experience because it is NOT about using excel it's about understanding loan specs and modeling them.

- Derivatives: you will need at least CFA 1 and again I think you are overestimating the excel aspect. They may act smart but they are sales people

- Quants: are essentially back/middle office see above and you need a physics PhD AND experience because guess what a lot of people have been replaced by computers / Indians.

- PE: check out mergersandinquisitions for a description of what they do. Chances are it will be origination (that is being on the phone all day) or binding powerpoint books after 1am.

Take a look at and apply for some stuff. Look up recruiters, give them a call and ask for their advice.

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