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So you think you can stomach the four necessary steps to move from consulting? Good. It’s worth it – best decision I’ve ever done.
A little, tiny hurdle left to overcome – finding jobs for ex consultants. At first, you might think, cool, I’m a consultant, I worked at The Bains of McBostonm everybody wants me. I just need to submit my CV, and we’re good to go. Then, you carefully describe your 3 recent projects, how you single-handedly turned around a failing Fortune 500 company and that CEO loves you so much that he will let you marry his daughter (or son, whatever). Then you throw in a few interests such as travel and sports, sort it out chronologically – voila. Let me just find these head of strategy roles in the top 10 hottest startups… [30 minutes later] WTF? No strategy roles available at this time? They must not have put them up yet…
It’s the usual cycle of ignorance, denial finally followed by acceptance.
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Startups don’t hire for strategy roles
The sobering realisation strikes. Startups don’t hire for strategy roles. And I mean startups, pre-series C companies with less than 50-60 people. Uber is not a startup. Neither is AirBnB nor Facebook. In a small company, the CEO is the strategy, the chief-in-command, the boss. And his highness needs operators and not thinkers or talkers. As a matter of fact, last time he went shopping, ‘talk’ was still cheap. And he is not that rich to buy cheap things. You get the point.
Ok, cool, I got it. So what do I do?
My experience is that strategy or management consultants are the most viable in the analytics, sales, operations roles – given your background. I would highlight operations role as a prime one. I hear you say ‘but I don’t want to be a PMO… I don’t want to do project expenses and change priority from medium to high and then back to medium for 12 hours a day!’ I’m with you but hear me out… Operations role in a startup is very different. CEO decides where he wants to take the company and operations make sure it gets there. COO/VP of Operations are the people who effectively run the company. In my last job, CEO has completely stepped away from any day-to-day activities, and COO was running the whole business. The best thing is you get to work across the various functions so you’ll get a bird eye’s view of the whole business (I know you needed that corporate slang fix, I got your back).
For the technical consultants, that had their hands, elbows and sometimes shoulders dirty coding away, the story is different. You’d apply for a technical role, but I was afraid of the black magic so I stayed away from that part of the business so I can hardly comment on your experience there. One thing I can say is that you will have much more freedom to express yourself and work on significantly more challenging problems (i.e. building a stock exchange, not an excel reporting plugin). You will definitely spend more time coding than documenting your code that I promise.
Technical or not, you need to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability. These are two main skills you need to succeed in a startup. Shit happens, and shit definitely goes wrong and on the worst of days, it does hit the fan… You need to be able to change and adapt very quickly. Often (read – always), timing is critical and you have to launch new releases without testing or accept operational risk to just get it over the line and wing it. This is very exciting and liberating coming from consulting. Once you have worked at a startup pace, you won’t be able to go back to the huge inefficient organisation. It would simply drive you nuts. Make sure you can demonstrate that sort of attitude in the interview. Most of all make sure you can justify your passion for startup industry overall. Read up on the tech industry, some VC musings, industry-specific blogs. Good place to start are TechCrunch, Fred Wilson’s blog, Mark Suster’s blog and Fintech Summary (self-promotion, check)
The issue consultants often face is that most roles require high subject matter expertise. The consultant is a jack-of-all-trades, and you may often feel like you lack depth in any specific field. However, people will value your flexibility and adaptability. Make the most of the services like movemeon. People recruiting through there are explicitly looking for ex-consultants because they want your wide skills set and strong execution abilities. Make the most of it. That’s how I found my last two roles. Good luck!