How heavily should you weigh industry when making a career change?
Each year at Charles Aris, we reach out to more than 15,000 current and former management consultants from top-tier firms such as Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, and The Boston Consulting Group. One common answer we hear in response to the question “Why did you join BCG?”, for example, is that “the firm provides a great generalist toolkit, and I like the idea of working across multiple industries and functions to flesh out my interests.”
For all the generalists out there, we’ve found you will likely fall into two groups when thinking about a career transition. Those in the first group find the variety of experience across industries helpful in solidifying areas of passion (or even neutrality or disinterest for a particular space). For those in the second group, it can be confusing if they aren’t 100 percent sure what path is right for them when considering a transition to industry.
If you find yourself in the second group, here are three factors to consider as you weigh industry in a job change:
Make sure your career path is directionally aligned. As we’ll discuss shortly, you want your career path to have purpose. If you have a strong interest in a niche – say, how digital affects firms in financial services – it probably doesn’t make sense for you to transition to a corporate strategy role in an energy company. If you have a broader interest in finance but aren’t entirely sure where you want to go in it, then you have options. Often, there are multiple paths to your destination. An opportunity with a consumer finance or fintech company would be directionally aligned to your broader interest of finance, and could be a solid stepping-stone to reach your long-term goals. Think about where you want to be in five to 10 years and work your way backward.
Beware the “specialist” tag. We often hear from consultants that “you can only leave consulting once.” The first transition you make out of consulting is an important one, but you’ll never be overly “specialized” after two or three years in a particular industry. If the first transition you make away from consulting is to an industry that you ultimately decide isn’t your long-term fit, you have flexibility to make a change. On the flip side, if you decide after 10 to 15 years that you want to make a full-on shift to a new industry, that is a tougher transition – and you may be labeled a “specialist” in that industry. That’s not to say such a transition is impossible. We’ve seen it happen successfully in the past, but you do need a good reason. Which leads us to our next consideration:
Your career transitions must have purpose. At Charles Aris, we champion narratives and ensuring that you can tell and sell a compelling story that makes sense. When you think about your career, think about why you made certain changes. Perhaps the hiring authority was a former Bain partner whom you always admired … or it was an opportunity to work with an organization you’ve always had a passion for … or the role had a fast trajectory to P&L ownership. With any career change, think about the story this will tell potential employers, and make sure there is purpose in each transition. This is important not only when thinking about past career moves, but also in your next step. When we help candidates with career moves, we always ask, “Why [Company X] and why now?” We’ve found a correlation between purpose, passion and engagement which ultimately leads to greater success for our candidates and clients.
These three factors can help take generalist experience and turn it into a successful 5-10-15-20-plus-year career when you may not be sure which industry is for you.
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