Every non-pandemic year, management consulting firms across the world send current and former employees to recruit a fresh cohort of talent from university ranks. This might give you the impression that management consulting is a young person’s game. If you don’t start your career with the right internship, you won’t have a shot at breaking into the industry.
However, it’s simply untrue to suggest that you need to start (or have started) your professional life as a management consultant if you want to have any hope of working in the consulting field. Changing careers into the world of management consulting is not uncommon, even among people in their 30s and 40s. So if you’re one of the many people thinking of making a career change at 40, you’re in luck. In this article we’ll give you an overview of what it means to embark on a career change at 40, in consulting and beyond.
Considerations to Break into Consulting as an Experienced Hire
The most important thing to consider if you want to make a career change at 40 into the management consulting world is that you’ll have to do all of the leg work yourself. Unless you offer world-leading subject matter expertise, firms won’t come looking for you – you must go to them.
Networking is crucial for experienced hires looking to break into consulting. And effective networking begins with building a tailored resume. As an experienced hire, you possess varied experience that must be molded together into a cohesive story. Specifically, this story should talk about:
- Your leadership ability
- Your data analysis experience
- Stakeholder management skills
- How you’ve driven impact across business segments, functions and/or industries
With that in mind, you’ll want to do everything you can to maximize your appeal as an applicant. Don’t skimp on the time you spend on your resume, and don’t discount networking before you apply.
During this process, perhaps you’ll decide to go back and get an MBA, spend time working or volunteering in some transitional role that will help you bridge the gap toward consulting, or reframe your current experience to become an attractive experienced hire candidate.
Our preference is for you to first maximize your competitiveness by refining the story you want to tell about yourself as a potential hire. Instead of trying to hide your age and experience, meet the issue head-on and turn it into an asset. Play up your expertise and develop a strong narrative about how your path so far has led you to your new role as a consultant.
Once you’ve begun networking, you want to quickly begin preparing for the case interview (the turnaround time from accepted application to interview are notoriously short for experienced hire candidates). The good news? Once you’re in the interview, you’re on an even playing field with every other candidate – no matter your background.
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Pros & Cons of a Career Change at 40
If you’re considering a career change at 40, you’re sure to be wondering about the pros and cons of that transition. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of this consideration. Many people are forced by circumstance to leave certain roles, companies, and even industries. But assuming you’re still weighing your options, let’s look at the career change pros & cons when it comes to making a career change at 40.
- You have more to offer than a younger hire. Framed well, your unique experiences and expertise can make you a more competitive applicant. Many incoming consultants have no work experience at all. Their education is limited to a relatively narrow array of business classes.
- You have more confidence and practical experience. Let’s face it—many people shy away from challenging & competitive careers because they lack the confidence to pursue something difficult. But the years of hands-on experience you’ll have accumulated by age 40 can help you. It gives a sense of self-assuredness that is a great power in the world of management consulting. In addition, you should have years of team leadership and stakeholder management experience to draw on. These are key skills to have as a consultant.
- You have more self-knowledge. There’s no rule that says you have to have your ambitions perfectly figured out by age 22. For most of us, figuring out what we want, and how we can share our gifts with the world, takes a lifetime. But as we grow and learn more about ourselves through different experiments and experiences, the steps we take forward become more skillful and assured, even when they change direction.
- Consulting is “a young person’s game.” This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the assumption has to do with the nature of the job. Consulting often demands a serious commitment of time and energy: long hours, challenging work, frequent travel. If you have a family (and especially young children), this can be difficult. But for an energetic and committed person, even one in their 40s, this is not an obstacle.
- You’ll most likely need to be comfortable doing a lot of data analysis in the first few years of your new role. This could be a “pro” if it’s something you like to do. But if you’ve grown accustomed to asking new hires to do analysis for you in your current role, you’ll need to adjust your expectations of the type of work you’ll start off doing.
- Career transitions are difficult processes. Often they may require new training, education, and accreditation. This means time and money. You may have to take time off from your old job to prepare for your new career. Or perhaps more difficult, you may have to keep working full-time in order to pay the bills, even as you go back to school.
Best Career Change Jobs at 40
There are two main factors that influence whether a particular job is a good option for a career change at 40. First, the best career change jobs at 40 are those that reward experience and accreditation. These chokepoints reduce the field of applicants and mean that a job will not necessarily privilege the youngest or cheapest potential hire.
The second main characteristic of good career change jobs is that they have perennially active and labor-friendly job-markets. Jobs that are frequently in-demand and are characterized by labor-friendly conditions, mean workers have more choice over which companies they labor for. Companies therefore have to work harder to attract talent and are able to discriminate less in hiring. This is true of management consulting.
If you have good educational and work experience, management consulting can be an excellent choice for a career change at 40. Other careers that meet the criteria listed above include healthcare workers, legal professionals, software development/IT, and other STEM paths.
The competitive careerism of our professional culture can drive people to great accomplishments. But it can also put unhealthy pressure on people to choose the perfect single path as early in life as possible, and to stick to it no matter what happens. Life is unpredictable. It does—and should—involve constant transformation, adaptation, growth, and even rebirth.
If you’re interested in a career in management consulting, an unconventional path doesn’t have to keep you from getting there. “Experienced hires” are very common within the industry, even if they’re not the most visible hires on a year-by-year basis. They are also, in their own way, the lifeblood of the industry. The conventional track followed by the 22-year-old hires can lead to a rather narrow share of experiences among first-time hires. The diversity of experience and expertise brought by older hires broadens a firm’s perspective and, thus, its power.
Reach out with questions – we’re happy to speak to your specific situation and assess your chances of success.
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