Consulting exit opportunities: grad school, Fortune 500, non-profit, and public sector careers

This is the concluding part 2 of my series on consulting exit opportunities.

The previous post covered finance and entrepreneurship.

Graduate school (MBA, JD, masters & PhD)

Percentage: 25%

Many undergraduate consulting hires pursue graduate school after a few years. Often paid-in-full by their firms (with the agreement to return post-matriculation for several years), it affords a break from the intensity of daily consulting work and an opportunity to pause before moving on to “phase 2” of their careers.

The majority pursue business school, with law school and Masters/PhD programs coming in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Consulting can position an applicant well for the best universities – particularly for MBA programs. Some thoughts on business school and consulting can be found in my interview with Marquis.

Which consulting firms are best depends on your intended academic path. For business and law school, aim for the top strategy consultancies. It’s good to look at:

  • Where consultants at your firm went to school – this is a good indicator of the paths available
  • Alma maters of partners at your firm – a good indicator of where your firm will be known and influential

If you’re interested in Masters/PhD programs, look at companies that specialize in that particular topic if applicable. For instance, Cornerstone – with its economics research focus – is great for prospective Economics PhDs.

Corporate roles predominantly in Fortune 500

Percentage: 25%

Another consulting exit opportunity is a jump to Fortune 500 corporate roles.

Consulting firms are feeders to strategy groups at large Fortune 500s – from Pepsi to Siemens, from Citigroup to Target. These relationships are mutually beneficial, as Fortune 500 companies hire consultants to support their own strategy work.

Click here for reasons why companies hire management consultants

Outside of strategy, consultants are a good fit in roles requiring research, analytics, project coordination, and personnel management. Functions that fit the above criteria include business development, corporate development, select Mergers & Acquisitions, and operating roles.

Benefits of corporate roles include a lighter work day, a more stable work environment, and potential to build an operating skill-set. Cons include unpredictable upward mobility, reduced pay and benefits, and less flexibility in choosing projects, managers, and colleagues.

Every management consulting firm is well-suited for this path, although the more prestigious firms provide more opportunities.

Nonprofit consulting

Percentage: 10%

Many consulting firms offer non-profit consulting cases as a perk. Many consultants choose to pursue nonprofit consulting work full-time, which comes in several formats:

The benefits of this career path are clear – eliminating poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is more exciting than increasing operational efficiency 7% at a Philippines call center. Non-profits are closely tied to public sector institutions, so this path can be an interim step to public policy and government roles.

Cons include reduced pay and benefits, long hours, and challenging environments.

If you’re interested in this path, target consulting firms that are known for nonprofit and pro-bono case work, either internally or through strategic partnerships.

There are independent nonprofit consulting firms that offer flex-work arrangements regardless of your background as long as you have a valuable skillset. This can be a great way to get your feet wet.

Public sector and government roles

Percentage: 5%

The least typical of consulting exit opportunities.

Many consultants pursue political careers – Bobby Jindal (ex-McKinsey) and Mitt Romney (ex-Bain) are 2 visible examples. Few consultants enter politics and government service directly.

Those that do gravitate towards diverse roles, from advising political candidates to direct political appointments (witness Nancy Killefer’s failed attempt to become Obama’s Chief Performance Officer) to campaign work. These roles are flexible, prize business skills, and provide upward mobility. Few become civil servants in the normal, bureaucratic-sense.

Benefits to this work are clear for those interested in pursuing government careers. Cons include reduced pay, longer hours, uncertain career paths, and less talented colleagues (I’m aware this is a generalization).

Consulting firms best suited for this career path do a lot of public sector consulting. Booz Allen is one obvious example. DFI Consulting is another.

That wraps up our tour of consulting exit options. They are more diverse than investment banking exit opportunities.

Thinking about leaving the management consulting field but unsure what’s next? A Power Half Hour will help you define what will be a great exit opportunity for you and how to achieve success in your next venture.

  • eric

    With the economy in its current condition, how likely is it now that a consulting firm will pay for you to go to grad school?

  • Kevin

    It’s still very likely, depending on your performance once you’ve been hired to the firm. It may be a bit tougher as reviews/standards increase, but they certainly wouldn’t eliminate the program as that’s a big incentive for many undergraduates during recruiting.

  • Anne

    Hi Kevin,

    Can you post some of the independent non-profit consulting firms that offer flex-work schedules as a chance to get one’s feet wet (if you can remember them)? Are these opportunities typically paid or unpaid? Great website – it’s quite helpful!

  • Kevin

    Anne – I’m not going to be very helpful here, nothing comes to top of mind. I’d suggest looking at Vault and other resources for comprehensive firm lists that you can narrow to non-profit, then reaching out directly to those. Hope that helps.

  • andrew

    TechnoServe is another presitigious non-profit that offers Consultants to nations in need.

  • ARao

    Hi, I am looking for recruiters in NYC area who can help me get to opportunities/ contacts in consulting firms. Can you point to any recruiting firms or companies?
    I graduated in an odd semester from my masters program and am not part of the regular recruiting cycle. Also the career services at my program are not much helpful. I have a slightly different background (tech entrepreneurial work exp + masters in organizational behavior) and looking to break into management consulting in the top 4-8 firms.
    Are there any conferences or events I can attend to network within the industry? Where do I begin looking?


  • Anonymous

    Informative article.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks arohatech1!

  • misdelivery

    I’m working as a bartender and in understudy to become a spiritual teacher. I needed some GOD after consulting, that was for sure! LOL. I’m sure I will be offering my life transformation and spiritual counseling services to many a consultant. This industry churns out so much dysfunction in people.

  • Dark Shore

    Hi KEvin,

    Do you think MBB consulting or BB Investment banking would position a candidate better for an exit role in corporate development?

    I assume IB would equip you with better skills in relation to mergers and acquisitions and financial modeling, whilst consulting would provide a more generalistic problem-solving/operations-focused skill set?

    Is either a easier/more natural transition?


  • Dark Shore

    Hi KEvin,

    Do you think MBB consulting or BB Investment banking would position a candidate better for an exit role in corporate development?

    I assume IB would equip you with better skills in relation to mergers and acquisitions and financial modeling, whilst consulting would provide a more generalistic problem-solving/operations-focused skill set?

    Is either a easier/more natural transition?


  • Joly richardson

    I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. I have read most of them and got a lot from them. To me, you are doing the great work.QHSE

  • Ehardy

    Is there any crossover into the entertainment industry that people are aware of? Such as working as studio executives or even in more creative roles like producing?

  • Abi

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for writing this article. It’s enlightening and to be honest, I learned a lot.

    However, starting your own consultancy was not mentioned above. I know a friend who did that. Is that common? Or even reccomended for someone with only a undergrad education and several years of management consulting experience?

  • Mike

    hey, I’ve got an offer from a small non-profits consulting firm but am ultimately interested in transitioning into strategy and operations. Would this firm help me get into one of these (even a smaller one) or into a good MBA? I’m coming from a public college with an average GPA.

  • medical laboratory technician

    I can see that you are are genuinely passionate about this! I am trying to build my own website and youve helped me with some great information.

  • jennyrae

    Thanks for your note – congrats on your offer. Classic answer – it depends. In general, moving from non-profit to for-profit is an uphill battle, and pay and caliber are not the same because client expectations and willingness to pay are not the same. You’d have better luck going into an MBA program, but your best bet is to shoot for a name-brand for-profit firm right after graduation. However – a professional job is better than no job, so don’t be shy about taking it if it’s the best option you have.

  • Abc

    Romney was in Bain Capital, not the consulting firm Bain&Company. 

  • Frank

    Hi Kevin,

    I currently work in the IB space, but my exposure to business concepts is actually quite limited and it’s something that I’m keen to learn.

    So my question is how easily to get across from IB to Consulting pre-grad school?

    And if I got into consulting post grad-school, how’s my exit option differ compared to the pre-grad school consultants – post grad school PE or Fortune 500 professionals?


  • Christoff

    Romney did work for Bain & Company, rising through the ranks, to the point where the CEO asked him to START Bain Capital.

  • jennyrae

    Hi – from consulting you can jump into anything, but it’s nearly impossible to move from a creative field into consulting. Hope that helps!

  • jennyrae

    We didn’t mention starting your own consultancy, because a lot of people go out solo which is not exactly “starting your own consultancy.” Usually the people who begin their own consultancies successfully take a group of consultants to found the firm. Most of the ones who go out on their own are more like contractors. Thanks for pointing out the opportunity.

  • Guanfra

    Hi Kevin,

    How would I break into PE and Investing from a post MBA consulting job? (I understand that it’s hard). And comparing to a post MBA career from Investment Banking (M&A) moving into PE? Thanks!


    How do you break into consulting if you’re not entering at an undergrad
    or MBA level? I currently work in investment banking, but would like to
    try consulting first before I do MBA. Is this possible? How should I go about doing this? And do you have any insights on recruiting landscape for consulting in China? Many thanks!

  • soon2bXmck

    This seems to be missing the “freelance” consulting opportunity. Pay ($20k/month+), lifestyle (work when you want), and flexibility (pick your projects) seems to be worth a consideration?

  • Ambar Gupta

    I would like to hear your answer. Thanks.