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.