7 Strategies for securing an internal transfer within a consulting firm

We get dozens of inquiries every year about how feasible it is to get an internal transfer to a different office. During the recruiting process, what if your first choice office is London, but you receive an opportunity to take an offer in Dubai? Will you be able to move to the London office down the road? In true consulting style, we’re presenting you with a full suite of choices you have to secure an internal transfer within a consulting firm. The goal as you pursue a transfer is to eliminate the possibility of a “no” from your firm. There are two reasons you’d hear the dreaded “no”: 1). Risk for the firm that you won’t be happy in a new location and that will affect your performance/attitude, or 2). High probability that they won’t be able to fill your spot.

  1. Go to business school: The best way to gain leverage for an internal transfer is to go to business school, build connections, and make yourself available for “poaching.” If your firm is paying for business school, you are still committed for the next 2-3 years, but knowing that a rival firm wants you (and will probably get you when your commitment is up) is powerful leverage. One caveat: there must be precedent for internal transfers in your firm. So do your research before using this tactic. I once had a classmate in B-school from Kazakhstan and she played this game only to find out that Kazakhstan is not a desirable office location; she was denied the transfer due to staffing concerns.
  2. Request after one year of work: During your first review, position yourself as a learner, clearly articulating what you’ve gained from your first year on the job, including how you’ve improved. Thirty days after your review, make a request. Internal processes are more like guidelines based on the firm; therefore, the more you build a solid relationship with the Managers and Partners you’re staffed with, the more likely they are to pull strings for you.
  3. Have an alternative: A written offer from a competitor can kick things into high gear. Step out into the possibility of working somewhere else entirely. If the firm doesn’t want to lose you, they’ll almost definitely approve your request. Worst case scenario, you have a job lined up in the city you want and a choice to make.
  4. Find someone who wants to trade with you: This is a rogue move and fraught with political risks. However, if they have proper staffing across offices, firms will be most amenable to this. If you’re a top performer, find a counterpart who is as well. This option can be leveraged before or after your first year review.
  5. Volunteer for projects: Volunteering on projects that will position you to work with people from other offices is a great way to build connections outside of your existing network. For example, in one project while at Bain (Atlanta), I volunteered to do some work and research on the sales floor for a major electronics retailer. While the team was staffed out of Chicago, the project required work on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas. I built great connections with Chicago team members, and if I was looking for a transfer to Chicago, would have had plenty of advocates in that office rooting for it.
  6. Volunteer for advocacy boards: Consulting firms are full of advocacy boards (women, LGBTQ, etc.) with representatives from across the firm. Voluntarily serving on one is yet another way to show you are committed to the long-term well being of the firm. Additionally, you build your network as well.
  7. Pay your dues: This is the most direct approach. Let the firm know up front what you want, and then request the crappiest jobs, managers, clients, etc. During my time at Bain, I worked with a woman who had just gotten married, and her husband landed his dream job in LA. However, she was from Duke, and had already accepted an offer at the Atlanta office. The firm would not allow her to transfer. For one year, she performed well while volunteering for the worst projects. She let the firm know her reasons and after a year, Bain transferred her to LA as requested.

Looking for a personalized approach to gain an internal transfer or navigate other internal politics? Talk to an MBB coach today with a Power Half Hour.