How To Land Your First Senior Management Consulting Role
Note: This article was first published by Ivy Exec
Special thanks to Rachel Varghese for editing
Be the best at what you do. A simple aspiration that pushes us all to do better, and to be better. But what does better look like for a consultant? Whether you’re a local expert or a road warrior, the pursuit of personal mastery is ubiquitous. So how do you get to the next level and land your first senior management consulting role?
Principal Consultant, Managing Director, and Enterprise Transformation Lead are all titles that I’ve held over the last five years. I have been helping organizations transform their businesses as a consultant for 7 years, and a senior consultant for 5. I opened my own firm in 2018, and was a 2020 Forbes 30 under 30 finalist. I have had the opportunity to work with large and small businesses, private and federal, insurance banking healthcare and energy.
Tips for Becoming a Senior Management Consultant
I can’t promise that my path is possible for everyone, or even that it was all the result of hard work and diligence. I was in the right place at the right time, and I got lucky more than once. But what I can do is try to identify the things that I did, that combined with a little bit of timing on your part, could lead to your own senior management consulting position.
Recognize that you are your own competitive advantage
Build your network as far and wide as possible
Don’t be limited by your job description
Find a trusted advisor
Communicate with everyone
Take a chance on yourself
You are Your Product
There are some consultancies out there that treat their people as interchangeable. They’re shaped by the same cookie-cutter orientation to “The [Company] Way” and expected to act exactly the same as every other consultant in [Company]. But in order to secure your first senior management consulting position, you can’t be the same as everyone else. You may offer services to your clients, but the product you are selling is your reputation, your style, and your brand. Your personal reputation is what will open doors and create opportunities for you. Capitalizing on that fact will require that you understand you have to be selling the idea that while there are many people who can offer the same services you do, only you can offer them the way you do. For me, it was quiet competence. I was never the consultant that needed to talk so that everyone knew I was in the room. I built a reputation as the guy who listened, understood, and only spoke when I thought something was missing. And soon, when I spoke, everybody listened.
Networking Matters More Than You Think
When you’ve had a long day and just can’t imagine going to happy hour, go anyway. I got my first consulting job when I was visiting my parents in Pennsylvania. At the time I was working as a Data Science manager in Florida and had driven to Washington DC to have dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 5 years. Over dinner, I happened to mention how unhappy I was with the toxic work culture at my company and she said, “have you ever thought about being a consultant? My company has an opening,” and the rest is history. Every consulting position I’ve taken since then has been based on a referral from a colleague, client, or former client. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the luck involved in this example. If I hadn’t been open with my friend about what was going on, I would never have been able to take advantage of that opportunity. So my advice to you is not just to hyperfocus on the people that you believe can help you today. You never know who can help you tomorrow, and the wider you build your network, the better positioned you’ll be to take advantage of an opportunity when it goes by.
Your Job Description Should Not Limit Your Capacity to Deliver
There are many people who go to work everyday, do their job, and go home. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to build a reputation as a capable leader and problem-solver, you need to take initiative and solve problems. When I was first starting out as a consultant, I volunteered for every extra piece of work, stepped up in every emergency, and delivered it all with high quality. For people to feel comfortable recommending you or acting as a reference for you, they need to feel confident in you. So be someone worth having confidence in and build trust by doing what you say you’re going to do.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel When You Know the Guy Who Did it the First Time
Be innovative, be revolutionary, but don’t be dumb. There will always be people who have done it before, who’ve seen something similar, or have such a depth of experience that they can see a path forward. Get to know those people. Spend time with them. Develop a relationship, and recognize that whether it pays off in the future or not, having people like that in your life will only make you better. At every consultancy I’ve ever worked with, there has been that guy. And all of those guys are still in my life. If it wasn’t for the Coronavirus situation, I would have been at a barbeque at one of those guys’ houses today. I never hesitate to call them when I need advice, or even when a transformation has stalled and I need a catalyst to come in and shake things up. Not only do they make me more successful, they bring me into their engagements as often as I bring them in. It’s mutually assured success.
Communicate Often and Always Be Transparent
One of the most common pieces of feedback I received early in my consulting career was, “I never feel like he’s bullshitting me or selling me something.” I embraced the attitude early that my responsibility is to my client first, and my consultancy second. My goal is never to sell more hours, grow a contract, or increase my billables. My goal is always to do right by my client, and by making them successful, I make my consultancy successful. And now, five years later, I have a reputation for successful transformation with high client satisfaction. That means clients want me to work with them and consultancies want me to work for them. There was no magic, just one consultant’s desire to do the right thing.
If You Won’t Take A Chance On Yourself, Why Should Anyone Else?
First, I was a Data Scientist and I took a chance on change management consulting. Then I was a consultant and took a chance on traveling consultant. Then I was a road warrior and took a chance on opening my own firm. I wish I could say that I knew everything would turn out the way it did, but I didn’t. What I did know was that I was good at this, and I knew that if somebody took a chance on me, I wouldn’t stop until I had done right by them. If you wait for no risk all reward, you’ll be waiting forever, so don’t fool yourself into thinking the perfect opportunity will come by one day.
If you’re interested in a senior management consulting position, there’s no magic formula. It’s not a white whale that you need to chase for the rest of your life. What you can do is put yourself into the best possible position to be successful by building your network and personal reputation as a problem solver. I’ll even give you a head start. Send me a message on LinkedIn and let’s talk.
Written by Saahil Panikar
Saahil has been a senior consultant for 5 years, and both the Managing Director of Atlas Revolutions and an Enterprise Transformation Lead for Icon Agility Services for the last 3. As a consultant he has worked with start-ups and small businesses, the Federal Government, and Fortune 500 and 100 companies. In addition to being a Scaled Agile SPCT, Saahil is a certified Enterprise Business Agility Strategist and is determined to help organizations extend their Agility beyond IT. He has degrees in Mathematics, Business Administration, and Design Thinking, as well as a Masters of International Business from the University of Florida. and he started his career as a Data Scientist before getting into consulting.