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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Moving On: 5 Smart Consulting Exit Options

Management consulting can be a rewarding career, but at some point you may feel like it’s time to move on. Whether you’re making the shift for lifestyle reasons, in pursuit of a life calling, or just because consulting wasn’t the right fit for you, you’re in luck: There are a lot of potential opportunities on the horizon.

In fact, leaving consulting is often seen as a positive and natural progression of your career. Only a small percentage of people both start and finish their career in the industry, and many consulting companies maintain strong alumni networks that can help you out when looking into the different paths and considering your options.

If you’re contemplating your next move, check out some ideas that will make the most of your experience and skills within the field, while still giving you a change of pace.

1. Get Educated

Consider it if: You’re looking to move up in your consulting firm—or transition to a completely new career or industry.

Heading back to grad school is a common exit strategy for those within consulting, especially if you started a consulting gig straight out of undergrad.

If you’re thinking you’ll ultimately stay in consulting, getting more education can help secure you higher pay, a specialization, or a promotion within your company. Many firms will pay for your MBA in exchange for a guaranteed number of years of service following graduation, which is a great perk to take advantage of if you like your current gig.

Alternatively, if your time consulting has made you realize that your passions lie elsewhere, pursuing more education can be a smart way to make a career switch. Whether you want to move into law, practice medicine, or pursue a finance-focused MBA to get a career on Wall Street, a new degree can help you leverage your consulting experience while providing specific skills to obtain a new career. I’ve had friends who have moved on to become everything from surgeons to lawyers, all using the strong client management and problem solving skills they gained as consultants.

2. Join the Corporate World

Consider it if: You enjoy your work as a consultant but are looking for a lifestyle change (like better hours or flexibility).

As a consultant, you’ll likely spend your days working with clients at some of the top corporate firms in the country. And once they see how stellar you are, you will likely get a number of job offers—many are eager to hire ex-consultants into their organizations. I’ve had many friends exit consulting to join the Fortune 500 companies they consulted for (from Google to Shell Oil), often working directly with the client contacts they had established strong relationships with during their consulting engagements. Typically, the organizations hire you to work within the business strategy function, an internal consulting group, or a department that aligns best to your specific area of expertise (for example, HR).

This option comes with a number of benefits, particularly if you enjoy the work you already do. Entering a corporate gig with a consulting background can often allow you to enter in at a higher level than you would be able to otherwise. Also, depending on the company you join, you’ll likely enjoy a more 9-to-5 lifestyle (as oppose to the 9-to-when the work gets done hours of consulting).

The caveat: If what you’re itching to escape from your current gig is the work itself, moving into corporate probably isn’t the right decision for you. After all, you’ll be hired for your consulting skills—and be expected to keep doing them for years to come.

3. Start a Business

Consider it if: You have a stellar business idea or want a chance to work in an industry very different from your own.

Entrepreneurship is a very common exit path for those in the beginning stages of their career. As a consultant, you learn about many different industries and companies, along with the skills to run successful businesses, such as rapid problem solving and business analysis. You will also have significant credit when it comes to securing financial support in your business because of your experience advising other businesses (and hopefully some seed capital from saving all your year-end bonuses!). All together, this is a great foundation for starting a business of your own. (Some examples of successful startups created by ex-consultants include Udemy,, and even The Muse!)

But also keep in mind: If you don’t yet have a business idea you love (or you want a slightly more secure path), joining an established startup can be a smart choice. Working for a startup can allow you to use your expertise in new ways, help exciting companies reach new growth targets, and allow you to enjoy a company culture and lifestyle that is likely more relaxed and fun than what you’re used to.

4. Go Independent

Consider it if: You enjoy the work that you do but want more control over the projects you take and your lifestyle.

If you developed a specific skill set during your time as a management consultant, such as large scale project management or change management, becoming an independent consultant can be a great option following your experience at a larger firm. This path allows you the flexibility of owning your own business, but also keeps you in the consulting industry. You will have more control over your hours, as well as make more money per hour than you would working for a larger firm that holds more overhead costs.

I’ve seen a number of ex-consultants from major firms move successfully onto independent projects where clients desire a truly unbiased opinion, agnostic of larger firms and sales targets. Just remember: Independent consultants rely primarily on their relationships to secure work, so in order to make this move, ensure you have a strong network of individuals who both need and can afford your services.

5. Give Back

Consider it if: You’re looking for renewed meaning in your work.

After working with large corporations in the pursuit of profits, many consultants consider taking some time to work for a nonprofit or NGO. Top-tier consulting skills are in high demand and allow you to put your skills to use while providing significant value to these organizations. Nonprofits will often want your help in areas such as strategy development, international expansion or growth, or project management.

In the event that you don’t want a permanent move, some consulting companies even offer pro-bono consulting services in-house or support sabbaticals for employees looking to give their time. If this sounds more like what you’re looking for, ask HR or your project staffing representatives to see if your organization offers this sort of program.

As you can see, one of the biggest benefits of consulting is that it gives you options. Whatever it is you want to do after you move out of your current role, there’s a way you can use the skills you’ve learned on the job to make it happen.

Photo of office courtesy of Shutterstock.