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Leaving the comfort of a career you know well can be daunting. You may second-guess yourself, fear that you lack the knowledge and skills to succeed in a new opportunity, and wonder if anyone would be willing to take a chance on you. Countless people have reached out to me on LinkedIn or came across this article: https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2018/08/08/teacher-mba-management-consultant-career-change/ and wanted to learn how I made the jump from 6th and 7th grade English and history teacher in the South Bronx to management consultant. Firms are looking for people who are client-ready and those looking to build a bridge to a consulting career can show client readiness by: (1) Understanding the Role, (2) Explicitly Showing Transferrable Skills, (3) Building Analogies.
- Understanding the Role
If you’ve made it past the introduction, then you are already addressing this first step by better understanding the role of a consultant. Remember PPS (Professional Problem-Solver)? As a PPS, most firms look for five core skills:
- Communication: Are you able to clearly articulate and get your message across?
- Critical Thinking (Analytics): Do you connect-the-dots and are you able to consider qualitative and quantitative factors in thinking through a problem?
- Leadership: Do you show initiative and are you able to influence or motivate a group?
- Project Management: Do you get things done? Are you able to prioritize?
- Teamwork: Are you collaborative? Do you apply or adapt your skills to support the team?
Teaching was far and away the hardest job I have ever had. It was long hours presenting material to some of your fiercest critics (6th graders can be brutal and are not afraid to give you unsolicited feedback). It was figuring out where each student was starting and how to best guide and motivate them to achieve distant goals. It was looking at 185 school days, recognizing that there would be vacations, field trips, sick days, test days, and other disruptions and trying to align your curriculum to ensure key learning milestones were achieved in that timeframe. It was building a culture that supported students, enabled them to be vulnerable, and helped them to achieve. Teachers do not get enough credit for what they do and great teachers certainly deserve higher pay.
When I was learning about consulting, I started by understanding what a consultant did. Reading books like Case In Point helped provide a baseline understanding and I found conversations with actual consultants were the best way to pick-up jargon, see how they presented themselves, and learn what their day-to-day was like. Hearing about consultants from consultants in their own words helped me begin to see how my skillset as a teacher applied beyond the classroom.
- Explicitly Showing Transferrable Skills
Explicitly is underlined for a reason. Too often, recruiters, firms, and people in our networks might write off career switchers. When I was recruiting, many recruiters failed to see the immediate parallel between teaching and consulting. They were able to create a narrative that because I was in a seemingly vastly different role, that I would not make a good consultant. Do not let them create this narrative! Better yet, you create the narrative. You can build on your understanding of what a consultant does by showing that you are already demonstrating consulting skills. Highlight these in your resume and align them with consulting position descriptions. Quantify your resume bullets to show results. When people are building their resumes or trying to switch careers, I always suggest 2 things: (1) STAR format, and (2) Skills-Based resume. STAR stands for Situation/Task, Action, Results. This helps you tell a story showcasing what you were doing, which skills or actions you used, and what was your (quantified, when possible) impact. With the skills-based resume, I recommend explicitly starting your bullet with the corresponding consulting skill that you want to showcase and then using the STAR format to expound on it. Knowing that communication is a critical consulting skill and that this was a skill that every teacher utilizes daily, a bullet on my resume might look like:
- Communication: Facilitated over 4,000 hours of sessions by designing presentations, activities, and individualized and group exercises breaking complex knowledge and skills into core components resulting in 120+ students meeting 95% of objectives within 185 days.
There’s a lot to unpack in this bullet, but it shows a number of things – that I can command a room and facilitate when needed, that I can communicate and breakdown complex information, and that I can set goals and drive a group towards achieving them. Starting to sound like a consultant?
- Building Analogies
The bridge from career switcher/starter to consultant becomes much less perilous when you build analogies from what you are currently doing to what you will be doing as a consultant. The key is to show that you already have the skills and have been operating as a consultant in your current role(s). This step draws on the understanding and transferable skills by arming you with stories that you can tell and showcasing how these skills will correspond to your role as a consultant.
As a teacher, I had to develop a plan to get my students from start to finish. There were a certain number of units that we needed to cover, quizzes and tests to ensure that students were learning effectively, and there would be times where I would need to adjust course because of an unexpected assembly, snow day, or lesson needing to be taught better. On its face, this does not sound like consulting, but it does employ the very same skills. Let’s look at this another way.
Just as a consultant would do, I built a long-term project plan to cover the next 185 business days. When designing this plan, I established regular objectives, milestones, and checkpoints to evaluate and assess our progress against our goals and targets. If a goal was not met, I would review where we fell short, adapt our timeline, and identify opportunities to ensure that we met our goal. Given our tight time constraints and the fact that our team often had different skillsets and strengths, I often had to develop individualized and group approaches to help us achieve our goal. Over the course of these 185 days, we built a strong culture of learning and continuous improvement and while our initial target was 80%, we were able to achieve 95% of our learning objectives.
Putting your story in the language of a consultant and likening it to consulting paints the relevance of your experience. Again, teaching was far and away the hardest thing I have ever done (and this includes consulting). Craft a narrative to show that you have the skills.
By demonstrating that you understand the role, have the skills for the role, and are already applying those skills, you open the door to an offer.
About the Author
With over twelve years of experience consulting and working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Evan started his nonprofit career as a member of Teach For America (TFA), where he served as a teacher, volunteer, and in operational support and training roles for the organization. He has supported BDO Public Sector in the launch of their management consulting practice and has provided strategy and operations, human capital, and information technology support to government and nonprofit clients. At BDO Public Sector, Evan led efforts building internal practice recruiting processes including interview questions, cases, and candidate evaluation criteria and developed their Graduate Advisor internship program.