Prior to joining TPC as a Business Consultant, I spent 5 years working in Merchandise Planning and whilst I loved my job, product, and being a self-proclaimed “Excel nerd” (really), I was ready to do more of what I enjoyed most in Merchandising including problem solving, working cross-functionally, and thinking about the wider company strategy.
Moving into a new sector, even with a relevant skillset and background, can be slightly daunting at first, so if you’re considering the move from industry to consulting, here are 5 things I’ve learned since making the switch that will hopefully help you on your way!
1) Be prepared to learn – quickly and often!
There’s a learning curve when starting any new job, and despite new challenges arising, there usually comes a time when you can settle in and spend some time on “auto-pilot”. In contrast, as a Consultant, with each new client or project you’re effectively starting a new job, so constantly getting up to speed quickly is part of your day-to-day now. For example, I worked on a project where we had 3 weeks to understand the organisation, map out end-to-end processes, investigate whether an issue existed (and if so what it was), and design several solutions for them.
In the first 3 weeks of most Merchandising jobs, a company may rarely expect you to know how to navigate the building, let alone understand the company and design new high-level processes. This is the most noticeable difference I’ve experienced since moving from industry and without a doubt one of the biggest challenges yet most exciting part of the job.
2) Keep (or start!) thinking creatively.
Consulting isn’t just about analysing data and making slides (even though those have their place!). Thinking creatively is imperative to defining and solving unusual business problems and applying your experience in new ways. Unlike in industry, there are not necessarily a wealth of existing processes for you to follow.
It is now up to you and your team to create an optimised solution and evaluate it rigorously. This is not to undermine those PowerPoint skills though. Getting creative with PowerPoint slides can make them a lot clearer and easier to follow (plus it can be fun!). Communication is one of the most critical competencies in consulting and tailoring your visual and written presentation styles can go a long way to effectively getting your message across.
3) Think big(ger).
A big shift for me from moving from one large retailer to a consultancy, with many different clients and types of businesses, was spending more time thinking about the health of the entire business, not just a part of it. Your involvement with clients from all areas of an organisation up to C-level will demand that you engage with the big picture, however this is something you’ll always want to keep thinking about.
By doing so you’ll be prepared to tailor your discussion and presentation styles often, and always think about how even the one area you’re working on can impact other areas of the client’s business and bottom line.
4) Throw away the hat rack, you’re wearing them all.
My main daily focus in Merchandising was my category within a department, however as a Consultant the remit and scope of my work is constantly changing. Due to the nature of consulting versus a typical job in industry, you will likely be asked to wear many hats. One week you may be leading a long-term planning project at Client A; the next you’re supporting pricing business development for Client B.
Then suddenly you’re supporting a team with a deadline at Client C, all whilst carrying on your important work for Client A and managing your own internal work simultaneously. This is a big shift from having a usual day-to-day remit in industry, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to flex a whole range of skills and bring lessons from one type of work to another on a regular basis.
5) Expect to have fun!
In Consulting, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time on a project with the same few people in a small conference room, sometimes in a city away from your home town. Through hours of brain storming and trips to get (yet another) coffee, expect to speedily bond with colleagues that you may not have made friends with as quickly as in industry.
Time “in the trenches” together on an intense project can lend itself to a great sense of humour to keep you going, so despite being under pressure for key deliverables, I’ve managed to have a lot of fun with my co-workers along the way. And some drinks to cap off a job well done at the end of a phase always has its fair share of laughs!
Ultimately, consulting can be long hours and will certainly test your creative problem-solving side of your brain, however I have found it be the best test and use of my skills and an incredibly rewarding move to have made.
Skylar Vanderbilt-Smith is a Business Consultant at Thought Provoking Consulting, following 5 years of experience in Merchandise Planning across luxury and high-street brands.
When she’s not working on creating retail solutions, Skylar enjoys discovering new restaurants, reading Michael Lewis books, and trying to string together a sentence in Italian.