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Consulting or in-house job?

Professions like accounting, tech services and legal services offer an option to work for a corporation in-house or for a consulting company.

One offers depth, stability and better work life balance, the other continuous learning and change.

Professions like accounting, tech services and legal services offer an option to work for a corporation in-house or for a consulting company.

One offers depth, stability and better work life balance, the other continuous learning and change.

Working in a consulting firm

Consultants complement the skills, knowledge, and capacity available with their clients. They are the delta to what their client can do in-house.

Continuous learning, a hunger for learning

To be relevant, consultants need to bring individual and organizational expertise to enable clients run their business better.

Being a step ahead of their clients in the technology, domain or process which they consult in adds to their value and essential for success. It’s stay ahead and thrive, fall back and die.

Since processes, markets, legislation, and technology change continuously, a consulting professional needs to have the aptitude and commitment to continuous learning and skill enhancement.

Working for a financially sound organization which invests in best of breed processes/technologies can enable this learning and growth. Aim to work there.

A large part in the success of consulting companies (and their teams) like McKinsey, BCG, the leading technology services companies, and the big 4 comes from their ongoing investments in institutional capabilities and of their people.

Adaptability & collaboration

Consulting assignments can be as short as a few months and rarely extend into years.

Hence, a consulting professional will engage with new clients and teams frequently. This requires the ability to successfully collaborate with strangers and build working relationships quickly to communicate and facilitate the acceptance of ideas and recommendations.

Working on part of the lifecycle

Program lifecycles start with a business need, going into a business case, evaluation of options and implementation of the selected one.

While at each stage there may be different consulting firms involved, rare that one is engaged through the lifecycle, and even rarer that a consultant or consulting team is.

Coming into any stage of the lifecycle, consultants need to be able to rapidly assimilate the work which preceded their participation, and the rational for it. Similarly what work fill follow after they complete their part and ensure that their deliverables dovetail into it.


Though there will also be assignments within commutable distance, many will require travel. This travel could be as frequent as 4 days a week, and on occasion even weeks at a stretch.

While racking up a lot of frequent guest benefits with airlines, car rentals, and hotels, regular travel comes at a cost of family time and the wear and tear on the body. Very well depicted in the movie “Up in the air” starring George Clooney.


A consultant is a consultant, and not an employee of the client. There for a purpose and then not there.

In a room with client employees, the consulting professional will be the outsider, and lower in the pecking order. Consultants are hired by clients. The in-house staff knows it and may also show it.

Even if housed in the same facility, the privileges and amenities available will be less than those to employees.

For anyone in a consulting profession, understanding and accepting this is important. However, accomplished, knowledgeable or well educated a consultant is, this adjustment is essential for ongoing success and emotional health.

In house roles

Focused learning

Those working in a role in-house also need to demonstrate expertise and contemporary knowledge in the areas in which they work. They too need to be continuous learners.

Their learning though is focused on the processes and systems of the employer. Even with self-study and regular participation in forums and industry bodies, the hands-on experience gets bounded by what the employing organization uses and the pace at which it evolves.

For those aiming to be in in-house roles and yet on the leading edge of knowledge, work for an organization(s) with a track record of being at the cutting edge in your area of specialization. FedEx and Amazon in logistics, Walmart in store operations, Exxon Mobil in hydrocarbon exploration, and Pfizer in life sciences research are examples of companies known for continually innovating their core processes and systems.

Full lifecycle experience

It is employees who will steward the lifecycle of any organizational initiative.

Some will own the initiative end to end; others may be active participants at certain stages of it and observers in others.

This opportunity to participate in or own a complete lifecycle of an initiative is available only to employees, rarely if ever to those in the consulting profession.

Durable relationships

An employee is likely to work with the same colleagues over an extended period. This gives time to ease into working relationships. Works well for those who are slow to engage and less spontaneous.

An upside of working with colleagues over a period is the opportunity to build deeper relationships. For many, some of their closest friends are those with whom they worked long.

Work-life balance

For most in-house roles (sales being among the exceptions), there is a predictability in the location of work and work hours.

This provides an opportunity to co-locate, manage commutes, and build schedules which allow time to spend with family and personal interests.

In closing

For those whose interest and aptitude lie in continuous learning and staying on the leading edge of their specialization, consulting roles can be very enriching. They can also offer a diversity of assignments and organizations to work with.

The flip side is the lesser opportunity to participate end to end in any program, the compromise of family time, and intense travel.

On the other hand, if looking to participate through the lifecycle of programs and initiatives and build deep expertise in an organizations system or process while living a more balanced life outside work, in-house roles can be the better option.

In both professions however, work for organizations which are healthy, and are leading or aiming to lead in your area of desired specialization. They will have the intent and the means to invest and enable continuous learning to ensure you are always current and relevant in your area of specialization.

Keep swinging!

You might also want to read Moving to a new job profile successfully.


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