Why (and How) I Chose Consulting

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Why (and How) I Chose Consulting

By Alexandra Warren

Consulting is my second career. In my previous life, I worked in policy development for a large public service organization. I enjoyed my job: the culture was supportive, the people were bright, and the work we did was meaningful. So why did I leave that great work environment for a private boutique consulting firm?

It took a lot of focused groundwork to decide to change my career path. I am a firm believer in the maxim that you cannot know where you want to go until you know where you are. Like any true Type A personality, I conducted an “as-is analysis”. In my personal life, it meant taking stock of my current position and how I got there.

Policy was my first job after my graduate degree, and it was meant as a stopgap while I looked for something in my field. However, over the years it had morphed into my dream career – or so I thought. But when I took a closer look, I realized that few of my prized skills (like presenting, facilitating and writing) were utilized to their fullest extent.  And if I’m honest, the position placed an emphasis on skills that do not come naturally to me (no – I’m not telling you what they are!).

After understanding where I was and how I came to be there, I could move on my second piece of groundwork. That is, I had to understand and prioritize my values; I needed to figure out what I was passionate about and what I wanted to achieve.

For example, I knew I wanted to hone my favourite skills like presenting, executive facilitation, relationship-building and problem solving. I also wanted to ensure that I was involved in a culture of continuous improvement, where learning new things happened daily. Even knowing these were my top desires, it was still hard to motivate myself to make a change because I was working with extraordinary individuals who had become close friends. Was a great social life worth remaining in a career that wasn’t the right fit? I had to remind myself that the social aspect was not my top priority – even though it had its appeal!

Once I figured out what I wanted to focus on, I began step number three: evaluate my options. Option one was the status quo. I knew in my heart this wouldn’t work, So, I began searching for other employment.  This is when I was introduced to Business Process Improvement consulting. Because I had already prioritized my values and interests, I was quickly able to see that consulting offered everything I was looking for. Presenting? Check! Facilitating? Double check!! Problem solving? That’s the name of the game (so, check!). I researched firms who specialized in this area and began applying.

The fourth step was arguably the most challenging: receiving an offer and then being faced with presenting my (very supportive and understanding) boss with my resignation letter. Understandably, I was scared. Would my new career be what I expected? Would I make friends? Would I know enough?

For me, once I had resigned from my position the hard part was over. I had committed to the change and there was no turning back. I had spent a lot of time understanding where I was and what I really wanted. I reminded myself of those things every day, especially when I felt doubt.

For businesses faced with change, the information gathering and decision making process is the same.

  • Do the background work. In business improvement, this entails mapping – in detail – where you are today.
  • Make sure you have an in-depth knowledge of your value stream.
  • Develop and evaluate your options.
  • Make the change. Don’t allow doubt-laden questions to result in your inaction.

Ensuring you have laid groundwork for change is key. This research will provide you with the certainty that the changes you are making are the right ones, and will drive your business in the strategic direction you want.

Personally, I knew leaving policy was the right decision, and I knew business improvement was my path. I had done the work and had evaluated the options and made my choice. As a result, not only did I achieve my goals, I also retained what I thought I might lose: great friends and another excellent working environment.  But don’t trust me, trust yourself and the work you’ve done. It will lead you in the right direction.

Has anyone else taken a leap and changed careers after they have established themselves in one? I would love to hear if others have done the same thing and what the results were!

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