Fresh out of my summer internship at Amazon.com, the most common question I faced from curious first-years was, “How much of a challenge was it to pivot from Consulting to Internal Strategy?” As someone who has always loved to answer questions and solve problems, no matter how unfamiliar the subject, I found the pivot not challenging at all. This realization prompted me to explore the genesis of the discussion: “Why are internal and external strategy roles perceived differently? What unites them, and what sets them apart?”. My experience of having worked in both the roles, and my love for analogies, helps summarize the synergies and nuances as follows:
Takes the same ingredients
Ever wondered how scrambled eggs and omelettes, or scones and cupcakes, taste so different despite containing the same basic ingredients? It’s all about how you mix ‘em up and cook ‘em! The story is not very different in case of skill sets. Be it internal strategy or consulting, what you need to succeed in the role is the ability to break down complex problems faced by companies, and conceive strategic, creative, actionable solutions. As long as you work to hone these skills, you’re doing a good job of positioning yourself ideally to be lapped up into either of the roles.
‘T all depends on who you serve
As an internal strategist, you are part of the house chef’s staff. You know the tastes and preferences of the family you serve and so, there’s little effort involved in understanding how they like their eggs. Essentially, you’re working to deliver the highest quality of service to a fairly familiar clientele- your own organization. As a consultant, however, you’re catering to a vast range of clients- sometimes for desserts, other times for appetizers. It is imperative, and key to the job, to understand preferences of each client and tailor your deliverables accordingly.
You give some, you take some
And then there are other factors that could be favorable, depending on where they feature in your preferences. More often that not, Consulting comes with the perks of travelling to new places and making new connections. While there may be occasional travel involved in internal roles, you’re more likely to be stationed in your chosen office. Another interesting aspect I’ve noted in my experience is the subtle difference in the ‘cushion’ you have- to fail. As a consultant, the steaks are high (pun definitely intended) in every project/deliverable you work on and present- you’re cooking and waiting tables for important guests of the house. As an internal strategist, however, the repercussions of failure may not be as grave (depending on the company’s culture)- the head of the family, if nice, may excuse a pie that tastes like brie.
Building strategy, much like cooking, is both science and art. Internal or external, these roles are highly coveted by MBAs all over. There’s merit to both roles, and enough to lay a solid foundation upon which to build your career. Now, which of them is your cup of tea?