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Time to advance your career? Making the move from SES to consulting

Making the decision to move from the public service to the private sector can be difficult, particularly for those who have spent the better half of their careers climbing the ranks to SES levels.

At HorizonOne, we’re often asked about the differences in pace, performance and pressure between the public and private sectors. And while the financial and reputational benefits are widely acknowledged, fear of the unknown still causes hesitation, even for those who find the idea professionally, intellectually and financially tempting.

In terms of opportunity, there’s never been a better time to join the consulting world. The Big 4 management consulting firms – PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG – are the largest they’ve been in the ACT region, reporting an average 10.8% increase in revenue in the 2017 Financial Year. Growth is expected to continue, fuelled by untiring demand for specialised knowledge during major transformations and complex projects.

[pullquote] “…fear of the unknown still causes hesitation, even for those who find the idea professionally, intellectually and financially tempting.” [/pullquote]

Increasing competition for talent has created golden opportunities for Senior Executives in the Commonwealth. Firms are hungry for high performers who have a strong reputation for delivering results and valuable networks that can open doors to opportunities.

Risks and Rewards

For anyone who has considered a change, or is contemplating one in the future, it can help to hear the experiences of those who have walked the path. To get the inside scoop, we interviewed four Big 4 Partners who were previously in FAS/SES2 level roles in the Commonwealth, and asked their advice on what it takes to make a successful transition.  

Simon Crowther

Simon Crowther

Previously: First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Now: Partner, Ernst & Young

Specialises in: Fraud investigation, forensic, risk assessments, non-compliance

Why change? I wanted to work for a global company where I could really apply the skills I had developed in the public sector.  Being offered a partnership in a Big 4 consulting firm was very attractive, and it made sense for my career.

Risks? Don’t assume that you’ll leave all the bureaucracy behind. Private firms still have a way of doing things, and systems that need to be followed. Expect a period of adjustment.

Rewards? I have a great team around me, and we are always working on a range of really interesting jobs for our clients, so there is never a dull moment. I’m not tied to the office, we all work flexibly, and each day is very different to the last.

Advice? Do it for the right reasons. For me, it was a positive decision at a positive point in my career. I have a lot of experience but still a lot of time left in the workforce, so I’ve made the change mid-career when I feel energised and excited by what lies ahead.

Amanda McIntyre

Amanda McIntyre

Previously:  First Assistant Secretary, Office for Women, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Now: Partner, PwC

Specialises in: Financial management, financial advice, transformations, diversity and inclusion

Why change? I wanted to work for an organisation that aligned with my personal values – somewhere that I felt was committed to making a positive social impact and advancing women into leadership, and was willing to invest in me personally.

Risks? The APS has a lot of structure, whereas consulting requires more of a cross-functional mindset, so you need to be agile and able to operate under different expectations. It takes effort to adapt your work style, so you must be committed.

Rewards? I was surprised by how flexible the work is; there’s a real commitment to delivering work/life balance in a way that works for you. I enjoy working to outcomes, and find that I have a deeper understanding of my own breadth of experience now.

Advice? Underneath your fear lies great opportunity. There’s a fear in leaving a career in which you’ve been successful and moving into something new. There’s no right time to make a change – it’s whenever it feels right for you. But be willing to invest in it.

Matt King

Matt King

Previously:  First Assistant Secretary, Commonwealth Treasury

Now: Partner, KPMG

Specialises in: Government financial accounting and budgeting, financial and governance frameworks

Why change? For where I was at in my career, I felt there were limited opportunities in the public service, and I wanted to broaden my horizons and help others with the skills and experience I had gained over many years.  

Risks? Know the organisation you are going to, talk to friends who work there, and think through how it will affect your superannuation. If you’re coming in at a senior level, you need to be able to hit the ground running.

Rewards? Private sector work is offsite more, and to a greater variety of clients. They also have a good understanding of resources and capabilities, are really focussed on how best to leverage innovation and trends, and better equipped to adapt to change.

Advice? Understand why you want to move and the organisation you’re moving to. I was able to move somewhere with a great culture that values staff, and allows me to work shoulder to shoulder with clients to achieve the best outcomes.

Ben Neal

Ben Neal

Previously: First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Now: Partner, PwC

Specialises in: Human resources, workforce planning and analytics, workforce strategy

Why change? I’d spent more than 20 years in government in one form or another and decided it was the right time in my career to make a change. It was a leap into the unknown, driven by a desire to broaden my experience outside of government and assist the public service in a different way.

Risks? There are personal and professional risks whenever you change jobs in a significant way, particularly when you leave something you have been doing for a long time. I sought advice from many peers and colleagues both in the public service and in consulting firms to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into.

Rewards? I was surprised to find a great deal of flexibility working in a big firm, despite what the rhetoric and reputation would have you believe. There’s a lot of variety in the kind of work we get to do and the types of organisations we get to do it with.

Advice? Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself or think it will be easy. It’s a very different environment and the type of work, structures, processes and working styles all require you to learn and adapt. 

If you’ve reached a point in your career where you are seeking new challenges, and are looking for the chance to apply your skills in new and exciting ways, consulting may be the ideal career move.

And if the only thing holding you back is fear, remember the wise words of Abraham Maslow: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”

Simon Cox is a self-confessed ‘recruitment nerd’ with 15 years experience servicing clients predominantly in the Canberra market. With 10 years at the helm of the company he founded, Simon is still fascinated by people and organisations and still gets a thrill of helping and connecting people. He is driven by a desire to change the face of modern recruitment, offering clients a professional, consultative and knowledgeable take on consulting.

Author Bio

James Judge

James Judge is associate publisher – People & Capability - for The Mandarin. Based in Canberra, James has over 25 years experience working as a consultant and advisor across a range of employee relations and human resources fields. He is CEO of Australian Human Resource Professionals, a Member of the Resolution Institute (RI) and serves on the regional advisory committee of the Institute of Leaders and Managers.