Leaving a Consulting Firm

    1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudibleWhen someone joins a consulting firm, it creates the inevitable day when they will leave the firm. Listen_Spreaker It may be after just a few months or several years.  We wanted to speak in this week’s podcast about the steps a consultant should take to leave professionally on good terms.Say goodbye to your clients

    1. What are the major considerations a consultant should think about when leaving a firm:
      1. It often depends on why you’re leaving a firm. I’ve seen people leave on good terms and bad terms and I’ve seen it have ramifications to their career years after they’ve exited the firm.
      2. People leave a consulting firm for any number of reasons.  They may decide to leave consulting altogether.  Maybe they’ve decided that a consulting career is not for them or that they’re just burned out on it.
      3. Consulting can be a launching pad for a successful career in some other industry. We’ve talked in the past about how people get a few years of consulting experience serving clients in a specific industry such as Healthcare consulting or financial consulting services.
      4. Consulting provides excellent experience for them to move into a company in that industry and allows them to be far ahead of people with the same number of years of experience that have been with that company for the same amount of time.
      5. Some people leave to go to another consulting firm.  When this happens, the firm you’re leaving wants to know the reason or reasons you’re leaving.
      6. Did a competing firm just make a better salary offer?  Often, a consulting firm will offer you a higher consulting salary to steal you away. If that’s the case, some firms will make a counter-offer to match or exceed the other firm’s offer.
      7. I’d advise against accepting this.  If you tell a firm that you’re leaving, you should leave.  I don’t believe in bluffing the firm just to get a higher salary.
      8. I’m also not a big proponent of leaving a firm just because of the money.  There are so many other factors that influence how happy you are at a job.  For instance, the amount of travel, work hours or opportunities to move up and work on more interesting technology.
      9. You may also leave a firm for another consulting firm because of its size.  Perhaps you’ve been at a boutique firm for a couple of years and would like to give a top tier firm a chance.  Or the other way around.
      10. People who work for the large firms can feel lost in the shuffle after a while and want to move to a smaller firm or even start their own.
    2. How do firms usually respond when someone leaves the firm?
      1. It always depends on the situation.  For instance, if you’re in the middle of a critical project, the timing may put the firm in a real bind.
      2. You can’t always control when you’ll get an offer from another firm, but if you want to leave on good terms, it’s always a good idea not to leave when your current firm needs you the most.
      3. It also depends on whether you’re leaving to work at a competitor or for other reasons.
      4. I worked at a firm once where, if you left to go to a competitor, you were asked to leave that day, regardless of how much notice you had given them.
      5. If the employee left to go to another industry outside of consulting it was usually another story.  They often want to stay on good terms with you because your new company is a potential client.
      6. I’ve also seen consultants leave their firm to be hired on at their current client.
      7. Most firms have agreements with their clients that they won’t hire each other’s employees, but when a client hires a consultant, the firm usually allows it to happen in order to stay on good terms with that client.
      8. I once saw it happen that the client I was working on hired one of our team members.  The consulting firm’s partner had a going away party for him at his house, inviting employees from the firm and the client.
    3. Some firms make it difficult to leave on good terms.  How does one consider that situation?
      1. Yes.  There are some, what I would consider short-sighted firms, who are only interested in your billable hours.  So no matter what the reason is that you’re leaving, you’ll be persona non grata if you leave.
      2. We always joked that if you quit to take care of your ailing mother the boss would kick you out of the office.
      3. But those firms are more the exception than the rule.  I think the key things that cause firms to be upset with you leave are a) when you leave to work at one of their head-to-head competitors and b) when you leave at a critical time in a project.
      4. Another factor is when they’ve spent a significant amount of time and money sending you to training.  They invested a lot of money in you and now you’re taking it to help another company.
    4. Is it different when your leaving a firm is not your choice?
      1. Usually. One of the big dependencies is why they’re asking you to leave the firm.
      2. If you’re an underperformer and they’ve worked with you to improve with no success, you may just want to walk away and try to cut your losses.
      3. But I’ve seen firms make cutbacks where they need to layoff large numbers of people.  Make no mistake about it, firms don’t enjoy this.  Everyone who is left working at the firm feels that awkwardness and survivor’s guilt.
      4. It’s like when there’s a death in your family.  Some people avoid contacting you. It’s not that they don’t care. They just don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything.
      5. I was part of a large round of layoffs from a firm I worked at several years ago.  Soon after it happened, there were several partners in the firm who called me to tell me how sorry they were and offered to help me in my job search.
      6. That was something I really appreciated.  It showed me that it wasn’t a performance issue but that they just had to reduce headcount.  The fact that partner-level people were willing to be references for me helped to build my self-confidence back up.
      7. But there were a lot of my former co-workers who didn’t know what to say, so they didn’t call.
      8. So I took on the initiative to call them.  They were uncomfortable at first, but I talked to them and told them how much I enjoyed working with them and wanted to make sure we kept in touch.
      9. Once they realized that I wasn’t devastated and was moving on, they felt much better.
      10. But that’s a critical step in networking.  Once you bind those ties with your former co-workers, they’ll be more willing to contact you if they see an opportunity in the job market.
    5. If a consultant leaves a firm and realizes they made a mistake, are firms usually willing to hire them back?
      1. I’ll give you my standard answer: It depends.  It depends on the terms you left under.
      2. I’ve worked for four different firms, and I’ve seen every one of them hire back employees who had left to pursue other things.
      3. But if someone left under bad terms and burned bridges, they’re much less likely to consider hiring you back.
      4. Consulting firms are always looking to hire good people.  If you left to start your own company or you just decided to get out of consulting, they usually understand that.
      5. Once you get out there and realize the grass wasn’t actually greener, they’ll often take you back.  They know your skill set and they probably won’t have to spend a lot of time in orientation and training you up since you already know their organization.
    6. So let’s say you want to leave on good terms.  What are some of the specific things one should do?
      1. First, you want to make sure you inform them correctly.  You should tell the person that you directly report to.  That may be a partner or a project manager.  If possible tell them both together.
      2. I’ve seen situations where people tell a couple of their friends and ask them not to tell anyone.  This never works.  Invariably, they tell other people and ask them not to tell and it just goes viral.
      3. I’ve heard of bosses hearing through the grapevine before the employee has a chance to tell them and it doesn’t go well.
      4. When you go to tell them, make sure it’s in as private of a location as possible.  Stop by their office or do it in a conference room where you can have a frank conversation.
      5. Have a professionally written resignation letter to give to them.  But tell them verbally.  The letter is a formality and should not be used to tell them that you’re leaving.
      6. They will more than likely ask you why you’re leaving and where you are going to work.
      7. I always recommend putting this in as positive of a light as possible.  If you’re leaving because you think this boss is a jerk and you hate his guts, you have nothing to gain by telling him.
      8. It’s better to say that you’ve found a better opportunity and have decided to move on.
      9. If you’re leaving for a competitor it’s best to tell them.  Often, if you give a 2-week notice and tell them you’re leaving for a competitor, they’ll ask you to leave that day and just pay you for the 2 weeks.
      10. They figure that’s better than allowing you to have access to critical files and other information before you go to a competitor.
      11. I knew someone who left their firm and refused to tell them where they were going.  This left the firm with some trust issues and they ended up telling the person to leave that day rather than risk leaving them with access to their critical files in case they were going to a competitor.
      12. The key is to take the high road.  No matter how unhappy you are, or how much you may hate your firm or your boss, be professional.  If they choose to be unprofessional, don’t stoop to that level.
      13. And make sure to say a formal, professional goodbye.  Send an email to everyone that you had a close enough relationship with at your firm that simply says that you’ve decided to move on, that you enjoyed working with them and that you wish them luck.
      14. If you aren’t going to a competitor, it’s ok to tell them where you’re going.  If you are going to a competitor, leave it out of the email.  Many of the folks will reply and ask you where you’re going and you can tell them in a one-on-one email rather than broadcasting it.
      15. It’s just another way to leave on good terms with your firm.
    7. What is the appropriate way to maintain ties?
      1. Well, hopefully you were doing a good job of networking while you worked there.  As I mentioned, it’s good to connect on LinkedIn with co-workers and to stay in touch with them.
      2. We’ve also talked before that simply connecting on LinkedIn isn’t enough.  You need to interact with your LinkedIn connections and make sure they remember you.
      3. But when you do leave a firm, make sure you have the appropriate people in your network.  If there are people you worked with that you’re not connected with, add them and start interacting with them.
      4. You can do this with clients also.  You should connect on LinkedIn with client employees that you’ve developed relationships with.
      5. And don’t be afraid to let them know that you’re looking for a new position.
      6. If you were let go by the firm or left because you were unhappy with your firm, you need to continue to put things in a positive light.
      7. If you badmouth your firm with former co-workers or clients, they’re going to be less likely to help you.  Think about it, if someone badmouths their former employer, I’m not going to be as willing to put my name on the line by recommending them for a new employer that they may end up criticizing down the road.
      8. And one other point, I’ve talked about staying in touch.  I’ve known many people who only contact their connections when they’re looking for a job.  That’s bad form.  It’s important to post articles that you think people in your network will be interested in.
      9. And just check in with them.  Send them an email to see how things are going, offer to meet for coffee or lunch or an after-work drink.
      10. Take an interest in them and they’ll be more likely to maintain an interest in you.
    8. When a consultant leaves on bad terms, what type of things can happen to them career-wise.
      1. Whether you’re in consulting or some other industry, I’m not a proponent of leaving a company on bad terms.
      2. When I was in high school and college I worked as a waiter in a few restaurants.  I always made sure I didn’t burn bridges even when I submitted my notice to those employers.
      3. You never know when a bad relationship will come back to haunt you.
      4. I’ve worked my entire career in Chicago, and I’m amazed at how small the IT consulting industry is in this large metropolitan area.  I’ve run into some of my former bosses and clients repeatedly.
      5. References are pretty big.  If you leave on bad terms, it will be hard to get a reference for a future job.
      6. If you’re trying to join a new firm, they’ll see in your resume or LinkedIn profile where you worked before or maybe a former client, and may talk to people they know at one of those organizations – even if you didn’t give that person’s name as a reference.
      7. If you left on bad terms, that may come out.  You could do permanent damage to your career prospects just by blowing off a little steam.
    9. Once you’ve burned that bridge or damaged a relationship, are there ways to go about repairing it?
      1. Well, time heals all wounds.  Sometimes, no matter how positive you tried to be, your boss blows up and tells you to just get the hell out of there.
      2. Or maybe you blew off some steam and it became a rather heated conversation when you left.
      3. But things are said in the heat of battle that not everyone means. If you ran into that boss a year later at a trade show or professional organization’s dinner, maybe cooler heads will prevail.
      4. Sometimes that’s an opportunity.  If you have a chance meeting with a former boss where you left on bad terms, the tendency is to avoid them.
      5. I would recommend the opposite.  Walk up to them and say hi.  And if they don’t spit in your face and walk away, that’s always a good sign.
      6. Some people will just make awkward small talk and then lie about how nice it was to see them again.
      7. I would recommend confronting the issue.  Say something like, “Last year when I left the firm, I said a few things I regret and I’m sorry for that.” Showing some humility and apologizing for anything you did that might have been unprofessional will go a long way.
      8. Even if they were the one at fault, you can apologize for leaving them in a jam.  If they’re human at all, this will go a long way toward melting the ice.  It may take a couple of chance meetings like that before they fully warm back up to you.
      9. You could also throw them some business by referral.  If you’re talking to someone who needs some business that your former employer can do, set them up with some business.  That’s a great way to mend bad feelings.
      10. Most forward thinking firms maintain a strong alumni network.  They know that people don’t work for the same company for their entire careers anymore.  They also know that you may move on to companies that need consulting services.  If they maintain good ties with their former employees, they stand a better chance that you will hire them as consultants when you’re in a decision making role at a future employer.
    10. Any final thoughts on leaving a consulting firm?
      1. The key is to leave on good terms.  Always be professional, even if they aren’t.
      2. It can be very tempting at times to go in and say “Take this job and shove it”, but it can leave very long-term negative effects on your career.
      3. And being negative will never do anything but give you short-term satisfaction that doesn’t last long at all.

    Next week’s topic: Consulting Mentors

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    3 thoughts on “Leaving a Consulting Firm

    1. Nice blog! Here I found great information about IT consulting. Thanks

    2. Hello, I recently resigned from a consulting firm and I deeply regret it. Now that I want to go back, this article came of great help. I contributed a lot in that firm and I am pretty confident that they would take me back! And when they do, I will make sure to be more productive than ever. Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

    3. Hello, I am Kiran and i liked your Blog alot as it is very Interesting and Informative at the same time. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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