Soon to be Big 3 if they hire me.
November 4, 2011 1:58 PM   Subscribe

What's it like for a mid-career (35 years old) IT person to suddenly start working at a big 4 consulting firm?

I've been working for over ten years in computer security, which has become very lucrative. My jobs have been with both start-ups and big (~$2B/yr revenue) companies, always as a direct employee.

A former boss needs someone "exactly like me" at his new workplace, but doesn't want to hire me directly for political/non-compete reasons. (I realize noncompetes are often not enforceable, but regardless it would be seen as bridge-burning or poaching and he won't do it.) However, he does a lot of business with 2 of the big 4 consulting firms for IT professional services and, through another former boss now at one of the firms, thinks he could get me hired to work on his account.

I've worked with Big 4 IT consultants frequently in the past; my impression is almost all of them started at their firm (or a competitor or acquired firm) within a year or two out of college. Further, I don't have a degree, which in previous conversations with hiring managers at these firms had been show-stopper.

So, 1) could a pushing client need in an in-demand field overcome my 'defects' and get me hired? 2) What's it like coming into a big 4 firm mid-career instead of right out of college? I'm really not interested in the job if it means I'm never home to see the kids. 3) What would this add or subtract to my future career prospects? Having a big-name firm on the resume can't hurt, right?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I would much rather work for the primary than a 3rd party big 4 contractor unless you're planning on getting exposure elsewhere or are comfortable being termed.

I work for one of the biggies, we do place people on behalf of our clients, we also tend to force these folks through yet another agency so we can term with no problems them if the client goes another direction.

Being at a big firm in the consulting/staff aug space can go either way with the work/life thing. It is not at all uncommon to have billable hours as the primary metric for measuring success, consequently there is less regard for the balance of work and life. With that said, there is a flipside and it very varies from group to group and from client to client.
posted by iamabot at 2:19 PM on November 4, 2011

Unfortunately, I think it's quite likely the lack of degree thing would continue to be a showstopper for direct employment. The way it was explained to me by one of our recruiters (at an unnamed but quite large consulting firm) when I tried to refer an extremely qualified candidate with no degree was that it would screw up our H-1B filings if we had any non-degreed people in client service roles, since that would be proof positive that a bachelor's degree was not required to fill the role.

That said, it never hurts to ask, and I suppose there's always some non-zero possibility of setting up some kind of subcontractor arrangement if people are motivated enough to make something happen and feel like that would provide the appropriate fig leaf for your non-compete.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:36 PM on November 4, 2011

They are going to bill you out for a buttload of money. A good rule of thumb is to take what you would want as a salaried employee and multiply it by 3, as there will be no benefits or any of the other very nice perks of working for the big 4 other than that name on your CV. Make sure you get a good slice.

They will try to sell you on engagements under the guise of certain methodologies. You will need to apply them at a general level, but your experience will show you the best course of action and this flexibility will be appreciated.

My view is that the people that have worked with the firm since graduating feel like there is a certain way of doing things, regardless of whether or not it is what the client wants, because it was sold in the engagement. This is because they are usually accountants, and tend to be quite rigid in their approach to things. This was a learning experience to me. I basically make fun of accountants every chance I get now.

If you can focus on delivering value to the client and being affable and knowledgeable you will outclass the lifers who are more concerned with internal politics and making partner. Not worrying about making partner will reduce pretty much all of that kind of anxiety that the lifers experience.
posted by dobie at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having a final four firm on your resume is a huge asset. I did a stint in consulting mid-career and I can definitely say that consulting experience opens doors and triggers higher salary offers. However, you do need to slog through at least a few years. Lots of people washout as consultants. Someone who only did a few months - I'd suspect they just couldn't hack the demands of big-firm consulting.

I had a fantastic consulting gig and was deployed mostly with a local client. That is not the normal consulting experience and I wouldn't have been able to maintain that for much longer. Would I do another stint in consulting? Not if I could avoid it. While I loved the challenges of solving tough problems, I also like sleeping in my own bed. I like that I get the full weekend, because I'm not traveling to the job site on Sunday afternoon.

There are people who love big 4 consulting. They literally could not see themselves in another career. For me, consulting is a great place to be from even if it's not a great place to be.
posted by 26.2 at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2011

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