A common question I get is how to transition careers. I studied chemical engineering in college, then worked in IT Consulting, joined at tech startup in customer success, and later on transitioned into Product Management.
Below I write about each of these transitions. I hope that my experience is helpful to folks looking to switch functions or industries.
- Chemical engineering undergraduate degree to consulting
- System integration consulting to management consulting
- Consulting to customer success at a startup
- Customer success to product management at the same startup
Chemical engineering undergrad to consulting
Consulting and finance firms often hire engineering students as consultants for their analytical skills, so this transition wasn’t as rare as it may sound. All that I needed was to apply and be prepared for the interview.
As an engineering student, I found the analytical portion of the consulting interview process easy. The harder part was articulating my answers clearly in a way that showed that I had the skills to communicate clearly with clients and represent the firm.
The other challenge here was in closing my gaps in business knowledge as I didn’t take any business classes in undergrad. For that, I used the Case in Point book to learn about the type of questions to expect and studied the concepts.
I blundered one of my interviews and didn’t get one of the job offers that I was hoping for, but ultimately was able to join Accenture, for which I was very grateful.
System integration to management consulting
I joined Accenture initially as part of their System Integration & Technology Consulting. After some time there, I wanted to learn more about the problems that the Accenture Management Consulting practice works on.
A company needs to have justification for approving an employee’s transition from one role to another. There are several factors that the company considers:
- Performance track record: this is the most important. Has the employee demonstrated in their current role that they are able to meet and exceed expecations?
- Skillset: does the employee demonstrates having the right skills to perform well in the new role? For any missing skills, can the employee develop them in a short time?
- Headcount: do we need additional people in the role the employee wants to transfer into? Can we easily replace their headcount on their current position?
- Transition cost: moving an employee to a new function always has costs—training in the new role, disruption to their existing team, etc.
In my case, it took two things to get my transfer approved:
- A strong performance track record: In my first two years at Accenture I sought high-value projects and received strong performance evaluations.
- Senior management support: I worked on multiple projects with senior leadership, some of this was work outside of my core responsibilities. Ultimately, a senior manager that I helped on a few projects was willing to sponsor my transition into management consulting and connected me to senior executives that would take me on their projects.
Consulting to customer success at a startup
Being in San Francisco got me exposed to the tech startup scene. I was interested in trying it out, so I looked for opportunities in which my background could be used in a startup.
In this case, the Product Engagement Manager role, later on a Customer Success Manager role, allowed me to use my enterprise client skills I had acquired as a consultant to help the startup while, in return, I could learn about the product, technology, software as a service, and startups.
Customer success into Product Management
While a Customer Success Manager, at the recommendation of a mentor, I wrote down what I wanted to do over the next year. I realized that to achieve my goals I had to influence the core product. As a software company, the product that carries the most weight in the success of the company. That’s when it solidified for me that I wanted to move into Product Management.
Once I realized this I did the following:
- Communicated my intent to transition unambiguously: I told my boss that I wasn’t interested in moving up the ladder within my current team, the logical next step in my career. Instead, I wanted to spend any of my discretionary time at work on projects that would allow me to transition into Product Management. There was the risk that I wouldn’t end up doing either, but that was OK with me.
- Closed the skills gap: I used many resources to learn product management skills. This even included signing up for online computer science classes.
- Volunteered to do product management on a project: a senior leader in the company told me about a project that needed both product management and customer success help. I worked with my manager to carve out time to do it well. Then I worked relentlessly to do the work well and deliver the project on time and on budget. Having communicated unambiguously (step 1) that I was interested to transition into Product Management was key to finding out about this opportunity and getting the support I needed.
At this point, I had delivered a project that showed my willingness and ability to do the product management role, at least as a young PM. I was at a startup, so I needed to wait until the next opportunity came up to potentially transition to the role full time.
Thankfully, in my case, there were openings in the product management team as I was wrapping up that project and the company CTO sponsored my transition into product management. Having delivered a project as an acting product manager was key.
Top learnings on how to transition job functions
The key learnings that I’d abstract out of all my transitions so far are:
- If you’re intersted in something very different from your current job, find adjacent opportunities that can take you closer to it. As a customer success manager, this meant for me to work on technical project as a program manager and later on taking on acting product manager responsibilities while still doing my customer success manager role.
- You need senior management and executive support. Find the right opportunities to demonstrate to senior management that you’ll be great for the role.
- To demonstrate that you’re ready for a transition you must have an excellent performance track record on your current role and deliver projects and value that showcase that you have the skills to succeed in the new role.
Last Updated on January 22, 2023 by Omar Eduardo