[This post is part of the “FAQ Series” where we answer questions received from students pursuing careers in consulting.]

I continue to receive messages from students wondering about the possible impacts COVID-19 might have on career prospects – in particular because of the anticipated economic downturn.  One of the most pressing questions this past week has been this one:

Should I delay graduation and wait for the economy to bounce back, so that my career prospects improve?

There is no doubt that this is an uncertain time.  As I wrote in another post (click here), COVID-19 is a serious global health crisis.  Almost every aspect of everyday life has been impacted and everyone – including potential employers – needs time to adjust.

But right now, let’s focus on you, the candidate.

I know that you want a decisive answer:  yes, delay graduation and wait for the economy to bounce back; or no, graduate as planned.  Unfortunately, I can’t (and won’t) give you a decisive answer; that depends so much on your personal situation.  But here is some food for thought:

Assess Career Prospects Based on Your Target Industry

During a global economic downturn, the headlines can be overwhelmingly concerning.  Yet, there are some industries that find ways to sustain and even grow during challenging economic times (e.g. during the current Covid-19 pandemic, businesses that enable social distancing, working remotely from home, etc., are finding ways to adapt).  Conversely, there are some industries that struggle even during economic expansion.  So, the real question is: What do you believe will happen to the consulting industry and, more specifically, the demand for talent?  

[Note:  Another valid question could be:  Can I gain experience relevant to a future consulting application in one of the more stable industries?  Here at Consulting Confidential, we will monitor the situation and do our best to share what we know  under “Career Advice.”]

Assess Career Prospects Based on Your Professional Value Proposition

Regardless of economic conditions, there must be a demand for what you supply.  For example, the consulting industry has shown strong demand for technology knowledge and experience (especially in ERP, analytics, cybersecurity; see this recent post “Want to be a consultant? Ignore technology at your peril”).  If your value proposition includes sought-after knowledge and experience, as a candidate, you’re in higher demand regardless of whether the economy is expanding or contracting.  So, the real question is: Do you believe you have knowledge and experience that is in currently in demand?

[If not, you should develop a strategy to close the gap – whether or not you delay graduation.  You need to research and analyze the experience and knowledge that your target firms and/or jobs require.  You need to conduct a gap assessment and identify any gaps.  You need to make sure you take formal courses, online learning, independent reading, etc., to close the gaps as much as possible.]

One Battle at a Time 

Let’s assume that, during economic growth, there may be 2x consulting jobs available.  That may sound great, the reality is you can’t accept multiple offers.  I find that candidates often have the mindset that they need to win every job.  No; you just need to win one consulting job.  So, the real question is: Do you believe that you can hustle enough to win one consulting job (and gain some valuable experience and grow from there)?

Finally, You Can’t Delay Forever

During a global pandemic such as Covid-19, nobody knows for certain when the economy will recover, to what degree, how quickly, etc.  The general consensus is that the social distancing measures will last at least a few months.  But, you can’t delay graduation forever, hoping for the “ideal” situation.  Moreover, you will likely face economic downturns again during your career.  It’s unavoidable.  As a candidate, you cannot control external conditions; you can only control your own actions.  And it might be that learning to face a really difficult challenge early on in your career will benefit how you manage your entire career.

Wishing you good luck in your careers.  Wishing you good health always.

Peggy.

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About the Author

Peggy Steele is a Management Consultant with over 20 years of experience across a broad spectrum of disciplines (strategy and operations, human capital, and technology) and industries (public sector, higher education, defence, and health and life sciences). During this time, she has worked for global firms like Deloitte, American Management Systems, and CGI.  In 2012, she founded Summit Proposal Group Inc., a research and advisory firm that specializes in helping consulting, technology, and staffing firms win more Canadian Public Sector business.

Throughout her career, she has advised higher education on consulting and, specifically, careers in consulting. She has served as the Consulting Industry Advisor at the Schulich School of Business and as the Consulting Expert-in-Residence at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.  In 2017, she founded Consulting Confidential, an online career resource and job site for new and recent graduates pursuing consulting careers in Canada.

Ms. Steele holds her Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.