Transitioning from Consulting or Finance to BizOps Early in Your Career
Your first job in consulting or finance can be a great experience, especially if it’s at an established firm, where you are learning a concrete skill set while surrounded by a cohort of like-minded (and often very fun) high achievers.
I spent two years at Bain & Co., and it was the perfect first job; I loved my work, my class and my team. I built a network of mentors and advisors who were invested in me. I established trust with my clients in industries as varied as education and private equity. But after two or three years, you may feel as I did: that you are yearning for a different kind of learning, that you are ready to pursue your passions and interests in your full time role.
That’s why I decided to leave Bain for a Business Operations and Strategy, or BizOps, role at a mission-driven tech company (NerdWallet). BizOps requires you to leverage much of your skill set from consulting on a daily basis, build new, complementary skill sets very quickly, and be part of building a company every day. In other words, you have skin in the game.
Leaving the consulting nest was not an easy move for me. The idea of leaving Bain was terrifying, but I knew that the hyper-growth environment and operational experience available at a growing tech company offered new kinds of learning.
When it came to my day to day, however, I had no idea what to expect. If you’re considering a shift from consulting or finance to BizOps, here’s a look at what you can expect from the career move.
Making the change
BizOps is a great transition out of consulting or finance, however, it is not the samerole. A few things you can expect:
Less structure, more opportunity. Be ready to stretch beyond the formal definition of your role. You will take on many initiatives that fall outside of your job description, or seem above your pay grade. They aren’t. I’ve learned the most by pursuing those opportunities. As NerdWallet BizOps’er Kathryn Weinmann put it, “you can play so far above your level. The environment is less hierarchical and the realm of possibility is much wider. There is much more flexibility to do whatever you think will grow the business.”
A different kind of uncertainty. You will no longer worry about whether a client request is going to hit at 6 p.m., or whether you are going to like the manager on your new project. However, inputs don’t always correspond to outputs in the same concrete way. Progress often happens in fits and starts; you might be stalled for two months on a project, and then have a breakthrough that rockets you ahead.
High caliber team members. Consulting firms subtly or overtly convince you that you’ll never work with the same caliber of people again. This is simply not true, especially in Silicon Valley. Expect to see a high concentration of talent on BizOps teams; you should be very impressed with your team members.
A common goal. As a BizOps’er, you’ll have a high level of visibility across the company and a high degree of impact. The role is much more fun if you are excited about where your company is going.
NerdWallet COO Dan Yoo describes the BizOps function as “a decision-support mechanism that helps with everything from optimizing day-to-day options to carrying out high-priority initiatives to tackling the most important strategic questions.” Junior BizOps’ers are part strategic adviser, part operator, part analyst. You will wear multiple hats each day.
Here are some skills from consulting that will help you succeed in BizOps. Hold on to these and you’ll do well.
Structured thinking and comfort with ambiguity. The ability to break down a nebulous problem into manageable chunks — the concept behind structured thinking — is critical to success in BizOps. You are often tackling problems that your company has not tackled before. You can’t rely on a pre-existing structure or project scope.
Adaptability. Things change fast. Chances are your time in consulting or finance taught you how to get up a learning curve quickly, and how to pivot just as quickly. You’ll need those skills in a BizOps role.
Storytelling and influencing. While you are no longer in client services, as a BizOps’er you are still an influencer and trusted partner. If you can build trust and credibility through communication, and tell compelling stories around your work, you will amplify your impact.
Core analytical skillset. Comfort with data and numbers is key. While the best BizOps roles are far more than quantitative analytics, the quant mindset you developed in consulting will be core to your ability to help manage the business.
Business intuition. You’ve just spent two to three years learning about different industries and companies. That business intuition will serve you well as a BizOps associate. Use it! In BizOps (at least at NerdWallet) you are given a much higher degree of ownership. You don’t just come up with solutions, you actually see them through, often with a lot of autonomy. You’ll need your business intuition to guide you as you make decisions.
A Shift in Mindset
While taking what you’ve learned into your new role may seem obvious, knowing what to let go of is equally important to your success and happiness. Here’s a look at what to leave behind as you move into BizOps, particularly at a hyper growth company.
Structure as a crutch. Highly structured environments are helpful in the first few years of our careers. I certainly needed one. However, with a high degree of structure comes hierarchy, narrow roles, and limited variance in performance. In BizOps, I’ve found I have a safety net when I need it, but I am largely responsible for setting my path. This can be scary at first, but it creates a plethora of opportunities.
A risk-mitigating mindset. More often than not, you will be making decisions with limited information and you will need to act quickly, with more certainty than you feel. Your manager will no longer be combing through your slides and models, so you’ll need to trust your own work to a greater degree.
The idea that everything gets done. You are never “done” in BizOps. There is always more you can do. You have to accept that things will remain unchecked on your to do list, and things will fall off of it entirely. Prioritization is paramount. Doing everything is impossible — don’t try.
More likely than not, your first job taught you that who you work with matters tremendously. As you consider joining a BizOps team, there are two things you should look for: the right model and the right team.
The right model
Companies build and deploy BizOps teams differently. If you liked the cadence of consulting or finance, where you switch teams and industries every few months, look for a BizOps team that operates as an internal consulting group.
If you are interested in sustained impact in one area of a business and thrive on building long-term relationships, look for a BizOps team with an embedded model, like NerdWallet, where you are an aligned partner to a business leader in your company. Finally, make sure the role you are considering feels like the right mix of strategic advising, analysis and operations.
Consulting teaches you that good management is key to your happiness and professional growth. However, if you don’t gel with your current manager, you can typically move to another project in three to six months. In BizOps, you will likely work with one manager for the next one to two years, so it’s important to make sure you enjoy and respect that person and his or her work. My manager was a major factor in my decision to join BizOps at NerdWallet.
Similarly, if you click with the team and they are high caliber, you will gain much more from the experience. In short, when leaving the nest, think about how you like to fly and whom you want to fly with.
If you are on the fence about moving into BizOps, there are good reasons to take the plunge. I was ready to explore a different definition of ownership by eliminating the space between client and consultant and becoming part of a team for the long-term. Personally, I was ready to understand what it felt like, philosophically and practically, to be part of a “mission-driven” company focused on helping consumers make better decisions every day. I made a bet on the mission, people and BizOps role at NerdWallet, and it was absolutely the right move.
I don’t think you’ll regret it.
[You’re invited to attend BizOpsCon 2.0 in San Francisco on August 17 to learn more about the ins and outs of this function. In 2015, NerdWallet hosted the first iteration of BizOpsCon, and 400 BizOps professionals attended for networking and professional development. Sign up for this year’s event at www.bizopscon.com]
For more information on the BizOps function, check out the links to NerdWallet COO Dan Yoo’s 2015 Linkedin series: