Consulting Vs. Product Management: Which Career Path is Right for You?

Are you torn between pursuing a career in consulting or product management? This article explores the key differences between the two paths and provides insights to help you make an informed decision about which direction to take.

Posted May 15, 2023

Choosing between a career in consulting or product management can be a challenging decision. Both paths offer unique experiences, challenges, and opportunities for career growth. In this article, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between consulting and product management, the skills required, the pros and cons of each path, the best industries suited for each role, how to transition from one to the other, job outlook, salary comparisons, and success stories of those who have made the switch. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of which career path is right for you.

What is Consulting and Product Management?

Consulting is a type of professional service where a company or individual gets external advice from a third-party expert on a specific topic or problem. The consultant provides insights, analysis, and recommendations based on their expertise and experience. Consulting firms work with a range of clients, including corporations, governments, non-profits, and individuals.

Product management, on the other hand, involves overseeing the creation and development of a product throughout its lifecycle. Product managers work in a variety of industries, including technology, healthcare, and finance, and are responsible for identifying market needs, defining product requirements, and launching the product to market. They collaborate with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, sales teams, and customer support, to ensure the product meets customer needs and business goals.

Understanding the Roles of a Consultant and Product Manager

The roles of a consultant and a product manager vary significantly, although there are some similarities. A consultant's primary focus is on providing expert advice to clients and helping them solve their business challenges. The consultant's success is measured by the quality of the advice given and the client's satisfaction with the results. Consultants often work in a team environment and rely on their interpersonal skills and industry knowledge to build relationships with clients.

Product managers, on the other hand, are responsible for overseeing the end-to-end product development process. They work closely with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, and sales and marketing teams, to bring the product to market successfully. They're responsible for defining the product roadmap, setting pricing, and driving product growth. Excellent communication skills are essential for product managers, as they must collaborate with numerous teams and stakeholders to achieve their goals.

Skills Required for a Career in Consulting

Consulting requires a unique combination of hard and soft skills. A good consultant must have a broad range of expertise, including analytical thinking, problem-solving, and strategic planning. They must have excellent interpersonal communication skills to build relationships with clients and to work effectively in teams. Additionally, they must have strong presentation skills and the ability to convey complex information in a concise and understandable way.

Consultants must also be adaptable and able to work in fast-paced, ever-changing environments. They need to be able to manage multiple projects and tasks simultaneously, often under tight deadlines. Furthermore, they must possess a strong work ethic and be willing to put in long hours when required, while maintaining a high level of productivity and quality.

Skills Required for a Career in Product Management

Product managers require a unique combination of technical and business skills. They must have a deep understanding of the product and its market, including customer needs, trends, and competition. They must have excellent communication skills and the ability to collaborate effectively with cross-functional teams. They also need to be strategic thinkers with strong analytical skills that allow them to make data-driven decisions.

Product managers must have excellent project management skills that enable them to manage timelines, budgets, and resources effectively. They must have an entrepreneurial mindset and be willing to take calculated risks to achieve product success. Additionally, they must be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, as the product development process is often unpredictable.

Pros and Cons of Consulting as a Career Path

Consulting offers several advantages, including diverse career opportunities, exposure to a wide range of industries and clients, and the potential for high earnings. Consultants work with a variety of clients, so they're exposed to different business models, processes, and cultures. This broad experience can be beneficial when seeking a long-term career in consulting or transitioning to another industry.

However, consulting can also be challenging. Consultants often work long hours, travel frequently, and work on high-pressure projects with demanding clients. Additionally, consultants are often subject to client whims and expectations, which can be stressful and unpredictable.

Pros and Cons of Product Management as a Career Path

Product management offers several advantages, including the potential for high pay, the opportunity to manage the entire product lifecycle, and the ability to work on exciting, innovative products. Product managers have the opportunity to work in a range of industries and companies, from startups to large corporations.

However, product management also has some drawbacks. The product development process can be challenging, with a high rate of failure and uncertainty. Product managers must also balance the needs of various stakeholders and manage competing priorities. Additionally, product managers must stay up-to-date with the latest technology and market trends to stay competitive.

Differences Between Consulting and Product Management

Consulting and product management differ in several key areas. Consultants work on a project-by-project basis, often with a short-term focus, whereas product managers oversee a product throughout its lifecycle, with a long-term focus. Additionally, consultants are often focused on solving business problems, whereas product managers focus on creating and launching successful products. Finally, while consultants work with a range of clients, product managers work primarily within a single organization.

Similarities Between Consulting and Product Management

Despite their differences, consulting and product management share some commonalities. Both paths require excellent communication skills, strategic thinking, analytical abilities, and the ability to collaborate effectively with others. Additionally, both jobs require the ability to manage multiple tasks simultaneously and to work well under pressure.

Which Industry is Best Suited for Consulting?

The consulting industry is well-suited to professionals with a broad range of expertise. Consulting firms work in various industries, including finance, healthcare, technology, and the public sector. However, the industry is especially attractive to those with expertise in management, accounting, IT, and strategy.

Which Industry is Best Suited for Product Management?

Product management is a career path that can be pursued in various industries, including technology, healthcare, finance, and retail. However, it's most common in technology and software industries, where the focus is on developing and launching innovative products.

How to Transition from Consulting to Product Management (and vice versa)?

Transitioning from consulting to product management (or vice versa) can be challenging, but it's possible. To switch from consulting to product management, focus on building your product management skills, such as strategic thinking, customer insights, and data analysis. Additionally, seek out opportunities to work on product-focused consulting projects, if possible. To switch from product management to consulting, focus on building your consulting skills, such as problem-solving, project management, and business strategy. Additionally, seek out opportunities to work on consulting-focused projects within your current role, if possible.

Job Outlook for Consultants and Product Managers

The job outlook for both consultants and product managers is positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of management analysts (which includes consultants) is projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. For product managers, a report by LinkedIn notes that product management roles are growing rapidly, with a 30 percent increase in job postings year over year.

Salary Comparison: Consultants vs. Product Managers

Consultants and product managers can both earn high salaries, with the potential for significant bonuses. According to Payscale, the average salary for a management consultant in the United States is $86,000 per year, with the potential for additional bonuses and profit-sharing. For product managers, the average salary is $107,000 per year, with the potential for significant bonuses and equity.

Success Stories: Consultants Who Became Successful Product Managers

There are several success stories of consultants who have transitioned into successful product management careers. One such example is Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. Before founding Netflix, Hastings worked as a consultant for a variety of firms, including Arthur Andersen and Chevron. Another notable example is Steve Jobs, who started as a consultant and went on to co-found Apple and develop some of the most revolutionary products in modern history.

Success Stories: Product Managers Who Transitioned into Successful Consultants

There are several examples of product managers who have transitioned into successful consulting careers. One such example is Steve Blank, who worked as a product manager at Apple before transitioning to a career as a startup consultant. Blank has since become a well-known author and lecturer on entrepreneurship and startups. Another example is Alex Osterwalder, who worked as a product manager before co-founding Strategyzer, a consulting firm that helps businesses develop and implement effective business strategies.

Conclusion: Choosing the Right Career Path for You

Choosing between a career in consulting or product management can be a challenging decision. Both paths offer unique experiences, challenges, and opportunities for career growth. Ultimately, the right decision depends on your skills, interests, and long-term career goals. Consider your strengths and weaknesses, your preferred work environment, and your desired level of income and work-life balance. By weighing all the pros and cons and analyzing your priorities carefully, you'll be able to make an informed decision and choose the right career path for you.

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