In an operational role? – get your hands dirty

In an operational role? – get your hands dirty

If you started your career in professional services – consulting or accounting, say – but really want to get into something more operational, you’ll need to show that you can get your hands dirty.


This is one of the topics that’s come up time and again in our recent interviews with people who’ve moved ‘in-house’. What do we mean by it?

One of the problems – fair or unfair – with a professional services background, is that people assume you’re a ‘thinker’ and not a ‘do-er’. That you come up with great ideas in theory but have no idea if or how they might be put into practice. This mindset will most likely be true (at least to a certain extent) of most of your prospective colleagues and the people interviewing you. During your first few months in a corporate, you’ll have to learn to cope and deal with a certain amount of scepticism.


So what can you do to prove them wrong? (a bit like the X-factor results, these are in no particular order!)


Do something else first. 

If your ambition is, for instance, to lead a business unit in a multi-national and you’re coming from your first job in professional services, consider joining a smaller firm first, or even a start-up. Why? Because small firms can rarely afford to employ people in roles where their hands stay clean. And there will be fewer politics about you getting stuck into a role for which you “don’t have the experience”. The upshot is, that you’ll likely develop all the skills that come with being hands-on in the main business functions. So your CV will balance: “I can do analysis and structured thinking but I can make businesses work too”.


Keep those ‘extra-curricular’ activities going. 

Being involved in stuff outside of work isn’t just valuable on your UCAS form and when applying for your 1st job. Especially if you are involved in the running of a club/fund raising event/charity/sports team etc., that’s at least some proof that you can get stuff done. It’s certainly something to talk about at interview.


Be humble and be patient. 

The fact that you’re a high-flyer in the early part of your career, probably means that you’ve never had to wait for ‘success’ or ‘progress’. But joining a corporate is a sideways step. If you’re coming from consulting, you’ll probably have to join the ‘strategy’ or ‘business development’ team first. Getting into an operational role will take time. So adjust your expectations as to the speed of progression, always be willing to learn (especially about ‘the business’) and create opportunities to work with (and impress) the operational teams.

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