It’s one of the age-old career questions – should I work in-house or in professional services? Unlike professional service firms who work for a variety of clients, working in-house means that you are responsible only to a specific organisation. You may work anywhere from a mining company to an insurer or a hotel chain. The organisation may be a global, ASX-listed corporate or a private Australia-focused organisation.
Deciding whether to work in-house or in professional services is a relevant question for almost all specialisations. There are typically advisory or consulting services for almost every specialisation – whether it is accounting, marketing, operations or supply chain.
Working in-house has the benefit of getting to work at an organisation in a much deeper way. Unlike professional services, which provides recommendations to an organisation, being in-house means you get to be more hands on and bring strategies to life by actually implementing them. Being a part of this journey can be immensely satisfying. This article is the first in a two-part series, highlighting the ins and outs of choosing to work in-house or in professional services.
Most larger corporates have official graduate programs for example, Qantas, Woolworths, Coles, Rio Tinto, Shell and Telstra. These graduate programs may take up to two years to complete and typically involve rotations throughout different departments, depending on your specialisation.
Being selected for these graduate programs is competitive. Large organisations typically recruit candidates who can demonstrate competence in their specialisation, for example, through university grades or extracurricular activities and an openness to learning.
While other organisations may not have an official graduate program, they may still have in-house positions available to graduates. This will depend on the organisation itself – they may rely on word of mouth rather than formally advertise, or perhaps only run graduate recruitment programs as required and not every year. Regardless, you may want to widen your graduate job search beyond the well-known brands and reach out to smaller organisations to see if there is any availability in your specialisation.
The value of prior experience can’t be overstated – employers look very favourably on graduates who have sought out internships or other forms of practical exposure to the business world.
As there are many specialisations in the business world – from human resources to marketing to accounting and finance, the type of work you do on a regular basis in-house will vary greatly depending on your chosen specialisation.
For example, you may work at a large supermarket retailer in operations and supply chain. This may mean travelling to visit key suppliers or distribution centres to observe, analyse and improve processes. Alternatively, you may be working in the accounting and finance department of a retail bank. You will likely be stationed at the head office with little need for travel. Your days may be filled with analysing and interpreting data, developing financial reports or managing budgets.
Despite what your specialisation might be, you will find that working in-house allows you to get up close and personal with the organisation you are working for. You will learn about its business goals, strategies, aspirations and liabilities. You will have the opportunity to really hone your understanding of how a business works and how your specialisation plays a role within it.
If you work at an organisation that has multiple offices, you may have the opportunity to transfer internationally or interstate. This can be a great way to extend your career by learning how to work in a new environment or culture.
An oft-cited benefit of working in-house is that you generally enjoy more regular working hours than those in professional services. This is because unlike professional services, who must ‘drop everything’ to service a client request as soon as it comes in, working in-house means your employer and fellow colleagues are the client! You typically get to set the deadlines and timing (depending on your seniority, of course). Moreover, the hours you work aren’t billable like those in professional services, and as such there is less urgency in being held to account as to how you spend your time.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that working in-house is a ‘cruisy’ gig. You may nonetheless find yourself working unusual hours, if say, you are dealing with international stakeholders and must accommodate various time zones or you must meet a strict deadline.
Unlike professional service firms which are usually engaged for a specific project before moving on to the next thing, working in-house means overseeing a project or area for a longer period of time. This can be a highly rewarding experience!
The potential downside of working in-house is that it can be difficult to switch over to professional services. Those in professional services are trained in a specific way that becomes difficult to learn as you become more senior without taking a backwards step. Also, compared to professional services, you may find that in-house opportunities are not as lucrative as for example, management consulting or investment banking.
A typical career path for those working in-house is to ‘climb the corporate ladder’. Essentially, this means progressing upwards through your organisation to eventually become the head of a division or department, or even a member of the ‘C-suite’, such as chief executive officer or chief financial officer. The path to getting to the very top can be a challenging one and can demand long hours and real commitment. You will typically find the journey competitive and the process can often be more about politics than about merit. Having said that, this can be an exciting progression and seeing your upwards movement can be very satisfying.
Depending on your specialisation, you will also find that you will be able to move to different organisations or even geographic locations reasonably easily, provided you have a record of good performance. It is important that you continually look for ways to keep learning and improving your skill-set, particularly in areas of new technology, to keep your competitive edge.
Choose this if you:
To find out about starting your graduate career as a consultant in professional services, read part two in this series.