Expert Interview: How to Get a Job in Corporate Strategy
4 min read

Expert Interview: How to Get a Job in Corporate Strategy

Want to get a job in corporate strategy? Discover the different pathways into corporate strategy and get expert tips on how to land a job.
Expert Interview: How to Get a Job in Corporate Strategy

We asked the Chief Strategy Officer at a large company for a no-nonsense take on how to get a job in corporate strategy. This CSO worked for a top-tier consulting firm for over 15-years and has been in their current role for 3-years now, so they know what they’re talking about.

Read on to learn about the pathways into corporate strategy and get expert tips on how to increase your chances of breaking through and getting a role.

What are the pathways into corporate strategy?

I can count four:

  1. Graduate program: Some larger companies have a graduate program, and some people start here.
  2. Consulting: The most common pathway into internal corporate strategy roles are recruits from consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain and BCG or Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC. Some people are burned out from the demands in consulting and want a different work-life balance, and some people truly love the industry they work in and want to work directly for a company in that industry. For example, lots of consultants move over to join the fashion industry at companies like LVMH because they just love the industry.
  3. Competitors: Another common avenue is other corporates or companies. This is more of a like-for-like move for the candidate, switching one company for another in search of a better or different opportunity. For example, moving from corporate strategy at General Motors to Ford. I personally like this channel and hire a lot of strategy managers from our competitors.
  4. Internal transfer: There is always a lot of interest in strategy roles from people in our company, but who currently work in another function be it Finance or Human Resources, etc. There are two ways to make this work for you, you either already work for a company with corporate strategy roles and can look into what it will take to transfer internally, or work outside the industry and decide to take any role at the company (e.g. Finance of Human Resources) and then start making relationships and building a reputation and look to make the switch at a later point.

The fifth option is really uncommon, but some strategy functions hire from completely different fields than those listed above (I’ve heard of Costume Designers making the switch to corporate strategy). This is an interesting way to bring diverse talent into the role, but rare enough that it’s hard for a candidate to build a career plan around.

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What background, skills and experience do you need to get a job in corporate strategy?

Here’s the boilerplate list of job requirements I found online for the most common role corporate strategy departments hire for, a Strategy Manager:

  • Degree in business or related field, MBA preferred.
  • From 3-5 years of experience in business administration, management consulting or strategic planning.
  • Excellent understanding of business operations and procedures.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Strong organizational and planning skills.
  • Outstanding research and analytical abilities.
  • Project management skills.
  • Strong leadership skills.

This does a really good job. That’s what we’re looking for and that’s what all my peers are looking for. I’ll emphasize the need for analytical and modeling skills, problem framing, structured problem solving, project management, people skills and presentation skills.

Here’s the actual requirement: Show that you can be an effective project manager for internal strategy projects, who makes people in the organization feel good about the process and gets things done.

What is the hiring process for corporate strategy roles?

Honestly, it’s just a standard recruitment process. However, because we usually run small teams it means that the team you’ll be working with will be closely involved with the process. You can turn this to your advantage because if you make a good impression they will advocate for you, and you also get good insight into the team so you can use the experience to determine whether you want to work on that team and would enjoy it.

Usually a human resources or recruitment team manages the hiring process. That would be the one major difference in a corporate strategy role.

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What are the best tips and hacks to help land a corporate strategy role?

Do the work before your interview, research the company, industry and team, and find other ways to set yourself up for success. For example:

  • Show you understand the industry deeply.
  • Find ways to show you care about the industry, for example, have a really compelling story about why you are interested and connected to this company and its industry.
  • Start an industry blog, newsletter or Twitter account and publish interesting commentary on the industry (there are lots of free tools these days to set these up).
  • Write a thought piece on the future of the industry, challenges, etc and publish it on LinkedIn.

You need to have the foundations in place to do the job (see the job requirements above). But everyone you’re competing against for the role will have these in place. So basically the best advice is to show you care deeply and find ways to stand out.

What are the exit opportunities from corporate strategy?

In my mind, these are the top 5 exit opportunities:

  • Move up in the team corporate strategy team (the path is typically Strategy Manager to Strategy Director to Head of Strategy to Chief Strategy Officer).
  • Move to another company in a similar or better role.
  • Move to a different role or function in the company.
  • Move to an industry association.
  • Move into consulting.

I hope this has been useful to you and helps you find your way into a corporate strategy role in your favorite industry. These roles can be rewarding and have a great work-life balance, so best of luck to you!

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