The importance of social mobility
Jon Whiteman, now Partner at CIL and head of our Industrial Products and Services practice, discusses the importance of championing social mobility in consulting and how CIL aims to improve it.
What was your path to becoming a Partner at CIL?
I came from a state school background where a career in consulting and professional services was not a common aspiration – so I often think the hardest part of my journey to Partner was getting into consulting in the first place. None of my friends or family worked within the industry and so it was a different world to the one I grew up in or had connections with. This meant that this career trajectory was not a natural next step for me, I had to find it myself using my drive and desire – which taught me a lot along the way.
After overcoming the hurdle of starting my first job in consulting, the rest flowed from there as my hard work and focus was recognised by an organisation that looks for, respects, and rewards those doing a good job – a trait that CIL strongly represents. I have worked so hard to get to where I am, which means that I am even more motivated to succeed and ensure that I am doing the best job possible. Alongside this, I make sure I am supporting those who are taking their first steps into industry.
What advice would you give those who want to start in the consulting industry?
The best piece of advice for wanting to start in consulting would be to seriously test your motivations. You can only find success if you are genuinely excited by the subject matter and willing to put in the hard work to get there. If you are fascinated with how the world works, what makes a business successful, and where value lies within an organisation, then you will go far.
Secondly, it is important to keep in touch with everybody you work with along the way – whether that’s your colleagues, clients, or anyone else you meet. Throughout your career, you may find yourself connecting with clients and advisors you’ve previously worked with, and by fostering those relationships as you go, you are opening doors in the future.
Finally, as you explore your interests and your career, try to pivot yourself into areas that excite and enthuse you – if you work hard at something you enjoy, it will set you up for success.
Why is CIL a good choice for those starting their career?
While the work can sometimes be challenging, it is made easier by being in a fun and exciting place to work. At CIL, we are lucky to have large cohorts of smart and motivated graduates joining us across the world, throughout the year – these grads learn the industry together, work together and most importantly make long-lasting career-enhancing connections together. Being part of such a group can make the move into the world of work slightly less daunting, as you have others to share the experience with.
There is also variety – CIL deals with such a large range of industries and companies, exposing you to all aspects of the business world and giving you the opportunity to work on and learn things you never expected to encounter.
The project teams at CIL are also relatively small, meaning that you are an integral part of any team that you are in. You are always listened to and taken seriously, allowing you to add significant value to the final output and giving you a chance to make a real difference in the work you do. The responsibility may be daunting at first, but it provides a rare opportunity to fast-track your career and learn vital skills to make you a better consultant.
How does CIL champion social mobility?
I love that CIL works with entrepreneurs who have set up successful businesses – often starting from nothing. I run the Industrial Products and Services practice, where many business owners started as blue collar workers who thought they could improve on the work they were doing and took the risk to set up their own company. It is a daily reminder that with the right drive, social mobility is very possible.
The first step in trying to improve social mobility must be raising awareness of the problem. At CIL, we see it as our responsibility to make a proactive difference and be part of the solution. Changing the world, or even just our industry is not something we can do on our own, but we must do our part and hope others will follow.
The next step is taking positive action, and CIL does that in several ways. We have a blind hiring process in place that is weighted towards discovering people with an interest in the business world as well as someone who embodies our values around supportiveness, excellence, and integrity – rather than focused simply on academic achievements.
In the UK, having an office away from London also helps us tackle the issue. It is important to give people the opportunity to have a career in consulting outside of London and doing so allows us to broaden our diversity of applicants to those who may never have considered CIL or our industry before.
CIL is also proud to support upReach, a charity focused on boosting social mobility and helping disadvantaged students reach their full potential. We offer insight days, mentorship, internships, and job opportunities to ambitious and talented university students who may not have had these experiences available to them.
What is the most important thing you learnt on your journey up to Partner?
For me, the most important lesson I learnt on my career journey was to not focus on the negative self-talk many of us can fall foul too – none of it is true! Fighting against inequality is hard enough, there is no need to make it harder on yourself by building higher barriers – learning how to maintain a positive attitude and bounce back when experiencing setbacks has been a key driver of my success.
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