I'm currently in consulting and considering these two positions for my next career step:

  • Chief Data Officer at a startup where I'd get to architect a new platform from the ground up, build my team, develop new products, etc.; tech stack is modern and existing team are sharp; company has fairly narrow product scope
  • Director level position at a large consulting firm where I'd lead global delivery teams and build all kinds of data and analytics solutions (variety of technologies, clients, industries)

Let's assume both pay the same, offer similar work-life balance and travel, and that the startup is liquid for the foreseeable future.

Which is the stronger move in terms of exit options? In six years when I'm looking again, would the CDO experience position me for C-suite roles at mid-size firms or will people say, "CDO at a company nobody's heard of doesn't count for much"? Does keeping my saw sharp with more varied tech in consulting (+ larger teams, clients) make me more relevant? Your thoughts appreciated.

  • 3
    I almost hate to ask this, but what leads you to believe that semi-random people on the internet are your best available asset for answering this question? This is pretty high-tier stuff, and you have more access to informational resources than most.
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 17:10
  • @BenBarden The idea that semi-random people on the internet can help inform decisions absolutely underpins StackExchange. Nobody said this was my sole or best available asset.
    – America
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 17:25
  • Isn't "director" a bit higher level than generic middle manager Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 18:00
  • IMHO - title's don't really matter. experience does. go with the one that gives u the most experience. but also. I'm a guy on the internet - like what Ben was saying
    – MattR
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 18:04
  • What "exit options" are you opening to strengthen? What's your ideal next move after this?
    – dwizum
    Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


I've wrestled with the same thing. Big fish in a little pond or medium fish in a bigger pond. Generally, I think it depends on what kind of steps you think best serve your career, and only you can know that. Considerations/questions:

  • Networking: Consider your peer group. In my experience, while sometimes you'll be taken less seriously coming from a smaller firm, you'll be rubbing shoulders with C levels as peers, and that changes the conversation and it changes your sphere of influence. You'll be trading ideas and networking with Cs of smaller and larger firms.
  • Career Positioning: Good and bad, being at the top of the firm positions you more as a senior leader and less as a worker bee. It's easy to lose touch with the actual work; even more, sometimes you HAVE to step away from the actual work in order to be effective in your leadership role. You can always step back into the trenches, but it's a little harder to do that. This seems like picking nits, except...
  • You mention scope. I'd suggest that the scope between the positions seems equivalent in some ways. One firm has a narrow product scope, but you'll have broad and significant organizational scope. The other firm has a broad product scope, but you'll have a narrow organizational scope. I have no idea if these offset, but this move right here is positioning you advantageously for future positions with a broad organizational scope OR future positions with a broad product scope. You need to decide which is sexier for you. Which is to say....
  • What ladder do you want to climb? Do you want to hop every 5 years or so to the top of progressively larger firms? Do you want to hop every couple years to progressively more senior positions within one (or several) big firms? OR do you want to grow your career by growing your company? Which brings me to....
  • How much agency is important to you? How do you find satisfaction? There's a lot to be said for being in control of your work and your product and making a large difference for a smaller organization. It's fun. It's also exhausting and you lose the safety net you have, even if we're just talking about scheduling and freedom, that you'd have as part of a larger team. Finally...
  • What is your best path to growth? Weigh the growth potential of the small firm with the upward mobility potential of the larger firm.

Good luck! Sounds like you don't really have a bad option, which is an enviable place to be.

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