Where To Start Your Career: Commodity Trading vs Management Consulting.

For ambitious graduates, both commodity trading and management consulting offer attractive career paths. They promise high earning potential, intellectual challenge, and the thrill of a fast-paced environment. But which path is right for you? Let’s review the pros and cons of each.

Augusto, the president for APAHUI, has 7.5 acres of cacao in Pachisa, Peru. Photo by Marlon del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR

Commodity Trading: A High-Stakes Game

Commodity trading is a fantastic career for dynamic thinkers who enjoy intellectual challenges, have a commercial mindset, and excel at operations.


Financial Rewards

Top traders can command top-tier bonuses, making it a potentially lucrative career choice. Unlike consulting, where income is tied to a salary structure, successful traders can directly translate their skills into significant financial gains by linking their remuneration to their P&L.

Different companies have different P&L sharing policies, and these levels vary on a per-trader basis. However, it’s not uncommon to have a 5-10% share of the book P&L.

Fast-Paced & Dynamic

The markets are constantly in flux, demanding quick decisions and a high level of adaptability. Traders need to be extremely comfortable with ambiguity and possess the mental agility to navigate ever-changing conditions.

This is a truly unique element of commodity trading. The dynamism originates on multiple levels: price changes, operational bottlenecks, liquidity crunches, customer defaults, etc. Commodity traders need to be super comfortable with unpredictable situations.

Tangible Results

Your success is directly tied to your ability to analyze markets and make profitable trades. There’s a clear line of cause and effect, offering constant feedback and a sense of accomplishment when your strategies pay off.

Such a rapid feedback loop means that it’s much faster to see the results of your actions, and thus learn from your mistakes. Generally, success and failure are much more correlated to your decision-making, which translates to a much higher need for agency.


High Pressure & Stressful

The potential for significant losses can be mentally taxing. Traders are constantly walking a tightrope, balancing risk and reward. The weight of potentially losing large sums of money can be a significant burden.

This point is often missed, and frankly, one of the main reasons why juniors quit. The mental toll of managing a position makes or breaks you. Senior traders learn how to deal with immense amounts of pressure, but this is something that takes time, and a certain type of character.

Long Hours & Unpredictable Schedule

The markets never sleep, and neither can you during critical periods. Especially during volatile times, traders may be required to work extended hours to monitor positions and react to market movements.

In some ways, it’s really up to you. But you won’t make it as a trader if you don’t take your position and operations seriously. One needs to be there when things happen, so as to minimize losses in the event of a problem.

Limited Upward Mobility

Senior trading roles are scarce, and advancement often means moving into management, which may not appeal to everyone. For those who enjoy the thrill of the trading desk, the path to the top tends to be much narrower than in consulting, where strong performance can lead to partnership opportunities.

Consultants spend a lot of time on-the-go working at their clients’ premises.

Management Consulting: Problem-Solving For A Living

Top management consultants tend to work for C-Suites and work in fast-paced environments with a group of top-caliber colleagues. The industry pays very well and treats employees fairly by exposing them to the big luxuries of the commercial world. Finally, alumni networks offer outstanding career opportunities across industries and geographies.


Broad Exposure

Consultants tackle a wide range of issues across different industries, offering a stimulating learning environment. You’ll gain exposure to diverse business challenges, constantly expanding your knowledge and skillset.

You’ll gain domain expertise and work with a wide range of companies and professionals. MBB-level consulting companies hire the best of the best.

Structured Development Programs

Top consulting firms invest heavily in training their people, providing a clear path to develop valuable business skills. Through rigorous training programs and mentorship opportunities, you’ll gain a strong foundation in areas like strategy, operations, and organizational change.

Starting a career in management consulting leads to a speedy business understanding. It’s one of the best investments you can do in your first professional years.

Work-Life Balance

While demanding, consulting generally offers more predictable hours compared to trading. While there will be periods with intense client deadlines, consulting schedules tend to be more structured, allowing for better work-life balance.

This is somewhat much more accurate as you gain seniority. Juniors tend to work incredibly long hours for a few years, often the 797 (ie 7am to 9pm 7 days a week). Over time, the role becomes more commercial, which means you will still work long hours, but instead of grinding in the office, you may be lunching or dining in a fine restaurant while trying to sell a project.


Travel Demands

Expect to spend significant time on the road, potentially impacting personal life. The consultant’s life often involves traveling to client sites, which can be disruptive to personal routines and relationships.

Most consultants travel on a daily basis and spend north of 20 nights a month in hotels. On the plus side, this means you’ll accumulate lots of loyalty points, and you are generally allowed to buy suitable flights so you can visit lots of places in your (scarce) free time.

Client Service Focus

The consultant’s role is to serve the client, which may involve long hours meeting client demands. Your success hinges on exceeding client expectations, which can sometimes mean putting in extra hours to ensure client satisfaction.

The client is KING, and that means one needs to overdeliver. Clients pay top money, so the pressure to deliver is immense.

Risky Career Progression

Management consulting firms operate a pyramid structure, with lots of juniors, fewer seniors, and few partners on the top.

This means that lots, LOTS, of people are not offered new roles to advance. Only the very best advance and that makes it extremely competitive among peers. You shouldn’t panic, however, as the exit options are plentiful.

The Final Decision

Ultimately, the best choice depends on your personality and priorities. Do you thrive under pressure and seek the immediate gratification of a successful trade? Or are you a strategic thinker who enjoys collaborating with clients to solve complex problems over time?

Consider your risk tolerance, preferred work style, and long-term career goals to pick the path that leads to a fulfilling and successful career.

As a rule of thumb, trading is better suited to those who are assertive decision-makers, who can bear constant pressure, and who have risk-taking tendencies.

On the other side, consulting may be a better option for those who are great team players and people managers, who like solving problems and can endure neverending workloads.

Further reading

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