Associate Consultant – Nathan Kangas

Associate Industrial/Organizational Consultant – Nathan Kangas

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This week’s spotlight is on Nathan Kangas, PT, DPT, MS, an Industrial/Organizational consultant who started out as a physical therapist!


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What is your full name, title, and company name for your current, primary role?

Nathan Kangas, PT, DPT, MS – Associate Consultant at Vector Group Consulting

Where are you located?

Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?

Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan. I graduated in 2013.

What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?

I worked for two and a half years in a great outpatient orthopedic clinic, and started along the McKenzie certification pathway.

The clinic was fast-paced, and was known around the area as exemplary in its service, manual therapy, and continuing education support and mentorship. I treated the usual range of outpatient orthopedic patients.

What did you enjoy and not enjoy?

I really enjoyed the great mentorship and continuing development aspects of my early roles.

I did not enjoy the high productivity expectations.

What else have you done since then, prior to your current role?

I’ve been a travel PT, worked in nursing homes, home health, more outpatient orthopedic clinics, acute care, virtual, and in emergency departments. I completed the McKenzie certification, and provided many in-services to my coworkers which I really enjoyed.

When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?

I was told repeatedly I was great at what I did, I genuinely enjoyed helping other people, and I tried working in just about every PT setting to give myself the chance to experience it all. At the same time I could not ignore my gut which had something different in mind. I saw the options open to me if I continued in clinical care, and knew these were not for me.

I wanted to have a bigger impact, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. A cross-country move was the catalyst for me to completely rethink what I was looking for in a career and in life.

I decided to reinvent myself and went back to graduate school in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. This was extremely affordable compared to PT school. After completing the Master’s program, I worked at a small consulting firm for a while, and then moved to a larger consulting firm that specializes in healthcare. 

What are you doing these days?

I’m an Associate Consultant on the core team of a firm of 23, and I collaborate with multiple colleagues on organizational development projects for clients. The colleagues I work with are licensed psychologists who bring specialized training to organizations to facilitate their development.

Systems-Centered Theory (SCT) is at the heart of our firm and work with organizations. SCT is a practical and innovative systemic approach to personal and organizational development, group dynamics and therapy. Applying these interventions drives positive change in organizations and significantly improves company performance and culture. 

I am project manager on several of these initiatives, and one of my main roles is to design and help facilitate all-day retreats at client sites. I also serve as a content creator and editor for multiple client deliverables. 

Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?

I am solely non-clinical these days!

How long have you been in your current role?

I’ve been in my current role for six months.

Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?

I worked full time as a PT and went to graduate school in the evenings, pursuing a M.S. degree in I/O Psychology. The program I selected had the requirement of an applied internship, which I consider a crucial aspect of a return to graduate school in another field.

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I was also certified in several psychological assessment tools, which has been helpful as well (Clark Wilson Executive Leadership Survey, Group Development Questionnaire, and SAVI).

How did you find your Industrial/Organizational consultant job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?

I was looking online and found a job description that sounded too good to be true, but applied anyways. The rest is history. 

Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the job?

I really thought about how what I had done in my past directly applied to what I was applying for, and spent countless hours ensuring I was articulating this clearly. 

What was the interview like?

There were multiple interviews with different potential colleagues, and these were long and numerous. I was an open book, and was able to showcase how what I had done already and what I hoped to do moving forwards were in perfect alignment with this role.

I also had to complete some work samples and psychological assessments, which were helpful for me to get a job preview of the role and to ensure that this was a good fit for my personality. 

What are some of the things you did to stand out, take initiative, and advance in your career?

I took risks, I worked very hard, and I endured the pain of change. If I had taken a fixed mindset and said, nope, I have a DPT and years of experience there’s no way I’m going to start “at the bottom” again somewhere else, I would’ve missed ever giving myself the chance to explore what was in my heart for years. I could live with trying something new and failing. What I couldn’t live with was ignoring my own curiosity; I had to give it a try and see what happened. 

I also took on more responsibility than I thought I could handle. I volunteered for every extra credit project in school, met with the professor repeatedly during office hours, took on more consulting clients than the norm, spearheaded a research project, and got it published after some painstaking years. In my career, I’ve been certified in several specialized training methods, drove a change management project within the firm within a few months of starting, and continue to get involved and follow my curiosity. 

How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?

Positive, for the most part. Some HR hiring managers have been confused about my past. “Why did you leave PT?” is a frequent question, as is “How will your skills match the job description?”

I continue to advocate for myself, articulate my story clearly, and point out how my experience as a PT makes me unique in this field. 

What’s a typical day or week in the life like for an Industrial/Organizational consultant?

It’s a remote position with occasional in-person retreats, with some of them (the minority) requiring travel. I take several Zoom meetings throughout the day, work on client deliverables using PowerPoint or Word, use Slack and email to collaborate with colleagues and clients, and use Monday.com for project management.

Every day is different, and the work varies. What stays the same is that I work continually to progress several client projects simultaneously every day. Some of the responsibilities I have are as psychometrician for assessment tools, content creator, client deliverables editor, project manager, change management consultant, group facilitator, presenter, and support.

What are some of the rewards and challenges of your I/O consultant role?

Some of the biggest rewards are the constant supply of brain candy and personal/professional development. If you enjoy learning, research, reading, and developing, you’ll love being an Industrial/Organizational consultant. I also enjoy the testing and assessment aspect of I/O, in administering and interpreting various psychological and work assessments, and collecting and decoding data is fun as well.

The biggest challenge for me is managing several initiatives simultaneously, each with many moving parts and involving many participants. 

How did your clinical background prepare you for this role? Which skills transferred?

My clinical background prepared me very well for being an Industrial/Organizational consultant. If you’re able to handle difficult transfers of medically complex patients under stressful conditions, you can absolutely handle corporate America. Here are the skills that transferred nicely:

  • Communication
  • People skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Documentation/writing
  • Sense of urgency
  • Teamwork
  • Mentorship/coaching
  • Leadership
  • The ability to educate on complex topics in an easy to understand manner
  • Running “diagnostic” tests and interpreting results
  • Determining diagnoses
  • Crafting evaluations/treatment plans/interventions
  • Patience and discipline in carrying out interventions over several sessions
  • Compassion for others
  • Computer skills
  • Goal writing
  • The ability to solve complex and multifaceted problems under sometimes stressful conditions while keeping one’s cool

Roughly speaking, how are the hours and pay of an I/O consultant role compared to patient care?

The hours I keep are standard 40-hour workweek hours, but with far greater flexibility than PT. This may alternate depending on client needs. Starting pay for an I/O graduate with a master’s degree coming out of school is very similar an entry level role in PT, but the upper range extends far higher. 

What type of person do you think would do well in your role?

Someone who’s endlessly curious, quick to decipher patterns in mounds of data, has a passion for doing very hard work to help an organization’s progress, and practices healthy working and self-care habits. 

Industrial/Organizational consultants have compiled a GREAT federal database (called O*Net) of pretty much every job out there in existence and the exact knowledge, skills, and abilities one would need to succeed in that particular role. If you get anything from my spotlight, it would be to get on O*Net and explore

Do you work remotely or onsite?

I am fully remote. I will work occasionally onsite with other colleagues, but this is once every several months. 

Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?

I did! In particular I read “What color is your Parachute?” which was great in getting me to think deeply about what exactly I wanted. It also encouraged me to reach out to others in several different types of industries and roles to learn as I went through informational interviewing.

I also did 40 days of writing/journaling using the guided prompts from “40 Days and 40 Nights: Taking Time Out for Self-Discovery” by Ilene Segalove. This book really helped me learn to think deeply over time about a challenging problem through writing. 

A more recent book I’ve read that I’d highly recommend (and that I’m still reading and exploring) is “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans.

Last, but certainly not least, is a book that really helped me to put my PT career struggles into a realistic context: “What should I do with my life?” by Po Bronson.

What is the typical career path for an I/O professional?

The career progression would be to a senior consultant and executive coach. In I/O overall, it’s tremendously varied. You can go the HRIS analyst route, the organization development route, work in HR, work as an in-house I/O psychologist, work as an Industrial/Organizational consultant, or work in government. You can also work for corporations, for small businesses, fill your schedule with one-on-one leadership coaching clients, work solely in process improvement projects, or focus only on onboarding, retention, or succession planning.

What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?

I’d like to gain experience managing larger projects, become well versed in Systems Centered Theory (SCT), and continue to expand my knowledge and experience in organizational development. 

What would you recommend to someone who is considering becoming an Industrial/Organizational consultant?

If you’re considering a role like this, I would recommend doing as many informational interviews as you can to explore, expand your network, and learn from others. 

If you’re considering a different path outside of the clinical space, within rehab, or a different career altogether, I have some advice for you: don’t hesitate to follow your curiosity. I don’t mean forgetting to look before you leap. I mean never losing that hunger to learn, to be curious, and explore in your life.

The time for action is now, so reach out, read that book, have that conversation, take that test, that class, that direction you’ve longed to. Think back to your schooling for PT or rehab, this should be a great reminder that you’ve got what it takes to tackle and overcome difficult challenges to get what you want.

You want something else now? No problem. Think about what you want to try next, articulate it clearly, and get after it.

Not sure what you want at all? Great. Take the time to reach out to others in roles your’re curious about and you’ll find you’re far from alone. Spend as much time as you need to explore conversations, ideas, and avenues. You’ll figure out how to start designing your next steps.


Need some help taking those next steps?

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What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?

Training in the psychology of communication, leadership and management, stress management, personality, interviewing techniques (being interviewed and interviewing candidates), and facilitating development in individuals and groups. To reach the most people, I’d propose virtual or in person retreats to directly apply these interventions to real issues at work. 

What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?

The world is an interesting place with countless paths to take, so don’t feel locked in to one role for the rest of your life. 

What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?

Be resilient in your job search and interview process. This applies to both PT and I/O.

Rehearse your story, believe it, and be calmly confident in who you are, what skills you bring to the table, and what you want in your career and life. 

Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?

Start now. Read books, listen to podcasts, take courses (like Non-Clinical 101!). Start writing down your thoughts and goals. Reach out to others with curiosity to expand your thinking. Never stop learning. Trust your gut.

Take that next step.

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