5 Things to Do with a Deferred Bonus & Nothing But Time

Advice for Future Consultants with Delayed Start Dates

Adefoluke Shemsu


So you just received the news that your start date was moved to 2024. You also may not know precisely when in 2024 you will start, which could likely be anytime between January and July.

If you were one of the people who received the unfortunate news, however, you were likely also offered an incentive to hold you over, effectively securing your position in the future while ensuring that you’re not at a total financial loss in the interim.

For many of you, this will be a period of rest and relaxation — enjoying the first year of your life since you were likely 4 years old that you haven’t had to go to school. For others, this could be a fantastic opportunity to build some real-world experience that you may never get the chance to do the same away again (from an opportunity cost perspective). There is also the additional challenge of finding reasonably-timed opportunities to get experiences.

So let’s explore a few ways to make the best of a nice bonus and 6–12 months to kill that will also contribute to your ability to contribute to the culture and value of your cohort of new hires.

Opportunity 1: AmeriCorps

You don’t have to commit to the Peace Corps (nor graduate college) to take advantage of opportunities to impact communities in a substantive way. AmeriCorps can be summarized as a government agency that provides opportunities for young people to contribute to their local and national issues for terms ranging from 2–12 months. Typically, your ability to contribute occurs in the form of joint government and nonprofit efforts to address a specific challenge, typically tied to one of these larger topics:

  • Disaster Response
  • Economic Opportunity
  • Education
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Healthy Futures & Public Health
  • Veterans & Military Families

Not sure which challenge to pursue? Not to worry; AmeriCorps has something for everyone, just about everywhere in the country. Not only that, but AmeriCorps takes on various forms, each designed to meet a different set of needs or goals by the participant. Per the website:

AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps

AmeriCorps NCCC is broken down into three service opportunities:

  • Traditional Corps: 10–11 month commitments with local and national nonprofits to complete hands-on projects, often living and working with teams of 10–12 people.
  • FEMA Corps: 10–11 months under the direction of FEMA and focus on disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery projects, also living and working with teams of 10–12 people.
  • Summer of Service: A pilot program (est. 2023) designed for people who want to participate in NCCC, but don’t have 10–11 months to devote to the program.

These programs can involve fairly regular travel, and project-dependent work conditions (e.g., during my term with Class 23 in the Pacific Region, I got to live at campsites in CA, OR, and WA throughout that year). FEMA will likely be more administrative, however, as it is focused not just on the actual event of a disaster, but the operationalization of the disaster support infrastructure.

AmeriCorps State and National

AmeriCorps State and National are for those people who don’t mind taking more ownership of their experience. The work here can range from developing an afterschool program and resource coordination for economic development projects, to using coding skills to build interactive museum exhibits.

In many ways, the work is similar to what you might do in NCCC, but the difference is it will be less travel-heavy and likely more locally or regionally focused.

AmeriCorps VISTA

In the AmeriCorps VISTA program, you will support an organization to make sustainable changes in areas that affect domestic poverty, including:

  • Education
  • Public health
  • Climate
  • Access to benefits

This program often has more opportunities for folks with some or Bachelor-level college education (some Master’s as well), as it is designed to help individuals build a more specific set of skills and to serve as a functional operator (or leader) within the environment you’re placed in. These skills can include:

  • Fundraising
  • Grant writing
  • Research
  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Leadership development

What’s in it for you?

Of course, beyond the satisfaction of service and the chance to directly impact communities, there are some additional practical benefits to AmeriCorps too:

  • For VISTA participants, special privileges for the federal jobs.
  • A modest living allowance to cover basic expenses during the service term.
  • The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which can be applied to a wide range of educational expenses once you complete your term (including current student loans).
  • Loan interest forbearance while serving.
  • Access to professional development opportunities and a massive alumni network of professionals operating in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.

Opportunity 2: Conservation Corps

Conservation Corps is for the folks who want to use their downtime to get their hands dirty without like-minded people. Typically, this work ranges from 2–9 months. It’s always been hard for me to explain where within the AmeriCorps totem pole it exists, but it essentially is its own entity for the participants in it.

On these types of teams, your primary focus will be environmental conservation and stewardship, ranging from working on public lands to working in the back countries for a string of days. If you like hiking, camping, and the work hard <> play hard approach to life, you’ll appreciate this work. You likely will also enjoy many of the similar benefits that you’d receive from AmeriCorps, depending on whether or not the role is considered to be volunteer service (some may be classified as seasonal jobs).

Since each conservation organization appears to be structured, funded, and supported slightly differently, I’ll provide some examples of some of the options out there.

This list doesn’t cover even half of the results you’ll find via Google search. This opportunity is great for people who don’t mind pushing themselves physically and developing some grit.

Opportunity 3: Work for a Startup

Usually, entering the world of management consulting for entry-level hires is about exploring what you might like to pursue as a potential area of specialization once you’d like to enter an industry or sector. This specialization can range from a particular skill set, subject-matter expertise, or a combination of both.

For those of you who might want to get your feet wet in a dynamic, intrapreneurial environment to explore which elements of a business you might enjoy pursuing, it would be beneficial to join a tech startup.

Why a Tech Startup? Here are a few practical reasons:

  1. Getting through the pre-work jitters: Taking your first corporate job post-graduation can be nerve-racking. Without previous exposure to the professional elements of that environment, it can be easy to become preoccupied with unknowns and how to be valuable to your project teams. Joining a startup will teach you how to navigate those dynamics in a fast-paced environment and help to demystify the social elements of “big kid” jobs.
  2. Shifting from student to professional thinking: As a student, it can be easy to develop a narrow view of what it means to accomplish something. In talking to fellow classmates and appraising current consultants’ experience transitioning from school to full-time corporate work (even after summer analyst internships), one of the most common challenges that I’ve heard about was related to shifting their expectations, perspectives, and work styles to fit a more ambiguous flow of work, growth path, and social environment. While the dynamics may be less formal than in a corporate environment, working at a startup can be an effective way to build your tolerance of ambiguity and navigate what it means to develop productive relationships with working adults.
  3. You’re cheap and fairly low risk: Your lack of experience makes you much more valuable in a startup than in a corporation because your impact will be felt more, especially if your presence keeps costs down while productivity is up. A new startup is often full of senior people so as a cheaper “entry-level” hire, you get to absorb experience from people who might’ve previously been everything from CMOs to VPs of sales without the risk of blowing too much of their runway on you while also getting to benefit greatly from your presence. You don’t have to work for free, but given that you received a deferred bonus to sit tight, you might be able to use that benefit as a tool to leverage a really cool opportunity to work on something you’re interested in.
  4. A crash course on what not to do: While startups and startup culture tend to be fairly positive in this day and age, a conversation with anyone who has worked at more than a couple of them will provide context into what goes on beyond the surface. There are many positives to working at a startup, but I would argue that your ability to contribute pales in comparison to getting to witness the errors, mistakes, and outright f*ck-ups along the way. No organization, in my experience, has been better at demonstrating that companies are just collections of regular people with diverse sets of perceived skills and enough shared trust to show up each day more than a startup. Oftentimes, this demystification has occurred on the heels of witnessing those who I may originally have assumed to be my “better” make impactful mistakes. It is in those moments that you not only get to observe the true nature of people under pressure but also get to adopt some best practices for everything from conflict resolution to problem-solving frameworks that will help you navigate the common challenges associated with consulting — especially when it comes to dealing with imposter’s syndrome.

If you’re interested in this, I would recommend using LinkedIn to source jobs because of the ability to reach out to founders directly in addition to consuming content provided by the company.

You can also join role-specific Slack groups where you can network directly with folks in your areas of interest. For example, I’m in groups with Support Driven, BlackValley, and Work on Climate, where I’ve had great conversations with founders, experts, and peers in the fields that these groups cover. In my experience, they’re always happy to chat and to help.

Opportunity 4: Upskilling

If you want to do some light preparation for whatever role you will fulfill on a consulting team (especially if your role will go beyond pure-play strategy work), you don’t necessarily have to apply an insane amount of rigor to your preparation. They will often train you in accordance with your job function, so getting into the weeds isn’t necessary, but I would surmise that your anxieties may be reduced by becoming familiar with the jargon and with the ways an organization solves amorphous business problems.

So, rather than overprepare, I’ve always been a proponent of leveraging cheap or free resources that impact the way you think about approaching a problem. Sometimes, that can be as simple as listening to a podcast every now and then or even just finding a LinkedIn or Instagram page to follow. Other times, it could be that you want to feel comfortable with the tools consultants tend to use (PowerPoint, Excel, BI tools, etc.), so you leverage a learning platform like Coursera or DataCamp at low to no cost.

Similar to what many consultants at your future firm likely told you, don’t stress out over time before starting. Engaging opportunities to upskill should be about your genuine interest and enthusiasm rather than playing “catch up” or feeling obligated to do anything.

Opportunity 5: Network & Leverage Recruiter Resources

If you’re joining a large consultancy, chances are you were assigned a recruiter or another point of contact to guide you throughout your onboarding process. This person would be your designated go-to for any questions, comments, or concerns throughout your hiring journey, but one of the best things that they do is serve as an aid to you throughout this odd period of downtime.

The decision to delay your start date likely didn’t start with them — they merely delivered the message. Don’t hesitate to schedule a call or email them about any opportunities to contribute in the meantime (pro bono), opportunities to network via hosted events, or even to get a suggestion on how to approach pursuing interim work opportunities. You’d be surprised at how stoked they’ll be to help you.

On the topic of networking, if you know what industries interest you most, spend a little more on LinkedIn Premium and use it to send InMail messages to people within your future office who are working on things you find interesting. If you approach from a perspective of genuine interest and desire to be value-positive, it is rare that the message will go unread.

It’s actually quite simple. Here’s a quick one:

Subject: Incoming Analyst @ <Office Location>; Coffee Chat

Hi <Person>

My name is <name>, and I’m an incoming <title> at <firm>. I’m reaching out to you because <practice area> is a major area of interest of mine, and it is one of the primary reasons why I joined <firm>.

If you’re open to it, I’d like to set up some time (15–30 min) to discuss your background and experiences in <practice area>, and how I can best position myself to contribute to these types of projects once I start.

Thanks in advance for your time, and enjoy <your day/the rest of your week/weekend> (depending on time of week)!

If/when you’re able to secure a conversation, the onus for maintaining that relationship lies with you. This isn’t necessarily about finding a mentor, as those are often also assigned to you once you start (or develop naturally through your work).

The goal here is to build early chemistry with a prospective decision-maker, be it Managing Director, Project Leader, Sr. Analyst, etc. to the point that you’re top of mind (or in the conversation) when they’re looking to staff some junior talent on a cool project. A purely transactional relationship won’t be enough here, so you will need to set a schedule for checking in or keeping them updated with your progress — bonus points for having an in-person meeting, especially if it is with your potential future project team. Just remember that talking to you may not necessarily be of any benefit to them, so don’t take it personally if they don’t appear interested or don’t reply. Sometimes, they’re just too busy to reply at the moment, however, so don’t hesitate to follow up a week or two after your first message.

Here’s an easy template for that:

<Hello again, <Person>!

Just sending this back to the top of your inbox, as I know you're busy.

Bonus points here if you can remove all work on their end by providing a Calendly link, which reduces any additional back-and-forth, thus improving your chances of penciling something in with them.

Final Thoughts

I know the last thing on most of your minds is to exert any additional effort between graduation and starting your new role. I totally understand too, as it may be the last extended period of time where you aren’t working or otherwise preoccupied with something on a full-time schedule. No shame if you opt to do nothing and enjoy your time.

For those of you who, like me, derive contentment from learning or experiencing new things that stretch your intellectual capacity or make you sweat a bit, these opportunities may be for you.

If you’re going to do it, don’t do it because you think it’s absolutely necessary or because you think you’ll be worse off if you don’t. Neither sentiment is true. The purpose of these opportunities is to turn would-be downtime into something interesting, whether it be to curb pre-work anxiety, adjust to post-grad adult life, or reframe your thinking to find some unique ways to make the best of your delayed start date. Worst case scenario, you hate these things, but come out on the other end more well-rounded. Best case, you develop a new passion or interest, meet some great people who challenge you, or build confidence in a soft/hard skill that you might’ve felt less secure about.

I participated in most of these experiences, and one of the greatest takeaways was that they don’t market well enough to the many young people who might really enjoy participating in them. It’s hard to get experience as a fresh graduate, and that lack of experience makes it even more demoralizing to get that delayed start news.

I’m sure many of you were looking forward to moving out and getting some real-world experience alongside some folks that are your age. I’m sure even more of you would like to travel during this downtime, but may not have the funds to do so. Well, some of these experiences are an opportunity to trade some sweat equity for the chance to do that. For others, maybe you studied something that wasn’t STEM-related, so you feel insecure about your analysis skills. There’s something for that too. For others, maybe you struggle to speak up or are nervous about bringing an authentic form of confidence to work. Working on an AmeriCorps team will absolutely help to remove that fear.

There are also many other ways to take advantage of this time that I didn’t mention, such as:

  • Seasonal recreation or trail jobs via www.governmentjobs.com or www.usajobs.gov for your respective state.
  • VSFS internships may be a great way to hone a particular skill set or gain exposure to a particular type of work within the federal government (for those of you joining gov consulting teams).
  • GS-3/GS-4 seasonal wildland firefighting opportunities (this topic can be complex, but I’m happy to provide some insight here in a conversation). Believe it or not, quite a few folks on the fireline do this work between school years. Be mindful though; the recruiting cycle for this can be long, so you’d have to time it right.

Need more assistance or context into other opportunities? Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.



Adefoluke Shemsu

Just a guy who happens to be inspired by curiosity about complex concepts, the things that move civilization, and the underappreciated elements of who we are.