Management consulting is a highly-rewarding career, offering MBAs fat salaries, varied projects, and should they work at a top firm such as McKinsey & Company, a prestigious brand to place on their CV. But which are the best firms to work for, and why?
Each year, careers website Vault releases a ranking of the 50 best consulting firms to work for (see graph below). Based on almost 9,000 survey responses from verified, practicing consultants at more than 60 firms in North America, this year's rankings saw McKinsey re-claim the top spot, followed by The Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company in second and third, respectively.
The Vault Consulting 50 ranking considers a firm’s reputation as well as employees’ satisfaction with key factors influencing their work life, such as culture, compensation and promotion policies. The average salary in the management consulting industry for a freshly-minted MBA is as high as $145,000 at a firm such as EY, according to industry website ManagementConsulted.com.
Those windfalls are one reason why at most top business schools, at least one-third of MBAs go on to work in the consulting industry, and have done for some time. At INSEAD, nearly half the cohort did so last year. As a result, many consultancy firms have a large base of business school alumni, who often help current students secure jobs by crafting compelling CVs, preparing for the case interviews that are a prerequisite of the hiring process, and securing introductions to the right people.
Another reason MBAs value careers as management consultants is that they typically work on a broad range of projects with companies in multiple industries. Working in this way builds diverse expertise — enhancing employment prospects. An MBA program is arguably very good preparation for this type of career, as it covers varied functions and sectors, and imparts knowledge and expertise through the case method, which mirrors how consultants work with their clients.
There are downsides, of course. The hours are notoriously long, with much travel expected. Firm culture emerged in the Vault survey as the leading concern for those selecting a firm, confirming an ongoing shift in employee values.
But, “with quality of life issues becoming increasingly important with the millennial generation, firms are proactively discussing how they support work-life balance and perks,” says Chris Weber, associate director for careers at UCLA Anderson School of Management, suggesting that competition with tech companies and investment banks for talent is one reason for that shift.
For many MBAs, however, these sacrifices are worth making. Many see consulting firms as a launch-pad to successful careers in other industries. McKinsey has more than 300 alumni who are CEO of companies with more than $1 billion revenue, and Bain has 20% of its alumni in private equity, notes Stephane Ponce, global consulting lead at INSEAD. “Ex-consultants will be of high interest to large multinationals and SMEs that have strategy and business development roles vacant.”
For those who do stay loyal to their firms, career progression in the consulting industry is often rapid. At Bain, consultants can be promoted once every two-to-three years, according to Keith Bevans, the firm’s global head of consulting recruitment (read a full interview with him here). Ultimately, whether you remain as a consultant or try your hand at something new, a job at a prestigious firm can lead to a highly-rewarding career.