Within the Management Consultancy space there are a huge amount of firms of varying sizes and specialities, each with their own unique culture…but also shared traits. Quite often it entirely depends on the stage of your career, where you are in your life outside of work and the type of person you are as to which of these firms best suits you. I will try to break down these firms below to give you a better idea of what types of firms might be worth exploring, however there is no better way than first meetings to judge a company.
When referring to these types of consultancy firms I am talking about the ‘Big 4’ (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC), large business consulting firms (e.g. IBM, Accenture, Capgemini) or technology firms (e.g. Cognizant, HCL, DXC). These firms usually have fantastic training and development programmes that make them well suited to graduates or people early in their consulting careers. It is a great place to learn from experienced people and get exposure to large projects, within an environment where it is possible to ease you into responsibility. These places often are companies where you work hard and sometimes long hours, but get rewarded through useful experience and better base salaries than some of their smaller counterparts. Usually within the larger organisations you specialise at a more junior level and get relevant professional qualifications, which can cost several thousands of pounds, paid for on your behalf.
These firms usually have a strict promotion route, giving you the chance to anticipate how long you will be at each level before expecting a promotion (i.e. 2-3 years per level). There are opportunities to progress quicker if you are a top achiever but it is most likely that there will be a defined career track which you will need to stick to. The most common level that people start looking elsewhere within these firms is at top end Manager and Senior Manager level, this is due to the extra work required to progress through Director to Partner level, not everyone is willing to make that investment. If you are, there is the opportunity to either become more regionally focused (reducing travel) or take on a more continent-wide or global opportunity, which is not always possible at smaller firms (due to a smaller management team).
Boutique consultancy firms are often specialists within either an industry vertical or a skill set horizontal, offering a unique and targeted service to their clients. These organisations are usually much more focused on being an enjoyable place to work, with a favourable work/life balance and a more substantial variable element to their salary. The approach is different to the larger firms as you are more likely to be given responsibility quicker, however due to the size of some of these firms there aren’t the resources to allow for a substantial learning curve. As a result a lot of these firms hire experienced consultants with a minimum of 1-2 years at a bigger firm, obviously there will be plenty of exceptions to this but it is often the case.
It is normally an environment that suits people who like a bit more diversity in their role, working either cross-sector or cross-skill set within a certain market. It will also be a better option for people who do not like the red tape and restrictions of the larger firms, the levels are often more fluid with more responsibility being achievable at an earlier stage. This type of organisation is best suited to someone who has developed a strong consulting skill set from a good ‘graduate scheme’ or a few years in internal consulting, enjoys the project focused lifestyle and wants to work in a less ‘political’ environment (more visibility to the top of the organisation).
The downside is that these firms usually can’t compete with the base pay and pension schemes of global giants or even mid-sized consultancy firms, however are much more competitive with their variable elements (more achievable and predictable bonuses). Quite a few are also able to counteract the lesser base with reduced travel, boutique firms often have a smaller reach so it is less likely that you will be out of the country for months at a time (with some exceptions).
I left this one until last because I think you need to understand the offerings of the larger and smaller firms before truly being able to understand why mid-sized firms are a good alternative. By ‘mid-sized firms’ I am talking about the management consultancies that have 500 - 5,000 people, being the middle ground between the personalised touch of a boutique and the security and development of a global giant. There are lots of firms that fit into this bracket and are often a good balance for people who enjoy the variety of consulting but don’t enjoy certain aspects of the other two brackets.
They are normally a little bit more varied in their work and don’t necessarily specialise in one area, although there are plenty that do still have a main focus. These firms will have more awareness around being an enjoyable place to work than some of the larger consultancies, but have a more solid structure and dedicated training structure than some of the boutiques. Overall these firms bridge the gap and are normally good firms to consider at any level within your career; whether you are a graduate, coming from industry or an experienced consultant.
Mid-sized firms usually are much more competitive with the global giants on base salary and with the boutiques on bonus, obviously different companies within the spectrum deviate from this trend. There will normally still be a significant travel element, with most of these types of firms having become more continent-wide or global compared to their smaller counterparts and with less people on the ground than the global giants.
Management Consulting is a rewarding and interesting career that will offer anyone within it a real opportunity to develop a strong skill set for the future, be that continuing within consulting or within an operational role in industry. All of the different sizes of firms have elements to them that make them fantastic places to work, whether that be project exposure, travel, work/life balance, pay, career progression or just being an enjoyable environment. Everyone needs to think about what they want from their career, as well as what stage they are at within their life when considering which type of firm would best suit them; e.g. having a young family or being in the process of buying a house may change your outlook on location or flexible working.
I would always suggest when you are starting to look that you speak to an experienced recruitment consultant who can talk through what you are looking for, advising you on some clients that can offer you this. Hopefully this will lead to some initial conversations that will allow you to get a better feel for the potential organisations, usually highlighting whether their type of firm is one that suits you and will be an environment you will excel in.
If you are a management consultant with one or more years of experience, feel free to get in touch via the Consulting Point website or email@example.com to arrange a conversation with one of our talent consultants.
Written by Matthew Liddle from Consulting Point - Principal Talent Consultant