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Deciding Which Consulting Firm is Right for You

Deciding which consulting firm offers the best work environment and development opportunities may be difficult. Consultancies come in a variety of forms - there's the big four, the top consultancies, the boutiques, and network-based consultancies.  Here are some things to consider when determining which consulting firm is right for you:

Reputation - What is the consultancy's record of accomplishment? Is the firm growing? Has it experienced recent bad publicity? How did the company approach past economic downturns?

The reputation of a firm might have an impact on how well you are perceived if you decide to leave the firm for an industry job (or another consultancy).  Make sure to check newspaper articles, press releases, and industry opinions of firms when applying.

Size - How many people work at the consultancy? How many clients does the firm serve? How many offices does the consultancy have? What opportunities for advancement does the consultancy offer?

Size is important to consider for several reasons.  First, choosing a small firm means you will likely know the people you work with.  If the consultancy is small, but growing, there may be a good opportunity for advancement within the company.

The size of the firm affects the type of training you receive.  A large firm like McKinsey operates on the apprenticeship model. Bain also offers matching with mentors.

Training - How much training does the firm provide? Are you paid during training? What sort of training will you receive?

Every firm has a different way of doing things.  At McKinsey,  a basic consulting readiness course is provided,  consultants can experience through their Mini-MBA program, and workshops on leadership are held. AT Kearney assigns a mentor and courses are available.  Bain offers many different certification training programs allowing consultants to move up the ranks - including "Experienced Consultant Training" and "Senior Associate Consulting."

Also, some firms will pay for you to obtain your MBA.  If this is a degree you are interested in obtaining at some point, you may want to consider this bonus.

Job Description - What tasks will you be performing? Will your job include a variety of work? Will you be part of a team or work individually? 

Different firms will have you performing different tasks.  Some firms will have you enter as an associate if you have an MBA but not real-world experience.  Talk to others with the same position.  Find out what will be expected of you in the firm.  If you don't understand certain responsibilities, don't hesitate to ask about them.  Many companies are happy to respond to questions and concerns of applicants.

Will you be doing research for long hours or will you get a chance to get in the field and work as part of a team?  What will your role be and what will your impact be?  These are two questions you will want answered - before you sign with a company. 

Benefits - What benefits are offered to consultants? Will you receive health insurance? Dental insurance? A moving bonus?

Most consultancies offer health and dental insurance. Make sure the benefits that cover your lifestyle. Some consultancies offer moving bonuses, annual bonuses, or signing bonuses. Once benefits have been added in to your salary, you may find that one firm pays more.

International Travel - What opportunities for travel exist? How much travel is expected? How much do you want to travel?

You will most likely travel wherever you work. However, large firms with consultancies in many countries may require more travel than smaller firms.  Make sure that the amount of travel required agrees with your lifestyle. Some companies, like Bain, allot for international transfers.  

Ability to do Charity Work - Are opportunities to perform pro-bono work for non-profit organizations available? What opportunities? Do these align with your goals and personal values?

Companies like Deloitte and Bain are jumping on this bandwagon, offering opportunities to perform pro bono consulting work, volunteer opportunities, green teams that work to reduce the carbon footprint on environments, and more.

Network - Does the company provide a solid network for after you move on? What support do employees have available?

The company network will help you to launch off - as an entrepreneur, someone in an industry career, or elsewhere.  For example, Bain offers those leaving the firm a network of 7,000 people who are "Bain alumni" as potential resources for jobs and clients. McKinsey also offers a network including leaders of multibillion dollar corporations, non-profit organizations, and start-ups.

Culture - What is the work culture like? Would you fit in here?  It might be helpful in talking with some of the people working at the consultancy you are considering to ask them important questions.

You should feel at home within a firm. Make sure to ask lots of questions. If you do not like to work after-hours on a regular basis, avoid firms where your cohort regularly work late. Take note of how people dress and carry themselves. If you are a formal person, you will not feel at home in an informal office.

Work-Life Balance - Does the company support work-life balance? If your lifestyle changes, is the company flexible? Can you work from home?

Some companies, like Bain, offer work/life options.   Bain allows you to choose part-time or job-sharing options, extended breaks, and sabbaticals and other leaves of absence so that employees can enjoy rewarding careers while still maintaining a life outside of work.  McKinsey also offers flexibility in working relationships, for high performing consultants.

As you answer these questions, it might be helpful to construct a chart. As you browse company websites, you can easily eliminate consultancies.  For example, if work-life balance is important to you, companies that require long hours of employees (or where those you speak to mention long hours) are out. If you value close-knit circles, you will probably want to consider work at a smaller consultancy or a boutique as opposed to a large firm like Accenture.

When whittled down, schedule appointments to visit consultancies or discuss career options with consultants at desirable firms. This will eliminate companies not adhering to the work environment you seek.  Finally, when you have choices whittled down to only a few rank the firms and apply. If you receive multiple offers, compare the companies based on offers and desirability.  Accept based on preference and offer.

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