Decision time. This is a tough one. When it comes to management consulting, there’s definitely no clear winner among the “Big Three”. As I’ve met other people working through the recruiting process, I’ve encountered all sorts of decisions: people will turn down each of the firms in favor of the others with little consistency across the board. I’d love to know what the offer-acceptance rates are for each firm… I’d suspect they’re all fairly close.
The decision comes down to BCG and Bain. I’m not sure if I would’ve turned McKinsey down (the international strength and flexibility appeals to me), but there are many attractive aspects to these two choices. For those (like my parents) who aren’t all that familiar with the firms, the generic reputations go something like this:
McKinsey: The largest firm (9k consultants).
The most well-known of the firms with a strong reputation (although, one damaged slightly by the Enron scandal). Known for the “McKinsey Way” (a process that is effective, but sometimes criticized as rigid and template-driven). Strongest international presence, targeting and capturing most of the work for foreign governments and NGOs. Viewed as a “burn-out” with little work-life balance. Unlike the other two firms, encourages consultants to specialize as soon as they enter.
BCG: The nerdy firm (4.5k consultants).
Known for cutting-edge insights, academic books and articles, and “thought leadership”. Also seen as “too theoretical” and more about the technically insightful, but less actionable, recommendations. Medium international presence and medium work/life balance.
Bain: The cool firm (4.5k consultants).
Reputation for strong impact and only focusing on what counts. Staffing structure involves a 1 : 1 Undergrad : MBA ratio, which leads to a younger firm with more social drinking / partying (versus the typical 0.5 : 1). The strongest of the top 3 firms in serving Private Equity clients (the most demanding client type?) with a market share 4x the next firm. Lower international presence with the best work/life balance.