Last Updated on April 6, 2022 by MBA Gateway Team
A Quick Introduction
Ah, consulting. It’s the most popular industry and function for MBA grads, and also a job that’s for some reason hard to explain to your family and friends. So what is consulting, exactly?
Consulting is a client service industry. Clients hire teams of consultants as external advisors, like outsourced brains to crack specific problems or issues. You could work at a consulting firm, or as an internal consultant within another industry.
Consultants can work on projects in a huge range of functions and industries, so as you explore target companies, you’ll want to look into the industries they serve and their capabilities:
- Some sample industries: healthcare, tech and media, manufacturing, consumer goods, retail, government, financial services, utilities, energy, automotive, hospitality, and more.
- Some sample functions: strategy, operations, transformation, organizational design, pricing, corporate finance, digital, marketing, sales, and more.
Typical Post-MBA Roles
As an MBA graduate going into consulting, you will almost certainly be an individual contributor. The post-MBA job title varies by firm (for McKinsey, it’s an Associate; for Bain and BCG, it’s a Consultant), and the firms themselves are different, but the job is basically the same.
As a Consultant, you’ll conduct analysis and work with clients and your team to generate recommendations for your client. You’ll gather data (from industry databases, client data, expert interviews, analyst reports, etc.), analyze it to come up with conclusions about the issue at hand, meet with clients to get their perspective, develop recommendations for your client, and draft materials to communicate it all (usually a PowerPoint deck).
Folks generally picture consultants doing strategy work, but since it’s such a broad gig, you might be doing other things, like implementing software, creating training, developing new operating models, or recommending org changes. The same basic process and skills apply, but your data might look different (more qualitative), and you’ll work even closer with clients.
Depending on the firm, you might join as a generalist (which means you can work for a variety of client types and functions), or as a specialist (in which case you’ll be expected to work primarily in your area of expertise, like digital, marketing, or analytics).
Draws and Drawbacks
So, why should you consider consulting? We covered a bit of this in the Industry and
Function section, but here’s a recap and a little more color:
- Consulting pays some of the highest post-MBA salaries and is a prestigious post-MBA job with strong employer brands
- You learn a ton, get senior client exposure, and get a wide variety of skills – quantitative skills, stakeholder management, project management, communication, and influence
- At most of the top-tier firms, consultants start as generalists, meaning you can work on projects in different industries and functions to explore your interests
- You can exit from consulting into a variety of industries and roles, so you have time to explore what you’re interested in while gaining skills and paying down student loans
And what are some potential drawbacks?
- The cost of the hyper-speed learning you get in consulting is working a lot of hours, easily 60+ hours a week on a regular basis (higher-tier firms tend to work longer hours)
- There’s pressure to perform, since many consulting firms have an “up or out” policy – if you aren’t promoted within a specific window, you are “counseled” out of the firm
- The need to just give your answer or implement an answer, but not both. The most common career complaints of former consultants are that they never got to “own anything” from start to finish, never got to build a long-standing team, and couldn’t measure their impact in any concrete way
- People sometimes overestimate the breadth of exit opportunities from consulting (keep in mind that the most common exits are in Strategy, Finance, M&A, and Operations)
Top Schools for Consulting
Let’s peek at the data! Here are the top programs for consulting, based on % of students and # of students who go into the consulting industry:
FIGURES 10.1 & 10.2:
SCHOOLS SENDING THE MOST STUDENTS INTO CONSULTING
You’ll note that most of the schools that send the highest number of students into consulting are M7 schools with high GMAT scores. It’s true that M7 schools are huge feeder schools (“target” schools) for top-tier consulting firms – but we also want to highlight that there are opportunities at other schools for consulting recruiting. The catch is that top-tier consulting firms may put less emphasis on on-campus recruiting at lower-ranked schools, so you may need to put more effort into recruiting if you aren’t at a “target” school.
If you’re looking at schools with an average GMAT in the 650-689 range, check out CMU Tepper and Emory Goizueta (listed above), along with Indiana Kelley and Vanderbilt Owen. These schools each send over 20% of their student bodies into consulting, with salaries comparable to the top schools (gotta love wage standardization!):
TOP SCHOOLS FOR CONSULTING, AVERAGE GMAT IN 650-698 RANGE
Top Employers in Consulting
Here’s a quick overview of the types of consulting firms that recruit MBAs:
- “MBB” – McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain
- These are the most prestigious strategy consulting firms; when people talk about consulting at business school, they are usually referring to MBB
- Big 4 and friends – Deloitte, EY, PwC, KPMG, Accenture,
- Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG are “Big 4” accounting firms that have, over time, diversified their offerings and specializations; in terms of post-MBA consulting, these firms do a mix of implementation, audit, and strategy work
- Some of these firms’ strategy arms have specific names, usually because they acquired a smaller strategy practice (Deloitte Strategy & Operations – Monitor, EY – Parthenon, PwC – Strategy&)
- Smaller strategy firms – g., Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger, L.E.K Consulting, etc.
- These firms are smaller than MBB and also provide a great learning environment; they might have more presence in certain regions, industries, and/or functions
- Boutique and specialist firms (which may recruit less on campus)
- Boutique industry-focused firms: These firms specialize in certain industries; for example, ZS Associates and Chartis Group are known for their work in healthcare
- Social impact firms: Most larger consulting firms have social impact practices, but firms like Bridgespan are solely dedicated to NGOs, nonprofits, investors,
- Design and innovation firms: Firms like IDEO bring together interdisciplinary work to design new products and experiences for clients
Here is a snapshot of some of the biggest consulting employers across all of the Top 30 US schools, including the % of the Top Schools listed above that these companies hired from:
TABLE 10.1: TOP CONSULTING HIRERS (CLASS OF 2020)
|Firm Name||Firm Type||# of Top 30 Schools
Firm hired from
|% of Top Consulting Schools
Firm hired from
|Deloitte||Big 4 and Friends||28||100.0%|
|Boston Consulting Group (BCG)||Strategy||25||100.0%|
|McKinsey & Company||Strategy||21||92.9%|
|Bain & Company||Strategy||21||92.9%|
|PwC||Big 4 and Friends||16||50.0%|
|EY (Ernst & Young)||Big 4 and Friends||16||50.0%|
|KPMG||Big 4 and Friends||13||42.9%|
|Accenture||Big 4 and Friends (Technology, Operations)||10||21.4%|
|ZS Associates||Strategy (known for healthcare)||10||50.0%|
|Analysis Group||Strategy, Economics||9||42.9%|
|Alvarez & Marsal||Turnaround & Performance Improvement||8||28.6%|
|AlixPartners||Turnaround & Restructuring||9||42.9%|
|Chartis Group||Healthcare (analytics, advisory)||8||35.7%|
|Tata Consultancy Services||IT||6||28.6%|
|Cognizant||Digital, IT, Outsourcing||6||21.4%|
|West Monroe Partners||Business and Technology||6||21.4%|
|Oliver Wyman||Strategy, Operations, Risk||6||35.7%|
|Gartner||Research and Advisory||6||21.4%|
|Capgemini||IT, Digital Transformation||4||7.1%|
|IQVIA||Healthcare / Pharma||2||–|
|Cornerstone Research||Economics, Finance||2||7.1%|
|The Bridgespan Group||Nonprofit||2||–|
Note: Top Schools include Booth, Tepper, Columbia, Tuck, Fuqua, Goizueta, McDonough, Harvard, Ross, Sloan, Kellogg, Darden, Wharton, and Yale