Big 4 Consulting vs. Mckinsey, Bain & BCG

What follows is an excerpt from a field report, comparing consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain and BCG vs. a Big 4 consulting practice, where this reader worked for a year prior to a consulting offer.

Field Report:

Here's my comparison of consulting in a Big 4 and at BCG:

Although I haven't been at BCG for that long, I can already see an enormous difference in favour of BCG (apart from the working hours).

First of all, the scope of work is very different (although the Clients are usually the same). Consulting in a Big 4 is all about taking a very specific chunk of the company and addressing a very specific problem with it, using pre-determined tools. At BCG on the other hand, it is all much broader i.e. you really need to find the problem, determine how to approach it and then develop a customized solution.

Second, the level of exposure to top level executives is very different. At a Big 4, it's all about working with middle managers and possibly doing one presentation for their boss at the end of a project. At BCG, you really get to meet, and work with, the 'top dogs' of companies - people from the headlines of business news - on a regular basis.

Third, the level of responsibility you get at an entry level position in a Big 4 vs. BCG is very different. In a Big 4, you also get your own module or work stream, but you really have quite a lot of supervision and support. Your work is controlled often and your manager will also make a significant contribution to it. At BCG, it's all about independence, you really have to manage your tasks and time on your own, and the expectation is that you will get the answer right. The level of responsibility is related to the time commitment required.

Perhaps in my case it is also caused by working in a developed (Big 4) vs. developing (BCG) market, but I had to work more than double the number of hours during my Visiting Associate-ship [at BCG] than in my graduate job at the Big 4. The hours at BCG do get crazy and everyone who applies knows that, whereas at a Big 4, you will never work too late and you will have sufficient amounts of time for your personal life. (I think the Big 4 should really use the good work-life balance as a unique selling point vs. strategy houses, but instead their recruitment messaging is that it's consulting so you will work long hours).

To summarize, if you are committed to working hard, then in my opinion it is a no-brainer decision - always go for the strategy house!!! And believe me, the glamour, even in a less glamorous location, comes in a package with the job. 😉

 

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24 comments… add one
  • ky Sep 24, 2012, 6:39 am

    gd

  • ky Sep 24, 2012, 6:40 am

    gd stuff

  • Joe Nov 16, 2012, 10:43 pm

    As a current employee in big 4 consulting, please do not think that the hours are reasonable. I have worked over 90 hours a week for some projects…they may give interns less hours, but it changes when you are a full time employee.

    • Krzysztof Feb 23, 2014, 6:27 pm

      Joe, it all depends on a team and project. I agree that one might work really long hours at Big 4 (consulting), but on AVERAGE at Big 4 you work less (based upon my 5 years at 2 Big 4 firms and discussions with friends at MBB).

  • Jürgen Mar 18, 2014, 4:37 pm

    “whereas at a Big 4, you will never work too late and you will have sufficient amounts of time for your personal life” what?! I just end a project in which I left the office at 5am almost everyday for a month!

  • LY Aug 8, 2014, 2:10 am

    Dear Vic,

    What do you think of quitting your full time job at Big 4-in advisory to do an internship in Roland Berger? I’m just about half a year in Big 4.

    Your reply is greatly appreciated-might be a career changer!

    Thank you.

    • Victor Cheng Aug 8, 2014, 8:50 am

      LY

      I think amongst the Big 4, Deloitte is making serious headway in growing it’s advisory practice by acquiring Monitor and it’s own internal efforts. I think Roland Berger is a better opportunity than 3 of the 4 Big 4 firms. (Roland Berger vs Deloitte is too close to generalize and the comparison would depend on which part of Deloitte, etc…)

      As for the whether or not you should take the internship offer, that is more a function of your personal risk tolerance than an objective assessment of each option.

      Based on how you phrased the question, you see Roland Berger as a potential game changer. The issue is it’s UNCERTAIN potential game changer. You current job is much more certain.

      So your real question is do you take a better but more uncertain opportunity, or a less good (relatively speaking) opportunity (that’s still decent on an absolute basis) that’s certain.

      Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question for you as it depends on your personal values and your ability emotionally and financially to absorb risk if you take the better opportunity but it doesn’t work out.

      Given I personally have a higher tolerance for uncertainty, I tend to pursue better but less certain opportunities all the time. However, I have financial backup in case the uncertain opportunity doesn’t work out and I’m fairly accustomed to operating in a career where I am unable to predict the future very accurately. This is less reflective of my opportunities than it is of my personality.

      So the only person who can answer your question is yourself, and the answer depends on getting to know yourself at an introspective level.

      Victor

  • AD Aug 13, 2014, 1:18 am

    Hi Victor,

    I have read somewhere in your website that Big 4 firms (consulting) are not considered prestigious from the standpoint of MBB. Does this also mean that they are not considered big brand names during resume screening? This is my strongest point in the resume in terms of big brand names as I did not graduate from a top school.

    You response will be greatly appreciated as I have just finished writing my resume.

    Thanks!

    • Victor Cheng Aug 13, 2014, 3:10 am

      AD,

      It’s better than a non brand name employer. However, since it is a competitor in the consulting industry it’s not considered at the same tier as MBB. If there is a top MBA between the big 4 and trying for MBB I’ve seen that work before. If you are going as an experienced hire recruit, that’s less likely generally.

      Victor

      • AD Aug 13, 2014, 4:27 am

        Will your answer be different if I applied in Southeast Asian offices? I studied and currently working in Southeast Asia.

        Thanks!

        • Victor Cheng Aug 13, 2014, 6:45 am

          AD,

          Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about how those regions are run to offer an opinion.

          Victor

          • AD Aug 13, 2014, 7:11 am

            Thanks for the response! I’ll still pursue it and will share my experience.

  • Soulbroth3r Aug 20, 2014, 5:44 am

    Hi,

    I have a choice between starting the graduate consulting programme at accenture and starting the same at pwc. I’m more interested in the management side of things so am leaning towards pwc. In terms of potentially moving across to MBB at some point or moving to a strategy position in a fortune 500 firm, which firm would you recommend i go for? Also Accenture pays slightly more but i prefer Pwc’s rotational programme so they even out that way. Thanks

    • Victor Cheng Aug 20, 2014, 6:50 am

      It’s probably about the same.

      Victor

  • WC Nov 8, 2014, 9:57 pm

    Victor,

    I’m currently deciding between an offer as an experienced research analyst at McKinsey against a role as an experienced advisory associate at PwC. Ultimately I would like to gain a consulting position at an MBB and attend a M7 business school though not necessarily in that order. I’m told the ra role has opportunity to work on McKinsey engagements and though the transition will be difficult, it is possible. In terms of exit opportunities and resume what would be your advice? Thanks.

    • Victor Cheng Nov 10, 2014, 11:08 am

      WC,

      It’s a tough call. I don’t know enough about either role to make a well informed decision. I do know both options would be considerably enhanced by going to a top business school and doing well there. You’lol have many more options that way.

      Victor

      • WC Nov 10, 2014, 12:52 pm

        Victor,

        I appreciate the reply, in terms of placement within business schools do you see a difference or is that difficult to say? Thanks.

        • Victor Cheng Nov 10, 2014, 3:56 pm

          WC,

          Assuming the PWC role is a core consultant position, it’s hard to say. PWC would offer the better role, but McKinsey would be the better brand name (but weaker role relative to other core consultants from McKinsey applying to business schools). I think it would be driven by job performance. So if you excelled at one firm vs the other, the firm/role combo where you performed better at would likely be the more favorable job to feature on your mba application.

          Otherwise, its too close to call and generalize.

          -Victor

  • ConfusedMBA Nov 18, 2014, 5:46 am

    Victor,

    I am graduating from a top 10-12 B-school and have a strategy consultant role with EY and given the practice is a growing one, I think there is a lot of potential for growth there. However I don’t think their practice is well recognized. I would like to transition to MBB or a hi-tech firm a few years down the road if this doesn’t work out. Would a corporate role at a well-reputed tech firm (Google/Apple/ Uber) have better odds down the road?

    • ConfusedMBA Nov 18, 2014, 5:49 am

      Just want to clarify, a strategy consultant offer*

      Thanks!

    • Victor Cheng Nov 18, 2014, 4:08 pm

      Hi ConfusedMBA,

      I hate to be the bearer of bad news but its nearly impossible to upgrade prestige tiers within the consulting industry after business school. So the hypothetical career path from EY as a post-MBA hire to MBB as an experienced hire pretty much never happens. The only direction you see is down tier… say moving from a manager at MBB to a junior partner at a boutique or something along those lines. The only times you see an upgrading of prestige tiers is in the first job out of business school. So if you were at EY before business school, once in a while someone with that background would get a MBB offer post MBA.

      In terms of transitioning to a high tech firm, it depends on what size firm and what kind of role. The consulting to tech transition usually has a transition period. The consulting experience which broad and general doesn’t actually qualify you directly for any specific job in high tech. You don’t know enough to be a sales person, a marketing manager, run customer service, or product development. Occasionally you will see a strategy role in a larger tech firm have a role. Other times the transition is from consulting to say a product management type role, spend a year or two learning that trade, and then progressing in your career path based on that experience. (That was my career path post McKinsey).

      If you want to go from well reputed tech firm to another tech firm that career path is well established — especially if you go from big well established tech firm to startup. Again, it depends on role you’re looking for and size of firm. Those who go from consulting to tech usually do end up in more senior level positions after a few years of learning tech. If you start in tech post-mba, I don’t know that field well enough to generalize on the career path.

      -Victor

  • matmat Feb 19, 2015, 1:40 pm

    Hi victor,
    I’ve just started working in BCG in the knowledge org. & have prior industry work of 6+ years. What do you think are my options say 2-3 years down the line?

    Thanks

  • snowflake Oct 1, 2015, 10:22 am

    Hi Victor,

    Should I pursue a career with Hay Group or with Big 4’s advisory?

  • Chris Jun 14, 2017, 11:57 pm

    Can I ask if you were in the BIG 4 Advisory or actual consulting (Deloitte S&O, PwC Strategy &, KPMG GSG)?

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