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.
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. 😉