Federal or Commercial Consulting?

Question:

First off, I would like to thank you for all of your incredible resources that you offer on your site both for free and purchase. I attribute a large portion of my success to all of the knowledge that I have been fortunate enough to pick up from you - whether it was your eNewsletters, articles on caseinterview.com, caseinterviewmath.com, book Case Interview Secrets and corresponding videos, or the Consulting Resume Toolkit. From networking to polishing up my interview skills, you have been extremely helpful along the way. I hope that one day I will be able to repay the favor.

Even though I do not come from an actively recruited school, I have been able to receive a few impressive offers:

1) Deloitte Consulting in [Federal role]
2) IBM Global Business Services in [Commercial role]
3) Booz Allen Hamilton in [Federal role]

I also was fortunate enough to go through the first round of the recruitment process for the McKinsey office in [European city] (McK PST). Unfortunately, due to the short amount of time I had to prepare for the test, I was not successful in passing through to the next round.

My best advice that I could offer to your readers coming from non-target schools is to never underestimate the importance of Networking and Practice. I have been working towards these offers since the start of my junior year, reaching out to everyone within my network, my friends' networks, and wherever else I could find support. I called and emailed many individuals, scheduled coffee chats, and spent many hours doing informational interviews. I practiced hours of case prep throughout the school year while also maintaining a part-time job and during the summer while also interning at a fast-growing start-up.

I believe that the sole reason I was able to receive several invitations for interviews was because I had contacted and established a relationship with so many people within the firms I was interested in. I was successful in the interviews because of all the practice I put in.

I am now faced with deciding which offer to choose. I have searched through your site and through your email archives for some support. All these articles have been helpful (Top Consulting Firms, Choosing between Multiple Offers - McKinsey, BCG, Bain, & Deloitte, and Public vs. Commercial Sector Consulting) but I would like to get your input on the following questions:

1) How appealing are consultants from Deloitte's federal practice in comparison to IBM's commercial practice to the top 10 US MBA programs? Generally speaking, where do federal consultants stand in comparison to commercial consultants?

2) I have been told that it is uncommon, and fairly difficult, to transfer from federal to commercial consulting. What are your thoughts? Since Deloitte is higher on several rankings, I am more inclined to choose that offer (along with other reasons), however, I would like to eventually work in commercial consulting. This one factor is pretty important to me, so I'd love to hear your insights on this topic.

Thank you for your time and again for your incredible site.

My Reply:

Congratulations on your many offers and thank you for passing along advice to others.

With respect to your questions, the federal / commercial split seems to be a pretty strong one. I agree that it is hard to cross over either within a firm or even across firms. So to start, you want to decide if you want to go the federal route or not.

If you went the federal route and wanted to switch over later, getting an MBA would be a useful transition point. In terms of which firm/role combo is more appealing to B-schools, the answer is sufficiently unclear (given the specific firm and roles you mentioned) that I think it's a non-factor. A far more important factor is how well you do at those firms in those roles.

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