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The Three Most Surprising Things About the Top, Large Consulting Firms

large consulting firms

The larger consulting firms are known for a few things: long hours, demanding expectations and top reputations.

But from the inside out, the view can look surprisingly different. To learn the lay of the land, Ivy Exec asked employees of our top ranked, large consulting firms to tell us about the culture on the inside. These honest, anonymous reviews—many of which come from current employees—painted an accurate portrait of what you can expect. And not everything they had to say was what you’d expect.

The Boston Consulting Group – Ivy Exec’s #1 Ranked Large Consulting Firm

Surprise: When You’re Here, You’re Family

With more than 6,000 consultants spread across this global firm’s 82 offices worldwide, it might seem that any one employee will be just another cog in the system. No so, one current Senior Associate / Consultant at BCG tells Ivy Exec.

“BCG is a family: once you leave, that is not seen as positive,” this employee writes, explaining that when a worker moves on from BCG, the staff refers to him as having “left the family.”

This same employee told us that the culture of the company as a family extends to client services as well: workers tailor all solutions to every client each time without falling back on turnkey concepts. Presentations are also customized each time and never reused. But if BCG is a family, workers can consider their managers akin to a never-satisfied parent.

“Meeting expectations during your performance reviews is not enough,” this staffer tells us. Instead, performing beyond expectations is considered necessary just to be an average employee at BCG.

But while over-achieving may be the norm at BCG, backstabbing and a cutthroat sensibility are not, a current manager there confirms to Ivy Exec.

“BCG is an amazing place to work. You learn so much, and everyone is really looking out for each other. We tackle once-in-a-lifetime problems for our clients and drive to tremendous impact,” this employee writes of the close-knit culture at BCG. 

Bain & Company — Ivy Exec’s #2 Ranked Large Consulting Firm

Surprise: All Work and no Play? Not at Bain

One of the descriptions that showed up most frequently in employee reviews of Bain was that the firm embodies a culture that both works hard and plays hard.

As one current Associate / Consultant told us, colleagues at Bain are “friendly, balanced, driven, smart people. We know how to get difficult things done well and quickly, while supporting each other and having fun along the way.”

Said another, Bain is known in the industry as being one of the “top three cool consulting firms.”

Perhaps contributing to the “cool” and “fun” culture at Bain is that its employers tell us it’s a fair “meritocracy” where even the least experienced staffers have their say.

“[Bain] lives by its values: work hard, play hard. The youngest people at the firm are highly valued—not just the grey-haired partners,” a current employee tells us.

Also see #3 Ranked Large Consulting Firm: Monitor Deloitte

McKinsey & Company — Ivy Exec’s #4 Ranked Large Consulting Firm

Surprise: You’re Free to Take Your Time

While most consultants industry-wide complain about a lack of work-life balance, many McKinsey employees find that their company respects their personal needs. In particular, several employees praised the company’s Take Time program where consultants can opt to step away from their work commitments for five-to-ten weeks every year. This time is then to be used at the consultant’s discretion: travel around the world, pursue a passion or spend time with family. As one current Associate / Consultant with McKinsey tells us, the company is “very supportive of personal needs. The Take Time initiative allows you to take additional time off—20-percent of your time. You’re your own boss: if you want to work from home or a hotel, you can often make that happen.”

Other employees praise the way that compensation rewards achievements. As one current Principal / VP / Director at McKinsey tells us: “Have impact and the right compensation will follow.”

Overall surprise fact about top, large consulting firms: 

Across the board, many current and former employees of the top, Ivy Exec ranked, large consulting firms tell us that they feel a tremendous bond with their coworkers: they respect their intellect, drive and passion for the industry. As a result, a culture of teamwork prevails at many of these firms.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.