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Choosing a Consulting Office: How to Pick the Right One

Choosing a Consulting Office Everything you Need to Know
Jo Randall
Jo Randall

Former McKinsey & Bain Recruiter

You have to make a big decision right up front in your consulting firm applications: what are your office preferences?

Should you choose Detroit or Cleveland, someplace that might be less competitive than Boston or NYC? Paris or Singapore for a chance to explore a new country? Or should you put all your chips on an offer from the Dubai office?

I’ve worked in recruiting for both Bain and McKinsey and reviewed thousands of applications from candidates who’ve made this very decision. I’ll walk you through some key considerations and the best ways to make your decision.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Bad ways to choose consulting office preferences.
  • Good considerations to weigh when choosing a consulting office.
  • The impact of staffing models on your choice of office.
  • The best way to pick consulting office preferences.

Let’s get started!

Bad Ways to Choose Consulting Office Preferences

You may not realize that your choices can have an impact on whether you’ll be invited to interview. Even if you have a great resume, if you’ve chosen offices that seem random or disconnected from your life so far, your application may be rejected. Recruiters don’t have time to contact every applicant to ask for their reasons, and you don’t want them to jump to the conclusion that it might be for one of these reasons below.

  • Offer rates. No partner wants you in a midwest office because you thought it would be easier to receive an offer there than New York. You have to genuinely want to work in that office. (If you do have good reasons why you want to work in a less competitive office, then apply! Just don’t say that’s the reason you chose it.)
  • Prestige. An offer from a prestigious office might impress your business school classmates but your next employer won’t care which MBB office you worked in, just that you worked for an MBB firm.
  • Picking foreign offices for the wrong reasons. It’s not wise to opt for Istanbul because, although you’ve never been, you think it would be a great place to live for a year – amazing weather, stunning beaches, what’s not to like? Offices want you to truly understand and be immersed in the culture, as well as have a compelling reason to want to be there. Besides, you’ll need local language fluency for some offices.
  • “Cool partner syndrome.” Don’t aim for an office because of one cool partner who you’ve met or read about but haven’t yet worked with. Once you work with them, you might find they’re not as cool as you thought. It’s about the community of the office and if you see yourself fitting in with the culture. Network with other consultants to get a feel for the wider community.
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Good Considerations When Choosing Consulting Office Preferences

Making office choices that will help rather than hinder your application requires more of a strategic approach than you might think. Recruiters want to see that you’re committed to your chosen location and planning on hanging out there for a while, not just trying to beat the system. It’s about showing them that you’re worth their investment.

You also need to choose the right consulting office for your personal circumstances and well-being. Having regrets about moving to a new location is definitely something to avoid. Equally, if you have a strong desire or need to move to a specific location and don’t pursue that through an informed decision process, you may feel like you’ve wasted the opportunity.

  • Family, friends, roots. Perhaps you have family members living in the area, your partner has to relocate there for their work, you grew up in the region, know it well, and want to return, or you have a strong network of friends nearby who’ve already made the leap.

    These are all reasons that will ensure you end up somewhere that feels like, or is in fact, home. Relocating and starting a new job is challenging enough, so having an established support network around you from day one is going to really help with the transition.
  • People you’ve met through networking and liked. Cultural fit can be an important consideration for some and the easiest way to establish this is by talking to people from the offices of the firms you’re interested in. Feeling that you belong is a powerful incentive.

    If you can also turn this networking into a referral, you’ll be strengthening your chances of getting into an office, as the referrer can help to bolster your relocation story.
  • Local industries (depending on the staffing model). If you have experience in or a passion for a particular industry, it’s worth researching where that industry is more prevalent. The chances are, if you can show your experience or passion through your application, the office will see the value in you being part of their team.

  • Cost of living. You’ll be comfortable in some cities on an analyst salary and just getting by in others. There’s no doubt that food and rent are going to consume a larger portion of your income in some areas than others. This shouldn’t be your only reason for choosing an office like Cleveland over San Francisco, but something to consider.

  • Established vs. small and growing offices. Small offices tend to see fewer applications as people typically choose the more established offices, either because they are unaware the smaller ones exist or they feel larger offices will provide more project diversity and longer-term opportunities.

    It can be challenging to join a small new office, as industry exposure might be more limited until the client base is more broadly developed (depending on the staffing model), but you also get to be a part of the wonderful entrepreneurial spirit of a growing office. Small offices can also have stronger relationships across tenure than larger offices because at large offices, you’re more likely to socialize with your peer group rather than the whole office staff.

    You’ll still need to carefully consider your reasons for wanting to be in that office, as they won’t want people to join because they think it’s easier, only to request a transfer to a bigger office within a year.
  • You already live there. Obvious perhaps, but worth stating. If you’re already living in the area, have an established network, enjoy the culture, and feel it has valuable opportunities for the longer-term, why not stick around?

The Impact of Staffing Models on Your Office Preference

For those firms that have more of a local staffing model (eg. Bain, BCG), it’s safe to assume you’ll have some exposure to industries with a strong presence in the office you choose. For instance, you’re likely to work on quite a few projects in the energy sector if you choose Houston so, if that’s where your experience or passion lies, it’s worth popping it on your preference list and highlighting this reason.

Offices with local staffing also provide more opportunity to build your network in the local community.

McKinsey has a more global perspective on staffing its projects, which means you’ll probably be traveling more frequently. Focusing on a specific industry relating to location is therefore less important. At McKinsey and other consulting firms with global staffing models, you’ll have more opportunity to network with colleagues across the globe.

The Best Way to Choose a Consulting Office

Choosing A Consulting Office: The Best Way to Choose a Consulting Office ​

The best way to choose your office preferences is to consider where you actually want to live. Taking into account family, friends, culture, opportunities, career plans, and industry fit, where do you see yourself feeling at home, being part of a community, and wanting to grow professionally?

You also need to be prepared to answer the question in your fit interview so you can convey your reasons compellingly, with confidence in and enthusiasm for your choices.

Some firms hire independently by office and require an application for each specific role and location. Others will ask you to list your office preferences through one application. They may ask you to rank your choices or apply a preference ratio.

Stick to the offices you would be happy to receive an offer from rather than filling in all of the boxes because you think it will increase your chances, and be sure to keep your percentages close. The reality is, selecting Seattle 50%, San Francisco 40%, and Boston 10%, isn’t necessarily going to convince the Boston recruiters that you’re worth the investment.

At the end of the day, the top consulting firms are global organizations that put a lot of resources into providing a great professional development path no matter what office you end up in. And you’ll have the same brand on your resume no matter what office you choose.

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • How you shouldn’t choose consulting office preferences.
  • How differing staffing models can affect your applications.
  • How you should choose consulting office preferences.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about how to choose a consulting office, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s recruiters will answer them.

Other people interested in how to choose your consulting office preferences found the following pages helpful:

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Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on choosing a consulting office. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Ruhani was able to get her offer from Accenture.

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