How would you decide what makes a top consulting firm? It’s hard to rank these firms because everyone has a different idea of what’s important.
Is it company size? Reputation?
Corporate culture? Lifestyle?
Or is a specific focus, such as digital transformation or social impact?
We’ll go through the top consulting firms and talk about what makes each of them stand out, helping you determine the best fit for you. It might not be the top firm on the list!
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What makes a consulting firm rank high
- The 10 top consulting firms, a tiered list
- Consistency in the list of top consulting firms over time
- Do you want to work for a top consulting firm? An alternative perspective.
Let’s get started!
Factors that Set Top Consulting Firms Apart
Selecting the ideal consulting firm is like choosing the right college. It’s a highly personalized decision that depends on your career aspirations and priorities. By taking a thoughtful approach, you can optimize your chances of finding the best fit.
Using Vault’s annual survey as a starting point, we offer insight into why each of the top 10 consulting firms ranked high.
However, there are some limitations to the survey. The ranking heavily favors well-known firms with strong branding, college campus presence, and high-profile projects. The survey only gathers input from current consultants at top firms. Work-life balance is rated solely for their own firm, while prestige and other external factors are only rated for competitor firms, not their own.
Let’s look at the important differentiators to determine the top consulting firms. The final ranking is based on the evaluation of these factors and their assigned weight based on importance:
- Prestige (30%)
- Firm culture (15%)
- Job satisfaction (15%)
- Compensation (10%)
- Work-life balance (10%)
- Level of challenge (10%)
- Overall business outlook (5%)
- Promotion policies (5%)
What do these factors entail?
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In consulting, prestige refers to the reputation and influence a firm has in the industry. High-prestige consulting firms have strong name recognition. They have a proven record of delivering exceptional work and achieving successful results for clients who are some of the largest companies in the world. The firms’ reputation for innovation, thought leadership, and industry expertise are also important.
Top consulting firms also have a track record of attracting and retaining top talent and a roster of accomplished alumni, such as prominent industry executives.
It’s important to understand the firm’s culture, which is the values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape the work environment. A strong and positive culture that encourages diversity in perspectives and backgrounds can lead to a sense of belonging, foster collaboration, and boost employee morale.
The life of a consultant involves long hours and close collaboration with team members. When evaluating cultural fit, consider using the “airport test,” which consulting interviewers often use to make their final decisions on who gets offers. Ask yourself, “Would I enjoy being stranded at an airport with this person?”
According to Vault’s survey, over 40% of consulting firm candidates considered firm culture to be the most important factor when selecting an employer.
Job satisfaction is the level of contentment an employee feels in their job, which includes job responsibilities, work environment, location, compensation, and opportunities for personal and professional development. It is a key factor in employee motivation and reducing turnover.
Total compensation includes salary, benefits, bonuses, and other monetary rewards, and affects an employee’s overall financial stability and well-being. Compensation can also vary depending on the office location and cost of living implications.
A good work-life balance allows employees to prioritize their personal and professional responsibilities and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Consulting firms offer programs and perks to make it easier for employees to achieve this balance and reduce stress, which increases job satisfaction and sustainability.
Level of Challenge
Consultants seek challenging work, thrive on solving complex problems, and value learning. Mentorship from experienced colleagues in a dynamic work environment fosters their career growth and success.
Overall Business Outlook
Candidates should understand the type of work and industries the firm specializes in. This affects the company’s growth, stability, office locations, and opportunities for new projects and clients.
Knowing the career progression options and exit opportunities for alumni at the firm is crucial for growing your career and aligning it with your interests. Certain firms provide MBA sponsorship opportunities. While consulting generally opens many doors, some firms have a reputation for alumni entering private equity, while others go into other industries.
So without further ado, let’s get on to the top firms on the list!
The Top 10 Consulting Firms
For over 30 years, Putnam has been a leader in life sciences strategic advisory and consulting, serving clients from venture-backed start-ups to the largest global biopharmaceutical companies. The firm helps its clients solve complex strategic challenges, such as portfolio prioritization, product pricing, and patent expiration strategies. Putnam has more than 200 consultants, across the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland.
Putnam offers a distinct career opportunity for those interested in combining strategy consulting with a focus on life sciences. Putnam consultants find their work meaningful as it contributes to solving global health issues. The firm was also recently ranked #1 on Vault’s list of best consulting internships.
9. L.E.K. Consulting
L.E.K Consulting is a global management consulting firm that serves the financial services, consumer products, industrials, private equity, and tech industries. It has a particularly strong practice serving life sciences clients, so if you have a background in biopharma, healthcare and related services, or MedTech, it could be a great match for you. Established in 1983, it has more than 2000 employees across the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.
L.E.K. was the first major consulting firm to achieve carbon-neutral status in 2008 and continues to be an industry leader in environmental sustainability. To minimize carbon emissions, L.E.K. has teams work primarily from offices and limits non-essential travel to client sites. Some consultants prefer this model as it allows them to have a better work-life balance in their home city.
Kearney is a global management consulting firm known for its expertise in solving strategic and operational challenges for businesses, governments, and non-profits. Kearney has offices in more than 40 countries globally and has over 4000 employees.
Kearney is recognized for its collaborative culture. Employees across all levels and locations are approachable. The firm is dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion, especially for female leaders, and offers various programs to support these initiatives.
The current Managing Partner and Chairman, Alex Liu, published a book about workplace culture and has an ongoing podcast, Joy@Work, where he shares insights from influential business leaders.
7. Oliver Wyman
Oliver Wyman is a leading management consulting firm, with 30 offices in 70 cities. It is part of the Marsh & McLennan global network of professional service firms. It specializes in strategy, digital, operations, and organizational effectiveness and serves a diverse range of clients across industries, including 80% of the world’s 100 largest financial institutions. Consultants are staffed based on expertise and client needs, regardless of their home office, so expect some travel if you join this firm.
The firm values giving back and has established long-term partnerships with non-profit organizations for pro-bono consulting projects. It also has a Non-Profit Fellowship program, where employees can work directly for a non-profit for up to 6 months, with a stipend provided by the firm.
6. Booz Allen Hamilton
Booz Allen Hamilton has over 100 years of experience providing management consulting services. It is an industry leader in public sector consulting as it focuses on serving the US Federal Government agencies on strategic projects in areas such as health, energy, and defense. The company has other business arms in cybersecurity, analytics, digital solutions, and engineering.
Decision-making processes may be slower than at other firms due to the more bureaucratic nature of public sector clients. However, one advantage of this type of client is reduced work travel and less strenuous hours.
EY Parthenon is one of the largest global strategy consulting firms, with professionals in 120 countries worldwide. It is part of the larger Ernst and Young professional services network, which includes accounting. EY Parthenon is a full-service strategy and M&A consultancy that offers a distinct blend of strategic planning and execution to a variety of industries.
The firm prioritizes work-life balance and has the resources for a good training and development program. Despite its large size, EY Parthenon offers a unique mix of boutique-style and large-firm culture. However, standing out and securing projects of your choice may be challenging due to the firm’s size, and career progression may be more linear.
Bridgespan Group is a non-profit global consulting firm specializing in social impact. They provide strategic consulting, grantee diligence, and leadership team advisory to diverse clients including non-profits, philanthropists, governments, and corporations with a social mission. By merging a traditional consulting skillset with a passion to make the world a better place, Bridgespan consultants find their work rewarding. They are also relatively well-compensated for the social impact sector.
Founded by two former Bain & Company consultants in 2000, the company has close ties to Bain. Bain allows consultants to apply for a six-month externship at Bridgespan.
According to the Vault survey, Bridgespan stands out for diversity (#1). It also ranks in the top 3 in a few other categories: job satisfaction, overall business outlook, and best boutique firm culture.
3. Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
Boston Consulting Group is a leader in management consulting and is known for its innovative thinking and intellectual culture. With 25,000 employees in over 100 cities in 50 countries, BCG has a strong global presence.
The firm offers best-in-class compensation and benefits (#1 in Vault’s latest survey) and is consistently ranked as one of the best places to work. BCG has programs that focus on diversity and offers a plethora of opportunities for professional growth, including the Centre for Public Impact and BCG Fellows program.
BCG is one of the most prestigious strategy consulting firms (the MBB: McKinsey, BCG, and Bain). It has built a strong reputation for delivering excellent strategic consulting to top global companies. It is known for having a rigorous and selective hiring process for top talent. Consultants who leave BCG have top-notch exit opportunities across almost any industry, which is a testament to the skills and knowledge they gain while working at the firm.
2. McKinsey & Company
McKinsey is a global management consulting firm, known for its prestige, rigorous hiring process, and innovative thinking. With over 38,000 employees in over 130 offices worldwide, McKinsey has a strong global presence and a commitment to continuous improvement.
McKinsey’s academic culture attracts top talent from Ivy League schools and prestigious professional backgrounds, and the firm is known for recruiting advanced professionals with non-business degrees to its consulting teams. McKinsey consultants are known for being among the hardest working in the industry, which leads to exceptional exit opportunities.
McKinsey is consistently ranked the #1 most prestigious consulting firm. The firm also ranks #1 in international opportunities, reflecting its global scale and staffing model. It leverages its global network in order to “bring the best of McKinsey” to the client. This means that a McKinsey consultant in one office can reach out to someone they haven’t met in any office to get help and best practices that will help their client.
1. Bain & Company
Bain & Company is a global management consulting firm with over 70 offices across 50 countries. Although the firm serves all industries, it is particularly known for its private equity consulting practice supporting PE firms with the strategic aspects of live deals.
Bain stands out for its focus on its people and collaborative culture. At Bain, they believe in the philosophy of “a Bainie never lets another Bainie fail,” embodying a strong sense of teamwork and mutual support among colleagues, especially in times of challenges.
The firm has consistently been ranked among the top consulting firms for its culture, including being named the #1 firm for best informal training/mentorship and best relationships with supervisors, in Vault’s survey. This focus on people is also reflected in Bain’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as the firm was named one of the best places to work for LGBTQ+.
For a comprehensive comparison between the top 3 consulting firms, we have a deep dive into what sets McKinsey, BCG, and Bain apart.
Consistency in the List of Top Consulting Firms Over Time
The rankings of the top 10 consulting firms tend to change minimally from year to year. The same 10 to 15 firms are often found on the list, with slight fluctuations in their positions. The top 3 firms, McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, can sometimes shift within the top 3, but their dominance and prestige in the industry remain consistent. In recent years, some other firms that have been listed in the top 10 rankings include Accenture, PWC Advisory, Deloitte Consulting, and ClearView Healthcare Partners.
These rankings are subjective and can vary based on different factors and survey audience. This variation highlights the importance for you to do your research and find the right fit. Make sure the firms you’re applying to align with your career goals and aspirations, rather than solely relying on the latest ranking.
Top-Tiered Consulting Firms Are Not for Everyone
While top consulting firms offer many benefits, they’re not the right fit for everyone. By considering your background, values, and priorities, you can find the consulting firm that is right for you and help you achieve your career goals. Here are some factors to think about:
If you have a specialized background in a certain industry, you may want to consider working for a firm that focuses on that industry. For example, if you have a degree in biology or medicine, a firm with a life-science focus might be a better fit (check out our List of Life Science Consulting Firms). On the other hand, if you have a degree in engineering or love data analytics, a technology consulting firm may be a better option. By working for a firm that specializes in your area of expertise, you’ll be able to leverage your skills and knowledge to contribute to your clients’ success.
If you have a strong desire to make a positive impact on the world, working for a social impact consulting firm may be a better choice than a general consulting firm. Social impact firms work on a variety of topics, such as economic development and public health, and help their clients make a meaningful difference in the world. You’ll have the opportunity to merge your analytical skills with your desire to make a positive impact, which can be incredibly rewarding. For more information, check out our deep dive on Social Impact Consulting and a List of Social Impact Consulting Firms.
A boutique firm is a smaller, specialized firm that focuses on specific areas and industries compared to larger, generalist firms. They typically have fewer than 750 consultants and specialize in one practice area.
You might choose to work for a boutique consulting firm for benefits such as better work-life balance, local work opportunities, entrepreneurial culture, and specialization in specific areas. Consultants at boutique firms appreciate the small team culture more than the prestige of the firm. There also may be more opportunities to take on bigger roles to grow your career and make a more direct impact on projects as there are fewer layers of resources at a smaller consulting firm.
Check out our article on Top Boutique Consulting Firms for more details.
The office location and geography can impact the type of work and industries the consulting firm serves. For example, an office in Los Angeles would likely serve more media and entertainment clients compared to an office in Minneapolis. Offices in Australia may do a lot more mining projects due to the proximity to sites and natural resources.
Additionally, some locations may offer a better fit for an individual’s lifestyle preferences, such as access to cultural activities, outdoor recreation, or proximity to family. If you’re a surfer, you’re not going to be happy in Detroit!
Top consulting firms are known for their demanding schedules, travel, and long hours, which can take a toll on your personal life. If you want a better balance between work and personal time, consider working for a firm that values less travel, remote work, or more flexible schedules. We recommend our article on Consulting Work-Life Balance, which focuses on what it’s like to work at one of the top consulting firms, such as McKinsey, BCG, or Bain.
Now that you know more about the top consulting firms and the tiered list, you are ready to prepare your applications. We have resources, such as Our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep and Consulting Cover Letters, to help you land the job.
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In this article, we’ve covered:
- Key factors when determining a top consulting firm
- The top 10 list of top consulting firms
- Similarities in the top consulting firms over time
- Why you may not want to work for one of the top consulting firms
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