Consulting is an industry full of bright, ambitious people – so aspiring candidates will naturally want to know: which firms rise to the top of the field?
The problem is, how do you define “best?” Lots of different rankings exist, but the truth is that what matters most to one job seeker might matter less to another. One person might be looking for the best place to use their technical expertise in a field like biotech. Another person might want the most prestigious brand on their resume to maximize their chances of a future shot at business school – or the C-Suite.
But what’s one thing all consulting firms have, good or bad? Culture. And what’s one of the most important things to consider when deciding whether a firm is right for you? Culture.
Culture isn’t the only way to rank consulting firms, but it’s definitely one list we think you should see.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- Why is culture extra important at consulting firms?
- The Vault Culture survey methodology
- Vault’s Top 5 consultancy firms for culture
- Insights from this list
- How to explore whether a firm’s culture is right for you: top tips
Let’s get started!
Why Is Culture Extra Important at Consulting Firms?
A strong culture is essential to any organization. It typically originates from its founding partners’ values, beliefs and behaviors, and how they’d like these to be reflected in their work and the people they hire.
Employees are more engaged if they’re aligned with and invested in their employer’s culture which, in turn, leads to higher individual satisfaction, more cohesive teams, and improved performance for both firm and employees. It can also help to differentiate similar organizations, which is particularly important when hiring, as a strong and healthy culture is increasingly important to job seekers.
Although culture can evolve over time, it’s rarely something that completely changes, as it’s so deeply held by its employees and ingrained in the way the firm operates.
For consulting firms, a strong culture is especially important because of the collaborative and results-focused approach they apply to working with their clients and because of how intensive the demands of working in a consulting team can be.
By hiring employees who relate to the culture, it’s much easier to inspire and empower them to grow and develop into high performers who collaborate, innovate, and go the extra mile to achieve results for their clients. Bringing these like-minded people together and having clear behavioral expectations prevents friction and makes decision-making and workflow much more efficient.
Consulting is a competitive industry to get into, but is also very popular. Consulting firms need to be able to attract top talent by having a strong reputation for the work they do and the clients they work with. But they are also looking for people who can relate to their culture, so it’s key that this is unique to the firm and is demonstrated clearly through their messaging.
The Vault Culture Survey Methodology
Firm culture is tricky to rank because it’s so subjective. Different people will have different views about a particular consulting firm based on their own experience–they may work with a mentor who really values the company’s ideals and exhibits them in their work every day. Good culture is more of a “you know it when you see it” thing.
To assess culture, Vault surveyed consultants and asked them to rate their own firms’ cultures to get a feel for which firms scored better. Here are the firms that rose to the top!
Vault’s Top 5 Consultancy Firms for Culture
5. Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
BCG is one of the MBB consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG), the prestigious firms that are engaged to solve strategy problems for Fortune 500 businesses and other leading global firms.
Firm perspective: BCG sees employees’ success as their success and has several values that enable them to hire and maintain the top talent who shares these. The firm strives to unlock the potential of people who want to have impact in the world while staying true to their principles and supporting their colleagues to reach the same levels of success. It’s not just about hiring recruits with the qualifications to do well, but those who apply both heart and mind to their work and are dedicated to helping clients to become the best they can be.
Employee comments: One of the strengths identified by BCG’s employees is that it cares deeply about its people and will work to protect them, ensuring that their voices are heard and that they’re considered equal partners in decisions that impact the firm’s direction. They focus on accelerating employees’ professional and personal development and foster an environment where employees go out of their way to help and give each other opportunities to grow. On the client side, BCG insists on client employees being active partners in problem-solving and developing solutions, rather than ignoring the people working on the problem daily.
4. Back Bay Life Science Advisors
Back Bay is a boutique consultancy that pairs strategy consulting with investment banking services for the biopharma and medtech industries.
Firm perspective: A consistently thoughtful and supportive culture with an ethos to always do the right thing is at the heart of Back Bay’s culture. The company values the unique perspectives of its employees and gives them the support to grow by providing interesting and engaging opportunities that will deliver high impact for their clients. They value collaboration between team members but also with their clients. Back Bay looks for people with technical and scientific expertise but also those who are motivated and committed to contributing to their culture.
Employee comments: Back Bay is a small but fast-growing firm making a big impact both with clients and its employees. It invests heavily in interpersonal relationships and career growth to create an inspiring, and supportive environment where being genuine and kind to each other is standard behavior and is sought through its hiring process. This approach is top-down, with the senior team valuing contribution, encouraging innovation, and supporting those who want to push through initiatives that are important to them. Because Back Bay spans business and life sciences, they bring unique expertise and perspectives to their clients to become trusted and long-term partners.
ghSmart is a boutique consulting firm specializing in leadership assessment.
Firm perspective: Credo and values are what define ghSMART’s culture. They emphasize their expertise in both business and human behavior and how this impacts the people they hire and the clients they work with. They focus on helping their clients to succeed individually and at the institutional level, not resting until their clients have achieved their objectives and following through on these commitments with 110% integrity.
Internally, ghSMART strives to ensure its employees succeed through knowledge sharing and creating opportunities for each other, so that each person can become the best version of themselves. A growing firm with a strong commitment to helping employees succeed while providing them the freedom to manage their own workload explains why they’re so high in the ranking for culture within the consulting industry.
Employee comments: ghSMART is a fast-growing firm that consists of many former McKinsey, Bain, and BCG consultants. But it has managed to create a culture that brings all of these perspectives together to create a unique environment where employees have the freedom and flexibility to shape their own careers. In practice, this means consultants can take on as much or as little work as they like depending on their circumstances, which gives a level of autonomy of workload that is quite rare in the consulting world. They also offer unparalleled exposure to senior executives and high-impact projects that allow employees to develop very quickly.
2. Bain & Company
Bain is one of the MBB consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG), the prestigious firms that are engaged to solve strategy problems for Fortune 500 businesses and other leading global firms.
Firm perspective: Bain’s culture can be defined by its key values which focus on:
- A passion for results rather than just reports so that clients can truly see the impact of their work
- The intention to always do the right thing by their clients, people, and communities
- A practical approach to their work so that they can set new levels of excellence with real value provided
- A one-team approach to foster a collaborative and supportive environment (there’s even a phrase they use internally: “A Bainie never lets another Bainie fail.”)
Because values are so important to Bain, they place a heavy weight on hiring for fit, not just smarts, and this commitment to support and collaboration has always been a strong pull for those looking to join one of the top consulting firms.
Employee comments: Known as the most employee-centric of the Big 3, Bain is an established firm that has continued to guard its culture even though it now has 64 offices worldwide. It fosters a very collaborative approach both internally and externally, enabling teams and clients to work stronger together and deliver great value. Training is consistent at all levels so opportunities are fairly distributed. Bain sees itself and its employees as smart but humble, putting the client at the core and making them the heroes.
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1. The Keystone Group
The Keystone Group is a boutique consulting firm that serves mid-market manufacturing and distribution clients on topics ranging from strategy development to growth and operational improvement.
Firm perspective: Keystone has “guiding principles” developed over the past 25 years. These are focused on being the best choice that clients can make, enabling employees to grow their skills faster than anywhere else, attaining the financial success to be a sustainable organization, and having a fun environment for both employees and clients to be part of. These guiding principles enable Keystone to attract both the best clients and the top talent.
Employee comments: The Keystone Group was at the top of the rankings because of its family-like atmosphere and the growth and learning opportunities from day one. As Keystone is a small firm of around 40 employees based across 3 locations, consultants are expected to be major contributors to projects right away.
There’s no competition between consultants, and with formal and informal mentors to reach out to, it’s a truly supportive environment. There’s a focus on ensuring clients see the impact of Keystone’s recommendations by continuing to work closely with them through the implementation phase, providing value at all times, and only disengaging from projects when its future success is clear.
Insights From This List
It’s interesting to see that the top firms for culture are a mixture of the big and prestigious side of the industry, like Bain and BCG, and the small, specialist side, such as the Keystone Group and Back Bay Life Sciences Advisors. This demonstrates that if culture is established and nurtured, it can thrive in any size and shape of firm.
And by hiring employees who share the firm’s values and are willing to invest in the culture, not only can it be sustained, but it can lead to impressive growth and impact for the firm, its employees, and its clients.
All 25 firms appearing in Vault’s list scored at least 9.0 out of 10, which suggests that consulting firms invest a lot of thought and effort into creating and maintaining their unique cultures, enabling them to attract and grow top talent and successfully serve their clients.
We’ve only talked about the top 5 in this article, but if a strong culture is important to you, there are plenty you can apply to!
Take a look at the other 20 firms on Vault’s 2023 Best Consulting Firms for Firm Culture.
5 Tips to Explore Whether a Firm’s Culture is Right For You
- Do your research. Review the company’s website, paying particular attention to its “values” page and “careers” page, where you can typically find more information about what they look for in their people beyond G.P.A. and work experience.
- Get honest reviews from current and former employees via websites like Vault and Glassdoor. You’re more likely to be able to relate to these reviews than to a consulting firm’s website content. This can help you to filter in (and out) the consulting firms to apply to.
- Network with employees. Meet their people by attending events and connecting one-to-one through platforms such as LinkedIn. You’ll quickly learn whether you share the same values, beliefs, and behaviors, and if the culture is a good fit for you.
- Look for values that align with your own. Decide what you value in workplace culture and seek out consulting firms where the culture aligns with your values and where you see yourself thriving. Remember that interviews are your opportunity to evaluate the firm, not just the other way around!
- Find out what programs they invest in. It may be crucial to you that the firm you work for is dedicated to the environment and has already achieved their carbon-neutral certification. Or perhaps you want to work for a firm that gives you the opportunity to work on pro bono projects so you can have an impact on struggling communities. Understanding the initiatives a consulting firm invests in will give you valuable insight into their culture.
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In this article, we’ve covered:
- What makes culture so important to consulting firms?
- The methodology behind Vault’s culture survey
- The top 5 consultancy firms in Vault’s ranking on culture
- Insights we’ve drawn from this list of firms
- Top tips for exploring which consulting firms’ culture is a good fit for you
Still have questions?
If you have more questions about this list of the top 5 consulting firms, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s coaches will answer them.
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