Boutique Consulting Firms: Top 9 Companies to Apply To

Boutique Consulting Firms Top Companies to Apply To
Sian Kiri

Sian Kiri

Former McKinsey Consultant

Boutique consulting firms are management consulting firms that specialize in an area of expertise or a geographic region and are smaller in size than the typical consulting firm.

If you’re applying to consulting firms, you’re likely familiar with the MBB firms (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG) and the Big 4 (Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and Ernst & Young). But to maximize your chances of landing a consulting job, you want to apply to more than 7 firms.

Boutique consulting firms are great firms to round out your recruiting list. In fact, these firms might even be a better fit for the career you’re looking for!

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What boutique consulting firms look like
  • An overview of 9 of the top boutique consulting firms
  • How the best boutique consulting firms differ from the MBB and Big 4 firms
  • The pros and cons of working at a boutique consulting firm
  • 3 Tips on applying to boutique consulting firms

Let’s get started!

What are Boutique Consulting Firms?

Management consulting firms fit into 4 groups based on various factors: MBB, the Big Four, Tier 2 or 3 firms, and Boutique Consulting Firms. There is no standard definition of “Tier 2” or “boutique firms.” Boutique firms usually are firms that are smaller in size, that specialize in a niche, or that have a regional focus.

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Top 9 Boutique Consulting Firms

Boutique Consulting Firms

Vault releases an annual list of best boutique consulting firms based on their survey of current consultants on factors in firm culture, job satisfaction, work/life balance, compensation, etc.

Let’s look at 9 of the best firms, in no particular order, and what makes them

ghSMART

Established in 1995, ghSMART is consistently a top boutique firm because it has carved a niche in helping organizations with business and human behavior. The firm serves private equity firms, Fortune 500 companies, and non-profits to help them with leadership and organizational strategy. For example, ghSMART often helps private equity firms evaluate the leadership potential across the deal cycle, such as identifying the right CEO or evaluating board effectiveness.

Some of ghSMART’s unique qualities that make consultants rank it a top firm:

  • Elite Talent: Combining senior PhD psychologists with top business talent to create the most effective data- and science-backed recommendations
  • Extensive Experience: It has the largest database on leadership performance and in-depth leadership advisory project experience. ghSMART consultants have also authored bestselling books on these subjects.
  • Employee-First: ghSMART has a 100% employee-owned structure, which is unique in the consulting world.

The Bridgespan Group

Bridgespan works with nonprofits, foundations, investors, and corporations, specializing in social impact consulting. The core areas of expertise include education, children, youth, and families, public health, and global development. It focuses on measurable impact beyond profit, emphasizing financial sustainability for lasting societal change. 

Headquartered in Boston, Bridgespan has offices in New York City, San Francisco, Africa, and Southeast Asia, solidifying its global presence.

Founded by former Bain & Company senior consultants and a Harvard professor in 2000, Bridgespan maintains Bain’s foundational principles while operating independently.

Eagle Hill Consulting

Eagle Hill Consulting is a woman-owned, family-run, boutique consulting firm. It operates across 5 sectors: financial services, public service, nonprofit, health and life sciences, and media, technology, and entertainment. With offices in Washington, D.C., Boston, and Seattle, it offers comprehensive consulting services, including strategy, performance, talent, and change management.

Eagle Hill distinguishes itself through its “unconventional consulting” ethos. Recognized for its high-quality work and as a top employer, the firm values employees’ atypical career paths and diverse experiences. Over 50% of its staff have client-side backgrounds, while nearly 60% hold advanced degrees.

Vault has rated it #1 for “2023 Best Consulting Firms for Women.”

List of the Top 9 Boutique Consulting Firms​

Putnam Associates

Focusing solely on life science consulting, Putnam has 30+ years of experience working with global biopharmaceutical companies, startups, and investors.

The 550+ member strong team operates across 3 continents, specializing in navigating complex challenges throughout the patient journey. Renowned for its service to the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, Putnam offers a comprehensive suite of advisory expertise, blending scientific and technical prowess across strategic and therapeutic domains.

Read more on Putnam Associates.

Back Bay Life Science Advisors

Back Bay offers strategy consulting and investment banking services. It serves global clients in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical technology, and related industries. Its headquarters are in Boston, with offices in Toronto and Europe.

Back Bay specializes in helping clients with technology and drug development, from planning strategy and initial concept to product commercialization, franchising and licensing, M&A, divestiture, and more.

Cornerstone Research Group

Commercial attorneys often rely on Cornerstone Research for navigating challenges. It is an economic and financial analysis consulting firm that helps law firms, corporations, and government agencies, in all phases of commercial litigation and regulatory proceedings.

Cornerstone Research provides 6 services across industries: advising attorneys, engaging expert witnesses, conducting research, assisting in inquiries, advising in motion practice, and preparing for deposition and trial.

Kenway Consulting

Kenway Consulting is a management and technology consulting firm that believes in delivering top-tier talent at more reasonable rates than big consulting firms.

The core capability is “Technology Solution Delivery,” which enables process optimization through technology alignment, custom solutions, and architecture design. Kenway also has an “Information Insight” department that dives into data governance, analytics, and business intelligence to enhance the client’s operations.

The Cambridge Group

The Cambridge Group (TCG) specializes in developing demand-driven strategies that maximize clients’ profitability. This differs from the often “cost-cutting” types of strategies consulting firms focus on.

Operating globally across industries like consumer goods, finance, retail, media, and tech, TCG leverages demand to unearth growth opportunities, revamp categories, fortify brands, and optimize pricing.

After 10 years as a division of Nielsen, The Cambridge Group spun off in early 2019 through a management buyout. It still retains a strong partnership with Nielsen and gets proprietary access to Nielsen’s data and measurement tools. In 2022, The Cambridge Group joined PA Consulting, a global innovation and transformation consultancy.

Aminad Consulting

Formed in 2019, Aminad is a boutique consultancy specializing in serving public sector clients, particularly federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense. With a proven track record in the federal government, Aminad delivers sustainable outcomes through projects in performance improvement, business, strategy, supply chain optimization, and results delivery.

The Best Boutique Consulting Firms vs. the MBB and Big 4

The big global firms such as MBB and Big 4 are household names and, as such, attract a high number of applicants annually. They tend to be the first choice for new graduates and experienced hires looking to go into consulting. 

However, top boutique consulting firms offer a unique set of opportunities compared to these firms, so let’s explore what makes them different.

Recruiting

Recruiting at MBB and the Big 4 tends to be extremely competitive. For example, McKinsey is known to have one of the most selective processes, with an acceptance rate of <1% of ~200,000 applications annually. Additionally, the recruiting process is rigorous, with a number of rounds. 

In contrast, the recruitment process at Boutique Firms tends to have higher acceptance rates. Boutique Firms put more emphasis on specific industry/sector expertise. They also focus on cultural fit as this is key for them and key to how they operate.

Culture

Boutique consulting firms tend to be more informal with fluid hierarchical structures. Of course, this varies depending on a firm’s size and how long they have been operating. They focus more on embracing an environment of openness, team cohesion, and collaboration. Consultants in boutique firms are more likely to have a wider scope of responsibilities, and this culture enables even junior consultants to work well with senior clients.

One of the unique selling points of boutique firms is the personalized client-consultant relationship. The flat structure and close collaboration in such firms enable these relationships.

Boutique consulting firms typically offer a better work-life balance than larger consulting firms due to fewer travel hours, though this can depend on the firm and the project. Since consultants tend to have a wider scope of work, they may put in more hours. 

Applicants to boutique consulting firms should investigate a firm’s culture and determine whether it is a right fit for them before applying.

Team having Professional Development and Training​ in Boutique Consulting Firms

Professional Development and Training

Boutique consulting firms may not offer as extensive professional development and training programs as the larger firms. However, due to the nature of their work, they offer great on-the-job opportunities. New hires are thrown into challenging situations right away. Though the consultants will have the internal support of the team and organization, they have to be resourceful and have a structured approach to problem-solving which are key skills for a consultant. It is easier to master these skills in the specialized work context, for example, in a specific industry, that boutique firms offer. Moreover, consultants generally have more exposure to more senior clients.

Consultants will tend to work on both back-end research and front-end client-facing work early on, giving them wide exposure. In contrast, larger firms tend to introduce new junior hires more slowly to more client-facing work.

Career Progression

It is easier for consultants in boutique consulting firms to advance quickly in their careers because these firms offer more specialized services, and consultants get enough opportunities to build their skills. In contrast, MBB consultants tend to take a longer generalist career path before specializing which means the career growth may not be as fast.

This also opens up exit options for consultants in boutique consulting firms. Similar to MBB and the Big 4, boutique consultants can go into the industry. One big advantage for consultants from boutique consulting firms is that they are specialized experts and can more easily be offered a management or expert position in the industry.

Pros and Cons of Working at Top Boutique Consulting Firms

Here is a summary of what consultants say sets some of the best Boutique Consulting firms apart:

Boutique Consulting Firms

As you can see, the benefits of a career in a top boutique consulting firm include great growth opportunities and culture. You can also see that these roles can come with a challenging lifestyle, but you probably already know that about the consulting industry in general. If consulting is for you, the top boutiques offer a lot in exchange for your efforts.

3 Tips on Applying to Boutique Consulting Firms

Boutique Consulting Firms: Interview

1. Show that You’ve Done Your Homework

Boutique firms tend to place a lot more emphasis on their culture and values during the interview process. Read through the firm’s website and network with current or former employees to understand the culture, values, and type of work you can expect.

2. Have the “Why + Firm?” Answer Clear in Your Mind

As you do your research on the firm, identify what attracts you to that particular firm and why. Boutique consulting firms offer unique opportunities, and your interviewers will want to understand why you want to work at the firm.

3. Prepare, Practice, and Have Fun

Interviews are a good opportunity for you to determine whether the particular boutique consulting firm is the right fit for you. Use this as an opportunity to meet people, understand the team you will be working with, and get familiar with the firm and culture.

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What are boutique consulting firms and how they differ from MBB and Big 4 firms
  • Why should candidates consider boutique consulting firms
  • The top 9 boutique consulting firms as chosen by MCO clients
  • What consultants are saying about working in the top 9 boutique consulting firms
  • 3 tips on applying to boutique consulting firms

Still have questions?

 

If you have more questions about the best boutique consulting firms to apply to, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s recruiters will answer them.

Other people researching boutique consulting firms found the following pages helpful:

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