So, you’re applying for consulting jobs. You’ve heard of McKinsey, Bain, and BCG – but the consulting world is much bigger than the 3 most famous firms. But with so many firms to choose from – how should you decide where to apply?
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What are the different types of consulting firms?
- How do the strategy consulting firms fit in?
- What are the pros and cons of strategy consulting vs. other types of consulting?
- What are the different types of strategy consulting firms?
- 4 signs you might enjoy a role in strategy consulting.
Let’s get started!
The 7 Types of Consulting Firms
Consulting firms help businesses, government entities, and non-profits solve problems. They operate in a wide range of industries. The problems they work on range from corporate strategy to operations, and from technology to organizational processes.
Not all consulting firms will fit neatly into one category, and there will be some overlap. Broadly speaking, consulting firms can be broken down into the seven categories below.
Perceived as one of the more “prestigious” groups in the consulting space, strategy consultants are typically engaged by C-suite-level clients (e.g., CEOs, CFOs, COO). They assess and advise on high-level strategic initiatives that align with the companies’ broader objectives and vision.
These firms provide their clients with industry expertise as well as an unbiased, data-driven view that an in-house team may lack, helping them to make informed decisions.
Examples of strategy consulting projects include:
- Assessing whether a company should enter a new geographic market.
- Determining the potential profitability of new products or service lines.
- Undertaking due diligence in merger and acquisition decisions.
Strategy consultants use a results-oriented or “answer-first” approach to deliver results for their clients. This means that instead of doing in-depth research into every potential option a client could use to solve a problem, they focus their efforts on the one most likely to succeed.
The field of strategy consulting is split into two groups:
- “Pure play” strategy firms with a heavy specialization in strategy consulting. These are McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, collectively referred to as MBB.
- Firms that provide strategy consulting in addition to other consulting services. These include the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC) as well as other firms that have invested substantially in strategic consulting such as Oliver Wyman and L.E.K.
The distinction between pure play consulting firms and others has become blurred in recent years as even the MBB firms branched into other sectors such as implementation consulting.
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Operations consulting projects help senior executives determine how to extract value or increase efficiency in the process of manufacturing a product or providing a service. It includes assessing operational facilities and processes against best practices, ensuring optimal usage of available resources, implementation of these solutions, evaluating their impact, and sustaining improvements over time.
Operations consulting is very similar to strategy consulting, as they utilize the same problem-solving methods. The key difference is that operations consulting mainly focuses on production-related projects.
Examples of operations consulting projects include:
- Extracting more value from a facility, plant, or a mine.
- Improving quality/reducing scrap in a factory or service organization.
- Improving efficiencies in the supply chain or a division.
AT Kearney is a top operations consulting firm as are the MBBs. The Big 4 and Mercer are also good in some areas of operations consulting, such as financial processes for the accounting firms, and supply chain management.
Implementation consulting focuses on rolling out complex initiatives across a firm. This could include implementing the initiatives laid out in a strategic consulting project or another type of consulting project. It involves working from the high-level idea and work plan to make the change happen inside an organization by bringing in new equipment and/or people skills, creating new processes and workflows, training staff, and outlining new metrics to measure business success. This type of consulting accounts for almost a third of the consulting market in terms of revenue.
Implementation consulting takes a more boots-on-the-ground approach. Consultants get involved in day-to-day operations to ensure the planned changes will work “in the real world” and that clients’ targets are met. They work with senior- and middle-management level clients to assist in achieving their goals.
Examples of implementation consulting projects include:
- Implementing cost-efficiency strategies.
- Building employee capabilities and capacity.
- Designing and rolling out performance measurement systems.
Some examples of well-known implementation consulting firms are Accenture and Deloitte, which are considered the largest in implementation. The MBBs also offer implementation (McKinsey Implementation, for example).
These consulting firms typically deal with the financial aspects of businesses. This field comprises 8 core disciplines:
- Accounting Advisory
- Risk Management
- Crisis & Recovery
- Tax Advisory
- Real Estate advisory
- Forensics and Litigation
- Transaction Services
- Corporate Finance
The services they offer range from advice on taxation, to auditing, insurance advice, and risk management.
Some of the more well-known consulting firms that offer financial services include Oliver Wyman, Deloitte, and EY. Consultants in this field typically have a background in accounting, business management, and/or finance.
Human Resource consulting firms provide advice and services with the aim of maximizing the utility of one of the most important resources any company has: its human capital.
The field is composed of 8 core disciplines:
- Compensation & Benefits
- Organizational Change
- HR Function
- Talent Management
- Learning & Development
- Human Capital Strategy
- HR Technology
Broadly speaking, HR consulting firms offer 3 core services.
- They advise the HR management on how to improve the performance of the HR department. Example: through the implementation of new talent acquisition software or restructuring how the department operates.
- They assist with corporate-wide projects that impact HR. Example: during mergers and acquisitions, they help direct the alignment of the distinct corporate cultures into a single one, analyze salary bands across the two companies to ensure consistent and similar pay for similar work, and develop the new organizational structure.
- They assist when large organizational changes occur by ensuring the relevant staff can be trained and recruited.
Notable firms that operate in this space include Willis Towers Watson, Mercer LLC, and Korn Ferry.
IT or Technology Consulting
IT consulting firms have become increasingly prevalent. These consulting firms help their clients transition to new emerging technologies in order to achieve their objectives, including technology implementation. They also help firms maintain or improve the performance of legacy systems that house corporate databases or run key processes.
Technology consulting firms help clients grow in the constantly evolving digital space. Though most technology firms specialize in a few key areas, they offer a vast array of services such as:
- Cybersecurity advice to ensure a client’s data is well protected and complies with existing governmental regulations.
- Designing and implementing technological transformation projects that build analytics to assist with decision-making.
The more well-known firms that operate in this space include Accenture & IBM Global Services.
Specialist or Boutique Consulting Firms
The last group can be generally defined as specialist firms. This is a catch-all term referring to firms that provide a high level of expertise but typically only operate within a particular industry or even a subset of an industry.
An example is the healthcare space where consulting firms such as Putnam have steadily been growing. Healthcare consulting firms offer a range of services from the development of medical products, to building awareness among medical practitioners on the latest advancements in the field, to marketing strategies for a new drug about to be launched in the market.
Just about every major industry has specialized consulting firms that serve it.
Strategy Consulting Firms: A Deep Dive
Strategy consulting firms recruit heavily on university and MBA campuses. You might be wondering if a job with one of these firms is a good first step in your career. To help you assess that, we’ll take a deep dive into that sector of the consulting industry.
Strategy consulting firms are brought in by C-suite executives and/or board members to provide expertise and an independent perspective on high-level problems or opportunities a company needs to act on. They tackle a wide variety of issues.
Strategy consulting itself can be further broken down into 8 main disciplines:
- Business Model Transformation consists of drastically altering the fundamentals of the company’s personnel, processes, and technology with the goal of achieving step-function growth and dramatic improvement in the services it can deliver to the market.
- Functional Strategy deals mostly in the development or enhancement of departmental strategic plans and roadmaps. It ensures the optimum allocation of resources and facilitates cross-functional best practices in support of the company’s broader strategic goals.
- Organizational Strategy looks toward organizational wellness and specifically offers recommendations to address any gaps that may be hindering the company from achieving its strategic goals. Example projects: redesigning the organization’s hierarchy.
- Digital Strategy assists organizations with the creation and implementation of business strategies in the digital space. This field has experienced explosive growth in the last ten years. Example projects: digital business building and transformation.
- Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) are high-stakes deals that involve huge changes to the affected organizations. M&A projects operate at the crossroad between strategy, finance, legal, and investment. These consultants assist in addressing strategic challenges related to M&A in order to ensure the endeavor is successful. Example projects: developing a market strategy evaluating potential targets, researching the target market to evaluate and rank targets, performing due diligence, investigating opportunities for value creation, and developing a post-merger integration (PMI) plan.
- Strategy & Operations offers both these services in a holistic package under one umbrella to assist with the development of strategies as well as their implementation.
- Economic Strategy Consulting applies economic methods to help clients realize their goals and intersects areas of economic consulting, most notably, public policies. Example projects: economic impact assessment, assisting in the development of economic development strategies, and performing cost-benefit analysis for any proposed infrastructure development.
Strategy consulting firms typically don’t manage the implementation of their recommendations, though this norm has been evolving. Client personnel will take this on. Depending on the type of recommendation, operational or implementation consulting, HR consulting, or IT consulting firms may assist.
For more information on strategy consulting firms, check out our article What is Consulting and What Do Consultants Do?
The Pros & Cons of Strategy Consulting vs. Other Types of Consulting?
Strategy consulting can be a uniquely satisfying career or lead you to feel overworked and like you never get to sleep in your own bed. It depends on your perspective. Here are some pros and cons of strategy consulting vs. working at other types of consulting firms.
- Excellent learning experience: As a strategy consultant, you’ll work in a variety of industries ranging from retail, and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) to banking. Each industry has its own distinct challenges and opportunities. Moreover, you’ll participate in vastly different projects and interact with individuals with varying backgrounds and experiences. Consultants constantly challenge themselves to learn and adapt to new situations providing an excellent place to grow professionally. This broad business experience opens up many future careers for ex-consultants.
- Impactful: You’ll work on high-profile projects that change the business of a client or their industry from the start of your career.
- Wide professional network: You’ll interact with a wide variety of professionals and industry experts in the course of your career, the majority of whom will have different professional and academic backgrounds. This will give you a great learning experience and the opportunity to form lasting connections with some of the best and brightest the world has to offer.
- Attractive compensation package: Typically, strategy consulting provides an attractive compensation package. Time off, healthcare plans, retirement savings, and other perks are also part of the package.
Strategy consulting is not without its downsides.
- High-pressure environment leads to a difficult work-life balance: Strategy consulting is a results-driven industry. Working to solve a client’s problem within a strict timeline results in consultants working long hours. There is incredible pressure from both clients and your leadership to deliver results. This creates a high-stress environment that, if not managed well, can lead to burnout.
- Lack of follow-through: For strategy consultants, once you’ve delivered your recommendation to the client, your role is done and you pack up and leave for the next project. Ultimately the decision of whether to execute your recommendations lies with the clients themselves. Some people find it frustrating to work on projects and rarely be able to see the end results – whereas others thrive on the high-level thinking required for strategy projects. With more strategy consulting firms doing implementation work, the separation between these types of projects is slowly changing.
- Frequent Travel: Strategy consultants frequently work with their clients in their offices, so the job comes with a lot of travel. The majority of the time, consultants travel to the client site on Monday morning and go home office on Thursday evening or Friday mornings. There is no question that this impacts work-life balance, and some people find it very tiring.
What Are the Different Types of Strategy Consulting Firms?
When considering what strategy consulting firms to apply to, it’s important to note that they come in different sizes and specializations ranging from more “generalist” firms to those that are more focused on an area of expertise. The table below provides a quick breakdown of the various types of firms that exist in this space.
4 Signs Strategy Consulting Could Be Right for You
1. You’re Driven & Want To Make An Impact on the World
Strategy consultants typically work on projects that have drastic changes to an organization, an industry, or a country.
2. You’re Analytical & Enjoy Solving Complex Problems
A structured thinking process is useful in breaking down a problem into its component parts as well as identifying actionable solutions that provide the client with the optimal path forward. For strategy consultants, this process will allow you to tackle a diverse set of problems and is a key skill.
3. You’d like to Hone your Ability To Influence Others
To be an effective strategy consultant, you must have great interpersonal skills not only in terms of communication but the ability to develop a rapport with the client. This helps in interacting and collaborating with stakeholders during your projects. In consulting what you say is important, but so is how you say it. The ability to engender trust and convince your client that the path you recommend is the best way forward is a critical skill.
4. You Enjoy Working In a Team Environment
Strategy consultants work in teams. The ability to build a rapport with your team is crucial to ensuring team cohesiveness and high performance, and is one of the key indicators of a successful team.
Interested in learning more about a career in consulting? We have lots of articles that can help you decide whether it’s the career for you!
In this article, we’ve covered:
- The 7 different types of consulting firms.
- Understanding how strategy consulting firms fit into the types of consulting firms.
- Pros and cons of strategy consulting and the different types of strategy consulting firms.
- 4 signs that strategy consulting might be right for you.
Still have questions?
If you have more questions about the types of consulting firms, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.
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