“Find the firms that are the best fit for you.”
If you’ve asked for advice on how to pursue a consulting career, chances are you’ve heard this suggestion. Unfortunately, while this makes sense as a concept, it’s not the most actionable piece of advice. If you’ve never experienced a formal recruiting process before, it can be difficult to understand what would make one firm a better fit than another. The fact that these firms are all in the category of “consulting firms” inherently means that there are significant similarities, and these similarities are often more readily apparent than the differences.
It’s not easy to give advice to someone else on what firms are a good fit for them. People prioritize different aspects of a company, so it’s not always as simple as “X type of person fits at Y firm.” Two similar people can find ideal fit at two very different firms if, for example, one prioritizes the industry of the firm’s clients, and the other prioritizes geographic location.
Moreover, it’s not always readily apparent which aspects of a company should be considered, so people are often forced to make decisions on partial information. So while it is difficult to lay out which type of person matches with which firms, it is certainly possible to illustrate a way to approach the issue for yourself.
The following is a framework for thinking about which consulting firms are a good fit for you specifically (and if you’re interested in consulting, this won’t be the last framework you see). These four questions aren’t the only determinants of fit, but they are a great way to start your thought process.
What do you want to do?
In other words, what type of consulting work interests you?
- There are a number of different functions performed by consulting firms: strategy, M&A, operations, IT, human capital, and economics are just a few.
- Some firms will require you to specialize in a single industry, some require you to generalize across industries, and some will allow you to do either.
- Determine what role or roles you want to perform on a day to day basis. Do you want to focus on either quantitative or qualitative analysis, or both? Do you want performing primary (surveys and interviews) and secondary (reading the published research of others) research to be a significant portion of your focus? Are you interested in early management opportunities? Different firms place different levels of emphasis on these activities.
How do you want to do it?
While the previous question focuses on the differences in work performed, this question is more about the firms’ internal organization structures.
- At some firms, there is a central staffing system that is responsible for matching people to projects, while others require consultants to convince partners and managers to pull them on to cases.
- Some firms staff projects entirely with people from the same office, some staff within a region of offices (e.g. combining Boston, New York and Philadelphia into a Northeastern U.S. region), and some staff on a national or even global basis.
- What size firm do you prefer? Consulting firms can range from less than 5 people to more than 50,000 in consulting staff alone.
- Finally, how often are you willing to travel?
Where do you want to do it?
This question is a bit simpler and more direct. Essentially, if you have a preference for a specific city or geographic region, you should consider whether or not a firm will be able to offer you a position in that location. For large consulting firms, this is often a flexible area. However, if you prefer a boutique firm, this can present a challenge, as they will often only have one or two offices, and may lack the resources to support a satellite employee.
Who do you want to work with?
Commonly paired with the advice to look for a company with good fit is the even vaguer suggestion of “determining which companies have a compatible culture for you.” While it can be easy to overanalyze what a company’s “culture” is, essentially, this advice boils down to figuring out which company hires the people that you would most like to work with. If you’ve met half a dozen people from one firm and you’re excited to work with all of them, there’s a good chance you’ll feel that way about many more of the people at that firm. As important as enjoying the work itself is, being happy with the people you work with goes a long way towards career satisfaction.
What do you want to do? How do you want to do it? Where do you want to do it? Who do you want to do it with? If you can answer these four questions, you should have a good sense of which consulting firms will make a good fit for you.