Consulting: Why So Many MBAs Do It


Surely, you’ve heard this one: “How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb?”

One answer: “We don’t know. They never seem to get past the feasibility study.”

Or there is this one: “Three. One to change the bulb, one to document the process and one to coach him on how to conform to the process.”

Or how about this gem: “Six. One to change the bulb and five to tell him how much better they could have done it.”


While consultants surely rival lawyers for the most career jokes, there is no industry or field that attracts more MBA graduates in a given year than consulting. For many, a job at the very top of the consulting value chain, with McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co., and Boston Consulting Group, invariably referred to as M/B/B, is the equivalent of another graduate degree on your resume. The next tier of firms, Deloitte, Accenture, Strategy&, A.T. Kearney, Booz Allen Hamilton, Oliver Wyman and PwC Advisory also are among the most highly regarded MBA employers. Because consulting is little more than the outsourcing of big brains, the field oozes prestige and status, especially at the highest levels.

More than one in three graduating MBAs last year at Kellogg, Tuck, Columbia, MIT, Michigan and Emory landed jobs in the consulting industry. Some 41% of INSEAD’s Class of 2014 headed into the consulting industry, up from 34% a year earlier. And if you looked at the percentages by function—as opposed to industry—MBA hired into consulting roles at both the consulting firms and in corporations is even higher. At MIT Sloan, McKinsey last year hired twice as many MBAs at the largest non-consulting employer at the school, 32 vs. 16 by Amazon, and five of the eight largest employers were all consulting firms. After McKinsey, Bain hired 17 graduates, BCG took away 15, while Deloitte and PwC Advisory both employed nine Sloanies each.

The job offers unparalleled variety, allowing a new recruit to work at different companies and industries, in different functions and locations. The broad exposure to a vast number of business challenges is ideal preparation for nearly any eventual career as an entrepreneur or a corporate solider.

And let’s face it: With standard starting median salaries of $135,000 and median sign-on bonuses of $25,000, the pay-and-benefit packages are among the highest available to freshly minted MBAs. In fact, MBAs who venture into consulting are typically far more likely to get signing bonuses than those in other fields. At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management last year, more than 35% of the grads who landed consulting jobs got sign-on bonuses that ranged from a high of $45,000 to a low of $3,000. The average bonus? $26,619. Consulting was more than three times more likely to pay a sign-on bonus than consumer products, more than six times more likely than health care, and more than twice as likely as financial services.


Source: MBA Career Coaches Consulting Career Primer

Source: MBA Career Coaches Consulting Career Primer

Besides, there’s the opportunity to travel, early exposure to C-level executives and big issues, entree to a high-powered network of colleagues and clients, and even outplacement support when you’re ready to take on a new challenge outside the field.

“I believe consulting is the perennial top choice for MBAs because it allows you to delay the question of what you want to be when you grow up while still giving you really valuable skills to apply when you figure that out,” says Angela Guido, founder of MBA Career Coaches. She joined the Boston Consulting Group after earning her MBA in 2004 from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

“I speak to a lot of clients who enter the MBA explicitly trying to avoid consulting because they think of it as following the herd,” adds Guido, whose firm has produced a free primer for applicants and students who want to take a quick deep dive into the industry. “But this isn’t the right perspective. For many people, consulting truly is the best choice for their first job post-MBA. Think about it: a lot of people want an MBA in the first place to open more doors and expand their horizons. Consulting continues to do that by exposing you to a variety of industries and functions without – in the case of most firms – forcing you to specialize immediately. It gives you the chance to apply what the MBA taught you, continue developing at a rapid rate (consulting has a very steep learning curve), while still opening new doors and better positioning you for other jobs.