Best Consulting Firms To Work For In 2017

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To read the updated rankings for 2018, click here.

“Two’s company and three’s a crowd.”

That had to be the reaction of Bain and McKinsey to Vault’s 2017 Consulting 50 ranking. For years, these consulting icons have held the top two spots in this ranking, which are based on the views of consultants themselves. While Bain and McKinsey have regularly traded the top spot in North America in recent years, you could rest assured that the Boston Consulting Group would take a bronze —often a safe distance from the neck-and-neck dogfight for the gold.

No more.

McKinsey tumbled from first to third, with BCG leapfrogging into the second spot, leaving Bain to lay claim to being the best consulting firm to work for, an honor it also held with Vault from 2011-2013 and 2015.

NEAR PHOTO FINISH AS LITTLE SEPARATES ‘THE BIG THREE’

Philip Stott, Vault Consulting Editor

Philip Stott, Vault Consulting Editor

Technically, you could call this year’s ranking a photo finish, if not a draw. Based on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the highest score, Bain averaged a collective average of 9.219, just a hair ahead of BCG (9.171) and McKinsey (9.157). A statistician would be eager to tell you that Vault’s methodology doesn’t really allow it to say one firm ranked first, second or third. Ultimately, it came down to more of a case of Bain sustaining excellence, with its score actually slipping by .003 from the 2016 ranking. In the same vein, BCG’s score rose by .18, while McKinsey’s average sunk by .101. Still, just .062 of a point separated Bain from McKinsey —and just .014 between BCG and McKinsey.

“The rankings are tighter than they have ever been with movement across the top three decided by tiny changes,” explains Phil Stott, consulting editor at Vault, in a statement. “In reality, any one of these three firms could have been No. 1—they’re all recognized as great places to work, and offer a great mix of prestige, career opportunities, and focus on quality of life factors as a key differentiator. It’s the job seeker that really wins out, because all three firms have proven to be excellent employers and desirable destinations for candidates looking to succeed in consulting.”

To understand the significance of this change, it helps to review the methodology used by Vault, which provides market intelligence and ratings on employers and universities. Each year, Vault conducts a management and strategy consulting survey with consultants globally. Some 17,139 responded in 2017, a 20% uptick over the previous year. The survey uses a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest score) to assess firms. To begin, respondents evaluate their own firms in categories like training, leadership, and quality of life. In addition, they rate the prestige of competing firms with which they were familiar.

The data is then entered into a formula, with prestige (30%), employee satisfaction (15%), and compensation (15%) given the greatest weight. Other measured factors include corporate culture (10%), work-life balance (10%), business outlook (10%), promotion policies (5%), and the ability to challenge (5%).

McKINSEY IS THE GOLD STANDARD, PRESTIGE-WISE AT LEAST

mckinsey

So where do firms excel? Let’s start with the biggest category: Prestige. Not surprisingly, branding is McKinsey’s strength. Founded 90 years ago, McKinsey has often carried an outsized influence that has made it the business equivalent of Opus Dei for conspiracy buffs. The firm supposedly partners with nearly 75% of the world’s largest firms, with clients including AT&T, General Electric, and Johnson & Johnson. It is also revered as the launching point for future business stars. In fact, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Boeing CEO James McNerney, Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam, and Morgan Stanley Chairman James Gorman are all McKinsey alumni, a testament to the firm’s diversity, reach, and appeal.

“It is an amazing place to get great exposure to amazing products and then move on to an exciting role if it gets to be too much,” writes one anonymous, verified McKinsey consultant in a 2016 Vault review. “The amount of interest you get having McKinsey on your resume is unreal. I have worked for firms that would rather hire people that can’t make it at McKinsey than top performers at Big 4 firms.”

With such a track record, it is almost predestined that McKinsey would earn the highest marks in prestige . And they didn’t disappoint with marks given by competitors themselves. McKinsey notched a 9.031 score, comfortably ahead of BCG (8.673) and Bain (8.554) and even an increase from the previous year (9.019). How well regarded is McKinsey (along with Bain and BCG)? Just look at the scoring drop off after these firms, with Deloitte (6.987), Booz Allen Hamilton (6.584), EY (6.195), and Accenture (6.093) bringing up the rear.

The value of the McKinsey brand was also validated by the firm’s own consultants. McKinsey ranked higher than any other firm in Exit Opportunities, a reflection of the market demand for McKinsey talent. Reputation wasn’t McKinsey’s only strengths, either. Their consultants, as a whole, view the firm as a meritocracy. It scored higher than any other firm in the ability to challenge and promotion policies (along with finishing second overall in internal promotions). Consultants also McKinsey for accelerating their development, giving it highest marks overall in innovation, the ability to interact with clients, and international opportunities.

Go To Next Page To See How Bain, McKinsey and The Boston Consulting Group Compare

  • reckm

    To make it into MBB is all about network and “corruption”.

  • Management Consultant

    Sounds like someone couldn’t make it to any of the top consulting firms. Haters gonna hate.

  • Veepul

    I must say you’ve put it down very nicely FakeM. Thanks.

  • Andrew

    Every McK person I’ve met in 10 years has been a muppet who couldn’t tell their arse from their elbow. Bain on the other hand I have some time for, not that I’ve ever worked with/for them myself.

  • FakeM

    I’m pretty sure clients have no clue the Vault ranking even exists, the relationship and the experience we have is worth way more. Now, on the other hand, as an applicant I totally checked the Vault rankings 😛

    As for recruiting, MBB does have a preferrential treatment for a few schools. Not as few as 2-5, but there are definitely “target schools” for each firm, and the recruiting effort is more focused there. It doesn’t mean you won’t be hired if you’re not in those schools, it just means there will be less interviews given and you need to stand out a lot more. It makes sense from the perspective of the consulting firm, because the school (since they’re usually top schools) has done part of the vetting for you already, and the yield is likely higher if you focus on these schools. You’ll find that with IB and PE as well, I’m sure.

    As for figuring things out.. hey that’s why most of us are in consulting.

  • realist

    Agreed.

  • realist

    If you go by yield the most prestigious MBA top schools are: HBS GSB Wharton and CBS.

  • realist

    Haha. Another bigot promoting his brand. 🙂 It´s a good school, no doubt. Nice graduates. But let´s keep things real: The only thing that has changed for SOM is the new building. Also 50% of students into MBB, isn´t a quality indicator for a top school. There are other jobs that are much tougher to get into.

  • somsquared

    Agreed. SOMers would never consider 3rd tier consulting. I predict SOM will soon place 50% of students in MBB and reach #1 in USNEWS. They will be #4 this year, mark my words.

  • Frank White

    Another Deloitte consultant? 😉 wishful think

  • Sonny Black

    Haha, cool dude. Deloitte is the Wal-Mart of consulting companies. And beyond NA simply irrelevant. Also, the brand is everything but cool, cool Dude. A top graduate considers the following firms: MBB, ATK, OW. End of Story.

  • Veepul

    Hi guys,

    I’m new to the consulting biz and I was wondering is the competition between the firms really cut throat? I mean do these rankings really matter to recruiters, applicants, firms and their clients?
    Basically, as a client I would rather see what value the consultants are bringing or how deeply they understand our business. Rankings, especially this close, would not matter much. But again those are only my thoughts.

    Also, I have heard that mostly MBB do not recruit students apart from top 2-5 MBA schools. That sounds a little too much to me. Frankly, I have seen that in tech world, companies like Google, FB, Intel, Qualcomm, etc do not give much importance to the rankings or schools rather than talent.
    Of course, graduating from tier 1 schools helps in a huge way but what I’m saying is you still have a GOOD chance even if you didn’t go to these schools.

    However, when I see people talking about IB, Consulting or PE industry, they say there are very thin chances to get in top firms if you are not from top b-schools.

    I’m pretty sure I won’t graduate from the top tier schools, hence, these questions.
    Also, how do MBA students usually figure out what they want to do.
    For instance, I’m in the tech world right now but I want to shift more into an analytical role. I find consulting to be fun, however, now I feel I rather not go to a place with this deep competition. I like to work hard but I do not have that kind of madness to win (reminds me of the movie Whiplash).
    Moreover, I’m not even sure how to begin learning about these different industry.

    Please enlighten me 😉

  • Good points

    “There is no need for such terms as MBB.” Exactly. But you have to understand that this guy is kind of a clown/hack. He hasn’t gone to any b-school, yet he acts like it and gets sucked into the thoughtless, pack-rat mentality as much as anyone. In other words, he doesn’t have any original ideas, therefore doesn’t value things like innovative approaches nearly as much as “established prestige.” He simply values whatever *other* people told him was a big deal–much like many MBA students who don’t really know what they want to do with their lives. Repeat this for the investment banks and firms like Goldman Sachs.

    Same goes for the rankings and saying things like “H/S/W.” Is there really that big of a drop-off between Wharton and Booth because the average GMAT of *incoming* students was in the 95th percentile instead of the 96th percentile? Yeah, I doubt it. But as long as people continue the chain of saying places like “MBB” are important because someone told *them* it was important, then that is what will matter.

    As for the folks who couldn’t care less about “the big consulting and IB firms” because there are literally countless other jobs we find so much more interesting (like me), well, we just come here to troll these threads, lol. Peace.

  • David__D

    Love seeing the boutiques on here, I think a lot of people make a huge mistake by only applying to MBB (in fact I question whether those who do really want to be a consultant).

    Question: what’s the data behind the “compensation” category? I ask because all the numbers I’ve seen is that top firms basically pay the same so it’s odd to see any movement at all, let alone a firm jump from 22 to 1 or 7 to 2.

  • Omot

    Thank you John. I am a guest to your website and I quite appreciate the incredible work that you do.

    I just wanted to share some thoughts on this ranking system and how people should think about interacting with it.

    First, every ranking is likely to be biased and I’m sure every P&Q subscriber knows this so I will not preach to the converted. I will simply highlight the potential bias. Consultants at a firm may not be well equipped to know if their firm or another firm is good/great. Perceptions are what they are, perceptions. Therefore, a survey of consultants could potentially generate more noise than value. Don’t you think the best survey respondents ought to be the CEO of corporations who are served by these consulting firms and who recruit from these firms? Don’t you think those are the people who are likely to be able to accurately tell which firm exerts prestige in their boardroom and which firm is on the speed dial for particular subjects/issues? This bias does not take away from the strength of this ranking; my goal is to simply introduce some caution.

    Second, this survey ranking will favor the firm with numbers. From what we know about the strategy/operations consulting industry, most people, if not all, want to join one of Bain, BCG or McKinsey and they only go elsewhere when they cannot get into one of the elite 3. At least, this is what data from MBA programs tell us. If you grant this premise, then we can safely assume that a non-elite 3 consultant will likely check the boxes to rank these 3 firms highly (i.e. as a way to probably justify their inability to join earlier) and as soon as this is done, they will vote their firm in the 4th position. This is to be naturally expected of anyone who is human. Furthermore, if you grant this second premise then we can conclude that the firm that will rank 4th will be the firm with the largest number of consultants and not necessarily the firm that is truly the 4th! Assuming the ranking is valid and reliable. Do a check. Which consulting firm has the largest number of employees? Is that firm the 4th? This connects to my third point.

    There is no need for such terms as MBB. As such there will be no need for such term as MBBD. I have friends from the elite firms and they do not use such terms, particularly those with tenure. They do not mention the names of their firms in the same breath as another firm. It may make you feel good to mention the name of your firm in the same sentence as McKinsey or Bain but should you? Every true firm strives to be different. Talk to McKinsey partners and they will tell you that their firm is different from BCG or Bain. I have spoken to Bain partners and they genuinely believe and are fully persuaded Bain is different from McKinsey and BCG and rightfully so. They do not derive their happiness from such terms as MBB. I do know consultants who tell you they do not know of such term – they do know of the term but they consider it beneath them to use it. Why then do you seem to derive pleasure from tagging your firm to another? It does not prop up your firm. It actually hurts it. It communicates something you are not aware you are communicating.

    In fact, I often hear people say: “we are challenging McKinsey; we are winning work from McKinsey.” What does this mean? Nothing. That you win work from Bain does not mean you have attained parity with Bain. It does not make you peers with Bain. Consider this analogy. In the Spanish La Liga, the historical indisputable leaders are Real Madrid and Barcelona, based on consistency of league results. Do they win all their league matches? No. Does it then mean that when they lose to a “weaker” team they have suddenly become peers with that weaker team or that the weaker team has suddenly attained competitive parity? No. You get the point.

    What is the purpose of my rant? Do not join a firm simply because it is ranked #1 or because it is closely ranked to your firm of first choice. (Strategy/Operations) Consulting is a very unique industry. It is not regulated. That last point means a lot and you should explore the depth of its meanings. The way the firm is organized within and operationalized over the past decades to reinforce the culture/values system will go a long way to determine what you will get out of the firm. A lot of firms are poorly organized, internally, and they may not be of much service to your life and career other than the salary you will earn and the name you will slap on your resume. If these are what you need more than anything, it is ok to join any firm. Just be aware of what you are doing.

    Finally, don’t use this ranking to suggest to yourself that a firm ranked 8th is closer to a firm ranked 7th and if you could not get into the firm ranked 7th, you should be fine at the firm ranked 8th. The value may not be there! You need real life skills and not all firms have the capability to impart this to you. Of course, not only the elite 3 can do this; there are numerous “smaller” firms that are eminently qualified but the ranking is “rigged” against them. The onus is on you to painstakingly examine the firms… before you say, “I do.”

    Omo T.

  • Bobevans

    Everyone in PwC advisory would move to Strategy& if given the chance. Better comp, better projects, better exit, more selective. I assume the same is true for Parthenon and EY. These rankings are silly.

  • Cool dude

    Deloitte is closer to McKinsy than it is to Strategy&. MBBD.

  • Mckinseyguy

    MBBD is now firmly established