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.
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’
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
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.
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