How MBAs Really Feel About Consulting

Ever notice how MBAs are treated a little better?  Leaders seek their opinion. They receive more opportunities and enjoy wider latitude. One week, they’re jetting off to London; the next, they’re teeing off with the CEO. Talk about the life!

Behind the scenes, you know the balancing act is wearing thin. They’re straining against a current, undefined and unforgiving, schedules full and reserves on empty. They answer to everyone, constantly promoting the big picture as they coordinate a hundred moving pieces. They may be raking in the big bucks, but you wonder if they are actually happy.


Charles Schultz once described happiness as “a warm puppy.” For MBAs, happiness takes more than kind eyes and a wagging tail. To be happy, you need a job where you have a purpose, a voice, a life, and a chance. If you asked MBAs who entered consulting if they were happy, the answer would be a resounding ‘YES!’

That was the takeaway from Vault’s Consulting 50 ranking, which assessed consulting firms by prestige and quality of life. Across the board, MBA consultants were happier than their counterparts who held just a bachelor’s degree. In 22 workplace categories, MBAs produced higher marks in 20 of them. Many times, the gap between MBAs and the rest was relatively wide.

The data was derived from Vault’s annual consulting survey, released in August, which was answered by over 9,000 active consultants in North America. Using a scale ranging from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Excellent), survey respondents evaluated their firms on criteria like compensation and benefits, culture and leadership, training, work-life balance, and diversity.


Make no mistake, an MBA degree delivered a decided advantage. This was particularly true in measures commensurate with career management. With compensation, for example, MBAs outpointed bachelor’s degree holders by an 8.349-to-7.909 margin. MBAs also enjoyed similar margins with promotion policies, international opportunities, client interactions, and the ability to challenge — all criteria that reflect great levels of trust and respect from management.

In fact, there were only two categories where MBAs lagged behind anyone. The first was travel requirements, a sign of the wear-and-tear that increased responsibilities bring. Bachelor’s degree holders were more satisfied with travel by an 8.510-to-8.428 margin (with the overall average among all survey respondents being 8.480). Vacation policy was another sore spot for MBAs, where its 8.541 score was edged out by their bachelor’s-held counterparts at 8.550.

Still, MBA consultants constitute a relatively happy lot, especially in terms of the resources being invested in them. They reserved their highest marks for client interactions at 9.19, further reflecting that MBAs are expected to quickly deliver value. The ability to challenge was another positive at 9.166. Translation: MBAs possessed the comfort and credibility to express their ideas without being shut down or suffering reprisals. MBAs were also more likely to buy into their employers’ direction. Look no further than above average scores for business outlook (8.945), supervisor relationships (8.943), firm leadership (8.886), and culture (8.821).


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That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. International opportunities produced the lowest average score from MBAs in the 2018 Vault survey at 7.602 — ironic considering that travel requirements was the one area where they trailed behind the sample as a whole. Not surprisingly, work hours also yielded a tepid 7.946 mark, a nod to the heavy workloads and high expectations placed on MBAs. The number that stands out, however, is 7.946 — the average score for internal mobility. This indicates that many MBAs feel stymied, to an extent, in their consulting careers…a precursor perhaps for a stampede to the exit ramp.

In recent years, consulting firms have been boosting pay and benefits, increasing flexibility, and focusing on their cultures to better attract and retain the best talent. This investment hasn’t gone unnoticed by MBAs. Take training, for example. Over the past two years, formal training scores have jumped by .78 of a point, from 7.602 to 8.382. By the same token, informal training scores have risen by .657 of a point. This investment has also taken the form of increased pay, with compensation scores among MBA consultants also climbing from 7.701 to 8.349.

Overall, MBAs scored their employers higher in every category over the past two years. In fact, averages rose by .3 of a point or more in 14 of the 22 workplace categories over that time. However, the momentum has cooled over the past year. Just two measures — international opportunities and benefits — have experienced an uptick of .1 of a point or more since 2017. At the same time, MBAs have given lower scores from the previous year in four areas: client interaction, work hours, business outlook, and firm leadership.

To see how the satisfaction rates of MBAs fare against their consulting peers over the past three years, see the chart on the next page.