Best Consulting Firms To Work For In 2019

Informal gathering of Bain consultants.

It’s never easy to repeat. Once the euphoria passes, the hard work begins anew. The expectations are stepped up, just as fatigue and anxiety sets in. All around, competitors are using the champion as the template and gunning for them at every turn. To repeat, it takes a team-driven culture whose members relentlessly seek an edge, guard against complacency, and grow new talent.

This year, McKinsey & Company faced the daunting odds rooted in repeating. As the top-ranked firm in the 2018 Vault Consulting 50 – the industry’s gold standard ranking – McKinsey took its victory lap thanks to earning the highest marks in prestige and career development. Still, no firm has ever repeated atop the Consulting 50 rankings since 2013 – as McKinsey and Bain & Company have played hot potato with the top spot ever since.

That is….until now.

RESPONSE RATE NEARLY DOUBLES IN 2019 RANKING

There’s nothing so sweet as a repeat. In the 2019 Consulting 50, McKinsey did just that, topping all comers with a 9.370 average – the highest score posted by any firm in the ranking’s history. Bain returned to the runner-up spot in 2019, even producing its second-best score ever in the process. By the same token, the Boston Consulting Group rounded out the Top Three – achieving an all-time best score despite ceding the #2 spot to Bain.

Why did McKinsey repeat this year after falling short so many times before? To understand that, it helps to look at the methodology used to build the Consulting 50. Produced by Vault, the leading collector of market intelligence for employer ratings and reviews, the ranking is based on verified, confidential survey responses from active consultants at over 70 North American consulting firms. This year, Vault received nearly 17,000 responses back – almost double the 9,000 it generated the year before. In other words, the survey is even more robust and precise than ever.

Each respondent completes three surveys. The first, which involves prestige, asks consultants to score regional competitors they know based on their prominence and influence. Here, respondents apply a 1-10 scale, where 10 is the highest possible score. That same scale is applied when they score the best firms in their respective areas of practice (i.e. management consulting, healthcare consulting, etc.). In both the prestige and practice surveys, respondents are barred from evaluating their own firms.

That’s not the case with the ‘meat’ of the survey, which covers the Quality of Life and Careers at these consulting firms. In this segment, consultants evaluate their employers according to 22 benchmarks. These include pay and benefits, firm culture and leadership, internal mobility and promotion policies, formal and informal training, and work-life balance – again on a 10 point scale. From there, each firm’s average is calculated using a formula where responses are given specific weights. Notably, prestige makes up 30% of every score. From there, several measures account for the remaining weight, including Employee Satisfaction (15%), Compensation (15%), Firm Culture (10%), Work-Life Balance (10%), Business Outlook (10%), Promotion Policies (5%), and the Ability to Challenge (5%).

McKINSEY: ALL-KNOWING ENTITY…OR HOGWARTS?

Sure enough, McKinsey excelled in every category. Take prestige. For 12 years running, McKinsey has maintained a lock on being the most prestigious name in consulting. Turns out, the 2019 ranking was no different. In this category, which again takes up nearly a third of the ranking, McKinsey reigned with a 9.024 score, which represents a .07 of a point improvement (and beats out BCG by .28 of a point).

Why is that? In popular imagination, McKinsey is treated as the father of modern consulting. The “McKinsey mystique” – a view that the firm is comprised of a secretive cabal of experts whose hidden hand captains corporate and government decision-making. Alas, McKinseyites are flattered that the public buys into their omnipotent image. Mind you, the firm ranks among the most respected names in everything from defense to human resources consulting, only burnishing their firm’s luster. However, the real testament to the McKinsey brand comes from the c-suite, where recommendations from the “Jesuits of Capitalism” are often treated as a seal of approval.

“If business is magic, McKinsey is Hogwarts,” writes one 2019 Vault survey respondent.

McKinsey mentor and mentee

While McKinsey was expected to set the bar for prestige, it was the firm’s performance in the 22 quality of life and careers metrics that set it apart in the 2019 Consulting 50. Overall, McKinsey topped all comers in 11 categories, including Ability to Challenge, Benefits, Diversity, Exit Opportunities, Firm Leadership, Innovation, Internal Mobility, International Opportunities, Business Outlook, Promotion Policies, and Relationships with Supervisors. By the same token, it ranked 2nd for Compensation, Formal Training, Interaction with Clients, Satisfaction, and Selectivity.

FIRM DESIGNED AROUND INNOVATION

In particular, the firm invests over $200 million dollars a year on training and learning each year, according to Kristin Lostutter, Manager of US-MBA Recruiting. It is a perk that hasn’t gone unnoticed by consultants. “Superb training—pace and quality of learning on-the-job and in formal training programs rivals the experience I had as a student at a top-tier university,” writes one respondent.

McKinsey also achieved higher scores in 14 of 22 categories over the previous year. That includes Innovation, a source of great pride within the firm. How do you foster innovation in a far-flung, firm with 14,000 people? You create a structure designed specifically to foster innovation, Lostutter tells P&Q in a statement. “We are a stable, 90-year old organization with whole new and growing areas that focus on tech, data, and design. Our people are able to be entrepreneurial and try new things with a steady and growing firm behind them. You don’t find entrepreneurial and stable in the same place very often.”

Recently, for example, the firm successfully piloted a Dual Career Initiative, which is designed to help consultants and their partners, who may also work in challenging careers. From offering concierge to facilitating conversations, the program offers services and support to ease the stress and complications inherent to high-powered careers. It is also an innovation that aligns with the firm’s larger vision.

“McKinsey is one of the most values-driven, well-run, supportive companies I have ever seen over 25 years of working, adds another consultant in the Vault survey. “A candidate could not ask for a better place to start their career, have incredible impact with exceptional people!”

Go to next page to see how the  McKinsey, Bain, and BCG compare head-to-head in 22 measures.