Grappling with whether to pursue an MBA or stay at your job? If you’re weighing a career in consulting, the answer is definitive: Get an MBA.
That’s what the data reflects in the 2019 edition of Management Consulted’s “Management Consulting Salaries for Undergraduates, MBAs/PhDs & Interns” (Released January 14th). How stark is the difference? According to Management Consulted’s latest data, the average starting base pay for a newly-minted undergraduate or master’s degree holder is $80,000. For an MBA or PhD, that number is nearly double: $150,000.
That’s just start. An MBA grad’s one-time signing bonus comes in at roughly $25,000, five times what an undergraduate degree nets. When performance bonus is added to the mix, the difference is equally staggering: $44,000 vs. $12,000 in favor of MBAs.
FRUITS OF RISING REVENUE GOING MORE TO MBAs
That was a macro look at industry pay from Management Consulted, a leading resource for consulting-related data and news that also offers intensive coaching in areas like interview and resume preparation. The salary data stems from hundreds of confirmed offer letters from candidates and clients alike, says Jenny Rae Le Roux, a former Bain consultant and Columbia Business School MBA who serves as the firm’s managing director. The data also includes information that arrives directly from consulting firms, though the specific response numbers and overall process are treated as proprietary information.
According to the report, the pay gap between MBAs and undergrads is also widening in consulting. In the analysis that accompanies the 2019 data, Management Consulted notes that the MBB (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) has boosted starting pay for MBAs and PhDs to $165,000 over the past year, thanks to competitive pressures like higher client expectations for “digital solutions, advanced analytics and analytics” and competitive threats from boutique shops and technological firms. Although the consulting industry has seen revenues rise from 5% to 16% over the past year, the pay for new hires from the undergraduate and master’s degree pool has stagnated.
To an extent, this trend stems from how differently consulting firms value the experience MBAs and undergrads brings to their firms, says Le Roux in an exclusive statement to Poets&Quants.
“The intangible value prop of a consulting education is still more differential for someone with less work experience (undergrad/Masters) – it’s his or her first brand name, c-suite exposure, analytics training, and travel. Plus, it comes with the potential for MBA sponsorship. MBAs – many of whom have already had those things – are making more focused career choices. Many of the things they want then –lifestyle, specific cities, accelerated promotions, managerial experience, etc. – come as adequately in tech as in consulting. In short, the market for MBAs is more competitive and their values are different.
A SHORT-TERM PAY SPIKE
In fact, MBAs are so valuable that they earn roughly the same starting pay as PhDs. At the same time, consulting firms often lump Master’s degree holders with undergrads on pay scales. That is changing, as consulting firms are beginning to seek out candidates with greater experience or technical skills in areas like data science. The process, Le Roux admits, is slow.
“Some firms may have special practices that will treat them slightly differently, but in general no. They (MBA/Ph.D. and Undergrad/Master’s) come in at equivalent levels based on their years of work experience. This is not a change from 2018-2019, but standard consulting industry practice.”
While MBA pay jumped substantially in 2018, Le Roux believes the year was an outlier, with MBA pay growth cooling in coming years.
“We anticipate standard inflation increases for undergrads, and the same for MBAs,” she points out. “The MBA jump is a one-time jump to catch up to tech, and the largest we’ve seen in the 10 years we’ve been covering salaries. These kinds of annual pay increases would be a losing battle for firms unless their per-project fees or utilization rates really continue to leap (which we do not expect).”
BASE PAY ISN’T THE ONLY KEY FACTOR
Perhaps the greatest value from the Management Consulted data is derived at the more granular level. Notably, the annual survey breaks pay down by company. Instead of a lump sum, pay is parsed down to areas like base pay, performance bonus, and signing bonus – not to mention allowances, retirement, relocation, travel bonus, and tuition reimbursement when applicable.
For undergrads, the most recognizable names don’t always pay the most. AArete, an analytics oriented firm with six locations in the United States and United Kingdom, pays an $112,000 base to start. Compare that to big name rivals like the Boston Consulting Group ($90K), Accenture, Bain, and McKinsey ($85K), and PwC, KPMG, and A.T. Kearney ($75K). While AArete doesn’t offer a one-time signing bonus, it does provide a performance bonus of $16,000 – a number that tops McKinsey ($15K) and Bain (12K). The highest performance bonus? That belongs to PwC at $18,750. This gives PwC a huge advantage over Deloitte, which doesn’t offer a performance until after a consultant passes the three year mark.
Of course, base and bonus are only part of the equation. For many undergrads, the pay package is the best gauge of company fit. Looking for a company that’ll invest in your retirement? Bain will pour 4.5% of base and bonus into a 401K without requiring any contribution. Huron provides $5,000 in stock to new undergraduate hires – and will match 25% of any personal investment up to $20,000. A.T. Kearney offers profit sharing up to $7,000 – and re-location up to $10,000. While consulting demands long hours, Mercer pays out 1.5 times base pay when their consultants work over 40 hours. At West Monroe Partners, graduates pull down an additional $4,000 for every 30 nights on the road.