Consulting Blues: New Survey Shows MBAs Increasingly Dissatisfied

For MBAs, it is hard to resist the allure of consulting. The job features all the benefits of business school. You move from project-to-project, always learning new industries and models. On top of being constantly refreshed and challenged, consultants are well-paid. According to U.S. News, MBAs entering consulting average $101,108 in base – with grads at Top 10 programs commanding $147K-$151K to start. That doesn’t even count sign-on bonuses and perks. Of course, there is always the prestige of working shoulder-to-shoulder with senior executives. With networks like that, an exit ramp often ushers consultants into the c-suite too.

Why would any MBA want to do anything else?

Well, the 60-80 hour weeks eventually take a toll. So too does the always-on-the-go, flying-back-and-forth, sleeping-at-the-Marriott schedule. Not surprisingly, assignments often last longer than projected as the expectations, scope, deadlines, and deliverables remain in constant flux. Let’s face it: the rank-and-file distrusts consultants. They are the harbingers of change, the political immune who are free to ask the questions that reveal all the teetering compromises and grubby workarounds.

Consultants are paid well…and they earn every cent. That doesn’t mean they are happy about it.


That’s the takeaway from this year’s Vault Consulting 50 survey. According to data supplied exclusively to Poets&Quants, consultants are increasingly disenchanted with the quality of their life and careers. How deep is their dissatisfaction? Looking at the sample as a whole, consultants posted four-year lows in 15 out of 21 measures.

The Consulting 50 survey was conducted by Vault, the leading collector of market intelligence for employer ratings and reviews. Touching roughly 70 North American consulting firms ranging from the MBB to niche boutiques, the survey is considered the industry’s gold standard. It measures consulting firms in two areas. The first is competitor sentiment, with consultants rating rivals in both prestige and practice area performance. That is followed by respondents scoring their employers – using a 1-10 scale (with 10 being highest) – on 23 quality and life careers categories, which include categories like pay, culture, leadership, training, exit opportunities, and overall satisfaction.

Looking at the entire sample – which includes consultants who hold Bachelor’s, MBA, and post-graduate degrees – International Opportunities earned the lowest mark at 7.237. Ironically, it is also the category which has shown the most improvement over the past four years. In 2016, survey respondents scored their firms at 6.705. In the next two years, the International Opportunities score climbed from 7.017 to 7.211, a clear sign that managers were designing programs that provided valuable international experience to their talent.


Internal Mobility reaped the second-lowest collective score at 7.491, down .155 of a point in the past two years. Work hours (7.753), Compensation (7.778), and Benefits (7.961) have suffered similar drops in recent years – perhaps signaling that consultants increasingly don’t view the return commiserate with the sacrifice. Along with career and compensation measures, consultants are grappling with existential issues too. Traditionally, consulting teams are known for their vigorous debates, free from the shadow of politics and seniority – where the best ideas generally win out. However, there appears to be some deterioration in this area. In Vault’s Level of Challenge question – which measures consultants’ ability to push back against decisions – the score has plummeted by .336 of a point in the past four years – or half of the second-largest drop during that same period (-.168 in Work-Life Balance).

That said, the survey reflected a bullish view of the future. Survey respondents gave their highest marks to Business Outlook at 8.991, a .71 of a point boost over the previous year. Firm leadership also rose over the last survey, going from 8.702 to 8.723. In addition, consultants generally feel comfortable with the people, with two of the best scores going to Client Interaction and Supervisor Relationships.


Several differences appear, however, when the respondent pool is broken out between consultants who hold MBAs and those who didn’t pursue a post-undergraduate degree. Among the MBA segment the highest score was found in Business Outlook at 9.150, edging out Client Interaction at 9.129. Firm Leadership and Pay Equity also scored well at 8.904 and 8.854, respectively. At the same time, MBAs averaged high scores in Supervisor Relationships and Level of Challenge. Like the sample at large, MBAs struggled in International Opportunities, Internal Mobility, and Work Hours, where the averages fell below the 8.0 mark. Overall, consultants increased their scores in the areas of International Opportunities and Business Outlook over the past four years, though the Level of Challenge depreciation (-.320) should serve as a red flag to senior management and clients alike.

Bachelor’s degree holders followed a similar pattern, as Business Outlook nabbed the top average at 8.949. Like their MBA cohorts, this segment also included Firm Leadership, Supervisor Relationships, Client Interaction, and Pay Equity among its five-highest scores. More striking, International Opportunities and Internal Mobility yielded the lowest scores among these consultants. At the same time, Level of Challenge (-.311), Work-Life Balance (-.250), and Formal Training (-.194) experienced the biggest decreases over the past four years.

Overall, MBAs are far more satisfied with their consulting careers than peer consultants who didn’t pursue graduate education. Notably, MBA respondents posted higher scores in 22 of 23 categories in the latest survey, falling short in just Travel Requirements (8.411 vs. 8.332). The biggest difference between the segments came in International Opportunities, which MBAs held more favorably by a .718 of a point margin. MBAs also produced substantially higher satisfaction rates in Client Interaction (+.535), Level of Challenge (+.491), Compensation (+.435), Internal Mobility (+.429), and Promotion Policies (+.425). In other words, the MBA degree conferred a higher degree of freedom, respect, and pay to consultants.

By the numbers, the Vault Consulting 50 survey included 2,915 MBAs, with the segment being 64.45% male and 27.79% female (with the rest preferring not to answer). 66.94% of MBA respondents were Caucasian, followed by Asian (15.28%), Hispanic (4.95%), and African-American (2.92%) representatives. Another 3,423 respondents had not pursued an advanced degree, with the male-female ratio being 52.85%-to-39.82%. This segment included Caucasian (69.65%), Asian (13.80%), Hispanic (3.72%), and African-American (2.76%) consultants.

To see how the satisfaction rates of MBAs fare against their consulting peers, see the charts on the next pages.  



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