Which consulting firm?

You already aspire to a career in consultancy, think you have the right experience and qualities to become a consultant and probably have a fair idea which segment you would want to work in. One important question remains: ‘Which advisory firm suits me?” In order to make a well informed choice, Consultancy.org has lined up a few focus points to consider.

During the search to the ideal consultancy firm, and in order to make the right choice, it is important for (young) professionals to evaluate on the one hand where their aspirations lie, and on the other hand, based on that, where exactly the differences between each firm lies.

There are, for instance, differences between the industry focus of services and offerings of a firm, and there are differences in the types of clients they serve. Where some firms may offer ample space for personal development, others may offer – in your eyes – insufficient possibilities in that area. How do, for instance, company cultures differ at firms and how much value do you hold on the reputation of these firms? Finally, salary and benefits are another thing to consider, not in the least an insignificant point that can become a deciding factor in your choice of one firm over the other. Below are more detailed explanations of the above mentioned focus points.

Service offerings
The first possible questions you could ask yourself are: ‘In which specific industry / domain would I like to work?’ or ‘do I want to work from a broader scope?’ Do you, for instance, have an affinity to the government, then you could search for a consultancy firm that specifically focusses on the public domain. Are you more at home in financial services, there are numerous financially oriented consultancy firms to choose from. Aside from these considerations, it is important to determine in which consultancy segment you want to work: Management consulting, HR consulting or perhaps IT consulting and, if you have already made that choice, in which disciple you want to be active. Within management consulting you can, for example, choose the direction of change management or supply chain management. Based on these selections you can start a narrow search to a firm active in these domains.

Type of consultancy firm
You can also question the size of the consultancy firm. In the top of the market both large multinational players; with (worldwide) staff databases over thousand or even tens of thousands of employees, as the numerous players active within the boutique segment; with staff databases varying between ten to several hundreds of employees. The size and scope of a firm can be relevant because they possibly could have influence on personal development possibilities, working abroad, company culture, etc.

Additionally, nowadays the consultancy branch is also flooded with countless small startups and freelancers, who pose fierce competition mostly on the wide bottom end of the market. Often, these are fast growing enterprises who – as a ‘consultancy firm’ – could possibly also be a suitable employer. Also in the middle to top segment, new (predominantly digital) players of virtual consultancy networks frequently enter the branch, and form a community that consultancy professionals can join.

When searching for a firm that suits you, ask yourself what type of clients a firm deals with. Do you, for instance, only want to work with big multinationals? Immediately, a number of firms will fall off your list. Or do you only want to work with clients active in the FMCG industry because your work experience is in that field? Then, you will need to narrow down your search to firms active within that specific market.

Another wish, in relation to clients, could be that, when starting at a firm, you would like to come in contact with clients immediately. You will need to find out beforehand whether this even is a possible or foreseeable option at the start of your employment at a firm. In fact, it often occurs at multiple consultancy firms that juniors start out with desk research or analysis with little to no client contact at the start of employment.

Personal development
Perhaps you find it important that consultancy firms offer enough, good development possibilities to be able to constantly improve your skills and knowledge. You can find out beforehand which firms offer such facilities and which ones don’t, or to a lesser degree. Development can also be vested in the growth you can and want to make throughout the course of your employment at a firm. It is wise to find out beforehand how a development path (progression into other functions) looks like at a company and if you, for instance, are mentored by senior consultants, etc. Depending on your personal development goals, you can find a firm that suits these wishes.

Company culture and people
Every firm has a unique company atmosphere or culture with norms and values carried by all the employees. For many professionals, company culture forms an important aspect in making the right decision. You can question whether you are looking for a formal or informal atmosphere, or an employer who emphasises on structure and hierarchy, or rather a firm with short and accessible lines of communication? Try to find out beforehand which company culture dictates within the firms on your short list, to be certain whether you fit in the culture of the company and vice versa.

Looking past the attractive company culture alone, you may be seeking a firm with sufficient regard for a healthy work-life balance. Some employers offer, for instance, the opportunity of taking a sabbatical, child care facilities, etc.

Reputation and image
The firm you ultimately will work for has built a reputation within their own market environment (clients, suppliers, partners, employers and numerous other stakeholders). That reputation can be positive (the firm may be known for taking corporate social responsibility (CSR) or for negative connotations (controversial news reports, scandals, etc.). Some may not take a clear stance on these matters, while for others the image of their ideal office could play a large role in their choice.

Benefits and secondary conditions
Lastly, salary and secondary conditions are a considerable factor to weigh in with your choice for a certain advisory firm. You will have to form an idea on how much you want to earn and under which secondary conditions (for instance a retirement plan, bonus package, company car, etc.) you would like included in your contract. If salary and benefits are important to you, make a comparison of the packages offered by a number of firms. Although, this could prove difficult as generally there is little transparency on the exact amount consultants earn at firms and each firm adheres their own specific policy on this matter. If have made it far enough to reach the employment contract negotiations, good preparation is half the battle.