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Strategy Consulting careers

#1 Strategy Consulting careers
23/05/2011 13:45

Strategy Newbie

My question relates to strategy consulting careers. Keen to know your thoughts on mobility within the strategy consulting jobs market. I'm weighing up the pros and cons of joining an MBB type firm versus joining a smaller strategy consultancy.

I've assumed (rightly or wrongly) that once you've got a good stint at an MBB firm under your belt, it's perfectly feasible to move to a smaller niche strategy firm. My question really is whether the same is true in reverse? Can someone who's started out with a niche strategy firm realistically move to an MBB firm a few years into their careers? Or by starting out with such a firm are you effectively closing off the option of moving into a top strategy firm?

Any opinions welcomed, particularly from anyone who's weighed up the same dilemma themselves!

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#2 RE: Strategy Consulting careers
23/05/2011 19:15

Chipzilla to Strategy Newbie (#1)

In general, once you are in strategy consulting, the paths are:

- sit it out on partner track

- get out into industry / PE / startup etc role

- get MBA, return to try and get on partner track

- get MBA, move out to better payed or more relaxed job

There is little transition between MBB and the smaller strategy consulting firms. Reasons for this are:

- they do the same work

- perceived prestige at client is about the same

- pay is equal or sometimes better to steal people from MBB

- reapplying to another firm might look like you have been up-or-outed.

Obviously, there are exceptions but most of these from what I've seen are about high level partner jumps. Other exceptions are often related to companies merging/splitting/going bankrupt e.g. ADL, AT Kearney and Quintel etc. etc.

You should really be more specific in what you mean by niche strategy firm by the way. Booz, ADL, AT Kearney, OC&C, Roland Berger are not 'niche' players, they're just smaller.

There are some really small boutiques in each country as well, often started by ex strategy consultants. There might be more mobility from these boutiques to MBB but MBB would still wonder and ask why you didn't join them in the first place.

Reasons to join smaller players:

- your local office focuses on industries or work segments you like

- length of projects. MBB firms are bigger and can staff people on larger, longer projects while a smaller firm might for example focus more on small M&A due dilligence projects.

- small but growing offices which hire 3-5 ppl/yr leave more room for you to build your own success rather than being another one of the 30 or so people/year shoved into an MBB.

Most people just choose by industry segments they like and the feeling they get from future colleague's during interviews.

You call it a dilemma by the way but I wouldn't actually worry about it until you get offers, or interviews for that matter....

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#3 RE: Strategy Consulting careers
24/05/2011 09:22

Strategy Newbie to Chipzilla (#2)

Thanks Chipzilla, some very helpful points.

By niche firms I really meant small strategy practices that have focused geographically or sectorally - so not the Booz / ADL type firms you reference but rather the "really small boutiques... often started by ex strategy consultants" as you describe them. Totally take on board your points though - essentially join a niche firm because you like what they can offer rather than assuming they'll be a springboard to a bigger brand later in your career.

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#4 RE: Strategy Consulting careers
24/05/2011 10:40

Chipzilla to Strategy Newbie (#3)

What probably best answers your question: do a people search on linkedin for people at the boutique firms you're considering and tick the 'past' filter. That shows you where they went after the boutique experience.

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#5 RE: Strategy Consulting careers
27/05/2011 11:38

Tony Restell ( to Strategy Newbie (#1)

My gut instinct says this is possible but also a path rarely trodden:

- within MBB you're likely to become a sector expert only several years into your career; up to that point being a generalist who can be deployed on a wide range of assignments is the norm and so a consultant coming from a niche firm wouldn't fit the mould until you've got to Senior Consultant / Project Manager level.

- the scope to move into an MBB firm is determined by how much business the MBB is doing in that niche sector and how short they are of staff in that area; so by definition the likelihood of an appropriate opening coming up is much lower than for a consultant with broader sector skills.

- the niche firm would have to be working with a high calibre of client and on board level assignments for the experience you gain there to be appealing to an MBB.

- perhaps most importantly though there are major differences in culture, work/life balance, entrepreneurial spirit, etc. between a small niche firm and an MBB. So I would hazard a guess that once someone has become accustomed to what a niche firm offers the desire to move to an MBB would be significantly diminished. Plus if you're good enough to make the move to an MBB you're probably going to be on a fast-track to Partner with your niche firm; so the very people most likely to be of interest to MBB are also the ones least likely to risk a move from what looks like a very promising career ahead of them.

Hope this helps. No hard data behind any of the above - just my gut instinct...

Tony Restell

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