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Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance

#1 Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
10/06/2011 08:54


Hi all,

I've just started a summer internship with ACN and I'm thinking hard about what I will do if I receive a full-time offer at the end of the summer. I like consulting, and right now I'm confident I'll choose this career but I'm thinking about whether to go the extra mile and try hard to get a job with one of MBB. One of my bigger concerns is having some sort of decent work/life balance. People talk about how work/life balance "doesn't exist" in consulting but I haven't really seen that here: analysts at my project often clock out before 5, and even friends who are working on ostensibly more intense projects seem to have time in the evenings and definitely on weekends to go to parties and enjoy themselves. I've talked to several senior managers who tell me that they find it very possible to spend time with family because they've managed their career to the point that they're almost always on local projects with somewhat decent hours.

My question is: how different is it at MBB? Are hours worked per week comparable or totally different? I would want to go to MBB because it seems to pay so much better, but how much of the better pay is due to unreasonable hours that make having a family impossible? Is there a difference (at Big4 or MBB) between junior levels and senior levels vis a vis work/life balance? Or are there even differences between ACN/Deloitte/capgemini etc.? I've heard lots of different things from many people, and I feel like people are very prone to exaggeration about these sorts of things.

I'd appreciate getting some experienced people's take on how much I can expect things to change from the reasonable hours of my internship to the (different) life of a manager here or as an MBB consultant. Thanks.

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#2 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
10/06/2011 14:16

Tony Restell ( to padang (#1)

Padang - a few different issues to tackle here:

1) Turning down a hypothetical Accenture offer to try for a role with MBB

First things first, do you stand a chance of getting into an MBB firm? You haven't provided any info that allows us to gauge this. Which university are you attending and what grade prediction do you have? If you aren't in the 2.1 from Oxbridge or First from Durham / Bristol / Exeter / LSE... category then choosing between the two options isn't actually reality and in that case you'd be a fool to turn down an offer from Accenture if consulting is the route you've chosen to go down.

2) Work / Life balance issues

I'll assume you are a credible MBB candidate for now to turn attention to the other issues that would otherwise be redundant.

Firstly all consulting firms struggle with offering work/life balance. The nature of consulting is that you are working on clients' most pressing business issues and so more often than not are working to deadlines that are pretty demanding. Sometimes the workload will be overwhelming for the duration of the project (I can certainly think of business turnaround projects like this); other times there will be peaks associated with milestones and / or crises on the project. But you'd usually expect to go weeks rather than months without having your evenings or weekends in some way compromised by your consulting career. Either because of working hours or because you're travelling and away from home (or indeed both).

MBB firms I would say are likely to expose you to greater work / life balance pressures, simply because there are fewer places to hide and a heightened expectation you'll deliver. Where a Big 4 type firm might have dozens of consultants out on a project, an MBB strategy firm will often only have half a dozen. Your visibility on a project is therefore higher - and so are your charge-out rates, by some margin. You'll also be surrounded by high-achievers, many of whom have a tendency towards sacrificing their short-term wellbeing for career gain, in part because the rewards are higher.

However it's not been my experience within consulting that different firms within the same class of consulting really differ that much in their work-life balance. At pretty much every firm you'd care to mention it'll be one of the top two or three reasons that consultants choose to leave the firm. It's also been my experience that there's a "luck of the draw" element to this as well. Depending on the culture that pervades your particular practice area in that particular office - and depending on what your managers had to endure when they were more junior - there can be differences within firms as much as between firms.

Your internship experiences to date worry me, simply because I would hate for anyone to enter consulting thinking that work/life balance isn't an issue and isn't something that you need to be very actively and consciously managing from day one in your consulting career.

3) Pay differences

Pay differences aren't as great as you might think - at least at the more junior ranks. Sure if you make it to Partner at MBB, you may well get there sooner and will be raking in more than if you'd done the same at one of the publicly traded major consulting brands like those you've mentioned. But very few people make it to these ranks. Below Project Manager level (ie. for the whole of your twenties), the gap to MBB remuneration is likely to be <£10k a year. The major gain from choosing the MBB route only comes when you i) progress to the more senior ranks or ii) get into a top business school on the back of your MBB experience or iii) get fast-tracked into a role in industry significantly above what you'd have secured had you not had MBB on your CV.

I hope this helps and good luck with mulling over your options.

Tony Restell

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#3 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
10/06/2011 16:58

Short Hair, Shiney Shoes to Tony Restell ( (#2)

Tony I would just make one slight amendment to your post if I may...

The remuneration gap between EY/Acn/Deloitte and MBB at grad level is closer to 15-17k not including a sign on bonus. I've taken this information directly from grad consultants at my firm, and colleagues I have within MBB

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#4 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
10/06/2011 17:15

Tony Restell ( to Short Hair, Shiney Shoes (#3)

Always happy to be corrected so thanks for the input - and in this case I think we're in agreement anyway. I was talking post-tax and you're presumably talking pre-tax so I think we're saying the same thing. Consultants will have hundreds rather than thousands of pounds more in their bank account each month for working at MBB rather than the others mentioned here. Which is nice to have but in terms of being life-changing just means you can afford to live in a nicer neighbourhood in London. The earnings gap only becomes really significant at Project Manager and above, hence my point that this shouldn't be the main reason for choosing one over the other as most people don't stay in consulting long enough to reach that level.

Tony Restell

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#5 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
11/06/2011 00:15

padang to Tony Restell ( (#4)

Thanks Tony for the timely and very informative response (thanks also to short). In response to your question about my candidacy at MBB, I think I'm a viable candidate: I'm a top honors student at a good university from which many of the top firms actively recruit including MBB. My resume has some other very good stuff on it including several languages, nearly perfect GREs and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. I interviewed for a summer internship with Bain and though I didn't get the gig, I feel that if I really put some work into case interview preparation I could do it (last time my preparation was almost nil because I had just started to learn about consulting). So I think throwing out an ACN offer wouldn't be totally stupid and I could get to MBB if I really went for it. My question, which you answered well, was whether I'd even want to get an offer from MBB since I want to have a family and a life outside of work and so far it seems somewhat possible to do this successfully at ACN and probably much harder at MBB.

I'll keep in mind what you mentioned about my experiences so far being atypical and misleading. That seems to be what I read often on this and other forums: work/life balance really is a big issue for basically everyone and can't be easily brushed aside.

Thanks again for the input. I'll keep chewing on all this; I'd appreciate advice/comments from others if anyone wants to corroborate this or add anything.

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#6 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
13/06/2011 09:43

Tony Restell ( to padang (#5)

Do keep in mind that for most people consulting isn't a long term career choice; it's an interesting way to start your career and see lots of different industries and aspects of a business. But for most it's also just a stepping stone to something else.

Given the above, it's quite plausible that you could spend a few years at MBB and then when you want family to be the number one priority you move to something else. With MBB on your CV you'll have lots of options - and you'd also be well placed to move to the other consulting firms if you decided that they could indeed offer you the balance you'd be looking for at that stage in your career.

Tony Restell

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#7 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
14/06/2011 09:33

baykus to padang (#5)

Average hours per week across the firm in MBB are likely to be 10+ more than Tier 2. If you're used to doing 50 hour weeks, moving to 65-70 hours average will be a shock to the system - you pretty much only have time for work, food and sleep.

However, at all consultancies work/life balance is a function of the particular project you're on. The trade-off at ACN is that if you find a good project with great lifestyle you can hang on to it for a year or more. On the flip side, if you end up on a terrible project you'll be stuck there for a year or more.

What industry you specialise in also is a huge factor. If you're going to work for banks, you'll be putting in the hours pretty much wherever you go.

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#8 RE: Big4 vs. MBB: Work/life balance
21/06/2011 16:13

Tony Restell ( to baykus (#7)

Baykus - but specialising in serving banking clients does reduce your travel burden considerably compared with other sectors where far more of your client base is located outside London / overseas...

Tony Restell

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