Top 50 Consulting Firms To Work For In 2021

McKinsey at ROMBA 2019

McKinsey & Company

Ask anyone on the street to name a consulting firm. Chances are, they will say “McKinsey.” Why not? After all, they operate out of 130 cities in 65 countries. The oldest of the MBB, the McKinsey brand is associated with prestige, influence, global, and tradition. Their consultants are wicked smart and their expertise covers nearly every conceivable body of knowledge. And let’s say their alumni – Sundar Pichai, Sheryl Sandberg, Pete Buttigieg – are household names. Some experts even claim that McKinsey has partnered with 90% of the Fortune 100. Not surprisingly, McKinsey comes with a mystique: the hidden hand that’s found everywhere and involved in everything.

Yes, McKinsey is considered the most “buttoned-up” member of the MBB, a firm known for a wide portfolio of services and a penchant for intensive analysis. Spend five years there, as lore goes, and you have a clear exit ramp to any job you want. That’s the type of respect that McKinseyites enjoy. Indeed, deep know-how, immediate credibility, and a sterling network are three perks of a McKinsey tenure. Another, says one Vault Consulting 50 survey respondent, is supportive teammates who go above-and-beyond for teammates.

“Our company culture allows for everyone to thrive and be a leader in their own right. We do not have a “clique-y” culture and people are down to earth, extremely hard workers, and everyone I have come across is authentic and genuine.”

COMPENSATION DOWN

Another survey respondent boils McKinsey down to these elements: “We focus on making your own McKinsey – the ability for individual passion to guide our paths. This is supported and enabled by  an obligation to dissent and a non-hierarchical structure, a commitment to helping each other and our communities, and a deep commitment to our firm values.”

At McKinsey, the paramount values are service and ethics. The latter became particularly vexing to the firm in 2020, as it became wrapped up in bad publicity on the opioid epidemic in the United States and sluggish vaccine rollouts in France. The bad news continued in 2021, as McKinsey slipped from 1st to 3rd in the Vault Consulting 50 ranking. It wouldn’t take a pricey consulting contract to figure out why. The firm’s scores dropped in 21 of 22 Quality of Life and Work categories (with the 22nd being a new category – Health and Wellness – where McKinsey placed 9th…behind Bain and BCG).

What numbers stick out? Start with Compensation. Over the past two years, Compensation scores have fallen from 9.500 to 8.951 (good for 8th in 2021). Despite the lower scores, survey respondents didn’t tag pay in their complaints.

“We make a ton of money, before the yearly bonus,” writes one participant. “Benefits are outrageous. Doctors and dentists always comment when they see it.”

“For my age and skillset, I feel I am very well compensated,” adds another. “The trajectory at which my compensation has grown, and is likely to continue to grow, is unbelievable. McKinsey asks a lot out of their colleagues, but it compensates them extremely well in return.”

SELF-IMPOSED PRESSURE?

Another red flag is Hours Worked, a score that has fallen from 8.631 to 8.043 since 2019. While conceding much is expected at McKinsey, many respondents pushed back on the notion that McKinsey was running their talent into the ground.

“The job is demanding in terms of hours and travel requirements, but nothing above the industry average,” admits one consultant surveyed. “Our lifestyles are often defined by our clients’ needs vs. our internal culture. It is very easy to take time off and push back based on personal needs. Many folks decide to serve local clients only to be at home every day, and that is very possible, particularly if you are based out of a major city.”

In fact, one respondent poses a theory about why Hours were an issue in the Vault Consulting 50 survey. “If you feel like you need to work 90 hours, there is very little to stop you, which means early tenured folks can struggle with self-imposed pressure.”

THE PACE IS SOMETHING ELSE

On the positive side, McKinsey remained the top consulting firm for Exit Opportunities and International Opportunities overall – all while besting their MBB brethren in Diversity, Innovation, and Internal Mobility. The firm also ranked among the best for both Formal and Internal Training – hardly a surprise for a firm that earmarks $200 million dollars annually to training.

“McKinsey is a quick learning curve, which is both a blessing and a curse,” observes one survey respondent. “You…are always operating a level further than you think you are capable of.  Overall, the focus on development at McKinsey is extremely high. Everything we do is related to growing in our roles in consulting and we build our careers around this notion.”

Another survey-taker echoed these sentiments. “The worst aspect of the Firm’s career development opportunities is the speed with which you are progressing. For a recent college graduate, this pace can be intimidating, but I very much feel like I have the support needed to make decisions at this pace.”

For years, McKinsey maintained the #1 spot Vault Consulting 50 due to producing the highest scores in Prestige, which accounts for 30% of the ranking’s weight. That advantage evaporated in 2021.

Is McKinsey now doomed to be the third wheel of the MBB – or was the firm’s performance simply an anomaly? Stephan Maldonado, the senior consulting editor at Vault, views the numbers in a very different light than most.

“I can say that no surprising trends in the individual scores assigned by employees have arisen over the last two years,” he tells P&Q. “A half-point change, while not insignificant, is also not abnormal. The commentary we’ve received in response to questions about these factors has also not conveyed any major shift (with the exception of a few outliers, as there always are). I think it’s more likely that McKinsey’s placement in various rankings is driven as much by the increase in scores of other firms that have improved in these areas.”

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