Job market / Strategy consulting

What’s it like to work in consulting at McKinsey and BCG?

McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) are two of the most prestigious and high profile strategy firms in the industry.  They are two of highest earning and well established firms, but who would you like to work for? Will from the Cambridge Consultant  provides his analysis and insight to help you to answer this question.

This article primarily answers people’s interest about which firm is really better and what the differences are. There will also be some of you who have offers to work at both firms and I try to answer the questions that both sets of people might have.  I have no preference and this shouldn’t impact your decision to apply – McKinsey and BCG are two of the most important and interesting companies on the planet!

Some key factors to consider…

key pointFirst and foremost, the two have more in common than in contrast.  They are both awesome places to work, full of incredibly brainy people.  They are great places to develop and despite the intensity, Glassdoor ranks them both very highly as places to work.  Perhaps best of all for young consultants, they both have great internal and external exit opportunities.

The People

Although both firms attract great employees, they come in different shapes and sizes. At McKinsey, recruiters go for the traditional ‘all-star’.  Not only incredibly brainy and from a great school, this person has also achieved great things elsewhere in sport, music or otherwise.  In the UK for example, many Business Analysts worked at the Oxford Union which is the UK’s most prestigious undergraduate student organisation.

BCG is a bit different.  Of course, many people at BCG are also high achievers in extra-curricular activities.  The difference is that they are slightly less corporate.  BCG has a highly intellectual reputation and often hires slightly nerdier, maverick types.  They are less comfortable glad-handing clients but are immensely cerebral.  They are also much more likely to have worked in an unexpected role, organisation or sector before becoming a consultant.  It is not unusual to meet analysts who were musicians, professional gamblers etc.

The culture

Business meeting with word Culture on tableThe cultures are different in a big way.  McKinsey has become notorious for emphasising its uniform culture.   On the inside in particular there is a worship of the “firm” and the way it does things.  Ethan Rasiel’s book is a great example of this. Ever since the time of Martin Bauer (its founder), McKinsey consultants have done things in the same way.  Bauer remains a touchstone for everything the firm does.  This way of doing things is also the same all around the world.  When you join the firm, you are told that you can call anyone who works at the firm and ask for advice.  Apparently people really do spin round and help you out when you pick up the phone.

BCG is a bit different, with a  greater emphasis on people’s own way of doing things.  Therefore, you may be in a team full of people who each operate individually . This is usually a bonus for creativity and a negative for efficiency.  It is also the case that BCG is unique in different parts of the world and each office will be run slightly differently.  There are ‘subcultures’ where their value add changes in nature.  Finally, the general vibe is a bit different because of BCG’s different service arms.  The company simply employs more people through  Omnion, Platinion and Gamma , for example. They are just that much more technically minded than the average strategy consultant.


Last but not least, the two companies have different approaches to winning and conducting business. McKinsey operates what the firm calls its ‘top management’ approach.  It tries to solve the biggest problems at the biggest companies.  This has become less true in recent times as companies have grown and even their small problems are huge ones. However, the key point is that McKinsey loves to work for CEO’s.  They see it as the natural role and part of their consultants’ development to interact directly with C-suite executives.

On the other hand, BCG orient their services around ‘partnership’.  They prefer to conduct changes throughout the organisation.  This is likely to be more ‘top-down’ and more ‘end-to-end’.  Their digital and data teams are a direct product of this way of working.  In order to conduct change through an entire firm from top to bottom, BCG needs to be able to integrate their strategy.  They do this using data scientists.

This blog post was written by Will from The Cambridge Consultant . The site focuses on how to get in and get on in management consulting.




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