Careers advice and planning

Which are the best consulting firms for graduates to work for?

21 Jun 2023, 15:40

Most consulting firms offer their graduates an exciting mix of training, travel, project work, early client contact and increasing responsibility, but there are of course differences between firms. Find the consulting employer that suits you best.

Consultants at work, reading papers over each other's shoulders, standing near a glass office wall

As a graduate, the best consulting firm you can work for is the one: that is best set up to help you achieve your career ambitions; that can offer the training and development that best suits you; that offers interesting work; and that most closely shares your values. But it can be tricky to work out which firm this is, so targetjobs is here to guide you through the process. We first reveal the consultancy firms that are most popular with graduates. Then we explore the key questions you should ask yourself when choosing firms to apply to and deciding which to accept a job offer from.

1. Which are the most popular consulting firms with graduates – and does popularity matter?

Take a look at the most popular consulting employers, as voted for by students and graduates . Each year Cibyl, a student research business owned by the same parent company as targetjobs, surveys tens of thousands of students and graduates to discover their favourite employers. The exact rankings vary each year, but typically the Big 4 professional services firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) feature highly, along with big strategy firms. Increasingly, though, their dominance is being challenged by technology consultancies and big tech players who are moving into consulting.

These rankings are a good place to start when working out where to apply, because these firms have a good reputation with your peers. And this good reputation does not necessarily mean that these employers will attract more competition: while they may attract higher numbers of applicants than boutique consultancy firms, they also tend to offer higher numbers of vacancies. You can be fairly confident that the ratio of candidates to opportunities will be roughly the same.

Of course, you shouldn’t just limit your search to the most popular graduate consulting employers in the UK: a job with a different firm might well suit you better. You can search for management consulting and strategy consulting jobs on targetjobs.

2. What sort of work does the consulting firm do?

As you can tell from our list of the most popular employers, some consulting firms will specialise in a particular service or in a particular function, such as strategy. Others will focus on a particular industry. Increasingly, many will operate across a variety of both. Do you have a preference? Would you like your graduate programme to keep your options open and give you a broad experience or would you prefer to work in a place where you can specialise sooner? McKinsey, for example, allows graduates to enter the business as generalists or to join a specific practice area from the outset. When you review employers, take note of the projects and industry specialisms, and view any graduate testimonials. Would the work suit you?

3. How much travel will your job involve?

Most consulting firms will require you to do some travelling, even though more client contact is now conducted via video conferencing than it was before the pandemic. And travel is often cited as a reason graduates find the profession so exciting. To understand your clients’ businesses, you’ll usually need to spend time at client sites, working closely with clients and colleagues in your team. However, some firms require less travel than others. Additionally, for some, travel will be primarily UK based, whereas others will take you almost anywhere in the world. Roland Berger, for example, tells its candidates: ‘Over 75% of our work includes cross-border challenges’. It also has a transfer programme enabling graduates to work in different international offices. OC& C Strategy Consultants , on the other hand, has traditionally required less travel than other firms. It’s very much a case of personal preference – try to find a firm that offers you the travel experience you’ll be comfortable with.

4. What kind of opportunities and work culture do you want?

Spend time working out what kind of training, development and career opportunities you would ideally like from your first employer and what kind of working environment would suit you. Then you can work out what is most important to you in choosing a firm and where you are prepared to compromise. If you need some inspiration, take a look at what other students are prioritising. The Cibyl Graduate Research UK 2022 survey asked 65,432 students and graduates about the factors they ranked most highly when choosing an employer. Here are the top ten factors that respondents interested in consulting rated as ‘very important’.

  1. Good career prospects (74%)
  2. Training and development (68%)
  3. Interesting work (64%)
  4. Good work/life balance (61%)
  5. Job security (60%)
  6. Equality, diversity and inclusion (58%)
  7. Friendly colleagues (56%)
  8. Sustainability and ethics (48%)
  9. Excellent role models (43%)
  10. Personal chance to make a difference (43%)

When you create your list of priorities, make sure you truly understand what ‘good’ looks like for you. Virtually everyone will agree that the training you receive during your first consulting job is important, but each person will have a different idea of what ‘good’ training is. From your perspective, is it the opportunity to do a sponsored MBA after a few years? Or are you less interested in pursuing an accredited qualification and more interested in having intensive on-the-job coaching? And how would you like your learning to continue as you progress through the firm? Do secondments and sabbaticals matter to you?

Next think about which work environment will most be able to deliver on your ‘good’. For example, a smaller employer might not be able to offer you the range of formal qualifications and classroom-based learning that a larger employer would. Yet you might get to work much more closely with senior staff and, as such, benefit more from informal mentoring and more rapid career progression.

Different consulting firms, too, offer different models of training for their graduates. Mars & Co , which has around 200 employees, makes much of its apprenticeship model of learning, through which they ensure you are closely mentored by senior staff and work on small product teams of between two and five. Meanwhile, Oliver Wyman , which has around 4,500 employers, puts the emphasis in its recruitment literature on career development opportunities such as ‘corporate externships, 10/11-month work years and sabbaticals […] and international staffing opportunities’. Which approach would best suit you?

Some of the opportunities and aspects of the work culture can be difficult to discern from the outside. But you can get a ‘feel’ for a firm by attending employer presentations and speaking with representatives at careers fairs (and during the recruitment process). You could also try reaching out to current employees via LinkedIn to get their views – read our advice on how to use LinkedIn effectively .

Then reflect on what you have learned. Consulting involves long hours working within a team, so do you feel you connect with the people you have met? Would you feel comfortable spending long hours with them? Do they feel supported within the firm?

5. What sort of reputation does the consulting firm have?

Some firms have global reputations and/or are recognised as leaders in their fields – how much does this matter to you? Some have a reputation for offering really great job security, whereas others have an ‘up or out’ policy. The best way to discover a firm’s reputation is to speak with its alumni and read the business press.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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