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Hey Bankers and Accountants – Consultants are Happier Than You

Now appears as good a time as any to get into consulting. Firms are hiring, salaries are becoming more competitive with Wall Street by the day and, with the economy incrementally improving, consultants are enjoying their work-life more today than since before the crisis.

On the surface, there weren’t all that many surprises in this year’s Vault.com Management and Strategy Consulting Survey, which asks employees to rank their company – from 1 through 10 – on more than two dozen workplace variables, including culture, compensation, satisfaction and work/life balance, among others. The who’s who finished on top – as per usual – but the real story is the industry in general. Compared to accountants and bankers, consultants are essentially ecstatic with their jobs.

The average rating for consulting firms, based on aforementioned employee ratings, dwarfed that of accounting and banking firms, which were compiled earlier this year and late last year, respectively. The top-ranked consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, finished with an average score of 9.285, more than a full point above the highest-ranked accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and seven-tenths of a point ahead of J.P. Morgan, the top-ranked bank.

Moreover, the top 50 consulting firms finished with a score over 6.2. Only 18 banking firms and 12 accounting firms can say the same.

2014 Rank 2013 Rank Change Company Score
1 2 McKinsey & Company 9.285
2 1 Bain & Company 9.115
3 3 The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 8.894
4 4 Booz & Company 7.931
5 8 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (Consulting Practice) 7.620
6 6 Oliver Wyman 7.595
7 5 Deloitte Consulting LLP 7.483
8 NR The Parthenon Group 7.429
9 7 A.T. Kearney 7.413
10 19 Accenture 7.406

“One of the most striking aspects of this year’s rankings is how close many of the firms’ ratings were, especially in our various Quality of Life categories,” said Phil Stott, Vault’s Consulting Editor. “Firms are performing well, employees are happy and are predicting a strong outlook for the coming year.”

One of the chief reasons for the rebound in worker satisfaction is the type of work in which employees are engaging. No longer are consultants spending all day wading through monotonous restructuring work created by the sluggish post-crisis economy. “Two years ago, most consultants were restricted to working on cost-savings projects,” Stott told eFC. “With the improving business environment, consultants are getting asked to work on different projects related to strategy and future planning.”

The industry has also made bigger efforts to find and retain top talent, Stott said. The shrinking of Wall Street can’t hurt either. For the second year in a row, consulting firms are the top destination for Harvard undergrads – 16% of the class of 2013 is getting into consulting upon graduating, up from 13% the year before. Roughly 15% of graduates are taking jobs in finance, up from 9% last year, but that’s still nowhere near the pre-crisis total in 2007, when an astounding 47% of graduates went into finance.

With bonuses being tightly watched on Wall Street, top graduates have better reason to join a consultancy firm. Roughly 25% of companies in the consulting industry plan to increase annual starting base salaries above the rate of inflation, according to the 2013 Corporate Recruiters Survey from GMAC. Just 15% of financial and accounting firms plan to do the same.

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The Winners

Bottom line: If you can get a job at McKinsey or Bain, take it. The two firms predictably finished first and second in the rankings across the U.S., Europe and Asia. What was a bit eye-opening is how well they scored in work-life categories, designations often dominated by smaller, more personal organizations. McKinsey took the No. 1 spot in a record 18 Best to Work For categories, including benefits, compensation and overall satisfaction. Bain took the top spot in firm culture, among other categories.

Unfortunately, you can’t just walk in the door and drop off your resume. McKinsey or Bain recruit almost exclusively out of the top 10 business schools, Stott said.

Areas where the two firms didn’t score quite as well can be assumed: hours and travel requirements were the big two. “We are working on critical, hard problems for top management which sometimes is demanding,” said one Bain employee. At McKinsey, you’ll encounter “workaholics expecting others to not have a life as well,” said an anonymous employee.

Other firms that scored well include PricewaterhouseCoopers, which Stott said has made significant efforts to improve the work-life of its employees, something echoed by Derek Loosvelt, Vault’s senior finance editor in charge of this year’s accounting survey. “Amongst the Big Four, PwC has done the most to improve the work satisfaction of its employees,” Loosvelt told eFC back in April.

Outside of PwC, other Big Four firms didn’t score quite as well on the consulting survey. Stott pointed to the fact that Big Four firms do more general consulting — so they don’t score as well in the prestige category as more niche firm — and they are also huge organizations, often degrading their work-life ratings.

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