If you’ve decided consulting is the career for you, the first hurdle isn’t getting through the application process—it’s figuring out which type of firm you want to work for!

Consulting is a huge industry with many firms filling a variety of needs for clients and offering different benefits for employees. And while almost all consulting firms offer a challenging environment full of learning opportunities, there are some differences that can help you target your search.

Not sure where to start? Read below to learn about the four general categories of firms to begin narrowing down your options and finding the perfect fit.

1. MBB

MBB is an acronym that stands for the three most prestigious firms in management consulting: McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Co. These firms recruit from some of the top schools globally and are usually very selective when it comes to hiring.

What They Offer

MBB firms offer extremely competitive salaries and benefits. Since much of the work you’ll be doing will be with large companies (often times directly with the senior leaders of said companies), a job at one of these firms will give you unique experiences and connections that you can carry with you throughout your career. Moreover, MBB firms offer very set career progression paths, which usually include extensive management training, increasing levels of leadership opportunities, and the opportunity to complete an MBA at one of the world’s top schools.

Who They’re Good For

If you’re able to get into one of these competitive firms coming out of school, they can be great career starters—not only will you learn a ton on the job, but having one of these stars on your resume can be a huge help throughout your career. They’re also great for A-type personalities and those who thrive in competitive and fast-paced environments.

2. Mega-Firms

Mega-firms are much larger in size than MBB firms and provide a wide variety of services, from strategy to technical implementations. These firms include what is often called the Big Four—Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG—along with other large consultancy organizations such as Accenture, Booz Allen, and Capgemini. These firms have global reach and typically provide services across management consulting, technology consulting and implementation, and outsourcing.

What They Offer

Mega-firms have structured training programs and offer exposure to a variety of different work types, industries, major clients, and geographies. Most of these firms have many of the benefits of big companies, such as opportunities for travel, education sponsorship, and flexible working arrangements. Mega-firms are different from MBB firms in that they provide access to very large networks of people, strong support programs, and opportunities to try different types of work across disciplines, industries, and locations.

Who They’re Good For

If you aren’t sure yet what you want to specialize in, joining a mega-firm is a great way to gain access to a large variety of work and find out what you enjoy. These firms are also great for over-achievers who like having access to a large network of people, opportunities, and support.

3. Boutique Firms

Boutique shops are hard to summarize because each one is highly specialized. They typically select a specific area of practice within consulting—ranging from innovation to corporate governance to change management—and focus only on that area. Consulting Magazine features a list of boutique and small firms and is a great resource for finding a firm that meets your needs.

What They Offer

Because there are so many different boutique firms out there, going this route really gives you the opportunity to choose your own consulting adventure. Know you want to specialize in a certain industry? There’s probably a boutique firm for that. Have a specific sized team you want to work with? Boutique firms can range in size from fewer than five employees to thousands. Know you need certain benefits or flexible work options? You may just be able to find them, but do your research, as these sorts of perks vary greatly depending on the size of the firm and the resources available.

Who They’re Good For

If you have a specific niche or skill that you know you want to grow, joining a boutique firm in that area is the perfect way to focus your energies on it. These firms are great for people with a very unique skill set or interest area or those who thrive in smaller company environments.

4. Independent

Can’t find a firm that’s a fit for you? Going independent and doing consulting in more of a freelance capacity is an option that many consultants consider, especially a little later in their careers.

What it Offers

One of the biggest benefits of consulting independently is that you get to do all the work you love without as many corporate constraints. In fact, independent consultants may have flexibility similar to that of entrepreneurs.

Who it’s Good For

Typically, consultants will go independent after they have a few years of experience under their belt and a number of key relationships in order to sell work. If you have a unique skill set and solid experience, this can be a great option for you.

 

Now that you’ve started to get a sense of where you might fit, it’s time to dig deeper. Start by reading more about the different types of firms using resources such as the Wet Feet and Vault career guides, and by visiting the websites and social media pages for different companies. Once you’ve honed in on a couple of firms, go to information sessions, have coffee with people who work there, and read about the work the firms do and the clients each firm works with.

There are pros and cons to every type of firm, but with careful research and consideration, you’ll be able to find a firm that’s the perfect fit for you.

Photo of female consultant courtesy of Shutterstock.