At the start of each year, the FT publishes an annual rating of the UK’s leading management consultants. This defines 29 different consultancy service lines: 15 industry sectors and 14 types of consultancy services. The largest firms will offer services in all 29 categories, whilst smaller boutique consultancies will specialise in only one or a limited number of specific areas.
The main types of consultancy firms are:
- Large, generalist firms: these offer a wide range of services from strategy consulting and human resources to IT and outsourcing on a global basis. The biggest firms have grown out of audit firms or IT companies and include Accenture, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.
- Strategy Consultancy firms: these offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis. 'Strategy consulting' includes global firms (e.g. Bain, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Kearney, McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger), strategy firms within the Big 4 firms (EY-Parthenon, Monitor Deloitte and Strategy& at PwC), and smaller strategy firms (e.g. Eden McCallum, Elixirr, Mars & Co, OC&C, White Space Strategy).
- Human Resource Consultancy firms: these offer specialist HR advice on areas such as personnel policy, job evaluation and industrial relations, e.g. Korn Ferry, Mercer, Gallup and Willis Towers Watson.
- TMT (Telecoms, Media and Technology) firms: these offer specialist advice on a range of areas, from defining information needs to implementing computer applications, e.g. Accenture, Altman Solon, Capgemini, IBM Business Consulting, Infosys, PA Consulting.
- Financial consultancy firms: these offer specialist advice in areas such as private equity, M&A or investment markets (e.g. CIL Management Consultants, NMG Consulting) or the installation of budgetary control systems for office reorganisation and administrative arrangements, e.g. advisory groups within the Big 4 accountancy firms, CapCo and more.
- Economic consultancy firms: evaluate, model and forecast market trends, and advise clients on the impact of government policy and regulatory issues, including in the fields of international development, e.g. Compass Lexecon, Oxera, NERA, RBB Economics.
- Niche - or boutique - firms: these are usually set up by experienced consultants with a particular area of expertise and specialise in a specific industry or business sector. These firms may continue to work primarily in a single field - such as life sciences and healthcare (Carnall Farrar, IQVIA), operations (Chartwell Consulting) or retail (Javelin) - or have expanded to work across a range of sectors: firms such as Newton Europe, Plural Strategy (events, media, agribusiness, education, industrial technology and private equity), Teneo Consulting (from engineering to public sector to telecoms), or The PSC (i.e. The Public Sector Consultants, formerly 2020 Delivery, including healthcare).
When deciding which firms to apply to, consider not only the type and scope of their practice but also the size, culture and working style.
- A large, global firm might offer a broader range of opportunities in terms of projects, team size, and location. The biggest consultancy firms will have thousands of employees across multiple offices and offer a range of services, often encompassing all the different roles identified above. You may also get to rotate around a variety of client areas. This is not always the case, however, and in some instances, new recruits may be constrained to one area for some time.
- There are lots of niche players across the UK with a much smaller number of consultants (between ten and fifty). These smaller firms will perhaps have more localised opportunities and a more specific field of expertise. New recruits are usually involved in a broader range of tasks in each project and may get to work closely with senior consultants from the start.
- You may also want to consider what opportunities for training and development are offered to new hires. For example, since the Chartered Management Consultant (ChMC) award was formally launched in 2021, a growing number of individual consultants are seeking Chartered status, whilst leading firms, including EY, KPMG, PwC and IBM Consulting, have signed up to get their in-house training programmes accredited. While the ChMC is not currently compulsory, it is likely to become increasingly important as clients look for ways to differentiate firms and individuals in a crowded market. With this in mind, consider the following: Has the firm signed up to get its training programme reviewed and externally accredited? Do they offer support and training towards chartership to new hires?
The sector is often considered attractive because new graduates can expect to work on varied projects, learn quickly, and rapidly gain experience in a range of industries. Within a few years, many consultants choose to step across into one of the industries where they have gained project experience, sometimes joining a client they have worked with.
Remuneration can vary enormously depending on the size of the practice, the level and experience of the applicant, the location and so on. However, new entrants can earn anything between £28,000-£45,000 – often rising to over £50,000 within a few years. For those that choose to stay in consultancy long enough to become a partner (the estimate is about 1 in 10), the pay can be expected to rise to six figures, and the senior partners can earn a seven-figure salary.