The big 3 consulting firms: why McKinsey, BCG, and Bain are the most prestigious

mckinsey bcg bain work life balance

McKinsey & Company


McKinsey & Company is a partnership and widely acknowledged as the most prestigious consulting firm. It was founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey, however, underwent a significant transition through the leadership of Marvin Bower, who established the principles of the McKinsey for which it is known today. 

McKinsey is hired by the world’s leading organization, be it in the public, private, or NGO sector on all matters and functions of business. All of its work done with a strong commitment to confidentiality.

McKinsey consultants have an obligation to dissent, even from junior levels onwards whenever they feel that something is not right. This is only one part of the three-part code of conduct that puts client interests ahead of those of the firm, giving superior service and maintaining the highest ethical standards.

A big difference in McKinsey compared to other firms is the ‘one-firm’ partnership model. The firm operates as a single, global entity with a very strong shared culture and norms.  This allows for both bringing the best of the firm to clients as well as truly global staffing for its consultants. The degree of international mobility is the highest among its peers (with the obvious downside of a less sustainable lifestyle).

Compared to the other two strategy consulting firms, McKinsey has the biggest expenditure on research through their internal knowledge developing efforts as well as their external arm, the McKinsey Global Institute.

McKinsey also invests significantly in maintaining its alumni network. The firm has also developed the biggest number of Fortune 500 leadership executives, with whom it still has close ties. McKinsey regularly organized knowledge and networking events with alumni and current consultants alike.

Currently, McKinsey employes close to 35.000 people and is rapidly expanding both organically as well as through the acquisition of high profile niche specialists in technology, analytics, design, and many more areas. The role of traditional consulting is definitely changing.

McKinsey has a very favorable leave policy. Consultants can take up to 3 months of extra unpaid vacation per year. In many offices, consultants can take an educational leave to continue their studies with a Ph.D., MBA, engage in social work, or take on a secondment.

Currently, the firm is introducing a new recruiting concept, which includes the Imbellus-designed McKinsey Problem Solving Game. We wrote extensively about the McKinsey interview process here.

If you want to read more about the daily life of a McKinsey consultant, check out our interview here:

Common feedback about McKinsey from its employees:

+ “Large impact at a very early stage of your career.”

+ “Incredibly smart colleagues and interesting type of work.”

+ “Huge learning curve, best reputation, and very good compensation”

– “Long hours and weekly travel.”

– “Very high pace and constant pressure.”

– “Clients and leadership are very demanding.”

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Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

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BCG was founded in 1963 by Bruce D. Henderson, it quickly grew to one of the most influential management consulting firms, constantly expanding its functional and industry expertise. Contrary to McKinsey, it was initially focused on external processes that affect a business. As a consequence, BCG became the pioneer of business strategy, developing several famous business concepts such as the BCG 2×2 matrix. Over time, Henderson turned BCG into a partnership.

Similar to McKinsey, BCG launched a think tank, the Strategy Institute, to investigate and provide solutions for challenges of global magnitude. Today, BCG has ~20,000 employes in close to 100 offices around the world. For the first step in the recruiting process, BCG employs either the Online Case or the Pymetrics Test.

BCG tackles the lifestyle question with a program called PTO, which stands for predictability, teaming, and open communication. The program should allow its consultants to get a better sense of control, accomplishment as well as reduce their working hours.

If you want to read more about the daily life of a BCG consultant, check out our interview here:

Common feedback about BCG from its employees:

+ “Good career trajectory at higher levels.”

+ “Interesting mix of people who are committed to doing great work.”

+ “Good compensation and learning opportunities.”

– “The lifestyle is very unpredictable.”

“Slower promotion opportunities at the junior level.”

“Long hours.”

Bain & Company

the image shows the logo of bain and company

Bain & Company was founded in 1973 by Bill Bain, a partner who left BCG to start his own consulting firm. While they have a slightly smaller client base compared to McKinsey or BCG, their clients are of similar caliber. Bain excels in the advisory of private equity funds, where its client base represents 75 percent of global equity capital. In fact, Bain was the first of the top three to consult PE funds and supported more than half of the largest buyout deals over the last couple of years.

Compared to the other two, Bain is very big on measuring success. The firm claims that 85 percent of its performance improvement projects make the client 10x the consulting fees. Merger integrations generate 20 percent higher excess returns when Bain is involved. The firm also claims that its clients’ stock prices are 4x the ones of non-clients, which is not surprising when considering that the top-performing organizations usually higher the most prestigious consulting firms. Everyone else would not be able to afford them. Keep that in mind when interpreting such numbers.

Additionally, Bain uses a predicting system for every project to measure and manage risk as well as realize more consistent results. This is tied with the concept of success-based fees. Other firms such as McKinsey are slowly adapting a similar fee-at-risk fee structure on selected engagements.

Among peers, Bain is considered as the best for work-life balance. Consultants travel less due to a more local staffing model. Currently, it employs roughly 11,000 employees. An important part of their interview process is the Bain written case interview.

If you want to read more about the daily life of a Bain consultant, check out our interview here:

Common feedback about Bain from its employees:

+ “Engaging and challenging work.”

+ “Good leadership engagement and nice people.”

+ “High impact and growth.”

– “Slow organization when it comes to change.”

– “Tough lifestyle”

– “Lose a good amount of competitive proposals to McK and BCG.”

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3 Responses

  1. […] that was completed in 1979. The company offers management consulting services and is part of the big three management consultant firms alongside McKinsey and Bane. BCG operates over 90 offices around the world. As of 2019, it had […]

  2. […] balance and CEO Approval. McKinsey & Company scored higher in 7 areas: Overall Rating, career opportunities, Compensation & Benefits, Senior Management, Culture & Values, % Recommend to a friend […]

  3. […] The big 3 consulting firms: why McKinsey, BCG, and Bain are the most prestigious […]

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