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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 10, 2009

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So you think that you're ready to take on the world of consulting? You've got the right degree, you have the mysterious industry lingo down cold, and you even have job offers on the table. There is only one question left to be resolved: which consulting firm should you choose? From specialties to office culture to the workload, firms can vary considerably. Before jumping in to such a momentous decision, it is important to address certain basic issues to clearly determine just what it is you are looking for in your consulting experience and in your career as a whole. There are issues besides compensation.

How do I work best?

First, figure out which firm is best tailored your individual working style. Certain firms (among them McKinsey and Booz Allen & Hamilton) prefer to keep their consultants working on one project at a time, while others (like Boston Consulting Group) assign multiple projects at once. In the latter case, due to time and resource constraints, you will be forced to do some effective prioritization. You may not be able to deliver the same kind of effort or results as you would were your time not divided. This factor has some lifestyle consequences as well-if you have more than one project going on, you will probably spend more time in the office than at one client site or the other (so as not to neglect any one project). Another concern is your long-term goals; decide whether you would rather gain experience in many different types of projects, or become more expert in a small number.

Client contact?

Another consideration is the amount of client contact each firm affords its consultants. Spending a good deal of time at the client site, you will inevitably have some measure of contact. But this can mean anything from the occasional update meeting to everyday side-by-side interaction. Some consultants have no desire whatsoever to consort with employees from the client company. They find themselves getting bogged down by having to explain everything they are doing (and why they are charging so much for it). Others enjoy working in teams with the client. Not only can it be an opportunity to hone your management skills, but it also can better acquaint you with the industry, the company, and its people. This is especially beneficial if you are contemplating a future career change.~On the road - again?

Extensive travel is synonymous with the consulting industry. Chances are that if you are already set on becoming a consultant, you are prepared to be on the road for at least part of the time. But unless you are a direct descendant of Magellan or Jack Kerouac, you'll probably want to try to limit your travel time. To compare firms in this regard, look at the number of worldwide offices each has. For example, firms like BCG, Bain, McKinsey, and Andersen Consulting have locations all over the globe, and so are better equipped to staff their projects with consultants based in nearby areas. At the opposite end of the spectrum are Gemini and Monitor, which are focused in fewer places and thus are more likely to send their consultants to remote client sites. Look at the firm's staffing policy as well. Now that firms are developing particular specialties, many consulting firms will staff worldwide, sending their best experts in particular fields, rather than drawing from local offices.

All over the map?

Finally, and perhaps most relevant to your long-term plans, you must get a sense of how quickly consultants at each firm begin to specialize. This is similar to choosing on how many different types of projects you wish to work. Are you more interested in gaining depth or breadth of experience? Keep in mind that almost every consulting firm funnels its employees toward one industry eventually if they stay long enough. But at some firms (e.g., Booz?Allen), new consultants must choose an industry in which to concentrate as soon as they start work. This may work for you if y

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