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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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What are the uppers and downers of large consulting firms vs. specialty boutiques vs. policy-focused firms? Here's an easy-to-understand guide.

LARGE MANAGEMENT CONSULTING FIRMS

Uppers

  • Ability to work on a diversity of projects and tasks
  • Intelligent colleagues
  • High pay relative to other entry level jobs in health care
  • Ample opportunity to transition into industry after a two- to 10-year stint

Downers

  • Much longer hours relative to other entry-level jobs in health care
  • Tasks involve difficult analytic thinking performed in relatively short timeframes
  • Need substantial previous experience in health care in order to specialize

Examples: Elites (Strategy)

  • Boston Consulting Group
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Bain & Company

Others (Strategy, Operations, Systems):

  • Deloitte and Touche
  • Andersen Consulting
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers
  • Ernst & Young

BOUTIQUE FIRMS

Uppers

  • Smaller office might mean more responsibility and client contact for recent graduates
  • Easy ability to gain skills in a specific line of work ? these skills may be effectively marketed to larger consulting firms or potential industry employers
  • Flexibility in terms of how long you want to stay (as opposed to the two- to three-year, "up or out" philosophy of some large consulting firms)
  • Health care work only

~Downers

  • Fewer formalized processes make it very easy to be ?out of the loop? on significant issues related to personnel and office politics
  • Less diversity in the range of projects and tasks you will encounter
  • Tend to be less stable financially than larger firms ? often run by individuals who are new to the pressures and rewards of running the own consulting firm
  • Entry-level consultants are often paid less than at larger firms

Other key factors

  • Tend to specialize in one line of products, services or clients
  • Tend to be congregated in Washington DC, Boston and the West Coast
  • Often started by individuals recently leaving industry or larger consulting firms

POLICY- AND RESEARCH-FOCUSED FIRMS

Uppers

  • More scientifically rigorous, publishable work
  • Good non-MBA graduate school opportunities
  • Fewer hours than most other consultants
Downers
  • Less pay than most large management consulting firms
  • May get labeled a ?data person? and never see the light of day

Major players

  • The Lewin Group, Inc.
  • Abt Associates, Inc.
  • Covance, Inc.
  • Mathematica Research, Inc.

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