Friday, June 5, 2009

Consulting vs. Finance

A couple years ago in the boom market, the lucky students who received offers from McKinsey, Bain, BCG (MBB) and Goldman Sachs more often than not chose Goldman Sachs.

From speaking with friends and students at my school in the past two years, the trend has reversed for many. We are looking at consulting much more seriously - it gives broad exposure to a swath of industries. You get to learn about the finances of companies and much, much more: branding, how to sell a product, whether to acquire / merge, how to expand product offerings, how to start a business. I worked in finance before, and learned a tremendous amount about how to read 10-Ks and build several valuation models. But I can say, without a doubt, that the work in consulting has been a lot more exciting for me at a junior level - I am expected to speak up in meetings with senior people, and the director on my team asked me for my opinion in a meeting with the client! I build models that have no template - I am given the responsibility to take an idea and explain it as clearly and powerfully to my team and the client. Such experience is hard to come by in banking.

A list of major differences between consulting and finance internships/analyst positions, in my experience:

For Consulting
- exposure to the client
- strong team work with senior people
- senior people more willing to mentor
- more "soft skill" training
- looking at the company from all sides
- expertise in PowerPoint

- longer hours and learn endurance
- execution of deals instead of pure advisory
- tense environment, more emphasis on "face time"
- work closely with junior people on modeling
- focus on numbers (the pitch fits the numbers)
- expertise in Excel

Other notes:
  • in consulting, I've had much more flexibility with scheduling non-work activities than in finance. As much as banks have made strides to be more family-friendly and progressive, as an intern/analyst you can expect to have to cancel your dinner plans. Keeping a work-life balance is easier in consulting.
  • Just looking at the numbers, it is harder to get a consulting internship than a finance internship in your junior summer. The summer analyst classes at banks are very large - in the several hundreds. At MBB, the summer intern class is anywhere from 3-10 (depends on the office).
  • However, don't let the numbers scare you from applying to consulting. If you make it to the final round for a consulting internship position at MBB, the people who don't get an offer are usually guaranteed a first round interview for full time. Other firms 'fast-track' you to the final round for full time. So there's a huge incentive to participate in the consulting recruiting process in your junior year.
  • I like to think of consulting as giving a broad platform for any type of business, whereas in finance you learn one important aspect of business (financing) very well.
  • Consulting firms look favorably upon investment banking internships. The reverse is not necessarily as clear cut. Why is this important? I had offers from consulting firms and banks for my junior summer, and decided to take the finance offer (even though I knew I was a better fit for consulting). I worked at one of the top banks in New York, learned everything I could. It was easy for me to "sell myself" during consulting interviews when I jumped ship to one of MBB firms. Consultants tend to be ex-bankers and they could relate to my story - I ultimately got offers from all MBB. This thinking may help those deciding between these two industries for junior summer.
If there's anything you're interested in knowing, and want to separate fact from myth, as always feel free to comment!

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