The number of management consultants in the United States has increased each year since 2012, reaching more than a quarter of a million consultants in 2021. If you’re reading this article, you have likely made the decision to move to or stay in consulting.
The next obstacle is deciding which firm is the right fit for you. There are several differences between large and mid-sized firms. One is not better than the other, but it’s important to consider what each firm has to offer and how that aligns to your own career aspirations as you’re making that decision.
We asked some of our fellow West Monroe employees who came from a Big 4 firm—both in consulting and internal shared services—to narrow down some of those key differentiators.
Here’s what they told us:
I loved the idea of solving problems, providing client service, and being exposed to a variety of experiences. I feel that consulting reframes the way you think because you’re taking in so much information at once, supporting clients in potentially different industries and organizations of different sizes, and thinking critically to assess how to solve their issues.
I graduated with a finance degree and was looking at jobs in banking. After speaking to members of my network, I came to realize that consulting would be a better fit for my personality and working style—given the ever-changing landscape of projects and focus areas. I was told that I “wouldn’t be bored.
My aunt used to work at a Big 4 firm, and her lifestyle seemed great; international projects, implementation of tech, seemed very glamorous. I felt if I got my foot in the door, I would be able to work in any industry.
I was drawn to the Big 4 because (at the time) I had only worked for large corporations and was more knowledgeable of the larger consulting firms and knew the experience would be more familiar. The larger firms also appeared to have a more structured way that they trained their staff and felt that I would have access to a vast array of experiences due to the size of the firm.
The Big 4 is a great opportunity to have exposure to mega-sized companies and projects, a resume booster, and also a good environment to ‘sharpen your teeth’ and ‘toughen your skin.
You don’t experience culture unless you’re on different teams. I wanted to see what consulting at a smaller company would be like. At my previous employer, a project would open and I’d be thrown into it just because I was available. I did 10 projects at my firm that were very different. At West Monroe, there’s planning and career equity. You’re not just floating by or pigeon-holed.
I was motivated to leave the larger environment when I realized that I wanted to switch my career and thought that I would likely have a larger impact in a smaller environment leveraging my experience and knowledge from larger organizations.
I realized during the pandemic that I prefer live interaction over Zoom when interacting with people. Due to the nature of staffing at my previous firm, we had limited people from the same geographies on a project. No one would come to the office, meaning there were limited options and opportunities to see people and have fun. I was also looking to have a better work-life balance; now that I’m no longer constantly on the road, I can do activities after work.
With large projects come larger teams—even for specific workstreams: Almost every employee had one single job to do, and teams were siloed and competitive. Projects were long term, repetitive, and the culture was based on survival. I was always looking for an environment of collaboration where I wouldn’t be boxed into a specific project design; I wanted something where I could work with clients and achieve their specific goals—even if it meant creating something new.
One of the big differences I noticed here is that everybody wants to help with their expertise and advice. It’s encouraged to reach out to other practices to really get the right expertise to complete the project or deliverable—and people make time to help you. Second, every company is full of the words “fun” and “work-life balance,” but I can honestly say that West Monroe really strives to bring this into practice. Employees are encouraged to take PTO, and they can put personal things before work. Something every week is organized to have fun.
My old firm tried to be people-first, but it was too big to be felt across the organization; it depended on region, team, and practice. At West Monroe, it’s very consistent across the board.
Bigger firms have less transparency—that’s one of the biggest changes from transitioning to West Monroe. Here, everyone is transparent with leadership changes, decision-making, financials, and long-term firm strategy. West Monroe also strives to push employees to live their lives and genuinely cares for its employees. At larger firms, you can feel like a cog in the machine.
Senior leaders are more accessible in smaller-to-mid-sized-firms where you can cultivate stronger networks and relationships. It also can be easier to implement change in a smaller environment because there is typically less governance to manage. In larger organizations, there’s often more efficient structures/governance because they have to manage a larger number of staff (which can have advantages and disadvantages). The advantage is that there is a more efficient process. The disadvantage is that it can conflict with a more personalized approach and entrepreneurial environment.
Having worked at three consulting firms of different size and types, I can confirm that West Monroe is offering the most room for growth in the safest environment I’ve ever experienced. Junior colleagues have direct exposure to top leadership, have a chance to lead on project work, do new things every day, and are offered trainings and a helping hand whenever it’s needed.
Everyone has a chance to be an owner in something. Even if you’re right out of college, you can make a name for yourself. If you see an area that needs help or are interested in fixing a problem—whether it’s practice development or client delivery—you can take ownership and be recognized for it.
No matter what stage of your career journey you’re in, deciding the right environment for you can feel challenging. Whether considering a small, medium, or large-sized firm, what is most important is finding an organization that aligns to your values and brings you fulfillment.
If you're interested in joining a high-growth digital services firm that offers direct exposure to leadership, transparency around company financials, people representation, strategic firm decisions, and the opportunity to lead at all levels, consider West Monroe.
No matter what size company you come from, or level of experience you bring, we'd be lucky to have you! Check out our career page to learn more.