Consultancy Companies

Consultancy companies offer professional research and advisory within a certain field of expertise to other companies and public organizations. They operate on a project basis: as an umbrella agency, they summon a team of consultants or delegate a consultant for every contracted project. 

Consultancy is a broad term; consultants work in multiple areas: providing professional assessment and planning to the government, massive data science- and biotechnological projects, business management, general management, education, conflict resolution, market research, planning the public infrastructure, professional training, etc.

You might be asking yourself, “How does such a consultancy company differ from a corporation?” Well, consultancy companies have a different mission, philosophy, and modus operandi than corporations—which also implies that careers within those companies differ from typical corporate careers. A corporation usually develops their own flagship product, service, or a range of services that represent their vision (or, their “why,” Sinek, 2011) and sell to individual customers or other businesses. 

On the contrary, a consultancy company assists other companies in developing their vision and providing between services and products to their customers—as well as helping public institutions in building a better infrastructure for their citizen. While corporations compete to become the market leader among producers of RTV equipment, providers of digital services, or manufacturers of cars or planes, consultancy companies compete to become the best business advisor, the best predictor of the future market trends, and the best barometer of public opinion, and the best planner for the client’s projects.


There are two main types of consultancy companies. 

  1. Large, international players, such as “The Big Four” (i.e., Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG). These companies develop a multi-layer structure that resembles a corporation. They usually offer a broad range of consultancy services across many areas of industry. 
  2. The small and middle-sized, local consultancy companies. These companies can be as small as a few employees and as large as thousands of employees, and are usually specialized in one area of expertise.

In general, consultancy companies hire their consultants—especially the large players. However, some companies prefer to work with subcontractors and remunerate consultants per working hour—this allows for allocating resources more flexibly and depending on the current demand from clients.


Depends On the Type of Company!

Typically, in a consultancy company, you will have one employer and multiple clients to work with. However, your daily life strongly depends on the type of consultancy company you are working for. Large, international consultancy companies typically orient themselves on short-term projects. For every individual project contracted with a corporate client, they summon a team to execute the project within the company—usually, on their site. They usually have multiple offices in multiple countries. 

Therefore, it is often the case that they summon a team in the office closest to the client or send some people over to that office. In a company like this, you live from one project to another, and you rarely work with the same set of colleagues on multiple projects—as the team members are chosen for projects based on the fit between the topic of the project and their related experience.

On the contrary, small, local consultancy companies typically choose long-term projects and send their employees to the client’s side. As an employee of such a company, you execute the projects hand in hand with the client’s employees. These projects often last for a year or more, which means that you can accommodate to the place, and feel almost like an employee of your client. In that case, you might work from a stationary office at the client’s site, or work from home and commute to clients from there—that depends on your employer and on the client’s preference.

The System Incentivizes Good-quality Management

There working culture in consultancy companies is individualistic by design. After all, you need to build a portfolio of accomplished projects and take care of your image as a salesperson to get acknowledged and promoted. 

However, consultancy companies make their efforts to make you feel comfortable and create a team spirit. Of course, if employees are not collaborative enough, the company cannot function well. Therefore, in most consultancy companies, there is an internal assessment system: managers evaluate their team members, and team members evaluate their managers. 

This system incentivizes the managers to be friendly and likable at work, and to care about the good atmosphere during the projects. They often go the extra mile and offer their free time to teach their teammates extra skills or arrange social gatherings during the project.

The System Incentivizes Cooperation Between Employees

Team members also have good incentives to be helpful to others—behaviors such as being impolite or non-cooperative to teammates are quickly reported and reprimanded. On the other hand, a helpful attitude and taking time for answering questions—even if they come from beyond your team—is praised and promoted. Lastly, the team members are not compared with each other. Of course, they get scores for their performance. 

However, if the whole project ends well, all team members can get high notes, while a disastrous project can cause that all the team members to score low. In a sense, the whole team wins, or the whole team loses. Since the individual assessment correlates with the results of the whole project, there is a good reason for the teammates to help each other on the project.

Most employers in this space value building a positive, stimulating working culture within the company just as much as building good, long-term relations with their clients. For all the aforementioned reasons, you don’t need to be afraid of a toxic atmosphere while going for a (reputable!) consultancy company.

Social Activities Within the Company

Most consultancy companies arrange social activities on a regular basis, and make sure that the company life is vibrant. Starting with the company newsletter, through weekly (online) workouts, weekly or monthly festive lunches, food/drink tasting sessions, to (video) game nights. You won’t ever get bored!

Social Activities During the Project

Project managers also have the autonomy to organize the working life and social meetings during the projects that they lead. Therefore, depending on the project manager, you can expect that during the project you might meet with your teammates for afternoon coffees every day, have dinners together, or spend every Friday night on common social gatherings. Many team managers also arrange team events once every month. At the end of the project, the teams celebrate.

However, it is often the case that team members are too tired for that, and it all ends with a round of greetings and a brief farewell instead.


Career Development

Just as in other environments, you can build a career here. In large consultancy companies, consultants are assigned with various ranks based on their experience and scope of duties. The common model—with the position titles ordered from the lowest to the highest rank—is as follows: Associate Consultant, Senior Associate Consultant, Consultant, Managing Consultant, Principal Consultant, Partner. Of course, the detailed structure varies between companies. 

At the entry level, as a new team member on projects, you won’t have highly responsible tasks but rather, you will be closely instructed what to do. You can prepare that your manager won’t give you enough trust to prepare the final presentation from the project and present it to the client. In the process of becoming a senior consultant, you will be given more and more freedom to communicate with clients, but also to look for new clients and projects on your own.

Typically, you all also be given a choice: the career track for managers and for specialists is different. Therefore, from early on, you will need to decide in which direction you want to develop, and you will be offered relevant training and guidance.  However, an important not here is that, in a consultancy company you need to have a bit of all skills regardless which track you choose. Even as a consultant-specialist, you still need to have some soft skills to be able to present to clients and sell extra services to them. Even as a consultant-manager, you will need to have some knowledge of the discipline in which you specialize so that you can create and lead manageable projects

Good Financial Benefits

Large consultancy companies usually develop a centrally-regulated system for assigning salaries—and these salaries are usually competitive. Similarly as a corporation, a giant consultancy company is a sort of an army, and the rules need to be transparent—otherwise, it would lead to chaos.

When you become a Partner, you can also be offered some shares in the company. You are highly valued at that point because you are a senior professional in the field, and you are able to bring lucrative deals to the company using your network. Therefore, it is more beneficial for the company to share the cake with you and offer you some share and other special bonuses than to let you go.

In smaller consultancy companies, you are usually paid at a fixed salary. As an alternative, you can sometimes be paid a share of the deal, or a fixed rate per hour. You can also count on yearly bonuses based on your individual performance.

Relatively Clear and Transparent Rules

Unlike any corporations, consultancy companies are relatively transparent in their ways of reading and promoting people. Yes, it is still an individualistic environment in which you need to be your own advocate—but it is easier to negotiate your terms and go forward if your results can be quantified. In a consultancy company, you have a track record of the projects that you participated in, the success rate of these projects, the grades from the project managers, and the data related to the new clients and deals that you’ve brought to the company. If you work for small consultancy companies, you can also present reviews from the clients with whom you closely worked. 

Overall, it is relatively easy to assess what you overall value and money-making potential is as a consultant. Therefore, if you feel underpaid, you can also justify why you feel this way by showing the numbers. It is why active and efficient consultants usually have an open career path within the consultancy company, and don’t need to play games under the table to get further in their careers. 

In corporations on the contrary, it works different. It is often the case that hundreds, or even thousands of employees work for years and years, developing one product. Or, that your role is only remotely related to all the innovation happening within the company as you work on, e.g., improving logistics between departments. It is why assessing the real value of your work for the company and how this value should be compensated by salary, is often hard. It is also why getting promoted in a corporation requires much more self-management skills next to just producing good results.

Quick Training In How Your Branch of Industry Works

If you are now finishing your university education, joining a consultancy company might be a good start into your industry career. It is because, working in consultancy will give you a lot of industry experience in short time. If you go work for one of the giant companies, you will work in multiple dynamic teams, on multiple subjects, with dozens of highly preselected, smart people. If you choose for small companies, you will visit many of your clients’ headquarters and in that way, you will learn about the working culture in multiple companies in your sector. 

You will see how they operate behind the scenes, and discover all the essential information about them as potential employers that you couldn’t ever find in the publicly announced job offers—things that recruiters will never tell you at the job interviews! It is a priceless knowledge to have.

Therefore, regardless of the type of consultancy company that you choose, with 1-2 years of experience in consulting under your belt, you will be a competitive candidate for positions in almost any branch of private and public sector.

Travel Opportunities

Similarly as in the case of corporations, if you choose for an international consultancy company, you can travel the world! No one will stop you from applying to a project in another corner of the world—especially it the project relates to the portfolio of projects that you have already built, and it seems to be the logic next step in your development as a professional consultant. And, fixed working hours will leave you with a lot of extra time for sightseeing!

An Opportunity to Get Recruited In a Safe and Conscious Way

As mentioned before, if you choose to work for a small consultancy company, you can visit multiple companies as an outsider and learn a lot about their culture from inside out. Most professionals looking for jobs never get that opportunity! Who knows, maybe you will get to enjoy one of these workplaces, and the client will see you as a potential employee as well, and offer you a full-time contract. Such a transfer is a good option for you whenever you encounter a client with a good working culture and interesting projects.

In fact, many companies recruit their employees this way, because it is also good for them. So, they first create projects, hire external consultants on the projects, and then offer contracts to those consultants who did best in the projects and also best adapted to the company culture in the process. Hiring this way is a safe bet for them—they know right from the get-go that the new employee is effective, good to work with, and fits the team. Of course, the consultancy company won’t let you go just like that, so your new employer also needs to buy you out by paying a recruitment fee to the consultancy agency that still hires you.

Signing employment contracts this way is usually highly successful as both sides know what they are going for, and the chances are, it will be a good cooperation for many years to come.

The Potential To Start Your Own Business

By working for a consultancy company, you can also learn first-hand about how this business is done. If after a few years of working for a consultancy company, you get confidence in your hard and soft skills, develop a broad personal network, and get to know your market sector well enough, this gives you an option of setting your own business as well. Many freelancers and entrepreneurs working in consultancy begin their journey as employees. At some point, they resign from their jobs and often, they bring some of their former clients with them (well, it might be a selfish move but it works for a start).

Mind that in the process of training while working for a  consultancy company—regardless whether it is large or small—you can also possibly become a well-paid independent professional consultant in the future. In data science, pharma, biotech, business development, and many other areas of industry, independent consultants can charge rates of $100-200 per hour or more (at least, this is the case in the Northern America and Western Europe). 

Therefore, you are thinking of possibly becoming a freelancer in the future, but you would prefer to start from a safer option, this might be a solution for you. You might slowly grow your network and competencies under the umbrella of your employer. And then, at some point, detach from your employer at the point when you feel confident about your perspectives to get your first clients.


Star Qualities

To thrive as a consultant, you will need to effect your analytic thinking. You will also need to remember who pays you: if you work for one of the companies that send you to projects on the client’s side, it’s not the client but rather, your manager at your maternal company who decides about your promotion. Therefore, you should make sure that you stay in touch with the right people on your employer’s side and report your progress to them. 

Other factors for success are similar as those in corporations. Namely, you need to be likable and good with people, and demonstrate strong communication skills—both verbal and non-verbal. That communication also involves the ability to present your results to the client in a way that will impress them.

Constant Assessment

If you work for a large consultancy company and you conduct team project on  your employer’s site, your manager will grade your performance for the company records. If you work in a small consultancy company, you are in direct contact with the clients and wrk on their side. In that case, your employer will certainly ask for feedback about the quality of your work. 

Therefore, in either case, you can prepare to be evaluated in some way at every project, whenever you want it or not—and it will happen far more often than, e.g., in corporations or public institutions where your assessment usually happens only once a year. You just need to develop a thick skin against judgement from others—your teammates, your managers, your clients.

Strong Individuality that Also Involves Strategic Thinking

Similarly as in corporations, in consultancy companies you need to care about your own career development. Officially, the Human Resources department has an eye on you and your overall career path, but in fact, it’s up to you whether or not you will get any career opportunities. Since a new team is summoned for every project, you need to focus on building your project portfolio more than on making bonds with your teammates. And, to get promoted, you need to score points in your managers’ books. It means that you not only need to be good at work but also, sell yourself well during the group projects and get noticed.

Furthermore, in most consultancy companies, you will need to decide early on whether you are planning to eventually grow into a high-level manager or a specialist. You career track will look differently depending on this choice.

As for the scope of projects, most consultancy companies offer a road range of services in at lest a few sectors of the market. Of course, you can experiment with various projects a bit in the beginnings. However, eventually, it is better to choose one area of expertise in which you can become an expert above all experts, and the “to-go-to person” within the company. It will serve you better in the long run also because choosing one area of expertise will help you also build the relevant professional network in that area. And that will leverage your value as an employee.

Lastly, building the professional network both within and outside the company will increase your potential to eventually get promoted to senior positions. Employees who have a plan for themselves from the get-go, usually do better than those who just listen to what their managers ask them to do, and wait to be summoned for the next projects without any particular plan.

Multiple Stressors

In most jobs, you either have a boss, or a client—and these are substantially different sources of stress. However, once you work as a consultant, you experience both these stressors at a time. Namely, you need to make your way between your boss and your clients, and try to make everyone happy. Of course, this can be a huge physical and mental burden, and lead to burnouts. 

The amount of daily contact with clients is a bit different between small and large consultancy companies. In small companies, you have contact with the clients from the get-go. In large companies, as a junior employee, you are typically under the wings of your managers and work on the company’s side for the first few years. Within this period, you might be given a stage to present the results of the project to the clients. Yet, you don’t negotiate with the clients on your own, and you are not decisional about the course of the projects. Your scope of responsibilities when it comes to handling clients will increase only after you get promoted to more senior positions within the company.

Salesmanship Skills Are Necessary In This Job

It is true both in small and large consultancy companies. You need to keep close contact with the clients—the ability to communicate with them and sell them your work is part of the game. If you are a type of a specialist who enjoys doing the actual work, but not necessarily the sales part, this might be a barrier to entry for you.

Furthermore, especially after you reach some señor positions, convincing your client to launch another project with you (e.g., a follow-up to the current project) will be appreciated by your manager and awarded with a bonus in the next paycheck or in promotion points. So, proactivity in sales is an appreciated quality in consultancy companies and leads to promotions.

You Can Never Really Get the Sense of Belonging To The Team

In a large consultancy company where you conduct short-term team projects, you will change your teammates literally every few weeks. In many companies, you can point to another consultant that you would prefer to be placed on projects alongside with. However, such placement can never be guaranteed, as for every project, the team is cast based on the budget, the client’s guidelines, and the personal decision of the project manager. And even if it works you way once in a while, you will still experience a high rotation of people with whom you need to work with. There is just no such thing as a “team that you belong to.”

On the contrary, in a small consultancy company, you work on your client’s site. While you might be working within one unit for a long time, you are still an outsider who is not the client’s employee. And even when after the project ends, you come back to the headquarters of your employer, you don’t feel like belonging to a team neither. Your performance is, effectively, compared with the performance go other consultants working with other clients all the time.

Hectic Environment

As mentioned before, the vast majority of consultancy companies are not toxic environments, and the working atmosphere is highly cooperative. However, it can be quite hectic. In small consultancy companies, the first few years can be stressful as you’ll be working with multiple clients, and you need to build your confidence in those business contacts. Obviously, every client will believe that they are the key client, and they will expect to be your priority. In other words, they will want the project to be completed as fast as possible, as well as possible, and as cheap as possible. 

For this reason, you might find yourself under constant time pressure—you will need to juggle multiple projects, and start new projects before some other projects are finished. Sometimes the client reviews your work and asks for multiple iterations of adjustments and improvements, while you are already halfway with your next project! Fortunately, in most such companies, after ~2-4 years of working on projects, consultants get promoted to junior managers. As such, they do less hands-on work at the client’s site and spend more time networking and looking after the teams that they are leading. Working at management positions is usually a bit less hectic than the junior consultancy jobs. 

As mentioned before, in large consultancy companies the workflow is different. The projects are typically short-term team projects. Since the project is contracted for specific number of man-hours, and the whole team is pressed to finish before the deadline—which is competitive companies often means a crunch mode.

Furthermore, in large companies, there are multiple levels, starting with an Associate Consultant and ending with a Partner. Getting promoted between some of these different levels is just a matter of time: you need to collect enough completed projects in your portfolio to demonstrate the competencies necessary to get promoted to the next level. 

However, getting promoted between some of the higher levels is a bottleneck that requires high workload over extended periods of time, and excellent networking and self-management skills. Therefore, many employees of consultancy companies get stuck more or less halfway the ladder, and cannot progress any further. And, many of them get a burnout while trying.

Predatory Consultancy Companies

If you are interested in working for a particular consultancy company, try to get information about the turnover rate of their staff. Some companies facilitate keeping a healthy work-life balance among their employees. In such workplaces, the turnover rate can be higher than 10 years! However, if you find out that the turnover rate is low (1-2 years), it might mean that they just exploit their consultants as much as they can—so that after a year spent there, you will likely become a wreckage. 

It is the most typical reason behind the fast turnover. Therefore, if you still decide to choose working for such a company, please get ready for a couple of incredibly hectic years. After that, however, you’ll probably have enough experience to land jobs in almost any company in your sector. So, you might be willing to treat this hardship as an investment in yourself. 

This is, however, not the only possible reason why the turnover within the company is so high. Alternatively, it might also mean that in reality, the company’s business strategy is effectively based on recruitment more than consultancy. Namely, that they make most of their profits by “selling” their consultants over to the clients. 

Well, in that case, if you decide to take a contract there, it is better to treat it is a way of going through a paid job search. A job search in which, instead of sitting at home and working for free writing pales of motivational letters, you look for a suitable placement for yourself while doing paid projects. Sounds like a much better options—especially if sitting at home as an unemployed person makes you feel sick. 

Subjective Way of Assessing Your Performance And Awarding Bonuses

Similarly as corporations and startups, most consultancy companies perform the annual assessment of their employees’ performance and award personal bonuses depending on the outcome. This assessment is, to some extent, based on your results on course.

Yet still, many points of the assessment such as “presentation skills” or “developing a good collaboration with clients” are subjective. Therefore, even if you give it all, you can never be sure that you will get the bonus in the end.

Hard To Get In

In some consultancy companies, especially in the international giants such as “The Big Four,” the barriers to entry are extremely high. These companies often have an acceptance rate lower than 1%. Therefore, most job candidates spend long months on preparations for the interviews. There are tons of specialized courses and online resources solely dedicated to this topic. 

Therefore, you will first need to put a ton of work into your application procedure without any guarantee of success. On the bright side of things, as soon as you are through and land your first position, you can start building a career (an even, a life-long career!) with solid working benefits and many exciting routes for professional development. Therefore, it is an investment that can pay off and set you for life!

Impostor Complex

Related to the previous point, the acceptance rate at the job interviews to the prestigious consultancy companies is extremely low. For this reason, you work with  highly preselected people—the best and the most driven people in the industry. It is easy to develop an impostor complex in such conditions. 

A person with this syndrome believes that they are not as skilled, talented or accomplished as their environment thinks of them, and suffers from a fear of being “exposed” (Langford, J. & Clance, P. R., 1993). You have to develop your own ways to keep your self-esteem high among your colleagues who are all ambitious and want to progress in their careers.

High Mobility Is Preferred

In many consultancy companies, high mobility is preferred. As mentioned before, small companies might prefer to send you over to the client’s site for projects. This effectively means commuting to a different location every time you are assigned to a new project. 

If the client is too far, this sometimes means spending two weeks in a hotel, or a necessity to commute to fancy offices far in the countryside by car every morning. Working from home is not often practiced, although, of course, in the post-corona job market, this will likely change and become more acceptable.

The large consultancy companies might not require visiting the clients’ offices during projects from you. However, if you think of getting promoted to high senior positions at some point, you will be expected to collect broad experience in a variety of projects within your specialization, and in multiple settings. Therefore, you can be prepared that for the sake of building your portfolio, you might need to move from one office to another every now and then. It often implies changing countries or even continents! 

Timing The Projects

Large consultancy companies usually assess how much labor a given project would take and put a price tag on the whole project (with a healthy margin, of course). In those companies, e.g., in Boston Consulting Group or McKinsey, it’s taken for granted that you work on your project to the best of your abilities, and that you spend all your working time focused on your work. It is also usually the case that you work on one team project at a time. 

For this reason, there is no need to report to your superiors and/or clients how you spend every single day and every working hour. For the same reason, it is also often the case that consultants stay at work until late hours yet at the same time, take multiple breaks during the day to recharge or so. The focus is put on effectiveness, therefore, life in such a company often resembles startup life.

However, smaller consultancy companies work differently. Instead of pricing the whole project, they often require clients to pay per every hour of their consultants’ time spent on the project. If that’s the case in your workplace, it effectively means that you will need to report how you spend your working time in high detail. You will often work on more than one project at a time. 

Therefore, you will need to book every single hour of your working time for particular projects, and stick to the agreed schedule. If you were studying before, or if you worked in a fluid working environment without official office hours, it might take you some time and effort to adapt to these new conditions. In this setting, it is important to keep highly productive for 8 hours a day—rather than leaving your office after 12 hours of work interleaved with self-administered (coffee) breaks.


Similarly as in case of corporations, job offers announced by reputable consultancy companies are not difficult to find.

They are also announced through professional social networks (e.g., LinkedIn), job boards (e.g., Indeed), and company websites. Plus, you can subscribe for a newsletter and get notified whenever a vacancy within your scope of interests is announced. The whole difficulty doesn’t lie in learning about he vacancy, but in winning the competition and landing the contract. 


The way the recruitment process looks much depends on the type of the company. Large consultancy companies have procedures closer to corporations while small consultancy companies have procedures that resemble methods used in small and middle-size companies (see: the next subchapter entitled Small and Middle-Sized Enterprises).

One important remark here is: large consultancy companies usually are even harder to get in than corporations. They tend to have a multi-stage, highly-structured recruitment process. The whole process can take a few months and typically, less than 1% of all the candidates eventually get hired. Therefore, you need to make a decision upon which of the big players you are willing to apply for. And then, get professional help. 

There are professional courses oriented at landing positions at these companies. You’ll need to find a course dedicated to the recruitment process within the company of your choice, and allocate a lot of time into preparing and applying. It takes at least a few weeks of full-time training. If you skip the training and just apply, then most likely, you will only waste your time and nerves.


Talking Values

Top consultancy companies make sure that the vision and mission, and values represented by the company don’t remain just empty phrases hanging somewhere on the website.

You can expect that once in a while (e.g., once a year or once every two years), you might spend an afternoon, or even the whole working day, discussing the company values, and the ways to better implement these values in the daily practice.

Posh Gatherings With Clients

As mentioned before, the management of consultancy companies always makes sure that the atmosphere within the company is positive and collaborative.

One  common tradition in consultancy companies is arranging Christmas meetings with employees and clients in sumptuous restaurants, inviting guest artists, and making sure that the whole event is entertaining and memorable to the employees.

Integration Trips and Retreats

Related to the previous point, consultancy companies make sure that their employees also spend time out together—usually on the yearly basis. It can be a weekend, or a 3-4 day retreat in a resort by the sea, or abroad. These excursions are usually focused in 75% on integration, and in the remaining 25% on education—although you can also encounter companies that prefer to organize retreats fully focused on leisure and building relations between employees.

Of course, the discussed topics vary as every branch of every company has a different culture. So, you can expect a wide variety of topics, from personal life and vacation plans to exchange ideas for how to strengthen the portfolio and get promoted. The details of the projects left back at the office are rarely discussed though.

While going for a retreat, you need to be careful! You will be closely watched. In case you overdo with drinking and/or make statements that collide with the company’s Code of Conduct (e.g., make inappropriate comments towards minorities), it can be a fast track to be fired. It is a sort of a paradox: it is much more probable to get laid off from a consultancy company when you are not on the site than when you are back at your office.