Management consulting firms typically require their applicants to express a preference for the office in which they would want to work if they get hired. Some applicants have a tough time choosing their office preference, so here are some things to consider when making a preference choice.
This is probably the most important thing to think about: what do the offices expect from people in your situation? If you’re at a university, it is highly likely that the management consulting firm has specific offices that hire from your university, and they may have hurdles against you applying to alternative offices. Even if there aren’t hurdles to other offices, the application process that the preferred office uses for your school may be shorter and easier.
Many people have managed to get into offices from non-preference schools (like me!) but it can be a significantly tougher battle with a lot more serendipity involved than you might want to risk. Make sure you thoroughly understand how a firm recruits from your school or current company before making any final decisions on where to apply.
The personal ties you have to an area is probably the second most important thing to consider. Do you have family in the area of the office? Have you lived there before? Have you worked there before? Do you have career ambitions specific to the area?
Having personal ties to the area is especially important if you choose to apply to a non-core office or if you choose to apply abroad. Applying to a foreign office in a country you’ve never visited just because you want a change will not be adequate justification for a job. Applying to a foreign office where you lived half of your life has a better chance of acceptance.
Many firms have systems in place that prevent employees from giving special preference to applicants, including if the applicant is from his or her Alma Mater, but having friends in an office can still be a huge benefit. Consultants from your school may be more likely to offer you help with case work, make sure your resume is tailored to the people who will look at it, and give you general preparation advice.
Some firms do allow alumni to give certain preferences to candidates. The firm may send alumni the stack of resumes from your school and ask the consultant for recommendations, or enable alumni to flag promising candidates. Applying to an office without helpful alumni may mean forgoing a lot of this help, but make sure you understand just how much help you are (or are not) missing out on.
Industries of the Office
Many of you are going into consulting because you aren’t 100% sure what else you want to do with the rest of your life. As such, you might not have a clue what industry you want to enter in the long term. If, however, you do have a clue, make sure you factor this in to your office preference decision.
Most sizable offices will work with a decent variety of industries, but locality does tend to play a role. Texas offices often have a bit more oil and gas, while D.C. offices might have a bit more public work (though the public sector still won’t likely have an incredibly large presence). Even if you don’t know what industry you want to move into after consulting, you should find out what your potential office usually works with and make sure you don’t think that it sounds awful.
Recognize that the staffing model of the firm can impact the actual industry mix that you might get assigned to. If the firm only puts consultants on cases that are served by partners within the office, then you only need to worry about what that office works with. If the staffing model is more regional (or national, or global), then you might need to find out additional details about how staffing works to get an idea of the industries you can expect to encounter.
Size of the Office
Office size doesn’t often vary in a substantial way, but make sure you know the implications if you start to consider a particularly large or small office. In general, a larger office will likely have a greater variety of cases, better training opportunities, a greater likelihood of finding people you like to work with, and security that the office will be around for the long term.
If you go into a smaller or newer office, there may be a bit of excitement as you help build an office from the ground up, or pleasure knowing that you’re more likely to have frequent contact with people there that you like. A smaller office is riskier in general, but you may still excel in firm, especially if the office is expanding. Even in a large office, expansion is good.
I’ve also heard that going into a smaller office carries a risk that if you do poorly in an engagement, the entire office will instantly know about it and it can be difficult to dig out of that sort of a hole. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it’s completely irrelevant because I’m sure you will be a star performer.
Every office will have a unique culture about it. Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to find out cultural specifics before you arrive at the office. To get around this, recognize that you can often use the culture of the city as a proxy or generalization of the office culture (Los Angeles will probably be more laid-back than New York for example). You can also ask alumni or other contacts you have in the office for an idea of the office’s culture.
Culture can make a pretty significant impact on your job satisfaction, so it’s worth making some attempt at discovering specifics about the culture you might be working in. Don’t be distressed if you can’t get much information though, as this can be a hard thing to identify and descriptions often don’t mean much to someone who isn’t engulfed in the culture.
When I made my decision to apply to (and accept an offer from) BCG in the DC office, a lot of my decision rested on office expectations, personal attributes, alumni, and industry.
The year I applied for internships, it looked like Dallas (the normal office that recruits at BYU for BCG) wasn’t going to accept many (or any) interns from BYU. I figured that if there wasn’t any benefit to applying to the expected office then I would apply to where I wanted to go. Dallas did end up interviewing BYU students for internships that year, but the DC office took me up on a cold resume drop. I didn’t get the internship, but they brought me back for full-time interviews and gave me the job.
Why did I choose DC when Dallas no longer seemed advantageous? Well, I had lived in DC before and loved the city. I was dating the woman who would become my wife and knew that she would have an easier time moving to DC than to most other cities. I had also talked with an alumni in the DC office who was very helpful, and managed to meet a few more helpful guys after interviewing for internships, solidifying my decision.
I also feel like I might be interested in some public sector work. Although the DC office has a bit more significant of a public sector practice than many other offices, it still isn’t huge, but this is perfect for me since I’m not 100% sure I would want to pigeon-hole myself into it. I would like an opportunity to try the public sector at some point, but I’m not in a rush, and I think I might find my true fit elsewhere.
What helped you make your decision? Did I leave any important criterion out? Let me know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep seeking truth.
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