Consulting firms

To have a vision of what the general term “consulting” covers, you can check out Wikipedia. Actually, I agree with almost nothing on this page, nor with the definition of “consulting firms” and even less with the two sentences supposed to define strategy consulting. But this is not the issue, as this source reflects most of the public’s – false – ideas about consulting.

management consulting firm boutique

The very terms “consulting,” the “consultant,” or “consulting firm” are widely overused anyway. No professional commission protects these meanings, and they can be used very loosely and largely. This results in considerable confusion outside the consulting sector and perplexity among candidates. I remember, at a seminar given in a PhD college in Paris, the number of questions asked by students on communication skills. Both reports and the media reported the influence of political consultants and communication. In the minds of many a consultant is a professional who sells his expertise to a client. But this is a poor definition and sometimes inaccurate.


The Two Types of Management Consulting Firms


There are two types of management consulting firms; generalist and specialized. When a candidate thinks about “consulting,” he or she typically thinks of the so-called generalist firms because these are often the best known, most influential, and prestigious.

management consulting firm segmentation

They also give rise to the highest salaries and more attractive careers. When the results of Business School surveys indicate that consulting is one of the most attractive sectors for students, these are those firms that are in line of sight. But they are far from being the only ones in the marker. In fact, there are as many consulting firms as there are specialties, functions, and sectors in the business world. Obviously, it is good to have an idea as to the type of firm that best fits you as a candidate. Of course, it is possible to change your mind, but you don’t have the option to ignore the basics of a consulting firm’s characteristics as a future candidate.

The Two Types of Consulting Firms–Part II

As a candidate, another impactful segmentation criteria is the size of the company. There are large firms and ones much smaller. I used to define an intermediate category, but here I will say that firms that have structured departments – human resources, IT, etc. – can be considered as “major firms.”

There again, it is essential to know one’s own career aspirations, to target your preferences, such as what type of firm. The market is mainly composed of small firms, and therefore, the lion’s share of employment opportunities is also in this category. In small firms, the smallest are called “boutiques” of consulting. These are so important that I’ve devoted an entire article to them.

The Two Types of Consulting Firms–Part III

One can also segment firms according to their level of international activity. It is a key parameter in a globalized world, where most of the companies that drive the economy are multinational companies. It is thus normal that consultants and consulting firms have extensive expertise in international business.

When we know the major role of benchmarks that are not intended to be limited to one country in consulting assignments, we can understand the value for the client to leverage consulting firms with such expertise. One can make some inferences about the positioning of some consulting firms that do not have this essential component in their business model. Of course, a small firm will not structurally be able to have branches in dozens of countries, but the idea is for these boutiques to develop networks of excellence, through partnerships, for instance.

The Two Types of firms – Part IV

Finally, it should be noted that from the consultant’s lens, the management of human resources’ policy within the firm is a key parameter to segment consulting firms. In two words, some firms offer very fast promotion perspectives, but also very stressful careers, with the system up or out. Basically, it is either a promotion or you go out of the firm. No need to say that this type of HR parameter is likely to transform a career into a failure or a success by itself!


On, we will consider that a consulting firm is a structure providing intellectual services to its customers, and whose consultants can be specialized or not.

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