Should You Choose a Specialized or a Generalist Consulting Firm ?


When the motivation to become a consultant becomes tangible for you, the first thing to do is to clarify your professionnal project. Choosing a career in a specialized consulting firm or in a generalist firm is an arbitration that will impact the rest of your career. I speak not only of your sending your CV and cover letter, but you must decide on this question before even drafting your documents.


cabinet de conseil


Generalist vs. Specialized Consulting: On the Personal Side


There is no right or wrong choice, obviously. It depends on your background and your motivation. If you are already in a specialized field that you like, it is clear that access to consulting firms specialized in the same field will be simpler and will require less effort and investment. For example, an applicant who graduated from a great school of engineering and served several internships in energy can directly apply for a consultant position in this field.

If this candidate wants to learn more and more in the energy sector, it is the best solution for him. On the other hand, if your years of study and the variety of your internships do not determine you on a given sector, a generalist firm may be more suitable for you. For some candidates who do not want to be locked in a sector or in a function, a generalist firm will be welcome. Alternatively, you need to decide if you need to intellectually “see varied contexts and issues” versus if you are aiming to “deepen your expertise of a sector.


Generalist vs. Specialized Consulting Firm: On the Professional Side


On the professional side, the two choices are not symmetrical. One can perfectly do the generalist career as an early career choice in order to join a specialized sector in a medium term perspective. It is the classic career path in the strategy consulting firms. Consultants are generalists, but from the rank of manager, just before partner, they have two sectors and/or functions of expertise.

On the other hand, if you choose the specialist path, a return to a generalist career is more complicated. It happens that the firms need “opportunistic” employees as a source of skills in a given area or function. This was the case in the field of information and communications technologies, where the technological access gate makes it necessary to have profiles with strategy and technology skills. Then the top-tier has recruited consultants in specialized firms. But as a candidate, it is almost impossible to bet on upcoming opportunistic recruitment for your career choice. After experience in a specialized firm, careers out of consulting are obviously possible in companies in your sector of expertise. After a few years of generalist consulting, the options are fully open.

Finally in terms of compensation:

  • Strategy and management consulting positions pay the most.
  • Some specialties may be very remunerative according to the demand of the market, but a specialized consulting firm generally pays less than a generalist.


Other Resources On Management Consulting Firms


Links of interest - Management Consulting Firms Overview in The US
Videos on this topic - Management Consulting Firms Association
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