Why 14% of Harvard goes into Consulting

By | November 9, 2014

I recently read a 4,300 word article in the Harvard Crimson school newspaper that helps to explain why more than 14% of the Harvard graduating class goes into management consulting.  If you are interested in understanding the psyche of young top talent that goes from Harvard into the Big 3 or Big 4 consulting firms read here.

Harvard Crimson

While there are many reasons to go into consulting – exciting work, good pay, and travel to name a few – this article makes the case for flexibility. Consulting offers Harvard grads great learning experiences without locking them into a career. Honestly, who at the age of 21 really know what they want to do for the next 40+ years?  I didn’t.

For Harvard seniors seeking intellectual stimulation and professional prestige after college, an application to these firms can make good sense. The firms can, and almost always do, serve as stepping stones, training their young hires in technical skills and business know-how that open doors to a variety of jobs in other fields. – Harvard Crimson

Completely agree. When I look at some of my Big 4 consulting peers, they are in a number of different industries at roles. I called it a consulting diaspora.

Our students are panicked about choosing something for ten years. …They’re commitment-phobic. . .Consulting jobs present themselves as low in risk and high in reward.

– Harvard Director, Office of Career Services

In the article, they joke that the Office of Career Services (OCS) at Harvard is actually more like the Office of Next Steps because these super precocious and talented millennials want to learn, have fun, but most importantly, keep their options open.

The Big 3 have always had an “up or out” culture which continually cycles young, ambitious talent through their pyramids. Their marketing material openly tells recruits it is okay to work for a few years, learn, and leave.

A McKinsey recruiting pamphlet, for example, assures potential applicants, “As profoundly stimulating as it is here, people do leave. We’re okay with that.” The recruitment literature of the other two major firms is similar—and comes across as similarly welcoming to those who may fear commitment. BCG’s website touts the opportunity to “[develop] new skills and experience to help you at every stage of your career—at BCG and beyond,” while Bain’s website explains that the firm’s entry level position is “a great way to set yourself up for future success—at Bain and beyond.”  – Harvard Crimson

These Harvard grads are ahead of the game in many ways – including getting great consulting training while keeping their options open.  One of the partners I learned from early in my career used to quip, “I became a partner because I never decided what I wanted to do with my life.”  Little did I realize, that he was actually telling me the truth.

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