If you’ve recently graduated and aspire to launch your career at McKinsey or any of the ‘Big 4’ firms- Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and EY, you may need to be aware of the main differences between these professional services providers.
McKinsey is around a tenth of the size of the Big 4 regarding employee count, revenue, and global presence. While Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and EY concentrate on their advisory practice, McKinsey addresses C-suite level problems.
The key 8 main differences between McKinsey and Big 4 firms are:
- Brand value and heritage
- Size and volume
- Scope of services
- Career growth opportunities
- Recruiting process
- Salaries & Incentives
- Exit opportunities
- Work-life balance
In this post, I’ll discuss these 8 main differences between McKinsey and the ‘Big 4’ firms that might help you choose one to kickstart your career.
Table of Contents
1. Brand Value and Heritage
McKinsey and the Big 4 are well-established and renowned companies in their respective fields.
However, considering brand value, McKinsey holds a strong position in strategy and management consulting. The company is widely known as one of the most prestigious consulting firms globally, with a brand synonymous with high-quality strategic expertise.
On the other hand, the Big 4 firms have primarily built their brand value in accounting and auditing, focusing on financial services. Nevertheless, they have expanded their service offerings to:
Still, the Big 4 brand recognition in consulting is less dominant than McKinsey’s.
Furthermore, McKinsey’s roots can be traced back to 1926, when James McKinsey founded the company. (Source)
In contrast, the Big 4 firms serve back from the 19th and early 20th centuries and primarily focus on financial services. (Source)
Having McKinsey on your resume is a significant asset for competitive roles, including C-suite positions. The Big 4 firms, while respected and prestigious in their own right, may have a distinct level of prestige in strategy and management consulting.
2. Size and Volume
Although a highly prestigious consulting company, McKinsey is relatively smaller than the Big 4 firms. Here I’ve discussed it in detail:
1. Global Presence
McKinsey operates in more than 135+ offices across over 65 countries worldwide. It has a moderate global presence that serves clients from various industries and sectors.
Conversely, the Big 4 firms have extensive global networks and presence. They operate in almost 150 countries and have multiple offices across the globe. (Source)
2. Employee Count
McKinsey has approximately 35,000 employees worldwide. While it is a sizable firm, its employee count is significantly smaller than the Big 4 firms. (Source)
The Big 4 firms have a substantially larger workforce. Each of the Big 4 firms employs between 200,000 and 250,000 employees globally. This extensive workforce is due to their broader range of services, including management consulting, valuation, market research, assurance, and legal advisory. (Source)
McKinsey’s annual revenue is approximately $10.5 billion, which is smaller compared to the Big 4 firms due to its exclusive focus on consulting services. (Source)
Each of the Big 4 firms has significantly higher revenue, ranging from tens of billions to over $50 billion, due to their diversified service offerings.
Here’s an updated table comparing the revenue, employee count, and the number of countries for McKinsey Vs. Big 4 firms:
|Firm||Revenue||Employee Count||Number of Countries|
When comparing McKinsey with the Big 4 firms (Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG), it’s essential to understand the differences in the types of consulting services they offer and their areas of expertise.
McKinsey focuses primarily on strategy and management consulting. The company’s consultants work on big strategic questions across various areas, such as:
- General strategy
- Organization management
- Marketing operations
- Digital transformation and M&A
- C-suite-level advice
On the other hand, the Big 4 consulting projects primarily focus on implementing client-requested initiatives rather than offering strategic advice at a high level. Their consultants typically work with middle management rather than the C-suite.
Another area where the Big 4 firms shine is their Transaction Services or Deals practices, which leverage their combined accounting and consulting expertise to provide specialized advice to M&A opportunities.
This is where these firms charge their highest fees and demonstrate their ability to integrate financial and strategic perspectives.
4. Career Growth Opportunities
Regarding career growth opportunities, I’ve found notable differences between McKinsey and the Big 4 consulting firms in terms of:
- Learning opportunities
- Speed of career progression
The ‘Big 4’ consultants, particularly those in the advisory practice, often specialize in specific industries early in their careers. They usually spend significant time (6-12+ months) working for the same client and becoming embedded in the client’s organization.
McKinsey consultants tend to stay generalists for a more extended period. They work on projects across different industries and typically spend 2-4 months with one client.
This exposure to diverse challenges and industries provides accelerated learning and a broader skill set.
Career progression can also be faster at McKinsey. The time it takes for a new consultant to reach the Partner level is typically shorter, around 9 years on average, compared to the Big 4, which may take 15+ years. (Source)
5. Selection Process
The selection process for McKinsey and the Big 4 consulting firms (Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG) differs in several aspects, including the timing of recruitment, eligibility requirements, interview structure, and focus areas.
McKinsey initiates its recruitment cycle in the fall, targeting MBA and undergraduate candidates from top schools for their upcoming batch of recruits. (Source)
This firms selection process includes three types of interviews:
- Experience interview
- Problem-solving interview
- Expertise interview
The recruiters assess candidates based on personal impact, entrepreneurial drive, problem-solving skills, and leadership qualities.
McKinsey also administers a problem-solving test (PST), which is used to narrow down the applicant pool. This exam evaluates analytical skills and the candidate’s ability to handle stress.
In contrast, the Big 4 consulting firms have a different focus and selection process. They often recruit candidates with specialized advisory skills and consulting industry expertise.
The selection process for these roles within Big 4 firms may involve interviews focused on specific consulting competencies and assessments of technical knowledge and industry experience.
Overall, McKinsey and the Big 4 consulting firms share similarities in their selection processes, such as assessing problem-solving skills and leadership qualities. Still, they differ in their recruitment cycle, eligibility requirements, etc.
6. Salaries – McKinsey Vs. Big 4
Compared to the Big 4 firms, McKinsey generally offers a slightly higher base salary for entry-level management consulting roles. On average, the base salary for these positions ranges from $87,000 to $100,000 annually or more, depending on the location. (Source)
However, it’s important to note that salary figures can vary based on geographic location, experience, and individual negotiations.
Here’s a comparison of the average base salaries for entry-level management consulting roles at McKinsey and the Big 4 firms (Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG):
|Firm||Average Base Salary/Year (Entry-level Management Consulting)|
|McKinsey||$87,000 – $100,000+|
|Deloitte||$75,000 – $95,000+|
|PwC||$70,000 – $90,000+|
|EY||$70,000 – $90,000+|
|KPMG||$65,000 – $85,000+|
7. Work-life Balance
As one of the top-tier management consulting firms, McKinsey is known for its high-intensity work environment. Consultants there often face demanding projects, tight deadlines, and longer working hours, impacting work-life balance.
On the other hand, work-life balance within the Big 4 can vary depending on the specific service line and project. (Source)
For example, tax or audit services might have more predictable and regular work hours, while consulting or advisory services could involve projects with varying demands and timelines.
A Quora contributor said, “I have worked as a trainee and Senior Consultant with one of the Big 4 audit firms for 4 years. On average, during most of the year, I worked for 70-80 hours a week on some key engagements. Sometimes I would go without sleep.” (Source)
8. Exit Opportunities
Having McKinsey experience on your resume can open doors to highly competitive roles, including C-suite positions, top management positions in renowned companies, and leadership roles in various industries.
The firm carries significant weight and is highly regarded by employers globally, which can enhance your career prospects and increase the likelihood of securing sought-after opportunities. (Source)
On the other hand, the Big 4 firms have a vast network of clients across different industries, which can lead to diverse opportunities for consultants to transition into industry-specific roles or specialize in areas that may include:
- Implementation consulting
Ultimately, the choice between McKinsey and the Big 4 firms for exit opportunities depends on your career goals, industry preferences, and the specific skills and experiences you aim to develop.
If you want to get more insights into the McKinsay and Big 4 differences, I have found this guy on a YouTube video comparing MBB with Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, and EY: