Career Advice: Management Consulting vs. Private Equity

Management consulting and working in private equity represent career paths that enable bright, ambitious college grads to make a lot of money right out of school. While the top firms in both industries prefer graduates of top universities who rank highly in their graduating classes, or even better, graduates of top MBA programs, neither career imposes rigid educational requirements. This makes them attractive picks for students who want lucrative careers without being bound to three or four years of post-college schooling like their classmates pursuing law and medicine.

Job Requirements

The first step to gaining the inside track to a management consulting or private equity job is to attend a highly rated university, such as an Ivy League school, Duke, the University of Chicago or another in that echelon, and to graduate among the top students in the class. Consulting and private equity firms recruit heavily at prestigious universities, while they largely ignore lesser-ranked schools.

Popular majors for aspiring management consultants include management, economics and even pre-law, since navigating legal issues represents a big part of management consulting. For students aspiring to private equity, most major in economics or finance. Spending an extra two years in school obtaining an MBA provides a huge advantage to getting hired in either field, not to mention, in most cases, a larger salary.

Specific skills required in management consulting include problem-solving ability and exquisite people skills. Consultants must be able to examine complex management structures and identify areas where efficiency can be improved. Moreover, they must frame their findings in language that resonates with C-suite employees, many of whom are married to a certain way of thinking and reticent about accepting outside ideas.

Private equity requires many of the same skills. The job entails using financial leverage to make equity investments in private companies or to conduct leveraged buyouts of public companies, thus turning them private. Excellent problem-solving abilities are needed to identify top investment opportunities. Additionally, with millions of dollars on the line in nearly every investment deal, strong quantitative skills are a must in private equity.

Starting Salary

Starting salaries for management consultants and private equity employees come in well above the U.S. mean, which is a primary reason entry into these fields is so competitive.

Coming out of school with only a bachelor's degree, a new management consultant at a large firm can expect to make between $51,000 and $91,000 their first year. Where they fall within this range depends on the region of the country where they are working and specific job duties. Someone with an MBA, particularly one from a top school, can earn significantly more than that amount the first year; the average salary for first-year consultants with MBAs is $150,000.

In private equity, compensation typically consists of a base salary plus bonus. Therefore, total income for the first year can vary greatly based on market conditions and individual performance. The base pay ranges between $85,000 and $125,000, while bonuses can potentially double that amount. A superstar can make as much as $203,000 the first year, particularly when market conditions are favorable.

Work-Life Balance

Neither career is a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday gig, particularly during the first few years, but unlike investment banking and corporate law, 80- to 90-hour weeks are not the norm in management consulting or private equity, even for a rookie.

Management consultants generally work between 40 and 60 hours per week. However, this figure does not include travel, of which most consultants do a lot during the first few years. Private equity associates get to the office around 9 a.m. or a little before and, depending on workload, leave between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Article Sources
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  1. Payscale. "Average Entry-Level Management Consultant Salary."

  2. Case Interview. "Management Consulting Salary (Comprehensive Guide for 2020)."

  3. Heidrick & Struggles. "2019 North American Private Equity Investment Professional Compensation Survey," Download "Download Publication," Page 23.

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