Do people get promoted to the next level solely based on merit, or do they have to spend a certain amount of time working as a consultant before getting a chance to go to the next level?
How do you get promoted in business consulting?
as for my experience at BCG, you will always need to spend a minimum amount of time in each level, before moving to the next one. Once you have reached the minimum amount of time, you may get promoted immediately, or you may have to wait for an additional 3 to 6 months before having the chance to be considered again for the next level, according to your performance and the slots available. If you do not make to the next level after some attempts, you are normally asked to leave.
Usually, the more senior you get, the more you may have to wait, mainly because there may be less available slots at the next level and more competition.
Time required for each promotion at BCG as for my experience in Italy is the following (it may vary by geography):
- Associate: 24-36 months
- Consultant: 24-36 months
- Project Leader: 24-30 months
- Principal: 36-60 months
After the Associate step, you may have to do an MBA, or be required to spend one year as Senior Associate before becoming a Consultant.
Hope this helps,
Different companies (and offices) also have different degrees of "meritocracy" - i.e. how quickly it's possible to get promoted. While I was at the London office of Bain & Company they consciously went from people occasionally being allowed to get promoted one period early (each period is 3 months) to a fully meritocratic system where people were promoted as soon as they were able to demonstrate they were ready.
It's worthwhile bearing in mind when you consider which companies you are applying to, but bear in mind you'll be joining a group where every individual thinks they probably have a chance at being better than average.
As Francesco mentioned, some of these timelines differ a little by geography. At BCG in the US, you are a consultant 24 to 30 months, and PL 18 to 24 months if memory serves - so in 4.5 years you can become a Principal. Hard to be elected Partner before 8 or typically 9 years though.
Also, re. the number of spots available... I think it is easier to get a position created if you are lucky to be in a fast-growing office. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats -> faster growing companies & offices will give you more opportunities.