It all comes down to how you define international opportunities either international assignments or the ability to transfer to a foreign office. Below, by international I mean working with foreign clients in your domestic country and/or working outside your home base.
Short version: BCG offers plenty of international assignments, but the firm is not that great for international mobility. Bain, LEK and Roland Berger are leading from that perspective, but even for them, international mobility is not that big.
Long version: here it is!
- International assignments: Every BCG office is more or less international. If you are lucky and talented enough to land a job there, you'll get to work on international assignments. Plus, if you show a willingness to work on international projects, you'll be pleased with a large range of options. However, keep two things in mind that may sound disappointing and at odds with what you heard, but are truthfull and fact-based.
- First, although consulting firms put a lot of work into boasting their high internationalization, they are actually quite domestic and country-based. Consulting is a network-driven business; hence, it is quite local and the bulk of the sales are made with domestic projects.
- Second, you'll find out pretty quickly, if you haven't already, that consulting is a fast-paced environment. It's already a lot to handle, and working abroad creates additional pressure.
- International mobility: Now, while BCG is good at providing consultants with international projects, it does suck at promoting international mobility, as compared to other firms like Bain. I've come across about a dozen of people who had to leave BCG because of that. For instance, I used to work for a boutique firm in Australia. One of the partners used to work in Sweden for BCG. His wife got an offer from a firm in Sydney and they decided to move down there. Problem was that the Stockholm office did not transfer him. He eventually resigned, reapplied to BCG in Sydney and got hired. From the dozen of people I've met who were in that situation, it does look like it's a recurring theme. Now, there's four solid reasons for that:
- Visa sponsorship costs and legal issues: if you are not legally authorized to work in a foreign country (meaning you're a foreigner) you have to be sponsored by your employer. And it can get pretty costly for companies. I was sponspored in the US, and, on top of my salary, my employer had to pay 50% of my salary to get me sponspored. So, you need to bring to the table a unique set of skills. Then, if you do get sponsorship, companies still have to go through a host of administrative issues. In most countries, consulting firms have access to some of the brightest people. So why would they be hiring a foreigner and paying him 50% more than an equally capable local hire?
- Internal hierarchy: Believe it or not, but there's local hierarchy inside large firms. All offices are equally excellent, but some are more equally excellent than other. It may sound crazy, but it is true and does limit mobility. And I'm not even talking about the educational differences.
- Partner/Business development needs: consulting firms have no illusion on the fact that 80% to 90% of hires will leave them. Still, they are looking for potential partner-material. And, once again, consulting is network-driven and hiring a local makes more sense from that perspective. They speak the language natively, know the cultural specificities and have the local network to grow the business. To give you another example, I used to work for this firm in Montreal. A new partner from Paris joined us but never really succeded in growing his sales. He was not inside the local business ecosystem. Plus, he was not so good when dealing with the clients as he was not able to read their body language, although he was speaking French. The guy was a rock star in Paris, but failed to make it in Canada.
Hope it helps!