Remain generalist or specializing?

consulting generalist specialization
New answer on Apr 01, 2020
8 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 31, 2020

Hi everyone,
do management consultants end up specializing or do they remain generalists?

thank!

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Robert
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replied on Mar 31, 2020
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Hi Anonymous,

When looking at a typical consulting career, it usually progress like an hourglass:

  • During your junior years, you are more of a generalist across industries and functions. Oftenly it's driven by partners who you are connected with that you might end up working for their industry expertise again and again, so you might already start specializing a bit.
  • Once you progress towards project manager, people tend to have a specialization for industry and/or functional area, since here you need to be an expert to take right decisions on a daily basis.
  • Progressing towards partner/director level, the focus broadens again since you need to be sort of one-stop-trusted advisor for your whole client, independent of the functional issue. Usually here you have a industry-specific focus.

Needless to say, other career progressions are for sure possible, but that's the standard path. Depending on your personal preferences and how long you see yourself into that industry (up to partner level and beyond?) you might or might not want to follow this "standard" trajectory!

Hope that helps - if so, please give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!

Robert

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Anonymous replied on Mar 31, 2020

It varies by firm, but all consultants end up specialising at some point.

Bain lets you stay Generalist for the longest (that I Know of) until you are a few years into Manager (so 5-6 years since grad position)

Strategy& (in London at least) makes you specialise after 1 - 1.5 years.

Most firms are somewhere in between.

It's also worth noting that specialisation can occur on 2 dimensions:

- Industry: e.g. consumer products, TMT, Energy, etc.

- Capability: E.g. IT systems, Strategy, Cost Cutting, etc.

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Francesco
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replied on Apr 01, 2020
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Hi there,

for generalists, specialization usually takes place at Manager level (Engagement Manager at McKinsey, Project leader at BCG, Manager at Bain). That’s when you start to lead teams and you are assumed to have knowledge of a specific practice area.

If you apply for a specific practice (eg Implementation or Digital), you will have instead the majority of projects in that area right after joining, thus specialization will take place earlier.

Hope this helps,
Francesco

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Anonymous replied on Mar 31, 2020

Hi

At BCG 2 different career tracks co-exist : Generalist & ECT (Expert Career Track).

Two differences when you belong to the ECT

1) You are staffed only on your area of expertise; when no project is being launched, you work on Business Development (pitches, RFP, ...)

2) . Ranks change after Project Leader (Associate Director vs.Generalist Principal, Partner & Associate Director vs. Managing Director & Partner, Parter & Director vs. Managing Director & Senior Partner)

Best,

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Anonymous on Mar 31, 2020
In any case , even Generalist Consultants have to find an area of expertise from Project Leader
Daniel
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replied on Mar 31, 2020
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Hi!

  • At McKinsey you at some point start specializing: you either would need to choose an industry or a function (or both, or several industries or functions).
  • In general there is no pressure to specialize – you can be a generalist for a long time.
  • However, for your career progression it will be easier if you focus on something (you are getting to know people from your practice, build you support network, get familiar with the topics etc.)

Best,
Daniel

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Luca
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replied on Mar 31, 2020
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Hello,

Generalist consultants are assigned to a specific practice starting from the second career step (consultant for BCG/Bain, associate for McKinsey).
There are some exceptions where consultants can be assigned even before, even if not formally, but that's not common because standard staffing process is dependant on the projects sold and on staffing needs in that specific moment.

Hope it helps,
Luca

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Antonello
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replied on Apr 01, 2020
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After you become a manager you are going to specialize in a practice or an industry.

best,
Antonello

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Clara
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replied on Apr 01, 2020
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Hello!

In McKinsey, most people -particularly entry level- start as generalists and then specialize in a industry or vertical as time goes by.

Cheers,

Clara

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Robert gave the best answer

Robert

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