consulting vs. banking

There’s a high degree of overlap between the students interested in consulting and those interested in investment banking. During my time as a consulting recruiter, the question of consulting vs. banking is one I heard constantly, and for good reason. Both careers demand brilliance and grit, both pay well compared to other industries, and both open countless doors to future opportunities. Despite these similarities, the two paths are in fact quite different. To highlight these differences, I’ve identified three criteria to help guide my recruits on which career best fits their own personal goals.

  • Play vs. pay:  The most obvious difference when considering consulting vs. investment banking is the compensation-to-vacation trade-off. On top of the unbelievable travel opportunities, consultants tend to have extremely flexible work schedules that allow for 4-5 weeks of vacation per year. In contrast, bankers receive higher salaries and massive bonuses, but may get only a handful of vacation days in their first year. The question here is what is more important to you personally – extra cash, or extra time.
  • Clients vs. firm:  Junior consultants are quickly thrown into client interaction, gaining exposure to industry executives while working with their consulting project teams. These teams are often eclectic mixes of various offices and specialties, and will dissolve once the project is complete. In banking, on the other hand, junior analysts find themselves forming strong relationships in their local office, spending countless hours hammering away on research and presentations with the same group of colleagues. However, client interaction is certainly the exception and not the rule for new analysts.
  • Art vs. math:  Probably the most crucial difference between the two jobs is the nature of the work. Strategy consultants are constantly asked to think outside the box, finding creative solutions and displaying them in slick slide decks that push the boundaries of artistic skill. This also involves more qualitative, “fluff” work that can feel a bit forced at times. Investment bankers focus much more on quantitative analysis, living almost exclusively in the world of numbers. This no-nonsense approach allows bankers to cut down on time devoted to making pretty slides and focus more on the dollar impact of their work.

Having been a strategy consultant with close friends in investment banking, I’ve had ample opportunity to consider the differences between consulting vs. banking. If you are torn between these two industries, I urge you to take the time to discover your own opinion on the above criteria.

And if consulting does sound of interest to you, I highly recommend you improve your chances of earning an offer by receiving professional training on the consulting interview process. Sign-up today to begin your Consulting Interview Coaching!