When I first started taking business classes during my freshman year at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!), I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. I was pretty sure I wanted a business-related job, such as an accountant or financial adviser, but becoming a consultant hadn’t even crossed my mind. (In fact, I didn’t even know what consultants were at the time.) Fast forward three years, and I was a senior wandering around the career fair. I kept seeing the same names of companies that I’d come across during my business school classes, companies like KPMG, PWC, Deloitte, and EY.
I went to these booths to learn more. I looked at their materials to see what qualifications they were looking for in new hires – leadership, adaptability, accountability, the ability to handle multiple tasks, strong communication skills, and the capacity to learn. I thought, well, I check off the boxes, so it doesn’t hurt to apply!
I submitted my resume to all sorts of consulting firms, from the smallest company to a large national organization. After numerous rounds of case interviews, I received a job offer from one of the largest consulting firms, and I took it. With high hopes, I started my first job as a consultant.
After an eventful three years at that firm, I decided I wanted a change and joined Collective Insights. Below are my reflections on the differences between working at a large firm and a smaller start-up firm like Collective Insights. While the overall work I perform day-to-day is similar to what I was doing before, I saw the most significant differences in the following categories:
I joined the big consulting firm thinking I would meet new people every day at the office (each one of The Big 4 averages 150,000+ employees globally), and I would have a chance to network and get to know others during projects. However, I didn’t get that experience. Like most consultants, I was traveling four days out of the week, and the only chance I had to go into the office was on Fridays. But when I went in on those Fridays, I was surprised to find it was a ghost town. I only really spoke to the consultants that I met during my training class, as I wasn’t comfortable enough to approach the Partners and Associate Partners (if they were even in the office).
I also ended up getting staffed on a long-term project with multiple consulting firms involved. As a result, the people I spent the most time with and got to know the best were actually from other companies, not my own. Luckily, I built some fantastic friendships and made extremely useful connections, but it was certainly not what I was expecting.
Working at a smaller firm like Collective Insights was an eye-opening experience for me. First, everyone knows each other at the office – and not just on a surface level, but on a deep, personal level.
2. Career Opportunities
When I started my first job at the large consulting firm, I thought I’d get to choose my career path from here since there will be so many opportunities! That ended up being only partially true: I did have many opportunities after leaving the firm, but during my time there, I felt limited in my career path. When I began my role as a consultant, I was assigned as an SAP CRM consultant. Later on, I was seeking a new challenge and asked to be changed to an SAP Business Warehouse consultant, but my request was rejected because there were too many people in that division.
At that point, instead of having the opportunity to drive my career, I was on a railroad path to be an expert SAP CRM consultant. This led to opportunities that brought me to CI, so I am not discounting the benefit of my previous experience. Still, I was disappointed with the lack of ownership I had over my career path. I knew that if I applied to non-SAP projects, I would not get the role because I was expected to stay in my area of expertise. This felt very limiting to me.
At Collective Insights, when they say you drive your career, you do. If you want to learn something new, they provide you with a budget to take courses and classes. Do you want a project that fits your existing skillset or a project that will challenge you to branch out? Either way, you can talk with the partners and the leadership team of the company, and they will work with you to find what best fits your interests.
Unlike my experience at the large firm, I feel like there are so many opportunities for a new challenge at CI, which genuinely excites me. I’ve also been able to expand beyond the Business Analyst role and act as the Project Manager for certain projects, which means I can lead and voice my opinion directly with the client. This is a unique benefit of working at a small, yet agile firm like CI.
3. Company Culture
During my three years at the large consulting firm, I witnessed numerous restructurings, frequent changes to the C-Suite, and people coming and going all the time. That made me feel like I was almost working for a new company each year.
The environment at times felt chaotic, especially when there was a CEO change. Sadly, I never even met my manager face-to-face in my three years at the firm because my manager was located in a completely different city. All of these changes and a lack of support from my direct manager left me feeling unstable, despite the big company name.
What’s different at Collective Insights is that the partners who founded the company are committed to making it great because it has all stemmed from their vision. They strive to create a business that fits the needs of the employees, and this has led to a family-feel among coworkers. Our leadership is transparent and consistently take employees’ viewpoints into consideration – which sets Collective Insights apart from other firms.
Like many others that work here, I truly enjoy the culture that we have built at CI, and while our company will continue to evolve with continued growth and new people joining, I know every new employee will still hear, “Welcome to the CI family.”
Everyone’s experience in consulting is different – but I hope my opinions will be helpful if you’re debating between joining a large or small firm. Please reach out to me if you have any questions or want to discuss anything further.