The Reality of Work-Life Balance at BCG, Bain and McKinsey

You’ve probably heard that a job in consulting at one of the top firms is no walk in the park.

In this article, we outline what work-life balance is really like, and how it compares to other top professions.

The reality

First, let’s paint a clear picture of what a typical work schedule is like for a consultant. The hours are long. 9am-9pm is typically the ‘core hours’ with variation on either side. There’s no 1-hour lunch break included in there, although you might take an hour in the evening to get dinner or travel in a taxi to a hotel.

Added to the volume of hours is the travel time. If you need to be on client site by 9-10am on Monday morning and the client is in a different area of the country (or different country/state entirely!) then this makes for a very early start on a Monday.

The reality travel and working hours vary significantly among offices. Travel is most prevalent in the US, where consultants often criss-cross the country. Working hours are the longest in Southern Europe, Asia and Latin America. So make sure to speak with the current consultants at the firm and office where you’re applying.

Overall, working hours are often far more intense than a ‘normal’ job. There is always more to do than the hours allow, things can change rapidly on client site and the team is often under a lot of pressure one way or another.

In addition to your project work, you’re encouraged (and sometimes evaluated on) your contribution outside of client work, which means extracurriculars involving anything from contributing to an office initiative, a piece of research, recruiting, or supporting a proposal to a new client.

So yes, things can get very, very busy.

Why it might not be as bad as you think

However, it might not be as challenging as you think.

Many consultants can still find time to go to the gym almost every day (although that might require sacrificing some sleep!). Teams try to avoid the need to work on weekends, and there are a number of ways you can build in long-term breaks to recover from intense project work.

For example, when you’re not staffed on a project, you’re considered to be on the ‘beach’ or ‘bench’, and here you’ll often be doing random bits of work internally to support the office and other teams, which means the hours and intensity reduces.

You can also take long leaves of absence for an extended holiday or personal commitments. Office retreats and week-long trainings are baked into your year, and these are often fun times to relax, learn and make more connections within the firm.

Some consultancies and local offices have encouraged teams to implement a ‘one night a week off’ policy which allows consultants to have time for their personal interests or to rest.

It’s definitely better than at other top professions

As a lawyer, doctor or investment banker, you’re likely to find yourself on call 24/7 including weekends, and consequently, have very little control over your lifestyle. You’re also likely to be working on multiple clients at a time so you’ll have to juggle clashing priorities.

As a consultant, you have a lot more control. You’re not on call for your clients and because the consulting team sets the project plans, big milestones and meetings are known long in advance. You have your own workstream that you manage yourself and you only have one client, so 100% of your focus is on one problem, which creates more efficiency in your work.

So when you put the consulting lifestyle into the context of other top professions, it begins to look rather appealing!  

Interested in applying to McKinsey, BCG or Bain? Make sure your resume stands out and lands you an interview invite by using our training and best practice examples inside our Resume Courses.

  • Get our free prep material

    Free case studies. Free interview videos. Free expert advice.

  • How to Ace McKinsey’s Digital Assessment

    Imagine that you are immersed in a natural environment populated by different kinds of plants and animals. You learn that some animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. You have to stop this epidemic. This is McKinsey’s Digital Assessment: the ground-breaking video game that the firm has introduced to assess candidates’ cognitive abilities. To […]

  • An Example of a Great Consulting Interview

    A great consulting interview is one where candidates not only demonstrate that they have all of the skills needed to become a high performing consultant, but also it’s one that gets the interviewer excited about having the candidate on their team. In this article, we outline the three key aspects of the interview and what […]

  • How to Write a Resume to Land an Interview at the Top Consulting Firms

    In this article, we walk you through the three most important aspects to think about when preparing your resume for McKinsey, BCG, Bain or other top consulting firms. If you want to understand each of these points in more detail, including how to use networking to your advantage and what the application process really looks […]

  • How to Write a Cover Letter to Land an Interview at the Top Consulting Firms

    Are you mind-blanking in your cover letter? Are you wondering if it’s good enough? If so, you’re in the right place! Here we’re going to share the most important aspects of a cover letter for consulting roles at top firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain. Cover letters won’t land you an interview, but they […]

  • How to Join McKinsey, Bain or BCG as a Fresh Graduate

    The top strategy consulting firms solve their client’s most complex and challenging problems, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that McKinsey, BCG and Bain only employ tenured people who have been around the block, or to assume that they wouldn’t hire a fresh graduate right out of university. But you’d be wrong! The Top 3 […]

  • Everything You Need to Know About the Recruitment Process for McKinsey, Bain and BCG

    With a typical hire rate of less than 1%, interviews with top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain are some of the most challenging in the world. The selection process is divided into screening and interviews. 1. The application screening Screening is typically based on selecting CVs or resumes that show the most […]

  • What are the Best Parts About Being a Consultant at Bain, BCG or McKinsey

    If you’ve read our article on the Cons to a Life in Consulting, then you may also want to know about the Pros and highlights, too. The good news is that consulting at the Top 3 firms is full of unique benefits you rarely find in other industries. In this article, we cover the top […]

  • The Cons to a Life in Consulting

    While a consulting job at McKinsey, BCG and Bain has numerous benefits, there are of course a few downsides worth preparing for as you enter the world of a top consultancy. Creating a work-life balance can be challenging The client’s success is the top priority for consultancies. The team often does all they can to […]

  • Why Some Consultants Don't Make Partner

    Only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to Partner. Based on best estimates, we suspect it’s less than 5% of consultants who make it. However, the majority of consultants aren’t interested in pursuing Partnership and only stay in consulting for 2-3 years to gain […]

  • What It's Like Being an Entry Level Consultant at Bain, BCG and McKinsey

    If you’re comparing consulting with other career options or if you just landed yourself an offer with McKinsey, BCG, Bain or another top firm and are now wondering what being an entry-level consultant is really like then you’re in the right place. In this article, we share what life is like for the newbies on […]