Barden Insights : The Consulting Career Conundrum

The word “Consulting” is often solely associated with the big, global professional services firms. However, there are a number of smaller, boutique consulting firms operating in Dublin, who play in different markets and offer niche solutions to their clients. Barden caught up with Seamus Hennessey who has worked in both a Big 4 consulting team and a smaller consulting firm. Seamus shares his insights into what life is like in both environments and the core differences between the two.

The Big Firm Experience

“The breadth and scale of the projects I work on in the Big 4 are incredible”, Seamus begins. He has had the opportunity to work in several different industries, as part of large teams; gaining a strong network of colleagues both here in Dublin, and globally. “There’s always an answer for everything. There’s never a lack of skillset or expertise, due to the expansive network of people that I can easily tap in to.” This is certainly a benefit of working in a global firm; someone has always been there, done that, which makes it relatively quick to overcome challenges encountered during projects.

Alongside this, the training and secondment opportunities are second to none. “Working in a Big 4 opens up doors for me to work in the four corners of the world”. The lure of global mobility attracts ambitious nomads to join the large consulting firms, as it allows them the flexibility to experience living in another part of the world, while still progressing their career.

The continued expansion and emergence into new business areas is also a factor which Seamus enjoys about Big 4 life. “The growth never stops. Every other week the firm is developing an innovative new tool or solution, or breaking into new markets.” This coincides with the firm’s brand reputation and global presence, which makes it easier to collaborate and partner with other globally giants.

The Smaller Firm Experience 

However, life in a smaller consulting firm has just as many, if not more, perks. “The career progression can be a lot quicker and more flexible, as you aren’t hindered by hierarchy”, Seamus explains. “You don’t have to wait your turn, or a certain number of years, to progress to the next level; if you’re performing and ambitious to progress, you will.” The structured career path in the bigger consulting firms appeals to many, but it certainly doesn’t suit everyone. Top talent who are performing beyond their grade become frustrated with not being given the reward or title they deserve, despite outshining their seniors.

Working in a smaller firm can tend to have a more personal atmosphere. “You form strong relationships with the people you work with; in some ways, they become your family. It definitely makes you more invested in the firm and more passionate for everyone to succeed”. This also enables you to work closely with the senior leaders in the business. “From day 1 you can be working directly with the CEO on a project; he/she is not some intangible figure you rarely see!”, Seamus explains. “Even at the most junior level, you have the opportunity to sit in on meetings with the CEO talking with senior leaders of major businesses; gaining exposure to these conversations so early in your career is invaluable”.

Like the bigger firms, international travel opportunities are also on offer in the smaller firms. A lot of the boutique firms don’t compete against the consulting houses for work in the Irish market, so the majority of their clients are based abroad. “I got to work with a range of clients abroad, and the work was very hands-on. In a lot of ways, the solutions offered to clients are slightly less rigid and more encompassing than that in the Big 4; there’s no one, set way to do things”.

To conclude, Seamus offers consultants one piece of solid advice “If you have the opportunity; work in both a big and small consulting firm. There’s different experiences and learnings to be gained from both environments, which will make you an all-around better consultant. You don’t know which one works best for you unless you’ve tried both.”


To learn more about Consulting opportunities, contact Heather Gordon ( for an explorative discussion about your future.

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At Barden we invest our resources to bring you the very best insights on all things to do with your professional future.
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