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This week the Chief Talent Officer at management consulting powerhouse Bain & Company
, one of the world’s most sought-after MBA recruiters, tells us who he’s looking for on his worldwide hunt for talent.
Russ Hagey says the prestigious Big Three firm loves MBAs from top business schools. But even elite MBAs need to differentiate themselves from the pack and show that they’re a fit for Bain’s results-driven culture, and Hagey has some useful tips on how to do this.
And if you’re not from a top b-school, don’t despair, because Hagey says there’s exceptional talent at every business school and part of his job is to find it.
Hagey graduated from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business with an MBA in 1986 and launched straight into a career at Bain. A Partner at Bain since 1991, he’s seen the firm through the launch of its private equity practice (Bain
is the market leader in serving private equity clients around the world), worked in Amsterdam and Zurich, and now spends over half the year abroad working with Bain’s international offices on recruiting talent from undergrad to Partner level.
Hagey has a clear idea of what makes a good Bain employee, and it’s a tough challenge to preserve the company’s culture and high standards across the globe. On his way to work each day, he’s thinking “People, people, people!” he says.
Hagey says his priorities are, first, building Bain’s global talent pool: “We’re accessing and attracting talent to a business with clients in all geographies,” he says. The firm has more than 5,500 people around the world and has opened six new offices in the last 18 months, in Istanbul, Perth, Rio de Janeiro, Warsaw, Kuala Lumpur and Washington, D.C.
Second, he says, is the firm’s mission. “We have a proud history of delivering real, practical results for clients across a range of industries and we want to attract talent that’s going to deliver that mission.”
In its early years, Bain consultants were the first in the industry to accept equity stakes in the companies they advised in lieu of some fees, to show the firm’s commitment to increasing clients’ stock market value. What Bain’s clients like most, says Hagey, are the firm’s practical, pragmatic people, who set it apart from other strategy hothouses.
His third priority is maintaining Bain’s culture: “It’s keeping that spark and the energy alive within the firm. It’s got to be a great place to work so that our people can do great things for their clients and communities.” Bain has been voted Best Firm To Work For by Consulting Magazine for ten consecutive years, he points out.
The firm’s culture is reinforced at regular global training programmes where staff from different offices around the world come together for professional development, and to meet their peers across the company. The training continues as people progress from new consultant, to experienced consultant to a new manager.
Despite the global economic slowdown, both 2011 and 2012 marked record years for Bain in terms of revenue, and the company is hiring MBAs around the world. About half of all talent is hired straight from business schools with the other half being made up of a mixture of undergraduate and PhD-level hires.
At the Consultant level, 70 to 80 per cent of hires are MBA grads. The company is a “very strong proponent” of business education and financially supports Consultants who don’t have an MBA to go back to school to earn one. “We place a lot of value on the MBA. It gives you an analytical underpinning, and puts you in a group of individuals with a global set of experiences, who you have to interact with and learn from,” says Hagey.
So, what are his tips for someone who wants to excel in his or her application to Bain? First, practice for the case interview, and do it “live”. “Don’t practice by reading, have someone play the role of interviewer, and get talking about case problems.” The case interviews are all about showing off your approach to a business problem, the questions you ask, how you structure the problem and the assumptions you make. Knowing how to articulate your thoughts is critical because if you make the cut you’ll be doing the same thing in front of clients.
Second, pull out cases from the experiences listed on your resume. “Think in terms of, ‘If I had to do it again,’ or, ‘If I had to grow the business now,’ how would you do it?” says Hagey. “How would you improve the operations at your college magazine, or improve the membership drive for your club? What would have been ‘full potential’ and what levers would you have used to achieve full potential?
“We’re looking for evidence that a candidate can drive change,” he adds.
Thirdly, says Hagey, “Give us an insight into what excites you, and what your passions are.” Bain’s business is all about passion and mission, says Hagey. “That stuff at the bottom of your resume: tell us about it, and what makes you unique.”
There’s no pre-approved set of cases for each recruitment cycle: interviewers, who are typically Partners, develop their own cases. Some use the same case over multiple years while others prefer to mix it up. “We’re not trying to trick anyone, we’re trying to foster a conversation,” says Hagey. Interviewers are looking for a facility with analytics and numbers in particular, so if your math is not strong, you need to work on it.
What about all the popular books out there on cracking case interviews, such as Victor Cheng’s Case Interview Secrets? Hagey says they help with practice, but warns candidates not to get fixated on a single framework or a single way of answering.
“People can be over-practiced and over-frame worked,” he says. You need to show that you can apply frameworks in a practical way. The best way of all to prepare, says Hagey, is to “Go talk to people from Bain.”
Teams of Partners from around the world are assembled to conduct interviews on campuses such as Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD and London Business School. Bain is also very active at certain regional schools, particularly in India and China. Hagey praises China’s business schools and describes the country’s focus on education as “powerful.” He also mentions IESE, Michigan-Ross and University of Virginia-Darden as additional target schools.
“People choose their business school for a range of reasons. There’s top talent in every school and our job is to go find it.” So, while Bain partners can’t be on every b-school campus, if you’ve got what it takes your application will certainly be noticed.
While some MBA recruiters emphasise that they want people who can help grow the business, this is not what Bain is looking for. “I’m looking for someone who can help us deliver results, who can help clients improve their businesses and measure or track the improvements,” says Hagey. “The more great things we do with our clients, the more we build our reputation and our brand, and a set of executives who think highly of Bain… our growth will come from that. I’m not looking for people who can help sell Bain & Company
The rewards for people who make the grade are considerable, both in terms of salary and career progression. “We don’t lose people over remuneration,” says Hagey.
Bain & Company is an attractive employer to top MBA candidates for the accelerated learning they are offered and future career potential, as the Bain experience opens so many doors to its people.
“A lot of Bain talent is approached to run companies,” he says, “A lot of alumni are running everything from private equity firms to start-ups to many of the largest companies around the world.”
Bain’s famous alumni include Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard and former CEO of eBay; Mark Pincus, Founder and CEO of Zynga; Anne Glover, co-founder of European VC fund Amadeus Capital Partners; and, of course, former US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Bain & Company
alum who left the firm to help found Bain Capital, a private equity firm separate from the consulting firm.
“I work hard at making sure the culture stays very attractive at Bain,” says Hagey, “But I’m also proud when people go off and do great things.”