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Bain, BCG, McKinsey: How To Get Hired By The Big Three Consulting Firms

Looking for jobs in consulting? Here's what Bain, BCG, and McKinsey are looking for from their MBA hires

Tue Mar 7 2023

BusinessBecause
It’s hard to look past Bain, BCG, and McKinsey when it comes to consulting. Year after year, swathes of ambitious MBA graduates enter the ranks of the Big Three consulting firms, keen for career success and lucrative consultant salaries.

For those starting out on their MBA journey, the world of consulting can seem daunting. Entering it requires downing a stress cocktail of case interview prep, networking, and extracurriculars. 

Yet the Big Three continue to hire thousands of MBA consultants each year, with McKinsey, Bain, and BCG increasing MBA consulting salaries in 2023. 

BusinessBecause caught up with top MBA recruiters at each of the Big Three to find out what they’re looking for from their MBA hires, and how you can stand out from the crowd.


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How to become a McKinsey consultant?

McKinsey recently announced plans to cut up-to 2000 of its back-room staff, however the firm maintains that consultant demand is as strong as ever. 

While McKinsey has long hired from the world’s top business schools including the likes of Harvard and INSEAD, Sydney Streets, senior manager of North America recruitment, says McKinsey is increasingly hiring from a more diverse b-school talent pool. 

“We’re excited to hire stellar talent to all of our global offices. Across our campus recruiting efforts, we’re focused on ensuring we’re reaching and recruiting exceptional talent no matter their school or prior experiences,” she says. 

In 2023, McKinsey remains committed to inclusive leadership and is looking for people who value and practice it. Key to the firm’s hiring plans are individuals who bring and respect diverse thinking and different approaches. 

“We’re excited about candidates with a wide variety of experiences, not just experience related to business. This includes internships, research, volunteer work, part-time jobs, and military service,” Sydney explains. 

With the ever-advancing march of technology across all sectors, digital skills are vital in consulting and McKinsey is seeing increasing numbers of candidates with programming and coding skills. 

“Digitization is changing the consulting industry and therefore technology and digital skills are more necessary at McKinsey.” 

When screening candidates, the main attributes McKinsey looks for are:

→ Personal impact: The ability to interact effectively with people from various backgrounds, levels of experience, and ways of thinking is key to McKinsey’s ability to help its clients tackle their most challenging issues in a way that fosters sustainable, inclusive growth.

→...

achieving goals requires an innovative mindset, openness to new approaches, and a continuous quest for learning and growth.

→ Inclusive leadership: Harnessing the power of diverse thinking to drive results requires the ability to lead people with different backgrounds and create belonging where everyone can be at their best.

→ Problem solving: Helping clients solve tough problems and implement solutions requires strong intellectual abilities and rigor, as well as a practical sense of what works and what doesn’t.




How to prepare for a McKinsey interview

McKinsey hires from some of the best business schools in the world and there are a diverse array of MBA jobs at McKinsey for students looking for a career in consulting. 

During the McKinsey interview, all candidates will typically go through two stages: the case study interview and the personal experience interview. 

McKinsey Case Interview

“The case interview is meant to simulate our problem-solving approach, which involves a lot of back-and-forth between team members. Successful candidates listen to the client context and think about what it means, rather than repeat back everything the interviewer says,” explains Kristin Altenberg, associate director of US campus recruiting at McKinsey. 

“They ask questions to clarify their understanding of the situation and the issues. They take a moment and think before speaking to collect their thoughts. They listen carefully, making sure they consider the information provided and the specifics of each question.”

To prepare for the case study interview, it’s advised that candidates run through mock cases with a partner, preferably someone in consulting—this might be a service your business school provides through its alumni network. 

But a common piece of advice BusinessBecause has heard through conversations with consulting recruiters is that you can over prepare. It becomes obvious to an interviewer when you’ve cased to exhaustion as you come across as a robotic, rather than natural, problem solver. 

McKinsey Personal Experience Interview

During the personal experience part of the interview, Kristin is looking to hear about candidates’ experiences, accomplishments, and challenges to discover the skills they have to help them thrive at McKinsey. 

“Candidates should come prepared to discuss important experiences they’ve had in a detailed way, focusing on their individual role, and describing the actions they took that were critical to the project’s overall success,” she advises. 

“While teamwork is important to demonstrate, we’re also really interested in hearing ‘I’ statements to understand how the candidate took action to create change.”


READ: BCG, McKinsey & 25 Top Consulting Firms With The Highest Salaries

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BCG consulting recruitment: How to stand out

A growth mindset. That’s what BCG is after. Candidates who are curious, with an appetite to learn and embrace challenges.

Landing a place at BCG will require you to show that you’re driven by outcomes and the impact your work can have. 

“[Show] how you think about the impact we can make for our clients, the impact we can make for the world, while being really passionate about driving impact and outcomes,” says Amber Grewal, BCG’s chief talent officer. 

Diversity of thought and approach is essential within a firm that prioritizes making an impact. Being a BCG consultant today means working in diverse teams that cut across several disciplines and functions, and incoming business school grads need that experience if they are to land one of an array of BCG consulting jobs on offer.

“Diversity is going to continue to be an important aspect and for BCG, you know, we're still growing, we're still hiring, we need to be in the marketplace,” says Amber. “We’re going to continue to be resilient and we're going to continue to to build systems of sustainability for our business growth.” 

This focus on diversity means BCG values a broad array of competencies. While consultants need analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as strong communication abilities, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to hiring BCG consultants. 

“We look for people that will contribute to our strong culture of respect for an individual and being authentic, [these are] really core to our values of high integrity,” says Amber. 


How to nail your BCG interview

With a large focus on being your authentic self, the BCG interview is one of the most important parts of the recruitment process. 

The interview is your chance to show who you are, your values, interests, and achievements, as well as how you’ve made an impact in your career so far. 

You will also need to demonstrate your leadership qualities: “We look for strong leadership, interpersonal leadership, analytical ability and communication.”

Interview questions will ask you to refer to experiences that show your leadership skills and that have shaped your personal and professional experience. You’ll also need to show examples of where you’ve navigated challenges. 

Most importantly, Amber says, the interview is your chance to develop your understanding of the firm. “It’s an opportunity for the individual to learn about BCG and ask is this the right place for them with what they're looking for.” 


READ: Bain, Microsoft & The 25 Best Companies To Work For | MBA Edition

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What does Bain & Company look for from its consultants?

Bain & Company ranks as the best consulting firm to work for in 2023.  The firm offers sky-high consulting salaries and the opportunity to test your skills at the highest level of business. 

Like BCG, Bain values problem solvers and those who are looking to make an impact in their career. The firm also values people who are keen to learn at a rapid pace. 

“We're looking for people who have demonstrated analytic experience, people that can get down the learning curve very quickly, people that get excited about problem solving, and get excited about making a difference,” says Keith Bevans, head of global consultant recruiting at Bain. 

Despite this, you don’t need a wealth of consulting or even business experience to have a solid chance of landing a place at Bain. The firm prioritizes hiring people who are capable and self-motivated, and Bain is more than prepared to coach any gaps in your knowledge. 

“I like to say, if you're a good athlete, we can teach you the sport. Right? And so what we're looking for in a lot of ways is good athletes.”

As the world increasingly focuses on sustainability issues and business as a force for good, Bain is looking for people who can look at client’s problems through an ESG lens. Diversity is therefore a top priority during recruitment. 

“Someone who trained differently, or grew up in a different part of the world, or was exposed to different cultures, they ask questions that you might not normally ask,” Keith explains. 

“Having people ask those tough questions and remind us to think about implications that some of us might be blind to is hugely important, and that comes from your diversity.” 


How to stand out in the Bain & Company interview

During the interview process Bain looks for clear communicators who are passionate about what they’re doing, and who can articulate why the company is the right next step in their professional journey. 

Success relies on you demonstrating your willing to understand the company. Keith therefore advises that you should treat your Bain interview as an educational exercise. 

“Engage in the areas where you feel like you need to round out your understanding. The first thing I would say is just participate, ask questions, and absorb the information.” 

Whether you’re curious about the kinds of projects you’d be working on, how your lifestyle might be, or what a particular business area involves, this is your chance to further your knowledge. This is vital because Bain wants people who are truly interested in understanding the company and its culture. 

It’s also important, therefore, to demonstrate the knowledge that you do have of the company by asking informed questions. 

Keith advises: “Ask the questions that show us you’ve thought: ‘Okay I’ve been to the website, but how would this really manifest itself in my career.’ The students who stand out are the ones who are starting to connect those dots.” 


Next Read:

The 25 Top Consulting Firms With The Highest Salaries


This article was first written by Thomas Nugent in February 2020 and is updated annually. 

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