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How do the interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain differ?

If you’re applying to more than one of the top management consulting firms, you might be wondering what to expect from each interview process. At the top-3 consulting firms – McKinsey, BCG and Bain – you can expect to be tested with case questions and ‘fit’ or personal experience questions. However, the interview processes are not identical. Here we break down some important distinctions to be aware of when you’re preparing to interview at one or more of these firms.

1. Differences in the structure of the interview process

McKinsey, BCG and Bain each take a slightly different approach to how many rounds of interviews they hold for each role and how many interviews they conduct before making a decision. These factors can even differ within each firm, based on office, practice area and recruitment channel. In other words, the recruitment process that BCG London uses for undergraduate applications is likely to be different from the process that BCG San Francisco uses for advanced degree hiring.

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2. Differences in each firm’s approach to pre-interview testing

McKinsey, BCG and Bain all use online assessments to help determine whether to invite candidates to face-to-face interviews. These assessments take slightly different forms. Solve, McKinsey’s digital assessment, is a 60-minute interactive game that takes candidates through a series of tasks. Bain uses three different types of online tests across its offices, while BCG uses a chatbot-based online case assessment tool.

3. Differences in each firm’s approach to the case interview format

Case interviews are an integral part of the interview process at McKinsey, BCG and Bain. All three firms use it as their main method for assessing candidates’ problem-solving skills, and all three use cases of a similar complexity.

However, as well as traditional cases, Bain has also been known to use estimation questions, such as market sizing, in interviews for its most junior (i.e. Associate Consultant level) roles.

BCG and Bain occasionally use written cases, which require candidates to structure a problem, run some numbers and generate ideas based on the information provided in a series of paper documents. Candidates are then asked to deliver their response in the form of a short presentation. To learn more, take a look at our guide on how to crack written cases.

4. Differences in each firm’s approach to interviewer-led vs candidate-led cases

Another key difference among the firms is their preference for conducting either interviewer-led cases – where the interviewer asks the candidate to explore specific aspects of the problem – or candidate-led cases, where the candidate can decide what to investigate.

Because McKinsey’s cases are developed by a central team, they tend to be interviewer-led, with a set script for interviewers to follow in order to test specific competencies. This can make McKinsey case interviews feel quite formulaic, particularly in first-round interviews, where interviewers are less experienced and tend to follow the script very closely.

BCG’s cases, on the other hand, are developed by interviewing consultants based on their own work, rather than by a central team. This means that the cases tend to be led by candidates, as the interviewers know all of the aspects of the case and are comfortable with letting candidates choose which areas to explore.

As part of recent changes to Bain’s interview process, Bain is moving away from candidate-led cases – for which it was once well known – towards interviewer-led cases. As at McKinsey, these cases are developed by a central team to ensure that candidates have a fair and uniform experience.

It’s important to be aware, however, that the style of case you are given will depend largely on the preference of your interviewer. If a BCG interviewer favors a more structured approach, you can expect your case to be interviewer-led. Similarly, some McKinsey interviewers prefer cases to have a more natural flow and therefore favor candidate-led cases.

5. Differences in each firm’s approach to the fit interview

Consulting interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain all begin with a set of questions about the candidate’s experience before the interviewer moves on to introduce the case. At BCG and Bain, this part of the conversation is known as the ‘fit’ interview. At McKinsey, it’s known as the Personal Experience Interview (PEI).

The fit interview at BCG and Bain

At BCG, fit interviews focus on a candidate’s background, ambitions, achievements, and their motivations for becoming a consultant. While there is typically no fixed format, interviewers often focus on an experience or period in the candidate’s background to determine whether they have what it takes to succeed in a career in consulting.

Traditionally, Bain’s fit experience interview has been geared towards learning about candidates’ accomplishments and understanding their motivations and passions. Nowadays, however, the firm is changing the fit interview in some of its offices to focus more on understanding whether the candidate has the necessary transferable skills to succeed at Bain. The firm does this by using a mix of backward-looking (i.e. behavioral) and forward-looking (i.e. situational) questions that focus on teamwork, the capacity to learn, and the ability to listen and empathize.

The Personal Experience Interview (PEI) at McKinsey

In the Personal Experience Interview (PEI) at McKinsey, interviewers are less likely to say: “Walk me through your resume” or ask questions like “Why McKinsey?” or even “Why consulting?”. Instead, they will want to hear about the actions that candidates took at a specific time in their life or career to assess whether they have the abilities to succeed in consulting.

In this sense, the PEI can feel a little more transactional than the fit interview at BCG or Bain. Rather than getting to know the candidate, the interviewer is there to see whether the behavior they describe in the example they provide ticks specific boxes.

How to use this information as part of your preparations

If you’re preparing to interview at one or more of the top-three management consulting firms, we recommend that you begin by contacting the office (or offices) where you’re planning to interview. Ask recruiters to explain what you can expect from each interview process, particularly in relation to the format and style of the case interview. From there, you should focus on preparing thoroughly for the case interview and getting ready for the fit interview so that you can feel prepared for every eventuality.

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