In this article, we outline the key differences you can expect to come across if you interview at more than one of the top three consulting firms.
They’re not that different
The truth is that interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain are not that different from each other. You can expect to be tested with both case questions and ‘fit’ or personal experience questions. The complexity of cases is also similar.
However, each firm may differ in the processes they use. For example, some firms have specific tests such as the Bain Online Test or McKinsey’s PST. Some like to use a lot of estimation questions in their interviews and some don’t. Differences are also common between offices, practice areas, and recruiting channels within even the same firm. In other words, the recruitment process that BCG London uses for undergraduate applications is likely to be different from the one BCG San Francisco uses with PhD candidates.
It’s always worth checking with the office you’re applying to and familiarizing yourself with the process you can expect to go through.
Interviewer-led vs candidate-led
One of the most commonly discussed differences between McKinsey and BCG or Bain interviews is the notion of interviewer-led cases and candidate-led cases.
McKinsey is most well known for using interviewer-led cases. This is because cases delivered by McKinsey consultants are developed by a central team, which means they have a set script to test specific competencies. This can make McKinsey cases feel more formulaic, particularly in first round interviews where the consultant will likely be reading from the script to ensure all the points are hit.
On the other hand, BCG and Bain typically use candidate-led cases where the candidate is expected to drive the case a lot more. In these, there are no specific analyses being suggested by the interviewer during the case. Cases at BCG and Bain are developed by the interviewing consultant rather than a central team. This means that the interviewers know all of the aspects of the case and are comfortable letting the candidate chose which of these to explore.
Nevertheless, where there’s a perceived rule, there are always exceptions! One of the biggest drivers of differences in interviews at each firm is the interviewer themselves. If a BCG interviewer prefers a more structured approach to giving cases, you can expect the case to be more interviewer-led and vice-versa with McKinsey interviewers preferring a more natural flow to a case, especially in a final round where anything could happen.
Fit interviews vs Personal Experience Interview
Most consulting interviews will start off with questions about your experience before moving on to the case. This first part of the interview is known as the Personal Experience Interview (PEI) at McKinsey and the ‘fit’ interview at BCG and Bain.
Although on the face of it these two sound the same, there are some important differences. In the PEI you’re less likely to be asked “Walk me through your resume”, “Why McKinsey?” and even “Why consulting?”; instead you can expect the interviewer’s asks to focus on your actions at one specific time in your experience. In this sense, the PEI can feel a little more transactional because the interviewer is there to see whether your behaviour on that occasion ticks specific boxes, rather than to get to know you.
On the other hand, in a fit interview you’re more likely to come across questions that encourage you to talk about your career to date and why consulting is the right next step for you. In these questions, it’s important you have a clear narrative to tell so that your move to consulting doesn’t look random, impulsive, or short-sighted.
Bain is great at making people love Bain
One final nuance is in how the Bainee ‘indoctrination’ starts right at the interview. At Bain the interviewers are more inclined to make sure they give candidates a good experience of the firm.
Interviews are seen as an opportunity to sell the firm to the candidate. Bain is particularly sensitive to the “Why Bain?” question and likes to hire people who build a strong connection and affiliation with the current consultants and interviewers.
Overall, if you’re preparing for interviews with more than one top consulting firm, we recommend that you focus on being comfortable with leading the case and that you have prepared answers for a full fit interview so that you’ll be prepared for all scenarios, no matter where you interview.
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