How Different are the Interviews at McKinsey, Bain and BCG

If you’re hoping to land interviews at McKinsey, BCG or Bain then you may be wondering how preparations for these interviews may vary.

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.

For more case interview tips and free case material, sign up to our mailing list below.

  • Get our free prep material

    Free case studies. Free interview videos. Free expert advice.

  • How to Ace McKinsey’s Digital Assessment

    Imagine that you are immersed in a natural environment populated by different kinds of plants and animals. You learn that some animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. You have to stop this epidemic. This is McKinsey’s Digital Assessment: the ground-breaking video game that the firm has introduced to assess candidates’ cognitive abilities. To […]

  • An Example of a Great Consulting Interview

    A great consulting interview is one where candidates not only demonstrate that they have all of the skills needed to become a high performing consultant, but also it’s one that gets the interviewer excited about having the candidate on their team. In this article, we outline the three key aspects of the interview and what […]

  • How to Write a Resume to Land an Interview at the Top Consulting Firms

    In this article, we walk you through the three most important aspects to think about when preparing your resume for McKinsey, BCG, Bain or other top consulting firms. If you want to understand each of these points in more detail, including how to use networking to your advantage and what the application process really looks […]

  • How to Write a Cover Letter to Land an Interview at the Top Consulting Firms

    Are you mind-blanking in your cover letter? Are you wondering if it’s good enough? If so, you’re in the right place! Here we’re going to share the most important aspects of a cover letter for consulting roles at top firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain. Cover letters won’t land you an interview, but they […]

  • How to Join McKinsey, Bain or BCG as a Fresh Graduate

    The top strategy consulting firms solve their client’s most complex and challenging problems, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that McKinsey, BCG and Bain only employ tenured people who have been around the block, or to assume that they wouldn’t hire a fresh graduate right out of university. But you’d be wrong! The Top 3 […]

  • Everything You Need to Know About the Recruitment Process for McKinsey, Bain and BCG

    With a typical hire rate of less than 1%, interviews with top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain are some of the most challenging in the world. The selection process is divided into screening and interviews. 1. The application screening Screening is typically based on selecting CVs or resumes that show the most […]

  • What are the Best Parts About Being a Consultant at Bain, BCG or McKinsey

    If you’ve read our article on the Cons to a Life in Consulting, then you may also want to know about the Pros and highlights, too. The good news is that consulting at the Top 3 firms is full of unique benefits you rarely find in other industries. In this article, we cover the top […]

  • The Cons to a Life in Consulting

    While a consulting job at McKinsey, BCG and Bain has numerous benefits, there are of course a few downsides worth preparing for as you enter the world of a top consultancy. Creating a work-life balance can be challenging The client’s success is the top priority for consultancies. The team often does all they can to […]

  • Why Some Consultants Don't Make Partner

    Only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to Partner. Based on best estimates, we suspect it’s less than 5% of consultants who make it. However, the majority of consultants aren’t interested in pursuing Partnership and only stay in consulting for 2-3 years to gain […]

  • What It's Like Being an Entry Level Consultant at Bain, BCG and McKinsey

    If you’re comparing consulting with other career options or if you just landed yourself an offer with McKinsey, BCG, Bain or another top firm and are now wondering what being an entry-level consultant is really like then you’re in the right place. In this article, we share what life is like for the newbies on […]