McKinsey, BCG and Bain, collectively referred to as ‘MBB’, are widely recognized as the top management consulting firms in the world. They all have well-established operations in several global locations and are notoriously selective when it comes to hiring, with average acceptance rates of lower than 1%.
To shed some light on the hiring practices of these firms at a global level, we conducted a detailed analysis of 7,550 candidates who were hired into client-facing roles at McKinsey, BCG and Bain in a selection of global locations between Q1 of 2020 and Q2 of 2022. These locations were:
In this article, we present the findings of our analysis and provide insight into the top routes for joining McKinsey, BCG and Bain in 2023.
In the period covered by our research:
- The global hiring climate for consulting was highly competitive, with the tech industry in the US posing the greatest threat in the fight for the best candidates.
- McKinsey and BCG hired roughly the same number of people. This represents significant progress for BCG, as McKinsey is the bigger of the two firms and is widely recognised as the industry leader.
- On a global level, all MBB firms made good progress towards achieving gender parity in hiring, with some key differences among locations.
- Pre-experience student hiring was the largest MBB recruitment channel, as well as the most competitive.
- MBA hiring was most prevalent in the US, where the channel provided international candidates with a credible route into MBB firms.
- Experienced professional hiring was an important hiring channel, as MBB offices around the world sought consultants with specialized expertise to meet client demand.
- Advanced degree hiring represented the world’s smallest MBB recruitment channel. It was most prevalent in the US and Germany.
The global hiring climate for top consulting firms
Q1 of 2020 to Q2 of 2022 proved to be a significant period for hiring at McKinsey, BCG and Bain. Hiring volumes soared as the world emerged from the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with the need for specialist expertise, driven by clients’ evolving requirements, this pushed all three firms to consider candidates from a broader range of backgrounds than they had before. Our analysis also pointed to a number of additional trends.
BCG is catching up to McKinsey in hiring
McKinsey, the largest and most well-established MBB firm, hired the most candidates globally during the period covered by our research. The firm accounted for 38.4% of the hiring total.
Perhaps more surprisingly, BCG, which is smaller than McKinsey, hired a very similar number of candidates during this period, accounting for 37.3% of the total. BCG now appears to be catching up to McKinsey in terms of hiring, which represents significant progress for BCG.
Bain, with around 15,000 employees, hired a proportionately lower number of candidates, accounting for 24.3% of global hiring among the three firms.
The ongoing quest for gender parity
Achieving a more balanced gender population is a huge strategic priority for McKinsey, BCG and Bain, particularly when it comes to hiring new talent. Our research indicates that good progress is being made in this area, with an average of 42% female hiring across all three firms. The difference among the firms is small, with 44% female hiring at McKinsey and 41% at both BCG and Bain.
Our research also illustrates that the firms are very close to achieving gender parity in hiring in certain locations. In Switzerland and Canada, 47% of all MBB hires were women, while women accounted for 46% of the firms’ hires in the UK.
Other locations have further to go. In France, for example, only 40% of MBB hires were women and in the Middle East this figure was even lower, at 32%.
You can learn more in our analysis of gender parity in hiring at McKinsey, BCG and Bain.
Fighting top tech firms for the best talent in the US
Traditionally, investment banking has posed the greatest threat to consulting in the fight for top candidates, mainly because of the higher bonuses it can offer. However, the appeal of management consulting as a job and the broader exit opportunities it presents have continued to make it the more popular career option for many top candidates.
During the period covered by our research, hiring at consulting firms in the US faced a new threat, with candidates choosing to pursue jobs in the tech industry over consulting roles. In our analysis of hiring at McKinsey, BCG and Bain in San Francisco, we saw that only 10% of the firms’ pre-experience student hires and 5% of its MBA hires attended Stanford, the highest-ranked local university. This is likely to have been a consequence of the competing draw of the tech industry.
Large tech firms (e.g. Google, Amazon, Meta, Apple) are known for offering a great working environment with many perks, a lifestyle that doesn’t include the long working hours of consulting and a vibrant workforce that focuses on ‘doing’ – by building products, for example – rather than advising. The compensation packages offered by tech companies sometimes include stock options, which many candidates find appealing as a longer-term financial incentive. Add to that the prestigious nature of many of the big names in the tech world, and candidates have a compelling value proposition that presents a credible challenge to the advantages of a career in management consulting.
The fight for top talent has contributed towards compensation packages for new MBB hires increasing in the US. Pre-experience students can now expect a $110,000 base salary or more, while MBA hires can expect $175,000 or more.
While competition from the tech industry made a significant impact between Q1 2020 and Q2 2022, this is likely to become less of an issue over the coming months, as top tech firms have now started to downsize their workforces and cut back on hiring.
Pre-experience student hiring: the world’s largest MBB recruitment channel
The highest proportion of hiring
Pre-experience student hiring is the biggest recruitment channel for MBB firms the world over. In every country in our analysis, pre-experience students (i.e. students of bachelor’s or non-MBA master’s degrees who are hired straight out of university or shortly after graduating) accounted for the highest proportion of MBB hiring. In Germany (70%), France (69%) and Switzerland (68%), hiring was particularly weighted in favor of this channel.
The highest degree of competition
Firms in most locations hire primarily from top-ranked universities
As well as being the biggest channel for MBB recruitment, pre-experience student hiring is also the most competitive. In almost every country in our analysis, the majority of pre-experience student hires came from a small set of top-ranked local universities. In the US, for example, the majority came from prestigious institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, MIT, Yale, Brown and Duke. And in the UK, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics collectively accounted for 58% of pre-experience student hiring.
Firms in some locations consider a wider range of schools
MBB firms in other locations appear to approach pre-experience student hiring with a greater degree of flexibility. Pre-experience student hires in Germany came from a total of 125 institutions. In the Middle East, the majority of pre-experience student hires (52%) came from one of 64 international universities, making the region one of the only MBB locations where pre-experience students from other parts of the world have a credible route to entry.
Some flexibility is even evident in certain US offices. At MBB firms in Dallas & Houston and Atlanta, for example, the universities that contributed most to the firms’ pre-experience student hiring were regional universities that are not typically ranked in the national top-20.
While our data shows that there are some opportunities for students to join MBB firms from less selective universities, these candidates will be expected to demonstrate their suitability through excellent grades when they apply to McKinsey, BCG or Bain as new graduates.
MBA hiring: a major route into top firms in the US but less so elsewhere
MBA hires are graduates of a one or two-year MBA program, usually at a US business school. Perhaps unsurprisingly, MBA hiring is most prevalent in the US, where it accounts for 35% of MBB hiring nationally. 50% of all MBA hires in the US came from five schools:
- The Wharton School (12%)
- Kellogg School of Management (11%)
- Chicago Booth School of Business (11%)
- Harvard Business School (10%)
- Columbia Business School (6%)
Of the MBA hires in our analysis, 23% held undergraduate degrees from international universities. And of the 60 business schools that contributed MBA hires to MBB firms, seven were located outside of the US. The MBA channel is therefore a credible route into top consulting firms in the US for international candidates. This is particularly true of McKinsey, where 33% of the MBA hires into the firm’s US offices obtained their undergraduate degree from an international university. By contrast, 20% and 11% of the MBA hires at BCG and Bain respectively held an international undergraduate degree.
In other parts of the world, MBA hiring represents a smaller but important recruitment channel. In the Middle East it accounts for 23% of total MBB hiring, with INSEAD contributing the highest proportion of candidates. In the UK, 21% of candidates are MBA hires. They are mostly graduates from the London Business School. And in Canada, the MBA channel accounts for 20% of MBB hiring. Most of these candidates are graduates of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
MBA hiring is far less common in mainland Europe, with hiring proportions as low as 5% in Switzerland, 3% in France and 2% in Germany. High tuition fees in the US coupled with lower consulting salaries in Europe could make the prospect of pursuing an MBA at a US business school an unattractive option for European candidates.
Experienced professional hiring: the MBB recruitment channel that’s taken the world by storm
Consisting of candidates who typically have two to eight years of professional experience, experienced professional hiring is a relatively new MBB recruitment channel that has gained serious momentum in recent years.
The practice of hiring individuals who are qualified by experience rather than academic pedigree began in Europe – where there are fewer MBA programs – as a means of diversifying the candidate pool. However, it’s since been adopted by MBB firms around the world, including in the US, as they’ve sought to hire consultants with a diverse range of expertise to help them solve problems for clients in contemporary disciplines such as digital, AI, climate change and sustainability.
As a result of this increasing range of needs, MBB firms are open to hiring experienced professional candidates who have worked at other top consulting firms like Oliver Wyman, Kearney and the strategy arms of big-4 accounting firms (e.g. Strategy& at PwC, Monitor Deloitte and EY-Parthenon). These candidates are able to hit the ground running when they join a new firm, making them a great option for firms with an immediate client demand.
Other candidates who join MBB firms as experienced professional hires come from a range of other industries, including finance, tech, oil and gas, healthcare and the public sector.
During the period covered by our research, experienced professional hiring was most prevalent in Australia (44%), the UK (35%) and Canada (34%). It was least common in Switzerland (16%) and Germany (16%).
Advanced degree hiring: an important recruitment channel in the US, Germany and Switzerland
Advanced degree hiring represented the smallest pool of candidates in our research. Consisting of graduates who hold a PhD or other advanced degree (e.g. from medical or law school), the channel accounted for the smallest proportion of MBB hires in nearly every country in our analysis.
As PhD study is traditionally more popular in Germany than in other countries, it’s perhaps unsurprising that advanced degree hiring was most prevalent in Germany (9%) and neighboring Switzerland (11%).
Because of the sheer size of hiring in the US, advanced degree hiring only accounted for 4% of total hiring there. However, 2.5 times as many advanced degree candidates were hired by MBB firms in the US than in Germany. In this respect, the US is leading the charge in advanced degree hiring.
There are a couple of key drivers at the heart of this trend. In the US, unlike in other countries, it’s not considered taboo to attain an advanced degree in a discipline such as law and then pursue a career in a different field. Additionally, the strengths of American research institutions tend to draw many international candidates to the US to pursue PhDs and other advanced degrees. This has the effect of increasing the size of the advanced degree hiring pool in the US.
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