McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, collectively referred to as MBB, are widely recognized as the top management consultancy firms in the world. Each has well-established operations in the UK.
In this article, we answer some of the top-of-mind questions for potential candidates for these firms. Questions like:
- What kind of candidates make it into McKinsey, BCG, or Bain in the UK?
- Which undergrad schools give you the highest chances of getting into McKinsey, BCG, or Bain in the UK?
- How can international students break into McKinsey, BCG, or Bain in the UK?
- Is an MBA a great route to consulting in the UK?
- Can you switch to McKinsey, BCG, or Bain from another industry?
The insights in this article come from a detailed analysis of about 600 individuals hired by McKinsey, BCG, and Bain for client-facing consulting roles in the UK from 2020 to mid-2022.
- BCG and Bain’s hiring volumes match up to McKinsey’s, indicating that these firms are growing faster than, and catching up with, McKinsey.
- There is close to gender parity in MBB hiring in the UK.
- McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK hire mostly pre-experience students (41% of all hires) and experienced candidates (35% of all hires). MBA hiring (21% of all hires) is small compared to the US, and advanced degree hires make up only 3% of all hiring.
- MBBs in the UK make most of their pre-experienced hiring (90%) out of ten schools, with Cambridge, Oxford, and the London School of Economics providing a whopping 58% of hires.
- Selection criteria for experienced professionals appear slightly less focused on academics, and more on professional background. Experience as a strategy consultant in another firm tends to be highly valued.
- If you did not study (at Bachelor or Masters level) at a core UK undergraduate program, an MBA (ideally at London Business School or INSEAD) is your best route to MBBs in the UK.
The main sources of candidates for top consulting firms in the UK
You may have heard that the ranks of top consulting firms are populated by male MBAs. In this section you will learn that the reality is very different.
Top firms primarily hire pre-experience students and experienced professionals
While all recruitment channels are open and used by all firms, three in four hires by MBB in the UK were either pre-experience students (41% of hires) or Experienced Hires (35% of hires).
An MBA is not a requirement to join a top consulting firm. In the UK, MBAs only represent 21% of hires, unlike in the US, where more than a third of all hires were MBAs. While top firms increasingly consider advanced degree candidates, these only made up 3% of their hires.
To understand these categories better, here are quick definitions:
- Pre-experience students are undergraduate hires (bachelor’s degree or a non-MBA master’s degree) hired out of school or shortly after. They typically have no more than two years of experience pre-MBB hiring and are hired into entry-level roles, i.e., Business Analysts at McKinsey, Associates at BCG, and Associate Consultants at Bain.
- MBA hires are graduates of a one- or two-year MBA program, usually at a European or US business school. They typically have work experience before their MBAs and are hired into post-MBA roles, i.e., Associates at McKinsey, or Consultants at BCG and Bain.
- Experienced hires are hired from other employers and typically have two to eight years of experience. Those with less are hired at pre-MBA roles, i.e., Junior Associates at McKinsey, 2nd year Associate Consultants at Bain, and Senior Associates at BCG. Those with significant experience are hired into post-MBA roles, i.e., Associates at McKinsey, or Consultants at BCG and Bain.
- Advanced degree hires are hired during or soon (not more than two years) after their Ph.D. or medical school programs. In the UK, they are typically hired into senior pre-MBA roles, i.e., Junior Associates at McKinsey, 2nd year Associate Consultants at Bain, and Senior Associates at BCG.
Top firms are achieving gender parity in the UK
Recruitment patterns indicate relative gender parity, though, they slightly favor male hiring. Women made up 45 – 48% of all hires from pre-experience student, experienced hire, and MBA hire channels for all three firms. These are better parity stats than even MBA admissions, though with some room for improvement.
The only channel with higher female hiring proportions is the advanced degree holder channel, where female hires made up 53% of the total. Nominally though, this makes little difference given that advanced hires make up only 3% of the total.
BCG and Bain are catching up with McKinsey in the UK
Within the research period (Q1 2020 to Q2 2022), we’ve identified just over 200 McKinsey hires for client-facing consulting roles. McKinsey’s hiring was matched by Bain (200+) and BCG (~190), indicating that both firms are catching up in terms of size in the UK.
It is also interesting to note the difference in the hiring mix for the three firms. About 50% of hires into McKinsey and BCG for the research period were pre-experience students! This means that experienced hiring, MBA hiring, and advanced degree hiring combined, made up only half of Mckinsey and BCGs hiring.
Bain however is different. Unlike McKinsey and BCG, pre-experience students only made up about a quarter of hiring (26%). Bain focused their hiring efforts on experienced hire candidates. 50% of Bain’s hires were experienced hires! The implications of which we will discuss in our deep dive into experienced professionals hiring.
McKinsey, BCG, and Bain’s pre-experience students hiring in the UK
Pre-experience students were the largest recruitment channel for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK from Q1 2020 to Q2 2022. They made up ~41% of all hires by these firms, about half of all hires for McKinsey and BCG within this period.
This means that hires from a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree program (excluding MBAs) make up the largest recruitment channel into entry-level roles at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK. If you are in this position, it is absolutely worth applying. If you do, rest assured, you are not setting out on a futile journey.
However, very few students that schooled outside of the UK made it to McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the United Kingdom. Only 5% of pre-experience hires came from schools outside of the UK, and those who did primarily graduated from world-renowned institutions, such as Harvard, MIT, and Columbia in the US and HEC Paris in France.
But what schools did these pre-experience students come from, and what did they study?
Where did UK MBB pre-experience students go to school?
About 90% of pre-experience student hires into McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK come from only ten schools. About 58% of all pre-experience students came from three schools:
- the University of Cambridge (25%),
- the University of Oxford (22%), and
- the London School of Economics (11%).
The next 30% of hires came from seven schools. They include University College London, Imperial College London, University of Warwick, and London Business school, each making up (5 – 8% of pre-experience students). We also have King’s College London, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol, each making up ~2% of pre-experience students.
Finally, we have a long tail of about 19 schools that comprise the remaining ~11% of pre-experience student hires. Of these, about half of them (ten schools) are international schools, while the other half (nine schools) are UK-based.
Anecdotally, the candidates hired from this long tail of UK schools tend to bring either more diversity or digital expertise to the firms.
What did they study?
Only two fields of study stand out.
- 30% of pre-experience students either majored or minored in Economics.
- 20% of pre-experience students graduated with an Engineering degree.
The remaining students studied a variety of disciplines. Your field of study might not be as important a consideration for hiring into McKinsey, BCG, or Bain as you might initially expect.
A master’s degree doesn’t seem to give a distinct edge either. Pre-experience students with a master’s degree made up 45% of pre-experience students, compared with the 55% without.
McKinsey, BCG, and Bain’s Experienced Professionals Hiring in the UK
Experienced hires, those who typically have two to eight years of professional experience, were the second largest recruitment channel for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK from Q1 2020 to Q2 2022, making up ~35% of all hires by these three firms. This is much more than in many international locations. For instance, in the US, experienced hires make less than 20% of MBBs’ hiring.
At Bain, half of all their hires for the period in consideration were experienced hires! At Mckinsey and BCG, experienced hires made up around a quarter of their total hires each.
Experienced hires joined top firms at different levels:
- 57% of experienced hires were recruited into pre-MBA roles (i.e., Junior Associate at McKinsey, Associate and Senior Associate Consultants at Bain, and Senior Associates at BCG.
- 43% of experienced hires were recruited into post-MBA roles. These are primarily Associates at McKinsey, Consultants at BCG, and Bain. Candidates with team leadership experience at other consulting firms sometimes join at a more senior level, but will typically experience a small step back compared to their seniority at their initial firm.
Which companies did the UK MBB’s experienced hires come from?
Two industries stood out as feeders into MBB in the UK: consulting and finance.
More than 40% of experienced hires came from other consulting firms. These are primarily other strategy consulting firms (e.g., Roland Berger, L.E.K, Oliver Wyman), Big-4’s strategy teams (e.g., Strategy& at PwC, Monitor Deloitte, EY-Parthenon), and Accenture.
The finance industry made up about 15% of experienced hires, and the remaining came from a wide range of unrelated industries, ranging from Tech, Healthcare, Oil & Gas, and Public Sector (e.g., education, armed forces).
As mentioned, Bain recruited the most experienced hires. This may be a decision to focus on hiring pools that are less prone to cross-offer situations, which are common for all other hiring categories.
Moreover, almost half (49%) of Bain’s experienced hires came from another consulting company! From this, we can infer that Bain has undergone a growth spurt and has looked for candidates ready to be operational from day one — something best suited for experienced hires with a consulting background.
This is particularly important at Bain, which has a more hierarchical team structure than McKinsey and BCG. At Bain, more tenured consultants are expected to manage less tenured consultants, which is a challenge for new hires who do not have a consulting background.
Where did MBB’s experienced hires go to school?
There is a little more diversity in undergraduate and non-MBA graduate school distribution among MBB’s experienced hires in the UK compared with pre-experience students hires.
Whereas Oxford, Cambridge, and LSE made up almost 60% of pre-experience students, experienced professionals with a degree from these schools made up just over 40% of the total. A lot of the difference can be explained by graduates of international schools who moved to the UK for work, before transitioning into a MBB.
That said, while there is more undergrad diversity for experienced hires, it is still much less than with MBA hiring, as the ten UK schools that made up 90% of Student hiring still contributed a significant 75% for experienced hires.
McKinsey, BCG, and Bain’s MBA hiring in the UK
Only about one in five hires by MBB in the UK between Q1 2020 and Q2 2022 were MBA graduates. The quickest conclusion to gather from this stat is that Mckinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK do not require MBA degrees from their potential hires.
As a reminder, MBA hires are graduates of a one- or two-year MBA program, usually at a European or US business school. They typically have had some work experience before their MBAs and are hired into post-MBA roles, i.e., Associates at McKinsey or Consultants at BCG and Bain.
For MBA hires, we will explore two questions in the following subheadings:
- Which business schools did they attend?
- Which undergrad schools did they attend?
Which business schools did UK MBB MBA hires attend?
The chart above neatly summarizes our findings on MBB UK’s MBA pipeline. Two schools dominate MBA hiring by MBB in the UK: The London Business School (39% of MBA hires) and INSEAD (31% of MBA hires). Both make up a combined 70% of all MBA hires!
Interestingly, US MBAs make up only 17% of MBA hires. This is likely due to the significantly lower obtainable compensation from MBBs in the UK which is not only nominally less attractive but also doesn’t help much when compared to the typical student loans incurred by US MBAs.
The remaining MBA hires come from other European MBA programs. This category is dominated by Spanish Business schools IESE and ESADE (~8% combined).
Which undergraduate schools did UK MBB MBA hires attend?
Here we see a far more diverse selection pool of undergrad schools compared with pre-experience hires. Three in four MBA hires did not attend a British undergraduate programme.
The conclusion is clear: If you did not study (at Bachelor or Masters level) at a core UK undergrad program, and you would like to break into MBB in the UK, an MBA (ideally at LBS or INSEAD) is your best route.
Of the 75% international undergraduate programs attended by MBA hires, US undergrad programs make up 21 percentage points (i.e., 1 in 5 MBB UK MBA hires attended a US undergrad program) and Indian undergrad programs make up ten percentage points. The remaining 44 percentage points are split across over 40 schools around the world, from a variety of countries, including Canada, China, France, Singapore, South Africa, etc.
Advanced Degree hiring in the UK
Advanced degree hiring constituted the smallest proportion of hires for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK, making up only about 3% of total hiring. The Ph.D. hires came from top UK schools such as Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College, KCL, etc.
As a reminder, advanced degree hires are hired during or soon (not more than 2 years) after their Ph.D. or Medical school programs. They are typically hired into more senior pre-MBA roles i.e., Junior Associates at McKinsey, Associate Consultants at Bain and Senior Associates at BCG.
Almost half of them secured their doctorates in medical fields, a good chunk of the other half secured their doctorates in physics or chemistry, while the rest came from other disciplines.
What’s next if you’d like to get into McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK
Looking to join McKinsey, BCG, or Bain in the UK? CaseCoach has resources to guide you all the way from your resume crafting stage to your final interviews.
Our Free Resume Course provides resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice for students, MBAs, and experienced professionals.
The Interview Prep Course contains all the material you need to ace your case and fit interview, including interview videos of candidates who joined top consulting firms in the UK.
CaseCoach’s team of coaches includes former consultants and interviewers with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in the UK. They are available to deliver case and fit interview coaching and mock interviews in a realistic setting to put your preparation to the test, providing the personal feedback and practical advice needed to ace your interviews.