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What’s Different Between a First and Final-Round Interview at McKinsey, BCG or Bain?

Most McKinsey, BCG and Bain offices hold two rounds of interviews before making a hiring decision. If you’ve been invited to interview then you can count yourself as being in the top 10% of applicants. However, the work has just begun: the chance of passing the first round is around 25%.

Now here’s the good news: if you make it to a final-round interview with McKinsey, BCG or Bain your odds of receiving an offer increase to around 50%. However, the caliber of candidates at this stage is much higher and the final round can be fraught with surprises.

In this article, we outline the main differences between the two rounds of interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain, and what to expect from each.

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Interviewers become increasingly senior

Broadly speaking, the first and final-round interviews follow similar formats. In each round, you can expect to go through two to three full interviews. That said, there are some regional and firm-based variations. While some firms may have three interviews in the final round, some may only have two, and others may include a full fit or behavioral interview. Make sure to confirm the types of interviews you can expect when applying to your local office.

While the interview format is similar in each round of interviews, a major difference is the seniority of the interviewers. In your first round, you can expect to be interviewed by MBA or manager-level consultants. In the final round, the group of interviewers will be more senior and will include at least one Partner.

The cases used in first-round interviews might appear to be ‘off-the-shelf’ and scripted. By contrast, final-round cases can be less structured because Partners often use the same case for years at a time, and can deliver it without a script. This means that Partners tend to allow more room for candidates to lead the case. Either way, it’s important to be able to proactively suggest next steps throughout the case, even at Bain and McKinsey, which are known for using interviewer-led cases. You can learn more about the difference between interviewer-led and candidate-led cases in our case interview preparation guide.

The stakes are higher in a final-round interview

In a first-round interview, the interviewers are simply seeking to understand whether putting you in front of a few Partners for another two to three hours is going to be worth their time. In the final round, the decision is much bigger: the interviewers are deciding whether to offer you a job.

With this in mind, the firms are likely to be more lenient in the first round. Interviewers will allow for some slip-ups in certain elements of the interview if they see that you have potential in others. They will then provide feedback to see whether you can implement it and improve your performance in the final round of interviews.

Final-round interviewers are far less likely to take a risk on an imperfect candidate.

Expect the unexpected in the final round

As you’ll be meeting Partners in the final round of interviews, you can never be too sure of what’s going to happen.

If you put yourself in the shoes of a typical Partner interviewer, you’ll be able to appreciate that they definitely won’t want to go into a final decision meeting without having an opinion about whether you should be offered the job.

As a result, final-round interviewers are likely to poke and prod in the places that they’re most uncertain about. This means they might do something surprising like ditching the case and conducting a full fit interview, or asking more math questions than in a typical case.

Making an offer is a big decision for the Partners, so they will want to get it right.

Preparation is crucial for both rounds of interviews

To give yourself the best chance of success at every stage of the interview process, we highly recommend investing time and effort into learning how to nail consulting interviews. Our Interview Prep Course contains all the video lectures, sample interviews, case material, and practice tools you’ll need to ace any case or fit interview.

In our experience, most candidates who go on to receive an offer from a top consulting firm practice at least 25 live cases with a partner before their interview. We can connect you with a diverse community of fellow candidates available for case interview practice in our Practice Room.

Finally, you might want to consider practicing cases with a coach to get some expert advice and feedback that can help to accelerate your progress. Our coaches are all former consultants and interviewers who have been handpicked from the alumni of top firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain.

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