BCG 1st Round Rejection - Now What?

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Today I got a feedback call from BCG. Three weeks ago I had a selection process for a business course (recruitment event) at BCG, which was comparable with a first round. I had two case interviews and an online case test. This was the first time I did a case interview and I received my invitation only one week before, so I had only one week to prepare for it.

I'm wondering if strategy consultancy is a suitable job for me and maybe you can tell me your thoughts, given the feedback I received.

First a short background. I'm a student at a University of XXXXXXXX and luckily one of the best students of my class (both extracurricular and grades). So the invitations for recruitment events for BCG, McKinsey, ATKearney, Bain, OC&C daily come into my inbox. Strategy consultancy was not a job I considered as positive. However during my student role in a taskforce to redesign the whole undergraduate education (including strategy of the university), I got so much passion and energy from the 'out of the box' thinking process and strategic thinking with board of directors, professors, etc., that I really began to have interest in strategy consultancy.

The feedback I received from BCG was very positive on personality aspects. They described me literally as a very enthusiastic person, driven to work hard, energetic, adult, independent, with determination and confidence. Also they told me they were absolutely certain that tomorrow I could go with them to a client. I'm sure I also passed the 'airplane test'.

However, (also the thing I was most unsecure about before I went to the first round), I got rejected (I think) on the analytical skills. They told me that my 'business logic' and conclusions about data (I twice had to draw a graph) was too slow. Also the online test was below the boundary (I had not finished all the questions within the time and, clearly, I also made some mistakes).

For me this is a bit confusing. I'm from a University of Technology and study Industrial Engineering and Management Science with a lot of math, modeling, etc.  (I passed them all with high grades), so one would think the logic thinking should be okay.

Many times you wrote about the capability to be a strategy consultant if you pass the first round, and you encourage us to work hard and practice. However, what about this kind of feedback? If I even did not pass the first round, what are your thoughts about this? Maybe another kind of consulting (more soft) or another job is better for me, this is fine and I will find another nice job!

But I like the strategic thinking, the opportunities, the possibility to think 'out of the box,' and the combination of IQ and EQ.

One thing I have to say is that I didn't use your education (the English with 'American accent' was too fast and difficult for me and I had only a few days). Do you think this can overcome my struggles at the interviews and cases, although my feedback is about basic skills?


My Reply:

Thanks for your email.

Based on the feedback you've received, it is difficult to draw a firm conclusion as to whether or not your skills could be developed enough to get a consulting job with a top firm, or if you should focus on less competitive consulting firms or another industry entirely.

Most of my readers that end up with a BCG offer will invest 100 or more hours in preparation.  That also seems to be true of McKinsey and Bain.

This breaks down into:

  • 50 hours listening to my videos and LOMS programs
  • 50 live practice cases with a practice partner

This is your competition. Most have done 50% - 75% of the investment above before their first interview.

If you were prepared at this level for your BCG interview and you didn't pass, then I would say you should either look for consulting firms that have lower recruiting standards than BCG (but still do similar work) or look to other industries.

If you did not prepare to this level, it is hard to say if your results at BCG reflect your lack of ability or your lack of preparation.

I do think my training materials would help. In terms of "basic skills," it would be hard for me to say. On the data analysis and data interpretation skills, do you have a GRE score? (I'm not sure if they use that in your country.)

A good indicator of the basic skills is how well you perform on a standardized math exam (GRE or perhaps one for your country).  Most consultants at the Top 3 firms probably score in the top 5%.  At the Top 10 firms, they score in the top 15%.

If your scores are at this level, but your BCG specific performance wasn't, then I would be inclined to conclude that you are able to perform at the level expected at BCG, but you were under-prepared.

For example, on quantitative reasoning test, I encourage many of my readers to practice basic math.

5 + 7 = 12

9 x 7 = 63

My free practice tool at helps in this area.

I have had many candidates with Masters' and PHDs in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering that get rejected by consulting firms due to math errors.  Even today, my math is nowhere near as fast or precise as when I was at McKinsey -- where I had to use it every hour of every day... constantly.

The difference between ability and performance is practice.

Or, stated differently:

Performance = Ability + Practice

Hope this provides sufficient guidance to determine your own conclusion.

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2 comments… add one
  • Sirio Nov 11, 2011, 2:35 pm

    I’m a PhD in mathematics and also got dinged in BCG for analytical skills. Then I joined another top3 consulting Firm and, as it turns out, now I always get as feedback that Problem Solving and Analytical Skills are my spike! So, who knows. There can also be flaws in the recruiting process, even at BCG…

  • John Robertson Nov 7, 2014, 9:17 pm

    I am a PhD from a top-tier university in the US enrolled in a non-MBA program (i.e. engineering). My GRE scores weren’t spectacular by any means by the time I enrolled (700/800) but still managed to get accepted to the program, so I am wondering if it makes sense, after spending so many years in a PhD program, to re-take the GRE for the sake of improving those old GRE scores? Or are these things by now less dominant than other factors, such as CV, cover letter, networking, etc?

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