Interview Process - McKinsey, Bain, BCG

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Following is a field report from a reader that interviewed with four firms and got offers from both McKinsey and Bain. He reports on the interview process at these firms and shares the preparation method that contributed to his success.

Success Story:

A couple of weeks ago, I send you an e-mail to let you know that I had received an offer from Bain. As of yesterday, an offer from McKinsey has been added to that one. Naturally, I am excited about having offers from these two exceptional firms, and I have some decision-making to do.

But before I make a decision, I would first like to thank you again for all your helpful tools and insights. Your video workshops, your mails and your book have all been of great help during my application process. Thank you for that, and keep up the excellent work!

My Reply:

Double congratulations! Now you have a tough decision to make --- though it's a good problem to have.

Reader's Reply:

It is indeed a great choice to have, although it is a difficult one. I am happy to tell you that I have made this choice last weekend, and I have decided to go and work for McKinsey.

As for the interview process, there are some things I can tell you. I have a finance background and I did my interviews with Roland Berger, BCG, Bain and McKinsey after graduation.

Types of cases:
The firms used between 4 and 6 normal case interviews, and all cases were more or less unstructured interviews. Interviews usually took between 45 minutes and one hour, with 30 minutes of motivation and resume talk and 30 minutes of actual casework. Surprisingly, people and communication skills were considered far more important than 'acing the case'. I think I have not finished a single case during my interviews, but I was able to show all the competencies the firms were looking for. Besides case interviews, BCG used a problem-solving test and a written case. Roland Berger used a written case as well.

In short: the process was pretty standard at all firms, with about six interviews discussing both a case and your past experiences.

A few points that may be of interest:
- The actual cases were less important than I had expected. During all the interviews, interviewers specifically aimed at my communication and leadership skills. Most firms spend more time discussing my past experiences and examples of teamwork and leadership than on actual casework. As soon as I created a simple structure, they usually 'checked' that on their list and continued to a more or less structured way of brainstorming, after which they eventually skipped back to analysis to do some math. It is my experience that it were the examples of my coaching skills (as a coach of rowing crews) that landed me the offers, more than my case performance.

- I can hardly overstate the importance of getting the math right: the feedback on my 35+ (practice) interviews was consistently good regarding my math skills. Thinking out loud, calculating out loud, making clear notes and calculations have really helped me to involve the interviewer into the case. Your math tool on the website has actually been the sole resource I used to improve my math skills.

- A point which I learned during the interviews, which I haven't really picked up from your letters or book, is regarding the 'business judgement' at the end of the case. The analysis is done, the synthesis is made, and then comes a final question: 'would you, given this analysis and what you know, invest your own money in this project? Why (not)?' It turns out that interviewers strongly preferred a risk-averse attitude when it comes to these judgement calls. The trick, as it seems to me, is to stick to the data and to avoid any level of risk. If you're in doubt, you'd better refrain from promoting the project.

- A final skill, which I think is by far the most important skill any candidate should acquire, and is far more important than any framework or math level you may possess, is the ability to stay relaxed, simply enjoy the interviews and discussions and to be able to REALLY focus on the case at hand. To be truly at ease is hard at first, but once you are able to put everything into perspective (Kyle Maynard's examples definitely help!), you can relax and focus. And focus is what you will definitely need during rounds of six interviews per day... In the end, I enjoyed nearly all my interviews.

- Funny thing: a few interviews in which I was supposed to do a case, the interviewer (usually a partner) decided to talk about my Master's thesis instead. I therefore recommend re-reading your thesis (conclusions) before going to the interviews.

My preparation for the interview process:
I know that you like to keep statistics on the amount of preparation a candidate has put into its process, so here it goes:

  • Watched the video workshops, once;
  • Read your book, twice;
  • Read the Vault Guide and Case in Point, once;
  • Visited a case training by Bain, once;
  • Read your newsletter for approximately two years;
  • Did five practice cases with real MBB consultants;
  • Did NO other practice cases besides that (consultant friends specifically advised against doing that: practice cases without quality feedback have a bigger chance of hurting your skills than improving them);
  • Did 30 real case interviews;
  • Simulated interviews in my head: hundreds of times. Not kidding, this helps;
  • Not exactly related, but certainly helpful: read the Economist, every week.

Victor, thank you for all your help, enthusiasm and information over the past two years. I'll happily subscribe to your F1Y-newsletter!

Additional Resources

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