What follows is a recent email I received from a CaseInterview.com student who secured an offer from Bain in Europe. In this email he describes the Bain Interview Format and the preparation, he did that led to the offer. I also add my commentary at the end elaborating on the Bain Interview Format and give some more tips on preparing for a Bain interview.

I don’t have proper words to thank you for all your e-mails, materials (Case Interview Secrets and LOMS) and overall spirit of a great guy helping others hit their #1 career target.

I was rejected from BCG and McKinsey in the first round and rejected from AT Kearney in the second round. I’m an engineer and thought I was good in tackling analytical tasks – but the reality is the opposite, which was represented with three rejections.

After a month of waking up, eating, walking, jogging and sleeping with LOMS and 20+ live cases after the last rejection, I am happy to report I received an offer from Bain Europe.

I’m delighted that I knew about your materials and purchased them more than a month prior to my last interview rounds. Hence, I had a lot of time to practice.

Briefly about Bain interview format (for your information):

1st round – Written case interview (similar to your description – 60 min, 20+ pages with data to go through, 5 blank slides with 5 questions to fill up)

2nd round – two interviewer-led cases with consultants (they both give candidate case questions and graphs to get insights from it)

3rd round – two interviewer-led or interviewee-led cases with managers (more interruption, more complex case to crack – typically with just small deviations from a straight-forward framework case, but as you said, so many candidates experience problems with them)

4th round – two partners-led interviews – full scope of options (case, estimation questions, brain teaser, just fancy discussion, etc.)

My Comments:

I would like to add two key points worth noting.

First, in regard to Bain’s interview format, I have noticed that it does vary by office.  The formats are similar, but the sequencing of which interview formats appear when does seem to vary.

I would not take this person’s experience to be literally the one you will see, but another data point that helps build a profile of how Bain likes to interview candidates.

For example, in Paris, I seem to recall Bain using a written case interview in the final round. In this reader’s email, it appeared in the first round.

Whether you get it in the first round, last round or some round in the middle, the message is clear — don’t be surprised if you get a Bain written case interview at some point in the process.

Next, this person’s experience continues to show a common pattern amongst many of the success stories.

Initial efforts result in some positive results, but not an offer.

The person regroups, decides they are really going to commit themselves to doing well in the remaining interviews.

And then the person lives and breathes case studies, every spare minute of every day for weeks and months to improve by enough of a margin to surpass other candidates, and ultimately gets an offer.

You will notice that each person’s preparation process is a little different. Some use LOMS to prepare.  Others use live practice with a partner. Many do as I encourage and use both.

While the means of preparation may vary, the single most common theme throughout the various success stories is the sheer volume and intensity of preparation undertaken.

Are these people the most talented future consultants in the world?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Are they the most committed, most determined, and hardest-working future consultants in the world?

I don’t know, but it is hard to imagine someone working harder and more intensely than they do.

What is the “so what?” to all this?

The kind of person who ends up getting offers at the top firms is both smart and intense in their preparation.

Does this mean you need to be and do both?

The answer to that question will be different for each person, but it certainly does suggest that the safest, most proven path to success is to prepare very intensely.

On a related note, I get a lot of emails from people who fail to take this point to heart.

I call these “humility” emails.

They start like this:

“Dear Victor,

I assumed that because I (graduated from Harvard, have a PhD in Physics, tested #20 in my entire country in math), that I would of course do well in case interviews.

X rejections later, I realized this was not the case, and I reluctantly realized it was arrogant of me to think so.”

I get a lot of these kinds of emails.

I cannot tell you how many people with PhDs in Physics, Electrical Engineering, Math or some other clearly quantitative field get rejected from a case interview due to a math error…

I am totally serious about this.

Yes, the kind of math we all learned in grade school — adding, subtracting, multiplying and occasionally dividing.

But under pressure, while keeping track of four other things, and doing arithmetic with large numbers, it is quite possible for anyone of any background to make a mistake.

The way to combat the performance under pressure is to extensively practice while under pressure.

By the way, I do not know a single person who has ever gotten a consulting job offer after making a math mistake.

Well, that’s not true. I think I did get an email two days ago from one person that made a very small error, self-corrected the error and got away with it.

But that is one data point of out 300+ data points I have indicating the opposite.

I will share a personal story on this point.

For the various college entrance exams that I took before going to Stanford, I scored a perfect score on all of the math tests.

So, you would think that I am pretty good at math.

Yes and no.

As I recall, before I took those exams, I practiced a lot too… and so all those scores show is that my math potential when used extensively is quite high.

But that score says very little about my current math ability this second.

Today I am math lazy.

If I have a client discussion where I need to multiply 30 x 20,000, do you want to know what my answer is?

LOL… “Wait a second while I get my calculator.”

My math brain is soft. There’s an American saying that goes like this, “If you do not use it, you lose it.”

I have not used my mental math skills for large numbers in a long time, so those skills in my brain are not sharp.

I don’t keep up this level of math usage and practice.

I know I don’t do it.

And significantly, I know I cannot trust my own mental math without this level of math usage.

So rather than risk an error, I just get out the calculator.

Now in my own line of work today, this is not a big deal to my clients.

I would never do this if I were still at McKinsey, as it would be completely unacceptable and embarrassing… and if I were still at McKinsey, I would be doing this kind of math every day anyways, and I am sure my current math skills would be sufficiently high to not need a calculator.

Keeping any skill at a high level of proficiency over an extended period of time requires a constant re-sharpening of those skills.

It is a point worth remembering, and certainly seems supported by the preparation practices of the recent new hires in the case interview preparation community.

Since this theme around math proficiency keeps popping up, I have created a special page here at CaseInterview.com to focus on math training tools.Click Here for my math training tools.