Bain vs McKinsey

Below is a success story and prep tips from a student who has two MBB offers as well as my advice on how to chose between the two offers (a very nice problem to have).

Reader Success Story:

You've put me in a difficult position... I now have to decide between offers from Bain and McKinsey!

I am writing to thank you for helping me attain my goal of working for a top consulting firm fresh out of undergrad. Two months ago, I would never have dreamt of being in the position to choose between these two great firms!

As I started the interview process, I looked over some of the other resources that are out there. I found most of these resources to be much too restrictive. They seemed to encourage forcing cases into arbitrary frameworks, which not only inhibited my ability to come up with tailored solutions, but also prevented me from showcasing my usual problem-solving approach and thought process. The feedback I received after first round interviews was that my frameworks were not tailored enough to the cases I was trying to solve. This is also the feedback BCG gave me when they turned me down after second round interviews.

I knew I had to change my approach. A friend recommended I take a look at, and I have thanked him ever since! Your 'Business Situation Framework' was excellent in that it provided me with a strong foundation upon which to build customized MECE buckets tailored to each case I was presented. I practiced this new approach with fellow classmates, MBAs with consulting experience, and anyone else I could find. I was much more comfortable using this approach, and I believe that showed in my interviews.

As I mentioned earlier, I am now in the fortunate position of being able to choose between Bain and McKinsey. What makes this decision particularly difficult for me is the fact that I do not have very concrete goals on the 3-5-year horizon. Some of the factors which are important to me are:

  1. The People/Office culture: I want to work with people I enjoy being around.
  2. Personal/Professional Development: through formal and informal training, mentorship opportunities, case team structure, etc.
  3. Career Path: MBA Sponsorship opportunities, career progression timeline
  4. Location

What makes this decision especially difficult is that I do not have a ranking of which factors are most important to me, which makes collecting the relevant data difficult. I am currently "boiling the ocean" by talking to various mentors and friends. Do you have any advice on how to make this decision?

My Response:

.... you have my deepest sympathy...

What a nice problem to have, congratulations on both M&B!

Thanks for sharing your feedback on what worked/didn't work for you.

In terms of choosing between Bain and McKinsey... here's my take. For #3 (Career Path), they are pretty much identical. For #2 (Personal/Professional Development), they are pretty equal as well.  Though when I was choosing between the two, at Bain you would typically work on two clients at once; at McKinsey, one client at a time. According to some recent reports I have received from new Bain hires this is no longer the case in all Bain offices and 95% of the time at Bain you also will work one client at a time so this is less of a factor now a days.

I think the more important issues are #1 (People/Office culture) and #4 (Location). Instead of comparing firms, which is really a toss-up in many ways, I would encourage you to compare the specific Bain office you have an offer from to the specific McKinsey office you have an offer from.

Try to visit, meet some people there, and just ask yourself at a gut level where you would rather spend more time. In terms of location, if your offer is from different cities, then it's a question of where you would rather live.

Professionally, the differences between McKinsey and Bain are so small, they're for all practical purposes pretty negligible. I think the swing factors are more personal preference and which office you click with the most. You end up spending a lot of time with your co-workers, so it really helps if you like them.

The only career factor I think of that is worth considering is looking at the mix of industries each office serves -- especially if they are in different cities. If the offers are for the same cities, it's a moot point as the industry mix is pretty similar across firms that are located in the same city.

In any case, let me know which firm and office you end up choosing, and good luck with your choice

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3 comments… add one
  • Piyush Aggarwala Apr 12, 2013, 11:35 pm

    Given both great offers, I recommend negotiating the best offer based on the highest paying organization. At the end of the day, we are all looking for ways to create the highest financial savings.

    Also, find a city that creates the most happiness for you. I’m an endurance triathlete and for me fitness is a big deal; hence I picked DC over NYC.

  • Ravi Bansal Apr 4, 2012, 2:42 am


    Nice Article!!

    I will be soon joining McKinsey India office as a Junior Associate.

    Curious to know which firm did this particular person finally choose and what were the factors that went in taking that decision.

    Ravi Bansal
    Mumbai, India

    • Victor Apr 10, 2012, 5:04 am

      Hi Ravi,

      Congratulations on McKinsey Mumbai. As for whether the original FFY choose Bain or McKinsey, I don’t recall if the person ever told me in the end. In general, when choosing between two such strong offers, I tell people to stop comparing one firm vs the other and instead compare one office in one firm vs one office in the other firm.

      So personal preferences around location, industry mix by office, the specific people you’d be working with in THAT office, etc… I think ultimately have more impact on your day-to-day life than the reputation of one stellar firm vs that of another.


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