The Secret to Getting Hired at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain
McKinsey & Co, the Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Co, also known as the MBB in short or the “Big Three,” are the three top firms in consulting and are some of the most coveted places to work.
These firms are routinely contracted by some of the largest organizations and companies in the world, from The Vatican and British Airways to governments across the world.
While all three help companies and organizations deal with various business challenges, there is some difference between the three.
- McKinsey & Co is more focused on organization and operation work and strategy. Most of its clients are in the fields of Public Sector, Education and Telco.
- The Boston Consulting Group is more focused on business growth, innovation and corporate development.
- Bain & Co is more focused on working with Private Equity funds and other principal investors.
The Big Three only hire from the top business schools. If you are about to graduate from one of these schools and are thinking of going into consulting, you are probably targeting one of the big three.
However, getting hired at one of the Big Three is not as easy as you might think.
These firms only work with the best minds, and as such, there is a lot of competition for those getting looking to hired by one of these firms.
In addition, the extensive experience you stand to gain as well as the competitive salaries do not make matters any easier.
HOW HARD IS IT TO GET A JOB AT THE BIG THREE?
Getting a job at one of the Big Three is quite difficult, owing to the high number of people who apply to these firms and their stringent conditions for hiring.
For instance, according to former McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton, the firm receives about 200,000 applications from interested candidates, but only about 2,200 of them get hired.
In other words, anyone applying to the firm only has a 1% chance of getting hired.
In order to get hired at the MBB, you need to have an excellent academic record from a prestigious school, you need to have been exposed to a wide range of activities, both academic and co-curricular, you need excellent communication skills, analytical capabilities, and you need to have interest in many areas.
Many of those applying to the MBB firms, however, will also have these characteristics.
So, how do you set yourself apart from the other candidates and catch the eye of the HR people at these firms?
Below are some tips on how to improve your chances of getting hired at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain.
The tips are divided into two sections: how to get yourself invited to an interview, and how to pass the PST and how to pass the interviews.
HOW TO GET AN INTERVIEW AT MCKINSEY, BCG, OR BAIN
Of course, if you intend to work at one of the Big Three consulting firms, the first thing you need to do is make sure that you get invited to an interview.
Earning yourself an invitation to interview at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain boils down to two key things.
An Excellent Resume That is Short And to the Point
We have already seen that these firms receive hundreds of thousands of applications in a single year. With so many applications to screen, there is no doubt that your resume will have to pass through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Therefore, not only do you need a bullet-proof resume, you also need to make sure that the resume is well optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems.
Your resume should include the keywords and exact phrases used within the job description.
You should also ensure that your summary statement contains these keywords.
The section headers in your resume should use common names – such as Work Experience, Education, Skills, and so on – to ensure that the ATS easily understands what each section is about.
You should also avoid using tables, columns, headers, and footers in your resume.
Before analyzing your resume, an ATS usually strips out the formatting, therefore any information contained within columns, tables, headers, and footers can easily get lost.
Even when your resume does go past the Applicant Tracking System, you should remember that it won’t be the only one to make it past the ATS. It will be in the company of several other resumes, which all have to be manually screened by the hiring department.
Since these recruiters have limited time to go through all these resumes, you need to keep your resume short and to the point. Ideally, a one-page resume should be enough.
You have the option of accompanying your resume with a well-written cover letter, though there is a high chance the cover letter might get ignored.
Consulting firms want to work with the best and the brightest minds, therefore your resume should mention your top grades in university.
These firms also want candidates who can be quickly trained and deployed to do their jobs, therefore your resume should show that you have a knack for learning quickly.
If possible, your resume should show that you are a problem-solver, since solving problems makes a large part of consulting jobs.
Therefore, you should mention any situations where you were part of team that solved certain problems.
If you mention such situations, you should be ready to be quizzed about them in case you make it to the interview stage.
Other skills that you want your resume to show include leadership skills, interpersonal skills, analytical and quantitative skills, and entrepreneurial skills.
Finally, if you have some experience, instead of focusing on the job titles you held or the roles you were expected to play, you should talk about what you achieved while holding those positions.
All the above will increase your chances of making it past the resume screening stage, but if you really want to be invited to that interview, you also need to…
Network Like Crazy
Networking is an important part of the job search process, and it’s even more important when you are trying to land a job at one of the Big Three consulting firms, and especially if you are trying to get in from another company.
All the three MBB firms get majority of their candidates from the top business schools.
Therefore, if you are trying to move from another company, the only way your application might get considered is to have someone from inside the MBB firm push your application for you.
If possible, try to network with a senior colleague, since a reference from them can have a huge influence on your chances of getting invited for an interview.
In addition to pushing your applications, having close ties with someone from the inside can help you get an idea of what it is like to work within these firms and what you need to do to increase your chances of getting hired.
Former bankers and lawyers are more likely to be hired laterally, since they have already undergone some analytical training.
Even if you already have the advantage of being a top student from one of the top universities, you still need to put a lot of effort into networking.
In case there is a borderline case in determining who should get the interview, there is a high chance an internal team meeting will be held to determine who should be invited to the interview.
In such situations, having someone on the inside to vouch for you can be very helpful.
Therefore, even before your graduation, you should start networking and building relationships with senior level consultants (principal, partner, or director), so that you already have people to vouch for you when the time comes.
The best part is that, even if you don’t know anyone directly, you can still network extensively through LinkedIn.
GETTING THROUGH THE PST
Once your resume makes it through the screening process, you will be invited to the take the famous PST or problem solving test.
The PST is a written test that is used by McKinsey & Co to test the candidate’s inductive, deductive and quantitative reasoning skills, as well as their ability to quickly understand and solve business problems in a logical manner.
The PST allows McKinsey to quickly screen a large pool of applicants with minimal cost and eliminate those that were not well prepared for the test.
Any candidate that fails the PST tests has no chance of being invited to the first round of interviews.
However, the role of the PST is not to simply weed out unprepared candidates.
If you pass, your score in the PST will be used together with your performance in the interviews to determine whether you get the job or not.
The McKinsey problem solving test is usually comprised of 26 multiple choice questions that the candidates are supposed to answer within 60 minutes.
The questions are mostly math and logic questions, because these skills are the most essential for anyone working as a consultant.
Actually, the main task for most consultants in junior positions involves one of the following tasks:
- Extracting data from text, tables and graphs in client documents.
- Transforming, interpreting and analyzing the data through mathematical computations.
- Summarizing and presenting their findings.
The PST tests a candidate’s ability to perform these three kinds of tasks.
As part of the PST, you will be presented with text documents, tables and graphs and required to quickly determine the useful data in them.
From there, you will need to perform a quick analysis and interpretation of the data and determine the right answer.
Finally, you will also be required to pick an answer that represents the best summary of the situation.
By passing the PST, you will have proven that you are capable of performing well on the job.
Most test cases are actually gotten from previous McKinsey projects, so the test is an almost-accurate representation of the kind of conditions you will come across once you get hired.
One of the advantages of the PST is that it allows the firm to measure the abilities of each candidate against all the other candidates, since every candidate writes the exact same test.
This provides the firm with an objective assessment of the candidates, rather than solely relying on interviews, which are more subjective in nature.
While the PST is used for most entry-level candidates, sometimes you might be exempted from going through the test, especially if you were recruited on campus from a top MBA school.
Sometimes, some lateral hires may also be exempted from the test, depending on their background (experience) and geography.
Since there are no hard and fast rules used to determine whether you will have to take the PST, the best thing to do is to consult with the HR contact of your target location and confirm whether a PST will be part of your interview process.
If you want to maximize your chances of passing the PST, you need to practice a lot.
Most of the candidates who pass the PST usually practice for more than 30 hours prior to the actual test.
When practicing, you want to try as much as possible to replicate the real conditions of the actual PST.
This means that, when practicing, you should avoid using a calculator, since you won’t be allowed to use one during the actual test. You should not use any scrap papers either, as you won’t be allowed to do that during the PST.
Finally, you should time yourself during your practice sessions and make sure you don’t use any more than 60 minutes.
However, you can start by going through the tests without timing yourself to get used to the style of questions, but you should quickly move on to timed practice sessions so that you get used to answering them within the time frame you will be given during the actual test.
Actually, most of the questions are not very tough.
The greatest challenge lies in completing them within a limited amount of time, which is why you need to time yourself during practice.
PASSING THE INTERVIEW
Once you take the PST and score higher than the cut off mark, you will now be invited to the interviews.
At this stage, candidates are usually taken through two interviews: the case interview and the fit interview.
The Case Interview
Case interviews are another famous part of the interviewing and recruitment process at firms like McKinsey & Co, Bain, and BCG.
Just like with the PST, the aim of case interviews is to find out how capable you are at performing the job for which you will potentially be hired.
During the case interview, the interviewer will provide a challenging business situations and ask you to come up with solutions to the challenge.
For instance, you might be asked a question like, “One of our clients, SuperSoda, is planning to launch a new flavored sports drink known as Electro-Light. How do you estimate the market size for their new product?” As you answer the question, the interviewer might ask other related questions as a follow up to your response.
When answering case interview questions, you are required to determine what the problem is, come up with a framework for solving the problem, request for any additional information that you might need to solve the question, and finally present your recommendation.
Most case interview questions are meant to test the following:
- Numeracy – Is the candidate comfortable with numbers? How quickly can the candidate perform rough calculations and guesstimates? Is the candidate able to tie the numbers to the problem at hand, determine the implications of the numbers, and use them to come up with recommendations?
- Ability to break down challenges into individual components and solve each individually – Most consulting projects are quite enormous, and will often involve industries that a consultant has no prior experience in. In order to solve the challenges that come with such projects, a consultant will need to break the problem into smaller parts and work on each part individually. This is the only way to make such projects manageable, and is one of the most important skills for consultants.
- Creative thinking – Consultancy also requires a lot of creative thinking. A consultant needs to be able to move beyond the basic structures of handling a problem and come up with innovative solutions that might have eluded everyone else. When answering the case interviews, you should aim to wow your interviewer with innovative answers that they themselves might not have thought of.
While the case interviews aim to test these three elements, it is good to note that the three different elements are not weighted equally.
For instance, if your performance on the three elements is deemed to be average (you did not fail, but you were not outstanding either), there is a high chance you will not move through to the next round of interviews.
Similarly, if you perform exceptionally in the first element but perform dismally in the other two, you are not likely to get through either. If, however, you perform exceptionally in the second or third element and have an average performance in the other two elements, this might be enough to see you through.
In other words, you should aim to be outstanding in the second or third elements, because they are given greater importance than the first element.
When giving your answers to the case interview questions, you also need to show some level of infectious excitement. Remember, the bulk of your job will involve dealing with such questions.
As such, you need to show the interview, both through how you answer the questions and through your body language, that handling such questions is something you enjoy doing.
If it comes across like the case interview questions are a chore to you, the interviewer will assume that you will treat your job the same way.
Of course, no one wants to hire an employee who doesn’t love the job they have been hired to do.
Aside from testing your numeracy, creative thinking, and ability to break problems into their constituent parts, case interviews will also help the interviewer evaluate your communication and presentation skills, verbal reasoning skills, and your commercial and business knowledge.
Once you pass the case interview, you will then be taken through the fit interview.
The number of fit interviews you will go through will depend on the firm you are targeting.
For instance, McKinsey & Co takes its candidates through two to three rounds of fit interviews, unlike the other two firms.
Fit interviews, also known as personal experience interviews (PEIs), are meant to evaluate whether a candidate’s skills, values, and personality are aligned with the organization’s environment and corporate culture.
It also assesses the candidate’s leadership qualities, collaborative qualities and motivation.
It’s good to note that the fit interview is as important as the other parts of the interview process.
It is not uncommon to see candidates spend most of their time preparing for the PST and case interviews while totally neglecting the fit interviews, which are equally important.
Failing the fit interview will lead to rejection, regardless of whether you actually performed well in the PST and case interview.
As part of the fit interview, you will be asked to provide personal impact stories.
These are essentially specific examples from your past experience that demonstrate some of the traits the fit interview is trying to assess, such as leadership skills, collaborative skills, and so on.
Personal impact stories are often introduced using questions such as “Tell me about a time when…” They could also be based off something on your resume.
For instance, you might be asked to explain how you managed to attain an achievement stated on your resume.
When it comes to providing personal impact stories, you should use the STAR technique, where you start by providing the Situation in which you did something, the Task you were assigned, the specific Action you took, and the Results you achieved as a result of your actions.
To evaluate how motivated you are, the interviewer might ask you questions like “What made you decide to go into consulting?” or “What made you choose this firm and not a competitor?”
Whereas case interviews and PSTs test your ability to do the job, the aim of the fit interview is to determine how motivated and ready you are to perform the job and make an impact.
With a success rate of just 1%, getting hired at the Big Three consulting firms does not come easy.
First, you need to have an excellent academic record, excellent communication skills and exposure to a wide range of academic and co-curricular activities.
To get invited to an interview, you need a short but exceptional resume that will pass the ATS and at the same time present all your strengths at a glance.
Having some senior consultants within your network will also increase your chances of getting an interview invitation.
If your resume goes through, you should be prepared to ace both the PST and the case and fit interviews.
I hope that, by making it clear what you need in order to get hired at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, you are in a better position to start preparing for a career at one of these firms.
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