Case Interviews, Case Studies, Brain Teasers and more during the McKinsey/Bain/BCG interview process: Advice from a Placement Coach
There are thousands of eager MBA, graduate and undergraduate students trying to get into consulting firms. We meet them all the time. We currently offer a complete coaching service: resume re-writing, cover letter preparation, case coaching via teleconference, interview coaching, advice on dressing, speaking and so on. This entire coaching service helps those lucky candidates land coveted positions at McKinsey, Bain, BCG and the other major firms.
Today’s post is our observations in helping students and candidates through our coaching programme to land positions at these coveted firms. This is worth reading for anyone trying to land a position at the elite management consulting firms. It will help you understand what is required to get into these firms.
There is a reason we do not have a payment link for this service online. Not everyone can get into a top management consulting firm. If we placed a payment link on this website or Lillilooloo.com, then it means anyone can make payment and enter the coaching programme. It does not work that way. Before we take you into the programme, we need to make sure you have the raw material to get in. Do you have good grades? Do you have the passion and determination to learn the case method? Are you willing to work through the coaching and guidance we will provide? Can you learn to think like a management consultant? Do you have or can you learn the right values?
Remember, we are alumni of top consulting firms. We want suitable and deserving candidates to get. We want to continue building the brand value of these firms, our former employees. And that means helping determined candidates get in.
We only take on 15 potential candidates. We never take more and it is never about the money. We take candidates who we think can get in and make it to partnership. It is a tough process to coach, develop and build candidates to get into these firms. We invest in candidates who will invest in themselves.
So be brutally honest with yourself. Do you have what it takes to get in? One word of caution is needed. You do not need a Harvard MBA to get in. Good grades from a good school are enough. Good grades with a strong intellect and curious mind are better. Good grades, the right mindset, value system and leadership potential are priceless. So do not sell yourself short. You can get in provided you have these attributes.
Entry into a top management consulting firm is tougher than getting into a top-5 MBA programme. Think about this. Of the 400 or so graduates of the Harvard Business School, not all will get invited to interviews at McKinsey, Bain or the BCG. Of those that are invited, even fewer will receive offers. Getting into the top firms is therefore tougher than getting into the best schools.
Getting into the Harvard, Wharton, INSEAD or Stanford MBA programme will change your life. It will introduce you to an entirely new social network and introduce you to opportunities you never had before. It leads to generational wealth shifts. You benefit, your children benefit and your children’s children benefit. Getting into McKinsey, Bain and BCG can have a greater impact. That means you need to be just as determined to get in and succeed. Remember the effort you made to prepare for the GMAT, prepare your letter and compile your submission. The same effort is required. You need to be willing to learn, be coached, get in and succeed. It’s not enough to get in. You need to prosper. We want to work with those potential candidates who understand the significant and importance of being a true management consultant in every sense of the title. If you have the raw material to get in, are you willing to work to get to the next step?
Do you know how many consultants at McKinsey, Bain and BCG are managed-out? A very big number. Over 80% during a 4 year period. Therefore ,we don’t want candidates to just get a job offer. We want them to get in and succeed all the way to the top or until they chose to leave of their own volition.
Here is our advice for candidates who want to get into the top firms and succeed:
1 – You need to have a good reason for wanting to join the top firms. So many candidates tell us they want to get in because:
- “Because McKinsey hires the best and smartest people.”
- “I just want to get in. Help me get in.”
- “It will be good for my career.”
- “They are the top recruiters.”
I can assure you these are not good reasons for wanting to get in. Do you know anything about these firms? What about their cultures? Have you taken the time to learn about them and understand why it will be good for McKinsey to hire you? That’s what you need to focus on. All the comments above are about why it is beneficial to you. We want to know how you will add value to Bain or McKinsey. We can help you understand that. But even if you are not being coached, you need to think in this way. What is the benefit to the firm of hiring you?
2 – Be prepared to be coached. Frankly it does not matter if you know a McKinsey consultant, Bain manager or BCG analyst. It does not even matter if you know a partner. There is a reason everyone wants to join these firms. Because you cannot get in based on personal contacts. So having them on your resume means you earned your place. It is a badge of honor. So you need to be prepared to be coached to get in. You will need to learn to think like a consultant, act like a consultant and speak like a consultant.
Having a Ph.D. in physics is not enough. The case analyses method is the only method that counts. If you do not understand hypotheses, decision trees, inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning and their application to business problems, you need to be willing to be taught this.
If you are not a clear thinker, then you need to learn the correct way to structure and understand problems. Do you know how difficult it is to explain your reasoning while working through a case problem in front of two partners? That takes practice and guidance.
3 – Be prepared to learn about problem solving, explaining your thinking and maintaining confidence through this process. During the consulting case process you will come across 5 types of problems to solve:
- Specific Business Case
- Usually contains a data set with a list of questions: Using only the data provided, tell us which the best performing company is and why?”
- General Business Case
- These are the toughest. It contains a case question and the candidate needs to work their way towards the solution. Sometimes data is provided: “Medtronix is a Los Angeles based healthcare company. Over the last 5 years they have seen margins drop although they have continued to grow. They have appointed the BCG to help them fix the problem.”
- Group General Business Case
- Same as the above but you will be required to solve the case in a group setting consisting of 3 or more candidates.
- Brain Teaser
- These questions test your ability to develop rational solutions to questions for which you could not possibly prepare. They test your ability to reach approximately accurate conclusions with no data: “How many golf balls are in the air around the world at 12pm EST?”
- Logic Question
- These test your ability to observe and explain observable ideas: “Why is a manhole cover round?”
Each of these questions can be solved by using a problem solving framework. To give you an example, let’s look at a general business case question. The other types of questions have their own frameworks, so this example is not applicable to them:
“The British Armed Forces is reducing its budget. To save money the new aircraft carrier programme will need to find a way to cut costs by 20% per a career. McKinsey was approached to do this. What would you do?”
The framework consists of just 4 steps. It looks easy but there are twists and turns which need to be taught. Let’s look at some of these:
- Step 1 – Confirm the Question
- Is McKinsey appointed to determine if a 20% cost reduction is possible? Or
- Is McKinsey appointed, on assumption that 20% cost reduction is possible, and they need to find a way to hit this target?
- Do you see the difference between these two questions? If you pick the incorrect problem statement you are in for a world of trouble, not to mention an immediate rejection.
- Step 2 – Develop a Framework
- Should you develop hypotheses?
- Should you structure hypotheses? How should you structure them?
- Should you build a decision tree?
- What should the branches of the decision tree look like?
- How do you apply MECE to the decision trees?
- Step 3 – Analyse the problem using the framework
- How do you calculate a 20% reduction if you have no numbers?
- How do you test to ensure you have the correct answers? Are their checks that can be used?
- How do you build the framework given the limited questions in the problem statement?
- How do you take the interviewer along in your thought process?
- Step 4 – Present your summary and recommendations
- How do you summarise the information?
- How must recommendations be written?
As this shows, it is difficult to solve these problems. That is why we advise students to take the time to learn the correct problem solving approach. Do not just memorize the answers. There are two reasons for this. First, you may encounter a problem you have never seen before. Second, if you do not understand the approach, you will be quickly exposed if you do get in and managed out very quickly.
4 – There is a world of difference between solving a case quietly in your study hall versus sketching out your solution on a blank sheet, talking the interviewer through the solution and sounding confident. We have seen so many talented candidates able to solve case questions in a calm and comfortable setting. Yet, they struggle and actually fail when needed to do so in a real case environment. You need to practice the ability to simultaneously:
- Think aloud
- Sketch out your approach as you proceed
- Engage with your interviewer to collect information and confirm your answer, and
- Look and sound confident as you do this.
If you cannot afford a coach, do not worry. You do not need a coach to do this. You can do it by yourself. You just need to be determined and really plan well. You need to be focused and tough on yourself. Be careful of the advice you read on the internet and the thousands of case books circulating the internet. Some are good but most are poorly written. Remember that the case analyses is part of the skills you need. It is the essential but make sure you are focusing on the other areas like speaking, dressing, communication and your overall positioning.
If you chose to prepare by yourself, imagine you have a tough coach pushing you onwards and further. The rewards are more than worth it.