Secrets from Behind the Recruitment Curtain

The world of strategic consulting, particularly within the triad of McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company (collectively known as MBB), has always been shrouded in a certain mystique. The rigorous and competitive hiring processes of these firms are notorious. Understanding these processes from the company's perspective can give candidates a distinct advantage.

In this article, we will unveil the curtain to show you the internal keys of MBB recruiting processes.

1. Brief overview of the recruiting processes and key MBB roles involved

There are two main recruiting targets for MBB firms: entry-level consultants and experienced hires.

Entry-level consultants include university and MBA students and for them, MBB run extensive awareness and lead generation campaigns in main universities and business schools across countries during the course.

On the other hand, experienced hire consultants are targeted using a head-hunting approach. MBB recruiters and external recruiting agencies look for interesting profiles in other consulting firms or industry companies, usually on LinkedIn, and start a lead nurturing approach to guide these profiles through their recruiting processes.

Despite MBB recruiting processes are very standardized, there is not fixed timeline and it usually spans weeks and even months, depending on the firm, geography and number of received applications.

The process involves the following stakeholders:

  • Recruiters leading the process end to end.
  • Consultants running the interviews and taking the final decision.
  • Other consultants and alumni for referrals and reference checks.

MBB rely heavily on online tests or games as initial filter for candidates and also on case and personal experience interviews to gauge a candidate's aptitude and fit.

2. Importance of understanding the behind the scenes for applicants

While candidates are usually familiar and well-prepared for traditional interview questions, understanding the intricacies and objectives of the MBB hiring process can give you the edge you need to stand out.

You can use this knowledge to tailor your recruiting approach, anticipate the needs of the firm, and demonstrate that you are not just a great consultant, but also the right fit for the specific MBB firm you’re targeting.

3. Job requisition, approval and promotion

Recruiting targets definition and approvals

MBB define their entry-level recruiting targets per year and geography based on projected business growth and attrition rate. While economic and market context have a strong influence on recruiting targets, MBB usually take a long-term view and set growing recruiting targets to ensure they have a healthy number of talented consultants to compensate attrition.

For experienced hires, the process is more targeted. Needs may arise from expertise gaps in certain sectors or geographies or from a strategic decision to grow a particular practice area.

All job requisitions require multiple levels of approvals, usually involving senior partners, local and global HR leaders, and practice area and geographical leaders.

Main recruiting promotion channels

MBB recruiters use four main channels to promote new positions:

  • Campus recruitment:
    MBB have strong relationships with top universities globally. Campus events, case competitions, and information sessions are traditional venues to attract the best talent.

  • Online job portals:
    MBB post openings on their official websites, and occasionally on premium job boards and LinkedIn.

  • Headhunting & referrals:
    Especially for senior roles or specialized positions, MBB might employ executive search firms. Employee referrals are also a significant source, given the importance of network in the consulting world.

  • Alumni networks:
    Former MBB consultants who have transitioned to roles in industry, academia, or entrepreneurship can be sources of valuable recommendations.

4. Screening and shortlisting

CV review and why first impression matters

Before you even step into MBB physical or virtual offices for an interview, your CV and application materials have already embarked on a journey of scrutiny.

First, recruiters review your CV and get a quick first impression of your profile. While MBB receive thousands of applications, recruiters typically spend mere seconds to a few minutes on initial CV scans. Hence, the importance of making a solid first impression cannot be overstated.

Key things they look for include educational background and universities/business schools, relevant work experiences in consulting or other well-known companies, leadership roles, and quantifiable achievements.

What recruiters check beyond CV to invite applicants to recruiting processes

Beyond your CV, recruiters also consider cover letters. While they are not always mandatory, a well-crafted cover letter can make a difference, especially if it effectively conveys your motivation for joining the firm and demonstrates your understanding of the consulting role.

Recruiters may occasionally glance at your LinkedIn and digital footprint for any additional information or to verify the details you've provided. Ensure your online presence is professional and aligns with your CV.

Referrals have a strong influence during application screening and can significantly increase your chances of being invited to the interview process. Recruiters consider them as an initial validation of your capabilities and fit for the firm. Referrals also help you to accelerate your application screening putting your CV ahead of others in the screening queue.

Expert feedback: key tips to stand out during screening and shortlisting

  • Tailor your CV for consulting:
    Use a consulting CV template to help recruiters skim through your profile, emphasize problem-solving, leadership and impact and make sure to highlight your experience with quantitative achievements.

  • Demonstrate clarity of purpose in your cover letter:
    Address why you want to join consulting and, more specifically, why the particular MBB firm.

  • Network strategically:
    Engage with current consultants or alumni to gain insights and, if appropriate, seek referrals.

  • Follow up if you don’t hear back:
    The screening process usually takes 1 or 2 weeks, depending on the number of applications recruiters have in their to-do pile. If after that period you have no news about your application, you can kindly ask your recruiting contact for an update. In any case, MBB recruiters don’t ghost applicants and let you either you application have been accepted or rejected.

5. Online tests and games

Types of tests by MBB firm

Once recruiters review your application and conclude your profile is interesting for the firm, you will receive an invitation to participate in an online test. MBB assess some important consulting soft and hard skills with online tests, including:

  • Cognitive skills:
    Logical reasoning, quantitative aptitude and strategic thinking.

  • Behavioral traits:
    Adaptability, decision-making under pressure, and collaboration.

  • Real-world problem-solving:
    MBBs value the ability to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world situations, hence the emphasis on scenario-based questions.

Each MBB firm have developed its own online tests. While all tests look for validating a similar skillset, their format is different across firms:

  • McKinsey uses the Imbellus assessment, a game-based tool to test problem-solving in real-world scenarios.

  • BCG implements the BCG Pymetrics test which utilizes neuroscience-based games to measure cognitive and emotional attributes.

  • Bain relies on the Bain Online Test, which includes case-based and verbal reasoning questions.

Recruiters will take the final decision of inviting you to the interview process using the combination of your online test performance plus your whole application materials (CV, cover letter, referrals, etc.). While scoring strongly on your online test matters, don’t forget that this is only a part of all decision-making factors to be invited to the interviews.

Expert feedback: key tips to nail the online tests and games

  • Familiarize yourself with the test format:
    While you can't get exact questions, understanding the format can help you strategize.

  • Practice, practice and practice:
    Practice mental math, chart and data interpretation, case study-based questions and time management. Practicing for GMAT can be a good starting point to prepare the online tests.

  • Stay calm and composed:
    Even if the games feel unfamiliar, remember they are designed to assess natural instincts and problem-solving approaches.

6. Two round interview process

Making it to the interview rounds at MBB is a notable achievement in itself. However, this is where the real challenge begins. Let's take a closer look at what these rounds entail.

Internal perspective on how interview process works at MBB

MBB take recruiting very seriously and all their interviewers, regardless their position, are trained every year on using the same candidate evaluation framework and avoiding any form of bias. Therefore, all interviews follow the same structure, including a first part with a fit or personal experience interview, and a second part with a case interview.

The first fit or personal experience part digs into the candidate's past experiences to assess fit with the firm’s values and culture, leadership skills, and personal impact. The second case part run the interviewee through a simulation of a real consulting business challenge to tests problem-solving, analytical capabilities and business acumen.

MBB interviews are made in two rounds. During the first round, you will do two or three interviews (depending on the firm and geography). If you pass this first round, you will be invited to a second round that typically consists of two interviews. Each round might require additional interviews if interviewers consider they require more evidence to validate your skills.

MBB usually provide feedback a few days after each full round of interviews. Take into account that recruiters need to gather between 2 and 5 consultants depending on the round and aligning consultants’ agendas is challenging. Therefore, it is perfectly normal that feedback calls may delay more days than initially estimated by recruiters.

Main differences between first and second round interviews

First round is conducted by associate or manager equivalent roles. It is used to screen out those who might not be a fit in terms of analytical skills or basic consulting aptitude. First round interviewers typically follow a more structured approach.

The second round is run by principal/associate partner or partner equivalent roles. This round dives deeper, with more complex cases and more emphasis on cultural fit and softer skills. Second round interviewers evaluate the potential long-term value of a candidate to the firm. Occasionally, interviewers at this round follow a less structured approach and may evaluate additional skills like effective communication.

Decision framework and key stakeholders

After the first round, interviewers sit together along the recruiter who evaluated your application to discuss your interview results and decide if you progress to the second round.

After the second round, all first and second round interviewers and your recruiter convene again to take a final hiring decision. They will equally weight your fit or personal experience and case interview results to take their decision, setting a high bar on both parts. Interviewers will also consider feedback from the recruiter beyond formal interviews, including details on your application and interaction with HR, among other things.

Consultants are responsible to take the decision on each round. They will look for consensus and anyone has voice to veto your progress to next round. The recruiter role ensures interviewers stick to the evaluation framework and helps to detect and avoid biases.

Expert feedback: key tips to ace the interview process

  • Preparation is key:
    Practice cases extensively and efficiently. Get a coach to learn the interview basics join case interview preparation groups and conduct mock interviews with peers.

  • Be genuine in the fit or personal experience interview:
    Scripted answers are noticeable. Reflect on your experiences and be prepared to discuss failures as well as successes. Again, work with a coach or a MBB consultant to sharpen your stories. Be ready for holding a conversation and answer detailed questions on your stories.

  • Ask insightful questions:
    Don’t underestimate the opportunity to ask question beyond the obvious at the end of each interview. This shows genuine interest and can leave a lasting impression.

7. Offer preparation and negotiation

How MBB craft offers for successful applicants

Recruiters are responsible for shaping offers and run negotiations. These offers are a culmination of multiple factors: the candidate's experience, market benchmarks, the firm's internal pay structure on each geography or office and specific needs or urgencies.

Apart from the salary, the offer will include details on sign-in and performance bonuses, benefits, professional development opportunities and a clear defined path for progression. A lot of these variables are standard for each role and office and some others can be negotiated.

What MBB is open to negotiate (and what not!)

Recruiters have some flexibility when they negotiate offers. They are usually open to discuss signing bonus, especially for experienced hires.

When you need relocation assistance to move to a different location, recruiters may also be open to negotiate part of this relocation costs. In some cases, also based on your experience, there is little room to discuss your entry level position, but this is something you should bring to the table with your recruiter the earlier on the process to set up expectations.

On the other hand, MBB standardize aspects in their offers and recruiters will not be open to discuss these points during negotiations. Main non-negotiable elements are salaries and performance bonuses, tied to positions within the firm. Additional benefits, like health insurance, are also standard and cannot be modified.

Expert feedback: key tips to get the most out of an MBB offer negotiation

  • Do your homework:
    Understand industry benchmarks and ensure the offer is competitive according your geography and offered position

  • Get more offers:
    Having more offers from other firms at the table will give you extra leverage during your negotiations.

  • Be gracious:
    Whether accepting or declining an offer, or even negotiating, always maintain professionalism and gratitude.

8. Welcome and onboarding

Joining any of the MBB firms is not merely about securing a job; it's about shining and growing as consultant. This transition begins with a comprehensive onboarding process designed to acclimate new hires to the firm's culture, values, and way of working.

Beyond the first day: how MBB onboarding processes look from the inside

Starting at a MBB firm isn't just about the first day. In fact, for about a week or even longer, new employees are introduced to the company's ways of working and resources and basic consulting toolkit for their position.

New consultants will get the chance to meet many colleagues from different practices, tenures and geographies at networking events. At MBB, professional relationships are key and these initial events help new consultants to start building their network.

Lastly, onboarding at MBB is an ongoing process. In the initial months, regular check-ins are scheduled for new members. They receive additional training and have the opportunity to share their settling-in experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and unity.

The importance of sponsorship and mentorship

MBB firms strongly believe in the growth of their consultants. Each new hire is typically assigned a mentor or 'development advisor' – a senior consultant who provides guidance, support, and advocacy.

Sponsorship is more than mentorship. It's about having someone within the firm who champions your career, vouches for you during promotion discussions, and ensures you get the right opportunities to shine. While some sponsors will emerge naturally during your first months and some others will be formally assigned by the firm sponsorship programs, it is important that you proactively work on building your sponsorship network based on your industry, practice and personal style preferences.

Regular feedback sessions with mentors and sponsors are integral to personal and professional growth within MBB.

Expert feedback: key tips to accelerate your mbb onboarding

  • Be proactive:
    Don't wait to be told everything. Explore, ask questions, and immerse yourself in the firm's culture.
  • Build relationships:
    Networking isn't just for recruitment. Forge strong relationships with peers, seniors, and even administrative staff. These connections often prove invaluable.
  • Embrace feedback:
    The MBB environment thrives on continuous improvement. Welcome feedback and act on it to fast-track your growth.

9. Conclusion

Venturing into the world of MBB consulting can be challenging. However, understanding the nuanced recruitment perspective of these firms can greatly enhance one's preparedness.  Remember that:

  • A comprehensive grasp of the process doesn't just enable candidates to answer questions effectively but also to ask the right ones, showcasing genuine interest and enthusiasm.

  • Every stage, from application screening to onboarding, is an opportunity to demonstrate alignment with the firm's values and to reinforce your unique value proposition.

  • While technical and analytical acumen are crucial, soft skills, cultural fit, and interpersonal dynamics often become the deciding factors. This insight should guide candidates in their preparation and interactions.

Best of luck to all aspiring consultants! Remember, the journey, with its learnings and growth, is as valuable as the destination.

10. About author


Ex-McKinsey Associate Partner | +15 years in consulting | +200 McKinsey 1st & 2nd round interviews

  • Professional Experience: McKinsey & Company, Freelance, PwC, Accenture

  • Languages: English,Spanish

  • Location: Spain


With a rich background spanning +15 years in consulting, Alberto offers personalized coaching tailored to your unique goals and strengths. His emphasis on critical thinking, real MBB case studies, and insights from his role as a McKinsey interviewer ensures thorough preparation for both first and second-round scenarios. Alberto, a seasoned professor and mentor since 2018, provides clear and actionable feedback to enhance your interview performance.

Continue to Learn

Are you looking for more insights from the consulting industry?
Then sign up now to not miss any new articles.
How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or fellow student?
0 = Not likely
10 = Very likely
You are a true consultant! Thank you for consulting us on how to make PrepLounge even better!