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Decision framework to choose among McKinsey <-> BCG <-> Bain?

Bain & Company BCG Decision Framework MBB McKinsey selection criteria
New answer on Oct 26, 2023
10 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Dec 04, 2018

Dear all,

I have spent the last 2-3 months getting myself familiar with the MBB case interview format, preparing with different partners and doing my due dilligence on the three firms and the industry in general. I am based in Central Europe.

What I still can't seem to get straight in my head is the question how I could arrive at a well-founded and rational decision between any pair of firms (or all three of them). Apart from "gut feeling" from the interviews and adjacent conversations with firm employees - what are the elements and dimensions on which the firms have structural differences? It seems hard to get a clear view from the outside. Any insights?

Thanks you very much!

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Sidi
Expert
updated an answer on Jun 03, 2022
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi!

I started my consulting career at BCG in Germany, got promoted to Senior Consultant, and later switched to McKinsey to do work in several emerging markets. I have a combined 7.5 years experience in both firms and hence can give a good comparison from the inside:

1. Reputation & (perceived) Thought-Leadership

McKinsey is still the gold standard in terms of recognition across all industries, from tech to large established corporates. Whilst on some specific areas other firms might have developed a stronger expertise (e.g. Parthenon is the leading firm for education), everybody recognizes that hiring McKinsey is the safest bet to ensure consistent, high quality work. The level of knowledge created by McKinsey grants it top pages in leading newspapers, a coverage that is still not matched by BCG or Bain. BCG has been trying quite successfully to go in the same direction, establishing reputation as a knowledge-based company, but is not yet there. Bain, on the other hand, has been focusing less on knowledge leadership and instead cultivating a reputation focused on its capability of making things happen by adopting a cooperative approach.

2. Alumni network

Consulting is usually regarded as a springboard to a brilliant career. This is why the alumni network that you'll find when leaving should be considered among the key decision criteria. McKinsey has the largest workforce (8k consultants vs 4.5 BCG and 3k Bain), hence the largest alumni network. Moreover there is a strong cohesion and sense of belonging fostered whilst working at McKinsey that usually remains after leaving. You'll be surprised at how many people who were "counselled to leave" by McKinsey (basically advised to find another job elsewhere) turned themselves into key McKinsey clients after leaving. Alumni networks are weaker in BCG and Bain due to the lack of critical mass and a weaker sense of belonging. However, BCG has become increasingly active in engaging its alumni network, and my subjective impression (as an alum of both McK and BCG) is that they have managed closed some part of the gap to McKinsey.

3. People

All MBB firms are obsessed about hiring the best and the brightest. The smartness of colleagues in all three MBB firms is absolutely amazing. Here I'd say that the main difference in the hiring criteria between McKinsey and BCG is in consistency and ease of being "shaped" according to the standards. While BCG is mostly focused on hiring bright people, McKinsey values a lot the alignment in terms of mindset and the ease of "formatting" the candidate according to the McKinsey standard. This includes speaking using a top down approach, keeping a friendly but assertive approach, and most of all being open to feedback. McKinsey puts a lot of emphasis on the three above characteristics and regards them as a key decision factor in the selection process.

4. Client mix

This varies to a large extent by office and by country; as a general trend, Bain has higher mix of PE clients (Bain Capital, although now separated from Bain, was co-founded by several Bain partners), McKinsey is the leading consultancy for healthcare and governments, especially in developing countries.

5. Projects

It has often been said that BCG focuses more on pure strategic projects, McKinsey on organizational projects. This is no longer the case. All three MBB firms have been trying to move downstream in order to provide end-to-end solutions to their clients going from devising strategies to testing and implementing them. Moreover, they are all massively investing to ride the massive wave of digitalization that is still building up.

6. a) Approach to clients

McKinsey tends to have a more top-down approach and usually takes pride in challenging and often contradicting clients. They do cooperate with clients but tend to be quite assertive in pushing forward their solution. BCG is slightly more “cooperative”, putting a special emphasis on “delighting” clients. BCG consultants often spend a bit more time in order to build consensus in the organization by engaging the middle management, instead of obsessing over analysis (McKinsey way).

6. b) Approach to problems

All MBB firms leverage a lot past work to provide answers including tested, off-the-shelf elements. However, BCG has cultivated a reputation for being looking at each problem with a fresh perspective and building innovative solutions. It is also something that consultants like to hear when interviewing candidates and asking them "Why BCG?"

7. Way of working/resources

A point that is often neglected in answers to this kind of question is understanding how everyday work will change across firms. Whilst there are many similarities (4 days a week on client site, teamwork, challenging lifestyle), there are also two key differences:

  • Staffing: McKinsey is more global in terms of staffing, meaning that you are more likely to end up staffed on the other side of the country but also that you'll have more chances to e.g. do a project in a developing country if you are interested in development or government work. Also, the project teams at McKinsey are mor internationally mixed – hence you might find team members from completely different parts of the world staffed on a project in South Africa for example. At BCG, it would be more homogeneous, e.g., the partner who covers the client will staff most of his team from either his home office or the client’s geography.
  • Support resources: McKinsey wants its consultants, including Business Analysts, to focus solely on value-added activities. To ensure this, it developed large organizations aimed at supporting consultants, such as:
    • Visual graphic centers to ensure consultants can save time by sketching powerpoint slides and have the quickly produced by visual graphic teams
    • Research centers for performing desktop research for consultants
    • Survey desks in India and Costa Rica to set up web-based surveys for clients
    • Analytics centers to help consultants in complex xls macros etc.

Whilst Bain and BCG have both developed similar support resources, they still do not have the scale of McKinsey.

Cheers, Sidi

_______________________

Dr. Sidi Koné 

(Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey | Former Senior Consultant and Interviewer at BCG)

(edited)

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Vlad
Expert
replied on Dec 04, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

Why are you even considering this question? Do you have 3 offers on hand?

If not, I would strongly recommend applying to all three companies since the odds of getting 3 offers are close to 0.

Best

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Cristian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Oct 26, 2023
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Precisely. 

They are very similar. 

And the exit options are very similar. 

Gut feeling is a good starting point. 

Additionally, try to get an understanding of how the specific office you'll be joining for each firm works. So what sort of work they do, how happy are the people with the leadership, etc. You can figure this out through networking calls. 

Here's how to lead these calls:


Best,
Cristian

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Guennael
Expert
replied on Dec 05, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

I can't add much of value to the excellent side-by-side that Sidi just wrote, for obvious reasons. Vlad is also right, little value in worrying too much about it until you get more than one answer.

Ultimately, MBB is MBB - and the people make the difference. In some areas, one office will get pretty much everyone who receives 2 or 3 MBB offers. In Dallas when I started for example, my BCG office got nearly 100% of these guys for 2 or 3 years in a row. I'm sure there's some other McK or Bain office in the US that was getting 100% of the triple-admits in that same time frame.

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Bruce replied on Dec 06, 2018

It is also important to consider policies and benefits, this is an area in which McKinsey is beaten by Bain and BCG.

I have worked at Mck for a while, and it gets old to every week see the BCG consultants in First class while you are back in economy having to open your laptop screen at a down angle because mck won’t book first or business except on flights over 3.5 hours (which excludes almost all east coast flights and flights between the east coast and mid west.

This is representative of a margin first approach at mck. We are quite stingy around things like benefits, travel policy, office snacks, working late meals when in town, etc.

I am an associate partner at mck and I still have to fly economy, where I can’t effectively work for about 6-9 flight hours per week, and then am often up to 2-3am later doing work I could have done on the plane if we had a more business friendly travel policy.

We could learn a lot about how BCG and Bain treat people, but it would eat into partner profits.

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Sidi on Dec 23, 2018

Very interesting. This seems to be subject to the market which you are in. In Germany during the last financial crisis, McKinsey was the only firm that would fly everybody, including interns, in Business Class, while BCG, Bain and all other firms had to fly economy. On the other had, the corporate car deal at Bain and BCG was better.

Bruce replied on Dec 06, 2018

It is also important to consider policies and benefits, this is an area in which McKinsey is beaten by Bain and BCG.

I have worked at Mck for a while, and it gets old to every week see the BCG consultants in First class while you are back in economy having to open your laptop screen at a down angle because mck won’t book first or business except on flights over 3.5 hours (which excludes almost all east coast flights and flights between the east coast and mid west.

This is representative of a margin first approach at mck. We are quite stingy around things like benefits, travel policy, office snacks, working late meals when in town, etc.

I am an associate partner at mck and I still have to fly economy, where I can’t effectively work for about 6-9 flight hours per week, and then am often up to 2-3am later doing work I could have done on the plane if we had a more business friendly travel policy.

We could learn a lot about how BCG and Bain treat people, but it would eat into partner profits.

Was this answer helpful?
2
Bruce replied on Dec 06, 2018

It is also important to consider policies and benefits, this is an area in which McKinsey is beaten by Bain and BCG.

I have worked at Mck for a while, and it gets old to every week see the BCG consultants in First class while you are back in economy having to open your laptop screen at a down angle because mck won’t book first or business except on flights over 3.5 hours (which excludes almost all east coast flights and flights between the east coast and mid west.

This is representative of a margin first approach at mck. We are quite stingy around things like benefits, travel policy, office snacks, working late meals when in town, etc.

I am an associate partner at mck and I still have to fly economy, where I can’t effectively work for about 6-9 flight hours per week, and then am often up to 2-3am later doing work I could have done on the plane if we had a more business friendly travel policy.

We could learn a lot about how BCG and Bain treat people, but it would eat into partner profits.

Was this answer helpful?
1
Bruce replied on Dec 06, 2018

It is also important to consider policies and benefits, this is an area in which McKinsey is beaten by Bain and BCG.

I have worked at Mck for a while, and it gets old to every week see the BCG consultants in First class while you are back in economy having to open your laptop screen at a down angle because mck won’t book first or business except on flights over 3.5 hours (which excludes almost all east coast flights and flights between the east coast and mid west.

This is representative of a margin first approach at mck. We are quite stingy around things like benefits, travel policy, office snacks, working late meals when in town, etc.

I am an associate partner at mck and I still have to fly economy, where I can’t effectively work for about 6-9 flight hours per week, and then am often up to 2-3am later doing work I could have done on the plane if we had a more business friendly travel policy.

We could learn a lot about how BCG and Bain treat people, but it would eat into partner profits.

Was this answer helpful?
1
Bruce replied on Dec 06, 2018

It is also important to consider policies and benefits, this is an area in which McKinsey is beaten by Bain and BCG.

I have worked at Mck for a while, and it gets old to every week see the BCG consultants in First class while you are back in economy having to open your laptop screen at a down angle because mck won’t book first or business except on flights over 3.5 hours (which excludes almost all east coast flights and flights between the east coast and mid west.

This is representative of a margin first approach at mck. We are quite stingy around things like benefits, travel policy, office snacks, working late meals when in town, etc.

I am an associate partner at mck and I still have to fly economy, where I can’t effectively work for about 6-9 flight hours per week, and then am often up to 2-3am later doing work I could have done on the plane if we had a more business friendly travel policy.

We could learn a lot about how BCG and Bain treat people, but it would eat into partner profits.

Was this answer helpful?
1
Bruce replied on Dec 06, 2018

It is also important to consider policies and benefits, this is an area in which McKinsey is beaten by Bain and BCG.

I have worked at Mck for a while, and it gets old to every week see the BCG consultants in First class while you are back in economy having to open your laptop screen at a down angle because mck won’t book first or business except on flights over 3.5 hours (which excludes almost all east coast flights and flights between the east coast and mid west.

This is representative of a margin first approach at mck. We are quite stingy around things like benefits, travel policy, office snacks, working late meals when in town, etc.

I am an associate partner at mck and I still have to fly economy, where I can’t effectively work for about 6-9 flight hours per week, and then am often up to 2-3am later doing work I could have done on the plane if we had a more business friendly travel policy.

We could learn a lot about how BCG and Bain treat people, but it would eat into partner profits.

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