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How does case interviews difficulty from an undergraduate (AC/BA) differs from the difficulty from a masters (Associate)

Antonio asked on Sep 28, 2017 - 4 answers
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replied on Sep 29, 2017
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Hi Antonio,

in my experience the main differences are in the fit part of the interview and expected client interaction/communication skills, while the case part per se is not significant different. In particular:

  • Fit part: there will be higher expectations on questions on leadership, impact and drive in an interview for Associates compared to Analyst (using McK as reference for the name of the positions). You are supposed to have clear examples in your MBA/working experience showing the skills.
  • Client interaction/Communication: as an Associate, you have more client interaction responsibilities than an Analyst; thus they will test more this side during the interview (eg checking how do you react to pressure, how clearly you communicate your thoughts and clarify information, etc)

Both areas may be covered also for Analysts, for Associates the bar will just be higher.

I agree with Vlad that there may be post-MBA candidates not as well prepared as recent graduates. As the case part is similar, for both the type of interviews you can expect a preparation of 150-200 hours starting from zero on your own to be able to receive an offer (less if you are practicing with experienced peers or expert coaching), which is usually more difficult to reach for someone working full time than for a student.



Thank you so much Francesco, a really helpful answer! — Antonio on Sep 29, 2017

replied on Sep 29, 2017
McKinsey / Accenture / Got all BIG3 offers / More than 300 real MBB cases / Harvard Business School
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First of all Masters (if not MBA) does not guarantee you an associate position.

Second, it depends very much on a country, particular office, and your school. In general, I would not expect BA interviews to be easier than Associate interviews.

  1. I've seen many times a situation when BAs were overprepared (case clubs very popular among students), while experienced hires were underprepared (lack of time and information about consulting interviews). In this case, the competition among BAs applicants was much tougher than among associates.
  2. MBA hiring is different for different schools. For example, in Stanford and Harvard, you can meet many people with 2-3 MBB offers, while its not the case in other business schools. I also can't say that people doing MBA have lots of time to prepare. I believe that brand matters and they hire more people in top schools in general.

To sum up - you should never expect that your interview will be easier for any reason and you should do your best to prepare.


Thank you so much Vlad, a really helpful answer! — Antonio on Sep 29, 2017

updated his answer on Sep 29, 2017
Former Bain AC/SAC with experience on both sides of interview table. Received Bain and BCG offers.
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Hi Antonio,

Based on my experience as a Bain interviewer (and interviewee), the difficulty of the case itself does not vary significantly from an undergrad-level interview to a MBA-level interview. However, there are a few key differences:

  • In undergrad-level interviews, it's more common for interviewers to forego business jargon or technical terms, since the bar of assumed "common knowledge" among interviewees is somewhat lower. For example, since you have English majors, math majors, business majors, etc. all doing the same case, requiring detailed knowledge of supply chain segments is not necessary, whereas it might be in an MBA-level interview. However, you would still need to know (at least at a high level) what a supply chain is. Therefore, structure may be a bit more straightforward but difficulty per se does not differ.
  • The "bar of performance" is set much higher for an MBA-level interview, and as such, an outstanding performance from an undergrad candidate may be quite average in the context of an MBA-level candidate pool. Therefore, getting the basics right is table stakes in an MBA-level interview; you will really need to differentiate yourself with insight and recommendations.

All in all, the skills needed to perform well in an undergraduate-level interview are the same as those needed for an MBA-level interview. It's just that in the MBA-level interview, the expectations are a bit higher and so those skills need to be a bit more finely-tuned.


Thank you for the answer Luke! — Antonio on Oct 04, 2017

Anonymous replied on Oct 06, 2017

I agree with parts of what Vlad, Antonio and Francesco wrote but will add a few things as well.

  • Cases will largely be the same for everyone, but more help / guidance will usually be provided by the interviewer for undergrads / non-MBA grads
  • Interviews will vary by country, but rarely by office
  • The bar will be higher for the fit / personal impact section of the interview for an MBA or experienced hire candidate versus an undergrad or even grad (but non-MBA) candidate
  • Your school DOES NOT matter. Once you make the cut to the first round, you are lumped in with everyone else. Certain schools are given priority only for economies of scale (I could talk at length about this having run several recruiting budgets with recruiting targets)
  • There is a BIG difference in the first round interviews and 2nd / final round interviews. Partners and senior partners will often have different types of fit questions (with high bars) and their own cases, which typically come from real world experiences

As for preparation, no one gets a break for not being prepared regardless of whether they have a demanding job, they are writing a thesis or they have 50% free time.

Thank you for the answer Matthew! Really helpful and clarifying. — Antonio on Oct 09, 2017

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