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How is Bain different from McKinsey or BCG?

Anonymous A asked on Nov 27, 2018 - 5 answers

I would love to know what the main difference between Bain and the other two MBB is, in terms of:

- selection process

- kind of engagements / assignments / clients

- staffing (from the geographic standpoint)

- culture / way of working

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updated his answer on Nov 27, 2018
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I completely agree with Guennael: from a global/general perspective the differences between the 3 firms are negligible but differences are significant depending on geographic location. A few insights from a global/general standpoint:

  • Selection process: all 3 firms target and attract similar profiles. Recruiting processes might be slightly different depending on firm and location (e.g. written presentation at some Bain locations; interviewer-led case at Bain and BCG vs. candidate-led case interview at McK) but they aim at testing the same skills (do a quick research on this forum if you want to know more)
  • Kind of engagements / assignments / clients: all 3 firms have grown so much that they compete on all levels and no longer specialize in certain practices (again expertise varies significantly depending on geographic location)

In addition to the above elements you will have to consider your preferences in terms of approach, scope, and exit opportunities. A few differences that come to my mind:

  • Approach/Culture: McK has a more top-down approach, and not very collegial culture. The organization itself is structured and formal, and everything from attitude and attire at McKinsey reflects that. BCG puts a strong focus on innovation, teamwork and individual contributions. Because they build support bottom-up with the client they sell against McKinsey more often than Bain. Bain is somewhere in between McK top-down approach and BCG collaborative approach. The culture at Bain, where the local office culture is strong, focuses on teamwork. In terms of recruiting, Bain often beats BCG thanks to its culture but loses to McK because of prestige
  • Size/Scope: McKinsey is the largest firm with ~9k consultants, followed by BCG with ~6k and Bain with ~3k They have comparable portfolios in terms of industries served but McKinsey’s technology practice is an important differentiator as neither Bain nor BCG offers anything like it. Bain is the leader in Private Equity
  • Alumni: McK has the most prestige, the biggest and the most active alumni network. BCG is doing a great job with their alumni network. Bain has some areas of improvements when it comes to organizing its network but when it comes to alumni they are the most available (because their culture is so strong)

I hope this helps,



replied on Nov 28, 2018
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Hey there!

To answer your questions:

  • Selection process: As others have said, this varies completely by office. If you are interested specifically in the London process, let me know and I can give you a detailed response of how the processes differ. However, generally, you can be sure that all interviews will involve 5+ interviews, with several case interviews. Many offices also ask a dedicated market sizing, though not all.
  • Kind of engagements / clients:
    • Clients/engagements will vary by office. For example, New York will have a lot of financial services clients (for all offices), whereas Texas will have more Oil&Gas. Specific offices may also have a particular strength, often simply due to 1-2 partners - for example, I hear that BCG LA is extremely strong in Media.
    • While the "calibre" of clients will be pretty much the same (e.g. F500), it is no secret that Bain is significantly smaller than McKinsey. Thereore McKinsey will naturally have more clients, in total and within each industry.
    • One area where Bain is the clear leader, and has a strong presence globally, is Private Equity Consulting. This mainly involves Due Diligences for Private Equity clients that are considering whether to buy a company ("asset").
    • Conversely, an area where Bain has historically not focussed on is Government work. However, this has been changing in some countries (e.g. UK).
  • Staffing: Here, there is a clear difference between the firms:
    • McK: Global staffing: i.e. a McKinsey team could have a Manager from Germany, an Associate from New York and a Business Analyst from Korea. For people wanting to travel a lot, this is a great advantage.
    • BCG: Regional staffing: to a lesser extent than McKinsey, teams are staffed but within global regions (e.g. APAC, EMEA)
    • Bain: Local office staffing: Bain will try staff all projects locally, meaning 90%+ of cases are staffed with all team members from one office. This means that travel tends to be more local. There are, of course, exceptions - especially with newer, high growth offices (e.g. Middle East), which often require "case support" from other offices. The argument for local staffing is that you can develop much stronger relationships within your local office, and that your local office staffing team can have much greater control and oversight over your professional development
      • Also, note that for international work, you can request 6 month short term transfers to other offices
  • Culture: This is one I can't really answer beyond stereotypes - McKinsey tends to be a bit more competitive intense, with Bain being a more supportive and "safe" environment. This is showcased by fact that in many Bain offices, "up or out" policy has essentially been phased out, or at least is not as cut-throat as at McKinsey. However, Culture also varies massively by offices, so I would try get to meet people from the office(s) you want to apply to to assess this.

Hope this helps!

replied on Nov 27, 2018
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There is no unified recruiting process for Bain or BCG, various offices will have their own idiosyncracies - so really hard to answer here.

Engagements, Bain is more likely to do PE work - but again, the region and office will define much of the remaining differences. Same answer for staffing btw.

Last but not least, the culture... I always view Bain & BCG as nearly identical, with McK slightly different. Big on team work, mentoring, trying to give a 'small company' feel even though they are very big.

All 3 companies are amazing, you can't go wrong. Please understand that local & regional differences will often trump everything else. I'd cater my answer to the specific office you are looking to join

replied on Nov 27, 2018
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"Why this company" is a more specific question and can include the following arguments:

  • The general marketing story the company is trying to sell (e.g. Bain is a small "Family" company)
  • Brand / positioning / market share in the region
  • More clients / projects / expertise in the industry you are interested in
  • More well-known stories of success in your city
  • Your friends working there
  • Your interactions with the other consultants before the interview
  • Your prior experience of working with the Firm on a client side
  • Office traditions
  • Work experience with firm alumni
  • etc


Anonymous B replied on Nov 27, 2018

From a layman's perspective (anecdotal)

- selection process: McKinsey (interviewer-led), Bain and BCG (candidate-led)

- kind of engagements / assignments / clients: McKinsey (Fortune 100, Big Tech etc.), Bain (PE, Finance etc.), BCG (others)

- staffing (from the geographic standpoint): McKinsey is much more global than BCG, followed by Bain

- culture / way of working: McKinsey (class president, professional), Bain (class clown, fratty), BCG (class nerd, intellectual)

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