McKinsey vs BCG vs Bain

Bain & Company Boston Consulting Group McKinsey & Company
New answer on Nov 23, 2020
7 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Dec 21, 2018

Dear Prep Lounge Community,

I have been fortunate to receive offers from McKinsey, BCG and Bain (London) and wondered what advice there may be on which to accept. My experiences of all firms is very very positive. I have no niche interests indutry wise and am excited by the variety and opportunity to take on a generalist role. In terms of future aspirations I am hoping to do an MBA and then either aim to become partner or if my interests and abilities takes me there , C-suite position of a large organisation.

Thanks in advance for the advice

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Sidi
Expert
replied on Dec 23, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 300+ 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, before tranfering back to Germany within McKinsey. 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

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Anonymous replied on Apr 30, 2020

Hey A,

great question first of all;)

When I was in your shoes (I've got 2 offers from MBB, Oliver Wymann and Roland Berger) I decided to go for the later. Therefore, my view is highly subjective and describes rather my personal experience.

First of all, I would say you are absolutely wright with the assessment that there are not so many significant between the MBB / tier-1(RB, OV, ATK, etc.) firms.Their corporate culture, working hours, type of tasks (projects & acquisitions) are very similar to each other. Small differences between the companies have already been pointed out, so there is no need to repeat them ;) The key difference in the culture comes out when you compare consulting with any other industry!

The decision to go for the offer from RB was driven by my gut feeling. And now after leaving consulting I would say it was absolutely right one.During the interviews with my future employer I felt I have already been linked somehow to these people and the partner. I wished they would become my future colleagues. After half a year it became true. The company provided me everything I was striving for: steep learning curve, vibrant working environment with some most brilliant minds, international exposure (in fact, I have only spend 3 months in Germany within the last 3 years between assignments in France, Benelux, Poland, Russia, South Korea, ... Afterwards being transfered to Dubai office) and of course great renumeration package. On the other hand, it also challenged me a lot in terms of personal commitment (overnights and work over the weekend), excessive travelling (around Europe and Asia) and pushed me to develop my leadership skills and exploit my full potential. My exit option was also great, therefore, I became a thankful and loyal alumni of RB.

It does not significantly matterwhich company you will choose.You will have your consulting ups and downswith any of them!The culture may vary a lot even within the one company, i.e. by geography, functional or industrial practice. For example, within RB I did a transition from the CC (Competence Center) Financial Services to Automotive in Germany. We have absolutely different mindset in these two CCs. While FS colleagues are more of "number freaks" (that's of cource meant ironically), Automotive folks are very attached to the product (car) and are trully international and open minded. Couple of years later I did a transfer from our Munich to Dubai office. It was like changing an employer, because the regional cultural difference could not have been bigger ;))))

What I only want to say is - listen to your gut feeling during and after the interview. Your first impression is always the right one! Every major consulting company is a very good choice to start your career after colleague. In fact, you will belong to the top 10% best paid colleague grads in your country with great career options afterwards.

Bear in mind, the I as your interviewer during the interview also want to make a good impression on you and want you to succeed and join our team;)

So good luck during the interview!

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Nic replied on Dec 22, 2018

Hi, as a current BCGer, I absolutely love the company. They invest heavily in your development, really work to staff you on amazing cases, and truly want to see you succeed. That being said, Guennael is right in that everyone thinks their companies are best, so I'm sure it's likely the same at McKinsey and Bain as well. Congratulations!

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Anonymous B replied on Dec 22, 2018

Based on my experiences in various large corporations, McKinsey is the most prestigious to the layman, and will best set you on track for C-suite (backed by research). However, you should try networking around with folks in these different firms to find the best fit in terms of culture and WLB. Cheers

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Guennael
Expert
replied on Dec 21, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

Congrats! We all think our company is best, you cant go wrong :)

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Clara
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 28, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hi!

To add on top of previous comments, in a nutshell: ask for a day in each of them to see how they make you feel.

Clara

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Gaurav
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Nov 23, 2020
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hello A,

In terms of workload, in McKinsey they work in both long-term and short-term projects. An employee can also choose how, where and with whom to work. It's all a bit different in Bain and BCG: the new employee is only allowed to work on projects that last 6 months or more. The specialization of the companies should also be mentioned, as Bain hires for media, entertainment, agriculture, etc., BCG - retail, aviation, public-private partnership, etc., McKinsey - technology, healthcare, logistics, etc. (there are several areas and you can find it out yourself). The corporate culture is also different, e.g. BCG is considered the best place for mothers, in 2019 BCG was awarded the 10-th out of 100 best companies for work. Bain is known as a secretive company. In addition, Bain is one of the first companies to take the bachelors. Expectations are very high in McKinsey and the employees are controlled more than in BCG and Bain.

Anyway, hope you'll choose a company to your liking.
Good luck!
GB

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Sidi gave the best answer

Sidi

McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 300+ candidates secure MBB offers
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