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Switch from BCG/Bain to McKinsey Interview Style

Hi there

I have just had interviews at Bain and BCG. However, McKinsey would be my employer of choice. I have my interviews there in a week. Therefore, I wanted to inquire what changes when preparing for McKinsey? I know that the cases there are interviewer-led. But what does that really mean? Does it mean that I need to practice more creativity questions, operations math...?

Many thanks!

Hi there

I have just had interviews at Bain and BCG. However, McKinsey would be my employer of choice. I have my interviews there in a week. Therefore, I wanted to inquire what changes when preparing for McKinsey? I know that the cases there are interviewer-led. But what does that really mean? Does it mean that I need to practice more creativity questions, operations math...?

Many thanks!

The key difference is in the name: on an interviewer-led, the McK interviewer will conduct you over different, compartmentalized questions. In this model, he controls the amount of time, and thus depth, of analyses to be conducted in each specific part of the case On the other hand, BCG (and Bain) are typically interviewee-led, meaning they resemble more the standard approach of telling you the case and then shutting up, to see how you structure the case and then proceed with your analysis. This being said, you need to be more “proactive” in your approach and don’t wait for the interviewer to “fill in silence periods”. In both examples, you need to be as good a candidate as you can (super sharp in math, ability to synthesize, creative, structured thinker) — Francisco on Feb 12, 2020 (edited)

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Hi!

During my time at McKinsey and at BCG I have interviewed many applicants in both styles, hence I believe I can give a comment here. ;)

First of all - there is no such thing as a "pure McKinsey style" or "pure BCG style", since in both firms the cases will vary on a continuum between the extremes. However, in the aggregate there is a systematic difference, which is essentially rooted in two different philosophies.

Candidate-led case style (BCG et. al): Here, the candidate's conceptual thinking ability, his ability to hypothesize and prioritize, as well as his leadership capacity to drive problem solving forward are under scrutiny. The interviewer will get try to get a holistic picture of the candidate! And over the course of 4-6 interviews, consistency of the candidate's process rigour is verified. Most firms have adopted this style.

Interviewer-led case style (McKinsey): McKinsey believes that a defined and limited set of qualities and abilities determine a consultant's success within the Firm. Hence, interviewers double down on these abilities in order to test them in a very focused way. This leads to the interviewer-led case style, which sometimes feels like multiple mini-cases under a common thematic umbrella. You can also see this philosphy in how McKinsey runs the fit part, which is much more focused compared to other firms: the Personal Experience Interview (PEI) at McK scrutinizes 3 defined dimensions in extreme detail (vs. more open discussion formats at other firms like BCG).

That being said, let me add the following: it is impossible to properly learn how to solve cases in the interviewer-led format! You HAVE to build your case solving muscle in the candidate-led way - learning how to rigorously approach the question, narrow it down to its answer-criterion, breaking down the criterion, and running the required analyses to test the criterion. Once you master this, solving interviewer-led cases in the McKinsey style is not a problem anymore and, in fact, much much easier!

And one additional hint: please don't underestimate the PEI! It is a completely different animal compared to the rather classical BCG or Bain fit part and needs considerable preparation and pre-thinking!

Cheers, Sidi

Hi!

During my time at McKinsey and at BCG I have interviewed many applicants in both styles, hence I believe I can give a comment here. ;)

First of all - there is no such thing as a "pure McKinsey style" or "pure BCG style", since in both firms the cases will vary on a continuum between the extremes. However, in the aggregate there is a systematic difference, which is essentially rooted in two different philosophies.

Candidate-led case style (BCG et. al): Here, the candidate's conceptual thinking ability, his ability to hypothesize and prioritize, as well as his leadership capacity to drive problem solving forward are under scrutiny. The interviewer will get try to get a holistic picture of the candidate! And over the course of 4-6 interviews, consistency of the candidate's process rigour is verified. Most firms have adopted this style.

Interviewer-led case style (McKinsey): McKinsey believes that a defined and limited set of qualities and abilities determine a consultant's success within the Firm. Hence, interviewers double down on these abilities in order to test them in a very focused way. This leads to the interviewer-led case style, which sometimes feels like multiple mini-cases under a common thematic umbrella. You can also see this philosphy in how McKinsey runs the fit part, which is much more focused compared to other firms: the Personal Experience Interview (PEI) at McK scrutinizes 3 defined dimensions in extreme detail (vs. more open discussion formats at other firms like BCG).

That being said, let me add the following: it is impossible to properly learn how to solve cases in the interviewer-led format! You HAVE to build your case solving muscle in the candidate-led way - learning how to rigorously approach the question, narrow it down to its answer-criterion, breaking down the criterion, and running the required analyses to test the criterion. Once you master this, solving interviewer-led cases in the McKinsey style is not a problem anymore and, in fact, much much easier!

And one additional hint: please don't underestimate the PEI! It is a completely different animal compared to the rather classical BCG or Bain fit part and needs considerable preparation and pre-thinking!

Cheers, Sidi

Great, thanks a lot, Sidi! So would you say that McK cases are generally harder? — Anonymous A on Feb 12, 2020

No, as I said McK cases are easier, but ONLY once you have learned how to properly approach, analyze and solve cases in the BCG style. — Sidi on Feb 12, 2020 (edited)

But aren't the McK calculations super though? — Anonymous A on Feb 12, 2020

No difference to other MBBs. — Sidi on Feb 12, 2020

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Hello!

I understand your concerned, I shared it when I was in your shoes years ago.

However, there is a lot of LEYEND and MISCONCEPTION arround this concept. There is not a "unique McKinsey style" or "unique BCG style" -you will see once you interview!

My advise would be not to loose time about this, since you can´t be what-so-ever sure about the "style" of the interview.

Invest that time and brainpower in practicing, and forget about this conventionalisms.

Good luck!

Clara

Hello!

I understand your concerned, I shared it when I was in your shoes years ago.

However, there is a lot of LEYEND and MISCONCEPTION arround this concept. There is not a "unique McKinsey style" or "unique BCG style" -you will see once you interview!

My advise would be not to loose time about this, since you can´t be what-so-ever sure about the "style" of the interview.

Invest that time and brainpower in practicing, and forget about this conventionalisms.

Good luck!

Clara

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Hello,

Don't worry too much about that. First of all, it's a myth that in McKinsey you find only interviewer-led cases. Secondly, at the beginning you won't even notice if it's an interviewer-led or a candidate-led case, you will write down your structure as you did in BCG or Bain.

The only difference is that the interviewer could decide to "guide" you, asking specific questions or requiring specific analyses. On the one hand you will be a bit more under pressure, since you have a specific question that you have to answer in a sort time, but on the other hand you are guided towards the solution and you don't have to worry of missing the fundamental steps for resolution.

Best,
Luca

Hello,

Don't worry too much about that. First of all, it's a myth that in McKinsey you find only interviewer-led cases. Secondly, at the beginning you won't even notice if it's an interviewer-led or a candidate-led case, you will write down your structure as you did in BCG or Bain.

The only difference is that the interviewer could decide to "guide" you, asking specific questions or requiring specific analyses. On the one hand you will be a bit more under pressure, since you have a specific question that you have to answer in a sort time, but on the other hand you are guided towards the solution and you don't have to worry of missing the fundamental steps for resolution.

Best,
Luca

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Hello there,

For McKinsey, especially on the first round, they will use what you have correctly mentioned as interviewer-led. Meaning they have a specific set of questions, designed to guide interviewee throughout the case.

Of course, you could perform distinctively by trying to navigate through the case independently as much as possible with minimum guidance.

As for the second round, typically they adopt similar, interviewee-led.

The other difference is on PEI (Personal Experience Interview). McKinsey typically put heavier emphasis on this aspect, especially on second round. Primary elements assesed includes leadership, conflict management, and drive / motivation.

Hope it helps.

Kind regards,
Nathan

Hello there,

For McKinsey, especially on the first round, they will use what you have correctly mentioned as interviewer-led. Meaning they have a specific set of questions, designed to guide interviewee throughout the case.

Of course, you could perform distinctively by trying to navigate through the case independently as much as possible with minimum guidance.

As for the second round, typically they adopt similar, interviewee-led.

The other difference is on PEI (Personal Experience Interview). McKinsey typically put heavier emphasis on this aspect, especially on second round. Primary elements assesed includes leadership, conflict management, and drive / motivation.

Hope it helps.

Kind regards,
Nathan

Hi Nathaniel, for McKinsey Style Case, can I always "require" to lay down an initial framework first? Or interviewer will directly ask to start from first question? — Anonymous B on Feb 13, 2020

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Hey,
There is no fundamental differences between the two styles. If you know how to do interviewee led case, you should be able to do interviewer-led case. The only difference I would say is that you just need to mentally prepared that you might get disrupted and redirected during the case, and don't take it personal. It doesn't necessarily mean you make mistake or anything, it is just the format/process of how the interview would be conducted.
Best,

Emily

Hey,
There is no fundamental differences between the two styles. If you know how to do interviewee led case, you should be able to do interviewer-led case. The only difference I would say is that you just need to mentally prepared that you might get disrupted and redirected during the case, and don't take it personal. It doesn't necessarily mean you make mistake or anything, it is just the format/process of how the interview would be conducted.
Best,

Emily

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Hi,
the style is different but the preparation is the same. If you are good to solve cases you will perform well both in both options. About asking for time you can always ask for it.

Best,
Antonello

Hi,
the style is different but the preparation is the same. If you are good to solve cases you will perform well both in both options. About asking for time you can always ask for it.

Best,
Antonello

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Hi Anonymous,

a couple of points on your questions:

  • You won’t have only interviewee-led cases at BCG and interviewer-led at McKinsey. Although each firm tends to have more interviews in the style they are usually referred to (interviewee-led for BCG and interviewer-led at McKinsey) you can also have interviewer-led cases at BCG and interviewee-led cases at McKinsey.
  • The key difference is that in an interviewer-led case, the interviewer will move to the next topic (eg math, graph analysis, brainstorming, conclusion) after a predefined time; in an interviewee-led case, they will leave you free to continue the discussion without leading the case (or anyway with minimum guidance)
  • As mentioned in other comments, you should be proactive in both cases.
  • I agree with Sidi that it is easier to face both types if you are used to the interviewee-led cases. If you are well prepared for interviewee-led cases, I can’t see issues in an interviewer-led interview – you will just have to follow the interviewer on the next topic. On the other hand, candidates that are prepared on interviewer-led cases only tend to receive feedback that they are not proactive enough at BCG and Bain since they are not driving the case.

Best,
Francesco

Hi Anonymous,

a couple of points on your questions:

  • You won’t have only interviewee-led cases at BCG and interviewer-led at McKinsey. Although each firm tends to have more interviews in the style they are usually referred to (interviewee-led for BCG and interviewer-led at McKinsey) you can also have interviewer-led cases at BCG and interviewee-led cases at McKinsey.
  • The key difference is that in an interviewer-led case, the interviewer will move to the next topic (eg math, graph analysis, brainstorming, conclusion) after a predefined time; in an interviewee-led case, they will leave you free to continue the discussion without leading the case (or anyway with minimum guidance)
  • As mentioned in other comments, you should be proactive in both cases.
  • I agree with Sidi that it is easier to face both types if you are used to the interviewee-led cases. If you are well prepared for interviewee-led cases, I can’t see issues in an interviewer-led interview – you will just have to follow the interviewer on the next topic. On the other hand, candidates that are prepared on interviewer-led cases only tend to receive feedback that they are not proactive enough at BCG and Bain since they are not driving the case.

Best,
Francesco

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Hi,

While I can't add to the excellent answers from the other coaches regarding format differences, I just want to add one thing:

Spending excess time worrying about the differences across all three, and coming up with a plan to study for all three seperately (i.e. many charts for Bain, interviewer-led for McKinsey, etc) is, in my opinion, time that could be better spent just generally becoming "better".

The only sure thing across all your interviews that you can expect is to be surprised. You can never memorize every case type nor every industry nor every nuance about casing differences across firms.

What you can practice, however, is being adaptable, nimble, and being able to drive forward no matter what.

We don't go to school to learn, but to learn how to learn

Don't case to learn every case, but to learn how to case!

Hi,

While I can't add to the excellent answers from the other coaches regarding format differences, I just want to add one thing:

Spending excess time worrying about the differences across all three, and coming up with a plan to study for all three seperately (i.e. many charts for Bain, interviewer-led for McKinsey, etc) is, in my opinion, time that could be better spent just generally becoming "better".

The only sure thing across all your interviews that you can expect is to be surprised. You can never memorize every case type nor every industry nor every nuance about casing differences across firms.

What you can practice, however, is being adaptable, nimble, and being able to drive forward no matter what.

We don't go to school to learn, but to learn how to learn

Don't case to learn every case, but to learn how to case!

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Hi,

First of all, what you are saying is a misconception. McKinsey has both Candidate and Interviewer led cases

It doesn't matter who leads the case, the approach is the same:

  1. You listen to the problem
  2. Ask clarifying questions
  3. Make the recap
  4. Take a minute to make a structure
  5. Present the structure

In the interviewer-led case, the interviewer may ask you then to drill deeper into the particular area of your structure

Best

Hi,

First of all, what you are saying is a misconception. McKinsey has both Candidate and Interviewer led cases

It doesn't matter who leads the case, the approach is the same:

  1. You listen to the problem
  2. Ask clarifying questions
  3. Make the recap
  4. Take a minute to make a structure
  5. Present the structure

In the interviewer-led case, the interviewer may ask you then to drill deeper into the particular area of your structure

Best

Hi Vlad, for McKinsey Style Case, can I always "require" to lay down an initial framework first? Or interviewer will directly ask to start from first question? — Anonymous on Feb 13, 2020

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