What Bain Capital Seeks in MBA Hires


How about this for reach? Drive down any suburban parkway and you’re bound to pass a Burger King, Sports Authority, or Dunkin’ Donuts. Stroll through any shopping strip and you’ll probably find a Burlington Coat Factory or Michael’s. Your car is safer because of sensors made by Sensata Technologies. And you’ve certainly checked Weather.com before a storm.

What do these brands have in common? On the surface, they rebooted their business models to disrupt their categories. To do that, you need capital. Even more, these endeavors require an experienced partner with a shrewd eye for efficiency and opportunity. And this is where Bain Capital excels. And its investments, like those cited earlier, are a testament to its success.

Based in Boston, Bain Capital was launched thirty years ago by executives from Bain & Company, including Mitt Romney, one of the founders. Soon after, Bain Capital made its reputation by turning a small investment into a successful office supply leader you know as Staples. Since then, the firm has grown into one of the world’s top global private investment firms, employing 900 people and overseeing over $80 billion in assets under management. It has acquired or invested in more than 450 firms.  Most recently, Bain Capital partnered with Richard Branson to launch a Virgin cruise line business.

Such accomplishments are impressive. But it is Bain Capital’s culture that really draws MBAs, says Susan Levine, the firm’s Head of North America Private Equity HR & Talent Development. A Harvard MBA herself, Levine spent nearly eight years at Bain & Company before moving over to Bain Capital in 2006. Philosophically, the transition was relatively easy for her. “Our heritage comes from consulting firm Bain & Company,” she tells Poets&Quants in an exclusive interview. “We’ve always been very different from other private equity firms.”

How different? For starters, like Bain & Company, the firm prizes humility and selflessness. “We very much have a one team attitude that is really grounded in trust, respect, and accountability. And that one team attitude prevails across everything we do at Bain Capital. There’s very close collaboration and a notion here that you don’t succeed unless your partner is succeeding.”

Service is woven deeply into Bain Capital's culture

Service is woven deeply into Bain Capital’s culture

Viewing private equity as an “apprenticeship business,” Bain Capital emphasizes training, mentorship feedback, and coaching like no other private investment firm. And that makes Levine extremely confident in her value proposition when MBAs are weighing an offer against one from Bain Capital. “I always say to people, ‘Take as much time as you need because if you do your homework and your diligence, you’ll realize how much time we spend on development, mentorship and training and how critical we think they are.  And don’t go to a firm that doesn’t spend a lot of time on those issues.’ So when there’s a competing offer, and people do their homework, this gets us the win at the end of the day.

So what does Bain Capital seek in MBA hires? With its problem-solving and consultative bent, the firm doesn’t necessarily prize financial modeling ninjas to the degree you’d expect. Like any financial firm, you’ll find a crowd of MBAs from Harvard, Wharton, Darden, Tuck, Columbia, Booth, Stanford, and INSEAD among its managing directors, principals, and operating partners. But they all have something deeper in common, Levine points out. “We love the liberal arts at Bain Capital. We probably have more history and English majors than pure finance majors. But the most important thing we look for is drive, ambition, and leadership.”

Even more, Bain Capital is an anomaly in the high stakes, work-until-you-drop ethos of private equity. They are a family friendly financial firm along with being a good corporate citizen, with the firm’s Children’s Charity having given out nearly $45 million to support hundreds of youth-related causes globally. And their leadership’s commitment to supporting their employees’ home life is legendary. “We take work-life balance very seriously,” Levine proclaims. “We protect vacations. We want people to have time away with their families. People openly talk about those things, and it’s something I like students to know.”

Recently, Poets&Quants sat down with Levine to get an inside look at Bain Capital’s philosophy and expectations, along with how they recruit and train MBAs. Here is what you need to know to increase your chances of making a strong impression on Bain Capital’s hiring and management team.

Bain Capital's Boston Headquarters

Bain Capital’s Boston Headquarters

What do you look for in a resume and background that many candidates might not consider?

There are the obvious things we look at in terms of what I call, “the best all around athlete.” So obviously there are analytical scores that we look for in a resume, but frankly that’s not the most important thing to me. People need to clear a certain bar to come into Bain Capital and show they’re qualified to work here. Let me give you a few examples of how we try to weed prospective employees out beyond the “gating factors” (as I would call them) in terms of thinking you can do a good job and having good scores.  We love the liberal arts at Bain Capital. We probably have more history and English majors than pure finance majors. But the most important thing we look for is drive, ambition, and leadership.

The anecdotes I would give you, in terms of things we look for in a resume, is we love team sports.  A lot of times, people put on their resume that they were involved in a sport, maybe in college, for 20-25 hours a week. Clearly that shows that they had to balance a number of things, and this is a job where you have to do that.

We love people who have been actively involved in their community. So if people are shying away from putting various initiatives like non-profits and community service on their one-page resume – we actually love to see that. Or, some people may have been part of founding a startup business or an initiative or something at school. [That’s welcome too].

A lot of people put things on their resume like, ‘I visited a foreign country once,’ and that’s all fine. But we’re looking for deeper involvement. It can be anything. I recently interviewed a guy who, before business school, started his own painting business. It was so successful that he and his brother have kept it going. He spent a significant amount of time on this painting business – and he was obviously a very sharp guy – but that shows me he has a lot of drive and ambition and also that he’s been exposed to business and working with people. And those are really, really important intangibles. We’d much rather hire someone like this than someone who may have a 4.0 but only hit the books and went to the library.

What kinds of skills does Bain Capital anticipate needing in the coming years that you may not possess enough of now (Languages, Technical Skills, etc.)?

The number one thing for us –and this has grown every year – is looking for people who can be true global citizens. So that may include experience working in different countries, on different projects, or with languages. For example, we’ve recently done deals in Brazil – and there’s no question that we’re combing resumes to see the words, “Portuguese speaker.”

A true global citizen, people who may speak another language and have worked or gone to school in other countries, that’s very appealing. We work on very complex global deals, so having people with those kinds of experiences or skills sets, we find, is valuable.


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