Bain On MBA Recruitment During COVID-19

Bain consultants in the New York City home office. Courtesy photo

Maria Wich-Vila: Well, first of all, Keith, thanks so much for being here. Of the MBB trifecta, Bain is my favorite. I’m not just saying that because you’re here but over the course of my career, I’ve had two different bosses who were former Bainies. They were just the nicest. They were not only super smart but they were such profoundly good people. Because of my positive experience, I’ve always had a soft spot for Bain. Caroline and I work with a lot of people who are applying to MBA programs. As you can imagine, many of them are really hoping to get a consulting job after graduation. Sometimes, I’ll talk to people and say, “You know, well, it’s not that easy.” It’s not just like you get accepted to business school and then you immediately get an automatic job with a consulting firm.

Sometimes, people say, “But, look, 20% of the graduating class at this school went into consulting, so I’ve got a one in five shot.” But I think a lot of times that 20% is also made up of people who are returning to their former consulting firms who are sponsored. Could you give us a sense of the people who apply who are non-sponsored candidates? What percentage of them are invited to interview and then after that, roughly what percentage are actually given an offer”

Bevans: From a recruiting standpoint, I do think that in most of our MBA programs, we’re seeing a pretty big shift to students wanting to intern in consulting for the summer. I think that’s an important baseline to keep in mind. Most of the students who come into business school and want to do consulting are engaging with us for the summer associate process. Each year, when I look at the total number of offers that we gave on campus, I would say that two-thirds to three-quarters of the offers are summer internship offers.

I do think it’s important that students who are consulting curious really think about taking advantage of a summer opportunity that they have because, honestly, if I could hire all of the MBAs that I need from a campus for the summer, I would just do that. Instead of five interviews, I would have 10 weeks to see them perform in the job. I would give them 10 weeks to learn about what we’re about and how our culture manifests itself and the support that they get and the professional development that they get.

Then at the end of the summer, we can make a great decision. We do our best to make sure that second-year students get to know as much about us as possible, but it’s not a substitute. It’s not the same as actually working with us for the course of a summer. A lot of it is shifting to the summer. If I think about the people that come out of the graduating class, it does vary by school. A lot of our associate consultants tend to go to some of the largest schools, the sort of usual suspects if you will.

I won’t share specific data, but I would say that more than half of the students, oftentimes more than two-thirds at some of the larger MBA programs, who intern with us are given offers by Bain. They are students that we met during the second-year recruiting and during summer associate recruiting and join Bain full-time. When you’re growing at 15% a year for about 20, 25 years like Bain has, regardless of how many ACs are in that number, I need all of the talent that I can find on those campuses. Full stop.

I think people do get a little concerned about that math. They should really worry about the things they can control which is putting forward the best application and performance they can. True story, a couple of years ago, we went on campus looking for a certain number of people for our North American offices for the summer. When the process was said and done, we looked up, and we had hired more than two dozen above the target that we set because we found that many great people. We will truly hire all of the great people that we find. I am not kidding. That’s really the message that matters a lot more than how many people are in this class who were with Bain before.

Caroline Diarte-Edwards: Keith, you mentioned that Bain as done a lot of work in the healthcare sector during this crisis. I’m wondering if a candidate with a healthcare background has an advantage right now in recruitment or perhaps other backgrounds like supply chain. Are there specific sectoral backgrounds or skills that you think will have a leg up in the upcoming recruitment cycle?

Bevans: It depends on who’s asking. The answer is no, honestly, all kidding aside. When you join Bain & Company, we want you to have a broad base of experiences early in your career because we think that sets you up for longer-term success in business. When you join Bain, by and large, we are not going to force you or expect you to specialize early in your career. I might look at your resume and see that you were a biology major for your bachelor program. Then you went and worked in the pharma sector. I might read your resume and go, “Bingo. I’ve got my next healthcare expert. But the reality is you might have gone to business school because you’re trying to change careers, and you’re done with healthcare. Then, there are the other people who went to business school with that same background because they want to be CEO of a pharma company. I don’t know who’s who early in the process. I don’t make assumptions when I look at people’s backgrounds as to what they want to do going forward.

The truth of the matter is we’re looking for people who have great problem-solving skills. Can they break a problem down into parts? Can they drive the analytics? Can they communicate complex ideas and concepts to people in a way that an eighth-grader could understand, not to denigrate any of my client’s intellect? But can they be a contributing member of a team and accept feedback and coaching, but also give feedback in a constructive way and coach the next generation of leaders for the business?. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s independent of your background. We don’t actually want you to specialize early in your career. We want you to build a broad set of experiences. We may live in a world where you can review and rate your doctor and your healthcare experience online so hospitals will have to think about the patient experience in a way that retailers have been thinking about it for decades. Now, it actually matters in healthcare because it’s not just me complaining to my friends. It’s me posting it in an online forum and my hospital taking a black eye because of it. The way you’re going to crack that for a healthcare client might be new in healthcare but it’s not new in business. It’s certainly not new in retail. If you had that retail experience early in your career, you’re going to be a lot more valuable to that healthcare client later.

When I recruited 20 years ago, I knew about Bain chose to tell me in PowerPoint when they came to campus and maybe what they decided to put on their website if I went and read it. Now, I know a lot more. When I show up on campus, students are asking me second- and third-order questions about Bain because they know where our offices are and they know what our business mix is. They know the types of sectors we focus on.

Byrne:  One of the things we hear a lot from applicants to MBB is whether people who already have consulting experience at a second-tier firm have an advantage in the recruitment process? Or,  are they thrown in with everybody else and have to compete at the same level? The other adjacent question is, what kinds of people are most successful in making that switch?

Bevans: First, I just want to get a clarification. This is the second time I’ve heard MBB. Do you mean BBM? Or BMB? As long as we can agree on which B is first. I just wanted to make sure. First of all, this is one of those areas just building on my last comment which is I think people have to understand the different types of work that different firms are doing. I don’t view it as trading up or trading down. I view it as trading differently. In undergrad, I worked for IBM for a summer doing IT consulting. It was just as important to the enterprises that I worked for as the work that we’re doing for clients. It’s just different work.

I think that it’s important for students to understand the differences between the firms which again brings us back to resources like Poets&Quants and some of the work that we’re doing through Experience Bain. Take advantage of that to understand the type of work that you’d actually be doing. I know that when I was doing client work full-time, I knew the companies I was competing against. It wasn’t oftentimes a lot of the firms that I think you’re including when you say trading up. It’s just that they’re getting called to do different types of work.

For some people, that type of work might be exactly what they’re looking for on the back end of their experience. For other people, the type of work we’re doing might be just as important. I think it’s important to say those folks who want to do a different type of work going to business school, they get exposure to us, but there are other people who might say, “I think I want to do consulting.” But when you talk to them, they really want to do supply chain consulting or they really want to do sort of something more in the advanced analytics end of the spectrum. That’s fine as long as they understand early in their process there are firms that do that, and there are firms that will let them specialize from day one. That’s the only type of work that they’ll do. We’re not that firm. That’s a lot of why we try and put ourselves out there for people to understand those differences because for somebody new to consulting, they don’t even know to necessarily ask that question.

In terms of who has a leg up and who doesn’t, I think it’s similar to somebody like myself who came in with two electrical engineering degrees in the same start class as somebody who had a business background and somebody who had a philosophy background. Those were actual people in my star class at Bain. What’s different is the acknowledgment that we all bring different skills to the table and we all have different skills we’re going to need to develop. Somebody who was a consultant at a different firm doing a different type of work probably will have a leg up in terms of, for better or for worse, communicating in PowerPoint and client services and some of the ups and downs and rollercoasters that come with the unpredictability of doing client work. But they may not be as familiar with how we think about professional development and coaching and the way that we try and support our people here because that might not have been part of their culture before.

But there might be someone who was in a marketing role in corporate and was doing heavy analytics for customer segmentation. They might come into what we’re doing versus that HR consultant or that project management consultant I mentioned in my first example. That analytics person might come into Bain and be awesome at doing the analysis, but their skill gap might actually be client service and accepting feedback. So you’re changing their approach and incorporating different insights to it. I think the best way to think about it is not whether they have a background in consulting that may give them a leg up. In some ways, I need to deprogram some of the bad habits they learned at other firms as it relates to how we do it at Bain that I don’t have to deprogram for somebody who’s never done consulting before. On the flip side, if you’ve never done consulting before, I actually have to teach you how to do client services. Everybody has skill plans. I’ve been at Bain 24 years. I got my review last month. I was told there are things I need to work on. It starts from the beginning and doesn’t stop.

Byrne: We know something you’re going to deny. Many believe that the elite consulting firms use a GMAT screen as a cutoff in recruitment. The feeling is that if you can’t score at least 700 on the GMAT, you’re not going to get a job offer from a Bain.  You’re going to tell me it’s not true, right?

Bevans: Actually, it’s not true. That, I will say. I have looked at the data. I do know the GMAT score for the people that we hire. What I will say is this though to add to that. Since we’ve been collecting the GMAT data, I have done the analysis to look at yield to manager: How many people that we hire into our consulting class become a manager somebody at Bain?

Byrne: That’s fascinating.

Bevans: Yeah. It was very fascinating. There was some way of looking at it where you could sort of torture the data like Jack Bauer on 24 and say, “Here’s the cutoff.” Anybody above this line is destined for greatness. If you’re below this line, you’re not. The truth is it didn’t really look that way. I updated that analysis with my team. I have a great team doing analytics here. When I looked at the data over an even longer set of time, the gap between what I thought could possibly be a cutoff narrowed.

What that means to me is, one, a hard cutoff doesn’t make any sense. It also means that the people who get the highest of the high GMAT scores weren’t getting to manager at any higher rate than the people who had significantly lower scores. There may be a debate over candidates. If they did equally well in the interviews, should we take the person who got a 750 because that’s better than a 740? But in terms of performance, it actually didn’t make a difference.

I think that you can use the data to tell whatever story you want but you have to be intellectually honest about what it actually is saying. What our data is saying to me is that if you had something that was a relatively low GMAT relative to the average of the school that you’re at, you probably had something truly amazing in your application that made that school want to give you one of their spots to begin with. If that’s true, what employer doesn’t want that as part of their company too?

In some ways, I might look at GMAT and go, “Wow. That’s surprising that they are at that school with that GMAT.” Then, I get to know the person and my reaction is, “Wow. That’s what they were doing before school. That is amazing.” If I could have somebody like that here, oh my goodness, they would be an amazing asset to their class, to our clients, to our firm, I absolutely want that. The short version of that answer is if your GMAT score was good enough to get you into one of our target schools, I’m going to trust the school’s admissions team that you belong there. If you belong there, you probably have the skills and the background that I’d love to have at Bain.

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