Bain On MBA Recruitment During COVID-19

Entrance to a Bain office.

Diarte-Edwards: I would imagine with promotions that the analytical skills become less important as well. At manager level, it’s more about relationship management, interpersonal skills, all of the softer skills and with less emphasis on the analytical skills that the GMAT speaks to.

Bevans: As a former athlete, it is really hard to play for a coach that never played the sport. I would say that those other skills become more important over time. I would be really careful to suggest and not suggest specifically that the analytic skills are less important because the truth is the analysis that we’re running for our clients is more sophisticated and more complicated than ever. If I don’t understand what I’m looking at, it’s going to be really hard for me to coach and develop my team. At Bain, that’s critically important for us. We do hire senior people from the outside, but most of our leadership team are people that we hired out of undergrad and the MBA programs. We grow them. We coach them and develop them. The client skills, the team management skills are more important obviously as a manager than they were when you started right out of school, but how do I know if the model that you built works right? How do I know if the analysis makes any sense if I’ve let those skills atrophy over time? It’s actually at both ends. It’s not a transition in the way I think a lot of people think about it.

Byrne: Do you prefer the GMAT over the GRE?

Bevans: Most of the students in top MBA programs took the GMAT. I understand where the question comes from, but it’s actually not that big of an issue. We had more than double the number of advanced degrees starting this year just in North America at Bain. Most of them took the GRE. That’s fine. We can convert it and get a sense of the analytic skills there. It will be more interesting if when we look on campus this fall and a bunch of students had their GMAT session canceled and are showing up without a GMAT. I would expect us to see a lot of students who don’t even have one this year. My son’s SAT was canceled this spring. That’s going to make it pretty interesting in the fall, I think. But for us, again more broadly, the GMAT is just one input. That’s all it is. Again, the way to think about that input is in the context of, the school they’re at which says a lot about the candidate.

Diarte-Edwards: Keith, you talked earlier about recruiting at INSEAD for positions in the U.S. I’m curious what your expectations are about how things are going to play out on international mobility for MBA students, especially graduates coming out of schools like INSEAD and London Business School that typically feed into offices all over the world. How is that going to change over the coming months?

Bevans: Well, I think that’s the million-dollar question. We’re preparing for all the scenarios that we normally prepare for. Our process largely is work authorization blind when we’re going through recruiting. What I mean by that is we ask people about their work authorization in the application, but we do it for two reasons. One, if you’re in Europe at LBS and you’re applying to the Chicago office and I want you to work in Chicago, I’m asking you if you’re authorized to work in Chicago because if you’re not, I’m also going to try and develop a fallback plan B. So in your offer letter, I’m saying, “Here’s your offer for Chicago, and if for whatever reason you’re not able to work there, here’s where we’d like for you to start.” We want to just take the anxiety out right up front because at the end of the day, Bain is a growing company, and we need all the talent we can get.

I’m not trying to lose great talent over something like that. I’d like to make accommodations for it upfront and be a little strategic about it since we’re a strategy firm. I don’t know what the fall is going to hold in terms of mobility. I don’t know what it’s going to hold in terms of work authorization. What I do know is we have a phenomenal mobility team. That’s how we refer to them internally. As you could imagine, there are people who didn’t need work authorization for where they were because they were planning on being someplace else to work for this summer. Now, they’re not going there. They’re doing their summer virtually from a place where they may not have thought they needed work authorization and now they do. What’s unique about us, I think, is we are truly who we say we are. We are as supportive a company as you have ever heard of. When people are in difficult situations like that, we have an awesome team that is trying to work through those situations in every single case to get people the support they need to be successful. I don’t know what the fall is going to hold and what next summer and next fall will look like for the hires that are coming in, but I am confident that we have a team in place to make that as smooth as it possibly can be.

Maria Wich-Vila: Keith, which negative stereotype do you wish you could most dispel about consulting? And conversely, which kind of overly romanticized aspect of it do you wish you could give candidates more of a sanity check on?

Bevans: That is an interesting question. I think the myth that I would probably dispel has to do with people having an overly romanticized view of the industry.  I think people underestimate how difficult it is to drive transformative change in clients. I think there’s a view because of all the caricatures and TV shows out there where people do really silly things and the consultants come in and say, “Oh, well, let me tell you how to do that.” That’s not how it actually works.

The truth is all of our clients are really smart people with a lot of experience and a very solid rationale for why they do things. Your job as a consultant in some ways is to understand how they’re viewing the world. What critical assumptions they’re making that may or may not be true. The reason they think you should turn right but you think they should turn left hinges on two data points: that they think are X and you think are Y. The trick is to understand what are those data points. It’s not that they wake up and say, “I think we should go left, but I’m just going to go right because I’m feeling in a right kind of mood today.” That’s actually not what happens. What actually happens is their experience, their perception of the world leads them to believe they should go down the path they think is the right path. Your job is to really dig in and get to know them and get to know their problem and understand why it is they’re doing what they’re doing and figure out how you can sort of come together. That’s a lot harder than I think people really anticipate.

It’s definitely not the type of thing that you learn in business school where somebody’s going to say, “Oh, I remember that case from my first year and this is what you all should do.” It’s a lot messier than that. It’s iterative. In the middle of all of that, you have crises like our current crisis that completely change the rules of the game midstream. It’s just a lot messier. I think people have a little bit of a romanticized view of consulting on day one. They think, “I’m going to be in there with the CEO, and she’s going to be asking me for my opinion. I’m going to say, ‘Well, in my vast three months of consulting experience, here’s where I think you should take your Fortune 500 company.’ It doesn’t work like that.

I think there’s a perception that the economic bottom line is the only bottom line that matters. When I look at our mission statement, we talk about the bottom line in an all-encompassing way. It’s not just about what the company does for its shareholders, but it’s what it does for the community that’s around it. It’s what it does for its employees. It’s how it seeks to meet its customer’s needs, not just again for economic benefit but for the benefit of society as a whole.

My experience with our clients has been that they are as interested in all of the bottom lines, especially now more than ever than I think people give them credit for. I think there’s a sense that consultants don’t always keep that in mind, but when I read our mission statement, that’s what we’re about at Bain & Company. There are examples just like there are examples in every industry, every school, every community of people that probably don’t do things that everybody is proud of.

Byrne: What about the impression that if you become a consultant you’ve got to be ready to live out of a suitcase for three to four nights a week?

Bevans: Well, my wife and I have been married for 22 years. I have two sons, 17 and 18. I’ve been at Bain for 24, so to my sons, having a dad that travels and has to miss a few games probably is normal. They’ve known no different. What I would say is that business school is a great opportunity for you to learn how to say no. I think people never write that in their essay. They talk about the networking. They talk about the hard skills. They talk about being a part of an amazing alumni community. But the truth is there will always be a group going out. There will always be another corporate event. There will always be another class. There will always be a group getting together to play sports. There’ll be a club meeting. You could go two years and sleep five hours a night because you’re running like a crazy person for two straight years. The truth is that understanding what matters to you and learning how to say no and say, “Look, this is what I’m here for. This is not what I’m here for,” that experience is what will carry you after business school and allow you to do the job in a sustainable way.

I knew when I went to business school after four years at Bain that I wanted to have dinner with my wife every night. I wanted to get to bed with my wife at the same time every night. I wanted to work out every day. After those three things, I was going to do my coursework. After those four things, I was going to do whatever other activities were happening on campus. I stuck to that for two years. Warren Buffett came, I think, both years I was at HBS. Warren came during dinner, so I didn’t see Warren.

Byrne: You’ve got to regret that.

Bevans: Honestly, with all due respect to Warren Buffett, if he’s ever listening to this, but I use that as a real example. I use that example to say that if you aren’t thoughtful about what you want to get out of the business school experience and you go into it trying to do everything, you’ll come out of it exhausted. They miss that there’s an opportunity in business school to learn how to say no, to actually prioritize how you spend your time based on the goals and objectives that you set for yourself. It’s hard to say no to some things especially now because everybody has this fear of missing out. They don’t want to be the one who wasn’t there at the very moment where it all went down when the big revelation happened.

But the truth is if you extrapolate that throughout your entire career, you’re basically learning how to live your life in an unsustainable way. To me, business school is an awesome time to learn that. For people who are worried about living out of a suitcase and missing certain things, I used this example a couple of weeks ago because it’s also true. My wife likes to celebrate her birthday on her birthday, not the day before, not the day after. No matter what I have going on, I know that if her birthday falls on a Tuesday that year, I’m home on that Tuesday night.

Byrne: You’re a good husband.

Bevans: Well, am I? I mean that’s the promise that I made when we got married, but knowing the date doesn’t change every year. My ability to plan around that should be very good. What I find is that people make those types of compromises. You do it sort of one little bit at a time. Then two or three years in, you wake up and go, “My goodness. What have I done?” I haven’t been to my kids’ games in two years. Now, I make other compromises. Some of that comes out of sleep or I might go to my son’s soccer game or track meet and have to log back in at nine o’clock.

But when you wake up in the morning, you decide how you want to spend your time. My job is to ask for all that you can give me to help our clients succeed. Your job is to take what I’m requesting and balance that into your life to do it in a sustainable way. I think that of travel as an occupational hazard. Some projects, some firms travel more than others. It does vary.

I’m a multi-million miler on the airline of choice for me. That is an occupational hazard, but I wouldn’t say that it has to come at the expense of other things. I make it a point when I travel to see friends from business school, from undergrad, to see family in every city that I can. I just keep a running list by city of where people are when I travel. I make it a point to reach out and grab breakfast or dinner with them. If you have friends in every city when you travel, you’re never really away from home and away from family. I just make that a conscious part of how I choose to do the job. I think people can learn how to do that while they’re in business school if they’re paying attention.


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