Bain vs McKinsey ?? which is the better place to start?

Parineeta7's picture
Rank: Chimp | 4

Hi everyone,
I have offers from both the Bain and McK offices in London. At the moment, I don't know precisely what I'd like to do in a few years time. I'm thinking I'd like to stay in consulting and work my way towards Partner. This may, of course, change as I start work and have new experiences and find out more about exit opportunities.

McKinsey vs. Bain

I wanted to reach out to you: Which is better in terms of opportunities it provides? What are the different exit opportunities available from each firm? Which would you take if you were in my position with the amount of knowledge I have now? And what are good questions to ask the people there?

Please help me out. I'm not asking for politically correct 'it's your decision' answers. Obviously, it is my decision. But I want to see what people think about these 2 firms and the thought processes that you would use in distinguishing between them!

How to Decide Between Bain and McKinsey

When you have the good fortune of deciding between two offers at top consulting firms, there's really no wrong choice. To help you make the decision, here are some factors to consider:

No matter who you reach out to for advice, remember it's their perspective. It can help you gather information, but in the end it's about selecting the best opportunity for you. WSO community members offer the following input.

From @astros4ws

  • At McKinsey you will travel 4 days a week basically every week on a project.
  • At Bain 50% of the projects in London require less than 2 days away each week.
  • McKinsey has the better brand and is probably the only company that, if you make partner, you could walk straight into a very senior industry role.
  • Bain obviously has a great brand too but it probably isn't quite as good as McKinsey across the board. That said it is probably stronger in Private Equity and equal in many other areas (except Public Sector).
  • Also, what have you made of the people you've met? You're going to be working long hours and working with people you get along with will make it much more bearable.

From @ideating

  • I would say that Bain is a better choice since it is a much "younger" company in terms of attitude and culture.
  • In terms of your actual projects, McKinsey does way more operational work than they would care to admit.
  • All three are essentially the same in hours and travel (days/week).
  • BCG is on par w/ McK/Bain but for some reason does not place as well in exit opps.
  • All three are a lock to get into a top 5 b-school (assuming GMAT, GPA etc).
  • McKinsey and BCG tend to be maximize the experience of its consultants (post-MBA) while Bain tends to maximize the AC (pre-MBA) experience (not my words).

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Comments (33)

Jan 20, 2011

McKinsey London does a lot (I've heard about 30-50% of all projects in the London office) of public sector stuff (e.g. NHS) whereas Bain does almost no public sector projects in the UK. If you like the idea of public sector stuff then McKinsey would be better, if not Bain might be.

At McKinsey you will travel 4 days a week basically every week on a project. At Bain 50% of the projects in London require less than 2 days away each week. Do you know how much travel you'd like? Bear in mind the travel might be to Hull for 3 months rather than Dubai (for example).

McKinsey has the better brand and is probably the only company that, if you make partner, you could walk straight into a very senior industry role. Bain obviously has a great brand too but it probably isn't quite as good as McKinsey across the board. That said it is probably stronger in Private Equity and equal in many other areas (except Public Sector).

I assume you would enter as a Business Analyst at McKinsey and an Associate Consultant at Bain? I get the impression McKinsey like to turf more people out after the 2 years as a Business Analyst compared to Bain where many people go straight on to SAC and then Consultant after 3 years but I could be wrong.

Also, what have you made of the people you've met? You're going to be working long hours and working with people you get along with will make it much more bearable.

Jan 20, 2011
astros4ws:

McKinsey London does a lot (I've heard about 30-50% of all projects in the London office) of public sector stuff (e.g. NHS) whereas Bain does almost no public sector projects in the UK. If you like the idea of public sector stuff then McKinsey would be better, if not Bain might be.

At McKinsey you will travel 4 days a week basically every week on a project. At Bain 50% of the projects in London require less than 2 days away each week. Do you know how much travel you'd like? Bear in mind the travel might be to Hull for 3 months rather than Dubai (for example).

McKinsey has the better brand and is probably the only company that, if you make partner, you could walk straight into a very senior industry role. Bain obviously has a great brand too but it probably isn't quite as good as McKinsey across the board. That said it is probably stronger in Private Equity and equal in many other areas (except Public Sector).

I assume you would enter as a Business Analyst at McKinsey and an Associate Consultant at Bain? I get the impression McKinsey like to turf more people out after the 2 years as a Business Analyst compared to Bain where many people go straight on to SAC and then Consultant after 3 years but I could be wrong.

Also, what have you made of the people you've met? You're going to be working long hours and working with people you get along with will make it much more bearable.

I was talking to someone at McK who said that actually public sector work was a very tiny part of what they do. NHS is the bulk of public sector work, but public sector work is actually less than 5%. But I don't know if they were talking in number of projects or value terms.....

Jan 20, 2011
Parineeta7:
astros4ws:

McKinsey London does a lot (I've heard about 30-50% of all projects in the London office) of public sector stuff (e.g. NHS) whereas Bain does almost no public sector projects in the UK. If you like the idea of public sector stuff then McKinsey would be better, if not Bain might be.

I was talking to someone at McK who said that actually public sector work was a very tiny part of what they do. NHS is the bulk of public sector work, but public sector work is actually less than 5%. But I don't know if they were talking in number of projects or value terms.....

Ok, in all likelihood 5% is probably more accurate if you heard it from someone at McKinsey. The numbers I'd heard were from senior people at rival firms in London who may have been exaggerating. I'm sure you could probably avoid doing public sector projects if you wanted to anyway.

Best Response
Jan 20, 2011

I think there's also a thought around undergrad hires thinking about making partner. If I look around my office, most of the partners started as post-MBA hires. Some of them were at 2nd tier shops before B-school, others did something completely different. A lot of them went to non-target undergrads.

So, for all you kids thinking you're on the fast-track to making partner at 22, think again. And for all you non-targets, keep your head up, because good things happen down the road.

    • 3
Jan 20, 2011

This is what I've heard about making partner.

The top 25% of BAs and Consultants don't become partners, because they find better, more lucrative opportunities earlier in their careers.

The bottom 50% don't become partners because...well...they're in the bottom half of performance.

If you are in the 50th to 75th percentile, you have the highest likelihood of becoming partner, because you're not good enough to exit to something better, but you're also above average.

Partnership favors mediocrity. lol

Jan 20, 2011

Also, I know MBB are always considered equals among the consulting community, but my impression is that McK has the best external image.

Jan 20, 2011

thanks Guys. I'm obviously not expecting to be partner at 22! What I was trying to get across is that I'm more interested in consulting as a long-term career than as a springboard at the moment. Your posts are all very helpful though, keep them coming. The more opinions I can hear the better.

It does seem to me that McK do have a stricter up-or-out policy...does anyone have experience of this? Also, if I turn down an offer from one company, does that make them biased against me if I do want to work for them later? Like do they hold a grudge?

To clarify details, it is BA for McK and AC for Bain that I will be entering at.

I really don't want to do public sector work. I'm much more into private sector work!! Any other factors to think about?

The people at both places seem soooo lovely, it's proving very difficult for me to differentiate based on this factor alone!

Jan 21, 2011

what's the pay for McKinsey vs Bain?

Jan 21, 2011

Inconsequential difference. Where you fit in is far more important than the ~$5k difference. Also, use forum search, that question had been beat to hell. You can also check out www.managementconsulted.com as he recently posted 2010 or was it 2011 salary info.

Jan 21, 2011

McKinsey..it's worth it

Jan 21, 2011

Personally, it do not think the marginal prestige difference that McK has over Bain is worth the Monday-Thursday model. This means Sunday evening or very early Monday morning fights, every week, working in a conference room with your team. Of course, you do stay in nice hotels and get lots of hotel points...

Jan 21, 2011

I would say that Bain is a better choice. In terms of your actual projects, McKinsey does way more operational work than they would care to admit. All three are essentially the same in hours and travel (days/week), anyone who claims otherwise is lucky. BCG is on par w/ McK/Bain but for some reason does not place as well in exit opps. All three are a lock to get into a top 5 b-school (assuming GMAT, GPA etc).

The reason I would recommend Bain (I have friends from all 3) it is a much "younger" company in terms of attitude and culture. McKinsey and BCG tend to be maximize the experience of its consultants (post-MBA) while Bain tends to maximize the AC (pre-MBA) experience (not my words). You are right, Bain exit opps are probably the best of the 3, marginally better than McKinsey.

By the way I am curious as to how you are still considering offers? I was under the impression most recruiting was done by November. Anyway, frankly you can't go wrong with any of the three. Also factor in what office you are working in, try and talk to someone in each office.

Jan 21, 2011

are exit opps at BCG really that much worse?

Jan 21, 2011

It is all relative. If you are a stud at BCG of course you will be able to atleast have an opportunity at PE or whatever you want to do.

But by and large the most desirable exit opps (PE, HFs, boutiques) go disproportionately to McK/Bain. BCG is on par for industry jobs with those two however.

Jan 21, 2011

what do consultants do at a hedge fund? just the principal investments stuff?

Jan 21, 2011

depends a bit also on offices etc.

overall in north america would pick bain, but mck also very nice...

Jan 21, 2011

All three will have the same amount of travel. It totally depends on the type of project you get on once your "on the team".

Jan 21, 2011

I am a recent graduate from a top 10 business school. Even though, I reached final rounds for two of MBB firms, I didn't get an offer. I want to highlight some of the differences between McKinsey and Bain particularly.

In terms of quality of interview and interviewers, McKinsey seemed to be better than Bain. Mckinsey cases were very structured and throughout the selection process, an emphasis was placed on intellect. In cotrast, Bain cases were subjective, more conversational and I saw that more emphasis was placed on "likability" factor than intellect. Also, based on the quality of my classmates that got offer, I can say that Mckinsey offers were to "nerds" whereas Bain offers were to the "jovials". As surprising as it may sound, there was very little overlap between the offers from two companies.

Personally, if I ever reach a position where I need business advise, I will likely to hire Mckinsey rather than Bain based on the quality of people I have seen.

Jan 21, 2011
add:

In terms of quality of interview and interviewers, McKinsey seemed to be better than Bain. McKinsey cases were very structured and throughout the selection process, an emphasis was placed on intellect. In cotrast, Bain cases were subjective, more conversational and I saw that more emphasis was placed on "likability" factor than intellect. Also, based on the quality of my classmates that got offer, I can say that Mckinsey offers were to "nerds" whereas Bain offers were to the "jovials". As surprising as it may sound, there was very little overlap between the offers from two companies.

Personally, if I ever reach a position where I need business advise, I will likely to hire Mckinsey rather than Bain based on the quality of people I have seen.

McK and Bain definitely have different interview styles and cultures--that doesn't mean the quality of people at one firm is better than that at the other. If anything, I thought McK were easier because it was more driven by the interviewer (what you called "structured"). For Bain and BCG, I was the one driving and structuring the case, which I thought was harder than just following the interviewer's flow.

And you say jovials (probably in a somewhat perjorative way), I say social people. You need intellect to get through the process at all three firms.

Jan 21, 2011

I think most of the prior posters mean better chance at getting a megafund PE job as "better exit opps". In that case, the Bain > McK > BCG ordering may hold true. If PE is your desired outcome (as many people on this web forum), then IB might be a better choice.

Taking a broader look at exit opportunities, I hardly think you can make the claim that that cardinal ranking is definite. Furthermore, BCG places as well, if not better, into the top US and international business schools. And as far as revenue growth, BCG ranks higher than Bain than McKinsey.

To be honest, all three firms offer amazing opportunities. Given that fact, I do not think one can create an objective valuation of exit opportunities, prestige, etc. to decide. None of the firms has a clear overall objective advantage. I'd recommend feeling out where you fit the best (i.e. which people you get along the best with) and where you think you could best succeed. The top 25% at any given MBB office will likely have ample opportunity two years down the line.

Jan 21, 2011

When I started in the coaching business (Consulting case prep, resumes, etc.) I interviewed a senior leader from BCG, and one of the questions I asked her was - "What would you say is the difference between BCG and other top firms like McKinsey and Bain?"

Her response was very telling (and honest) - she said "I'm not sure how to answer that question. I haven't worked at McKinsey or Bain."

So really, it's not easy to differentiate between the firms. At a minimum, you would need to speak to multiple consultants to get a "blended" idea of what the firms are like since everyone you speak to will have something different to say. And you would need to focus on some key indicators - industry / functional work, clients, historical work and growth areas, culture, work/life, etc.

As well, your experience within any one firm will be different based on the office you work out of. You will be exposed to different Partners, and hence different projects. Your network will also be much different, and your network in Consulting plays a large part in the projects you get staffed on over time. So your experience at McKinsey Toronto will be different than McKinsey New York.

BTW - on the topic of hours worked. Don't fool yourself into thinking one firm will offer a better work/life than the other. As an analyst or associate, you will get your butt kicked. Pure and simple. When I was working at ATK, some projects required 100 hour weeks. Others required 60 hours. It depended on the project, and that's what determines how many hours you will need to put in. There is no regular "work week" in Consulting.

My advice? Talk to Consultants at your target firms, in your target offices. Ask questions like - what projects are being sold and staffed out of the XYZ office? What areas do the Partners in XYZ office specialize? This will give you a good idea as to where you may be staffed as a new associate. Since no-one will know how you work, you will likely get staffed by a Partner in your home office. This is what your first 6 months to a year will be like.

Jan 21, 2011

McK is good at everything, take McK and NEVER look back. In fact you'll be looking down if you do.

=========================================
We are excited to formally extend to you an offer to join Bank of Ameria

    • 1
Jan 21, 2011

congratulations~~~you are outstanding~~

Jan 21, 2011

McK is also great at Public Sector, Social Sector, and some areas within Pharma/Healthcare (BCG is historically very strong - perhaps the leader - here).

Keep in mind that tech is a huge industry. Would argue that McK tech in Boston is tops, Bain tech in SF is tops judging by past clients.

Bain is very strong in financial services & PE more specifically. Since Bain is locally staffed when possible, the strengths of the offices in certain industries does vary with location.

Jan 21, 2011
breakingbankers:

Bain is very strong in financial services & PE more specifically.

You're confusing industry sectors and capabilities.

Bain isn't strong in financial services.

Jan 21, 2011

While both are extremely selective with their SA programs, McK is probably more selective and only recruits at an extremely small number of schools. Which office have you been accepted to? This is crucial to your thought process.

edit: by SA do you mean the equivalent of analyst or associate? ie. from ugrad or MBA?

Jan 21, 2011

I meant Summer Associate, I'm an MBA student.

My point is that I am trying to decide which offer to accept and I guess that one good way to decide is checking which one is top at my areas of interest.

BTW, I'm going to their London office, in case that makes a difference.

And thank you all for your help!!!

Jan 21, 2011

do McK

even though it doesnt make that much of a difference, you're fine

Jan 21, 2011
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