What Bain & Company Looks for in MBA Hires
CA: What do you look for in your MBA candidates? Specific backgrounds? Work experience? GMAT score? Anything that is definitely NOT a good fit for Bain?
KB: On the MBA side, I like to say there are three things we look for when we are meeting candidates. First, we are looking for, “Are they smart?” That is a function of some of the quants—like GMAT score—as well as where they went to undergrad, what they majored in, and are they doing what they need to do to excel academically. We want candidates who have proven they have the raw horsepower to be successful in an environment that is very analytic.
Second, in terms of professional experience, we are not only looking for people who are former consultants. We are looking for people who can be successful in a corporate environment and can engage with people. In terms of leadership, we are looking to see, “Can they make it happen?” For instance—if you are organizing a conference and bad weather causes your keynote speaker to cancel, can you figure out what to do? By the same token, the data is never as clean as you hope it will be. We are looking for candidates that have had that kind of experience where life happens and they’ve had to adapt on the fly.
So, we are looking at are they smart, do they have professional experience that shows they can make it happen and be successful with clients, and the third important thing we are looking to assess is can they give and receive coaching and feedback?
Also, it’s a two-way process. The candidate needs to understand the job and understand why Bain is different. Being in an environment that is collaborative with clients means necessarily that we are collaborative with each other. At Bain, you are not the lead singer. As candidates go through the recruiting process, they get to know what it takes to be successful here. Sometimes when people get to meet us, they opt out because they are looking for something a little different.
CA: How do you prioritize the training and development of your employees? Can you provide some examples?
KB: One of the things we do when employees start—it is very similar for undergrads and grads—they go through a week of in-office training to help them understand the way our computing works, the high-level tools we use, etc. Toward the end of the week they have a conversation with the staffing manager, who will ask about their long-term career goals and what they have come to Bain to learn and go over the different opportunities for staffing. Coming out of that, they will be put on a case.
Several weeks in, they also will go to one of our global training programs. We have one of these programs running for all of the new employees in a given cohort, and everyone who is starting at the same time will take part together. They will be put in a group with four to six other peers all from different offices, and a trainer will work with that group throughout the whole week. They will do a simulated case and learn how we do analysis—and they will also meet other Bainies from offices all around the globe. We do that about every 18 months in people’s careers.
It’s a big investment—getting the whole global group together regularly. But the result is that not only are you part of an office, you are also part of a smaller community of peers. I went through the process myself, and today there are four of us who started 21 years ago—the others are in Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. We have been through every one of the trainings together and are still friends to this day.
CA: Can you talk a little about Bain’s home-office model?
KB: That is something that is very unique to Bain. When you join Bain, you join a community—a home office. The home-office model doesn’t mean that you are only working on cases that the partners in that particular office are selling, but whenever possible we try to staff the entire team from your office. From a relationship and support standpoint, it means that Dan and Jeanette might work together on a case, they will see each other in the office and at the holiday party, and they will continue building that mentor-mentee relationships. This is different from other firms where you might work together for four or five months and then vanish off into the vastness of company.
Our model requires that your relationships extend beyond the case, and we have tuned all of our processes around that. When you look in North America in particular, we have a smaller office footprint but we have larger-scale offices. For example, we have one New York office—not three or four offices in the tri-state area. That also means that your staffing manger is in your office and is someone who knows you personally. That personal attention is very valuable. I see our home-office model as providing all the benefits of being part of a global firm with the added benefit of being on a team of people you will build relationships with over several years.
CA: How do you support work-life balance among your employees?
KB: The way we think about that is interesting—let me unpack it a little bit. We don’t think about it as “work-life” balance. Any one of your readers who is focused on work-life balance is admitting to themselves and saying the work is going to be really terrible, and therefore they must have some kind of hobby outside of work. Why would anyone want to work at a place where their life force is being drained from them? That’s not the right way to think about the job.
It’s about sustainability. We train people to think about sustainability. Think of it as a two-by-two matrix. On the x axis you have “work” and “life,” and on the y axis you have “gives energy” and “drains energy.” I would much rather work with my team than do yard work—I really enjoy coaching the junior team. At Bain, we think of it more in terms of doing the things that give you energy and make you excited and passionate and doing fewer of the things that leave you feeling drained. I know that several companies do tout their work-life balance programs, but that’s telling—that they are so concerned about having life outside of work suggests that the work is taxing.
CA: What are the entry opportunities for those starting at Bain with an MBA and how do typically careers unfold?
KB: Typically, people will start with Bain as interns—which we call our summer associates—or as full-time consultants when they graduate. The summer associate program is a 10-week internship, and 90 percent of those who take part return to Bain full-time. The consultant role is roughly two years, and then they become case team leaders. This gives them the opportunity to show they have developed their skill set adequately to become full members of the management team as manager within three years. Then they’ll continue to advance from manager to principle to partner.
Along the way, Bain’s is a generalist model. Our belief is that the right foundation for you to be an expert and a senior manager down the line is to see a lot of different industries. As you get into your second year as a manager, you will start to specialize, whether it’s in retail or technology, performance improvement or strategy, or some combination. Often people will choose an industry and a capability—say they want to do retail and digital—so they will pick the intersection of the two. This allows them to work with the staffing manager to get those roles, so that they are seeing a lot of companies and understanding business at a higher level.
There are also a lot of other things we are doing that you will see people take advantage of. For example, we have programs that allow people to take a two-month leave of absence to recharge a little bit, aptly called “Take Two.” We have people in their second year as consultants who will use the Take Two opportunity to take an externship and go work for another company—perhaps a nonprofit. Also, given the demographics a lot of our consultants are working to start a family, and our parental leave policies are very favorable for people who want to do that. We offer an eight-week medical leave for birth and another eight weeks of parental leave for either parent—and that applies to all types of new parents, whether birth or adoption. So, we have time to recharge, time to expand their families, time to explore different industries, all baked into the career path of the consultant.