Consultancy firms have been hiring fairly consistently since the crisis – partnering with clients on restructuring and cost-cutting mainly – but the environment has changed in recent months. With the economy gradually improving, consultants are investing more time in strategic initiatives and future planning. The end result is a much happier group of consultants.
Some of the most content appear to be working at Bain & Co., which finished second in Vault.com’s recent rankings of the best consulting firm in which to work. Like other firms, Bain is actively hiring. You’ll need a heck of a resume though. The firm is known for recruiting almost exclusively out of top business schools.
We talked to Keith Bevans, head of Bain’s global consultant recruiting team, to see what else you’ll need to land the job. Hint: polish up your presentation skills.
Tell me a little bit about your growth plans?
For the last several years we’ve been growing quite a bit, and we see a continuing need to add talent. This fall we plan to make north of 400 hires from business schools.
What industry backgrounds are you targeting?
We are growing across all sectors. When hiring out of business schools, we look less for industry-specific skills and more for the raw analytical skills that are required to be successful. We hire based on a generalist model that allows consultants to specialize later in their careers. On the front end, we are just looking for smart and successful people.
We hire people with backgrounds in general finance, private equity, marketing and strategic planning, among others. We’ve hired plenty of teachers. Part of what we try to do is to increase diversity on our teams. The more diversity, the more perspective we’ll have when attacking a client problem. When we combine minds from legal, engineering and marketing backgrounds, for example, we find we generate more creative solutions and better answers than any one discipline could provide.
Talk about your private equity group. Are you growing there as well?
Yes. Private equity is one of the most important parts of business. We’ve built a tremendous market share and feel the group provides exciting opportunities for employees.
Bain's Private Equity Group rotation program is one of the key drivers of the unit. Employees will work roughly six-month rotations on a variety of PE deals across numerous industry sectors. Full-time consultants will work on a deal for one week, several weeks or for longer than a month. Private equity firms look for timely, tangible and practical results, so it’s a very demanding environment.
Rumors are that you only recruit from top business schools. True?
What we are looking for is talent. We look for people that have smarts, raw analytical skills and a good amount of experience. We want students who have worked in the corporate environment, who were leaders at their jobs or in their undergrad work, people who can adapt on the fly.
Top business schools screen for the best candidates, so it’s a focused way to continue to find the best talent. Those schools know how to find it.
So are you only looking for experienced MBAs, rather than someone who went to business school directly from an undergrad program?
I get asked that a lot. Most business schools that we recruit from generally want experience. It’s not common for us to see students straight from undergrad. Certainly experience is our preference. I don’t think we see a lot of those people [without corporate experience] on campus.
Your interview process seems substantial. Take me through it.
It’s typically two rounds of interviews – for both summer and full-time hires. The first interview will involve a traditional case study. You’ll come in and we’ll ask you to assess a situation that is similar to one we are working on for a client. You’ll be asked to analyze the situation, we’ll check your comfort with numbers, have you walk through a chart or two and then have you give your recommendation on what to do next. It’s really the first time people get to see the pace of the culture. Candidates will see two of those in the first round.
The second round is three interviews. A case study, a traditional resume interview and then a written case study.
Explain the written case study?
You arrive and are given a problem, along with a handful of slides containing key data. You’re given time to put your thoughts together and then, for the interview, you’ll present your recommendations and answer questions from the interviewer.
In traditional interviews, pressure is put on people to engage in real-time and talk off-the-cuff. While there is some of that at Bain, much of the time in work scenarios you’ll prepare for a full day to deliver a more robust answer. Some people aren’t as great in the moment, but you give them a day and they’ll own it. It’s a different lens for looking at candidates.
Are all your hires permanent, full-time employees?
No, we have a summer associate program for current MBA students. It’s 10 weeks of live client engagement working with teams, getting exposure to what it’s like to work here. It’s a great inroad to consulting.
What percentage of your full-time hires are summer associates?
We will hire as many great students as we can find. I’m not saying that because I don’t want to give a number – we’ll bring in as many as we can. Some people connect with us even before going to business school. We will respond to every one of those people.
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We’ve seen evidence that, since the crisis, more candidates are eyeing consulting over Wall Street. Have you felt that?
I can only speak to our company, but what I will say is that consulting is a great opportunity for people coming out of MBA programs who want flexibility and cross-industry experience. We have a six-month externship program. We offer global transfer opportunities across our 50 offices, for example.
Another thing recruits want is to see tangible impact. You work with a retail store, you can go in and see the outcome. You work on a merger, you can see it in the paper.
What’s the toughest part about consulting? What can new hires struggle with.
Being humble. Having the humility to say, “I know I went to Harvard or MIT, but I have a lot to learn here.” We have a lot of valedictorians who are used to being the ones with the answer. It’s more of a mindset change than a skillset upgrade. Sometimes you know the answer and need to push clients – other times you need to listen and adjust to the challenge. We feel our culture fosters that mindset.