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We have compiled an unparalleled repository of insights about ensuring interview success at McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company. 

We regularly synthesize these insights into relevant blog articles around consulting interview preparation (with a focus on McKinsey, BCG, and Bain).
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Category: About McKinsey, BCG, Bain (MBB)
➡️ McKinsey vs. BCG vs. Bain... How do they differ from each other? ⬅️
Written by Dr. Sidi S. Koné on Jun. 18th 2022
What are the elements and dimensions on which Bain, BCG, and McKinsey have structural differences? And what are the implications of these differences?
We receive a large number of questions regarding how the three MBBs are actually different from each other. 

Well, of course a large part of the work and clients are very comparable across McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. Nevertheless, each firm has its own history and culture, which forms the base for HOW they do things, and WHY they do things in this way. 

I started my consulting career at BCG in Germany, got promoted to Senior Consultant, and later switched to McKinsey to do work in several emerging markets, before transfering back to Germany within McKinsey. 

Given my years in both BCG and McKinsey, and based on our compiled insights from placing dozens of mentees into Bain & Company, we can give a good comparison across the three firms. This also comes handy when discussing cross-offers with our mentees (who oftentimes must decide between several MBB offers).

Here is a high-level outline:

1. Reputation and (perceived) Though-Leadership

McKinsey is still the gold standard in terms of recognition across all industries, from tech to large established corporates. 

Whilst on some specific areas other firms might have developed a stronger expertise (e.g. EY-Parthenon is a leading firm for education), everybody recognizes that hiring McKinsey is the safest bet to ensure consistent, high quality work. The level of knowledge created by McKinsey grants it top pages in leading newspapers, a coverage that is still not matched by BCG or Bain. 

BCG has been trying quite successfully to go in the same direction, establishing reputation as a knowledge-based company, but is not yet there. 

Bain, on the other hand, has been focusing less on knowledge leadership and instead cultivating a reputation focused on its capability of making things happen by adopting a distinctly cooperative approach.

2. Alumni Network

Consulting is usually regarded as a springboard to a brilliant career. This is why the alumni network that you'll find when leaving should be considered among the key decision criteria. 

McKinsey has the largest workforce (~30k employees vs ~21k BCG and ~12k Bain), hence the largest alumni network. Moreover there is a strong cohesion and sense of belonging fostered whilst working at McKinsey that usually remains after leaving. You'll be surprised at how many people who were "counselled to leave" by McKinsey (basically advised to find another job elsewhere) turned themselves into key McKinsey clients after leaving. 

Alumni networks are weaker in BCG and Bain due to the lack of critical mass and also a weaker sense of belonging after leaving. However, BCG has become increasingly active in engaging its alumni network, providing extremely valuable resources to their alumns. My subjective impression (as an alumn of both McK and BCG) is that BCG have indeed managed to close a significant part of the gap to McKinsey!

3. People

All MBB firms are obsessed about hiring the best and the brightest. The smartness of colleagues in all three MBB firms is absolutely amazing. 

Here I'd say that the main difference in the hiring criteria between McKinsey and BCG is in consistency and ease of being "shaped" according to the standards.  While BCG is mostly focused on hiring bright people, McKinsey values a lot the alignment in terms of mindset and the ease of "formatting" the candidate according to the McKinsey standard. This includes speaking using a top down approach, keeping a friendly but assertive approach, and most of all being open to feedback. McKinsey puts a lot of emphasis on these three characteristics and regards them as a key decision factor in the selection process.

4. Client Mix

This varies to a large extent by office and by country. 

As a general trend, Bain has higher mix of PE clients (Bain Capital, although now separated from Bain, was co-founded by several Bain partners). McKinsey is the leading consultancy for healthcare and governments, especially in developing countries.

5. Projects

It has often been said that BCG focuses more on pure strategic projects, McKinsey on organizational projects. This is no longer the case. 

All three MBB firms have been trying to move downstream in order to provide end-to-end solutions to their clients - from devising strategies, to testing/piloting, and fully implementing them. 

Moreover, they are all massively investing to ride the massive wave of digitalization and data & analytics that is still building up.

6. Approach to serving Clients

McKinsey tends to have a more top-down approach and usually takes pride in challenging and often contradicting clients. They do cooperate with clients but tend to be quite assertive in pushing forward their solution. "Telling uncomfortable truths" to the client is a deeply entrenched value at McKinsey.

BCG is slightly more “cooperative”, putting a special emphasis on “delighting” clients. BCG consultants often spend a bit more time building consensus in the organization by engaging the middle management, instead of obsessing over analysis (i.e., the cliché "McKinsey way").

Bain is relying on their partner group to build strong relationships with its clients, selling consulting projects staffed by small teams of highly qualified professionals recruited from leading undergraduate and graduate institutions. What makes Bain's approach unique, however, is the firm’s central belief that meetings and presentations and meaningless unless they result in actionable change that results to a positive outcome for the client. To initiate and cement change, Bain also relies on its junior employees to work hand-in-hand with middle-managers at the client. This collaborative approach builds trust and fosters an openness to changing often entrenched ways of getting things done. 

7. Approach to Problems

All MBB firms leverage a lot past work to provide answers including tested, off-the-shelf elements. 

However, BCG has cultivated a reputation for being looking at each problem with a fresh perspective and building innovative solutions. It is also something that many BCG interviewers like to hear when asking candidates "Why BCG?"

8. Way of working/resources

A point that is often neglected in answers to this kind of question is understanding how everyday work will change across firms. Whilst there are many similarities (4 days a week on client site, teamwork, challenging lifestyle), there are also two key differences:
  • Staffing: McKinsey is more global in terms of staffing, meaning that you are more likely to end up staffed on the other side of the country but also that you'll have more chances to e.g. do a project in a developing country if you are interested in development or government work. Also, the project teams at McKinsey are mor internationally mixed – hence you might find team members from completely different parts of the world staffed on a project in South Africa for example. At BCG, it would be more homogeneous, e.g., the partner who covers the client will staff most of his team from either his home office or the client’s geography.
  • Support resources: McKinsey wants its consultants, including Business Analysts, to focus solely on value-added activities. To ensure this, it developed large organizations aimed at supporting consultants, such as:
  • Visual graphic centers to ensure consultants can save time by sketching powerpoint slides and have the quickly produced by visual graphic teams, 
  • ​Research centers for performing desktop research for consultants
  • ​Survey desks in India and Costa Rica to set up web-based surveys for clients
Whilst Bain and BCG have both developed similar support resources, they still do not have the scale of McKinsey.

How we can help you break you into McKinsey, BCG, or Bain

If you, as an applicant at one of the big strategy consulting firms, would like to learn how to ensure success in your interviews with McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, then feel free to apply for a free initial consultation with us. In this free session we will find out whether we can help you, and if so, how we can help you to reach your goal of joining a firm like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain & Company. 

Within the last years, we have helped more than 350 people to receive job offers from the three MBB companies! On average, every single week, two of our clients are signing an employment contract with either McKinsey, BCG, or Bain.

About the author: 
Dr. Sidi S. Koné

Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey & Company | Former Senior Consultant at BCG

About The MBB Offer Machine™

We help aspiring graduates, young professionals, and seasoned topic experts to ensure success in their job interviews with the world's most reputable Strategy Consulting Firms.

We place a special emphasis on "MBB":
  • McKinsey & Company
  • ​Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
  • ​Bain & Company

About the author: 
Dr. Sidi S. Koné

Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey & Company | Former Senior Consultant at BCG

About the author: 
Dr. Sidi S. Koné

Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey & Company | Former Senior Consultant at BCG
Category: About McKinsey, BCG, Bain (MBB)
McKinsey vs. BCG vs. Bain... How do they differ from each other?
Written by Dr. Sidi S. Koné on Jun. 21st 2022
What are the elements and dimensions on which Bain, BCG, and have structural differences? And what are the implications of these differences?
We receive a large number of questions regarding how the three MBBs are actually different from each other. 

Well, of course a large part of the work and clients are very comparable across McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. Nevertheless, each firm has its own history and culture, which forms the base for HOW they do things, and WHY they do things in this way. 

I started my consulting career at BCG in Germany, got promoted to Senior Consultant, and later switched to McKinsey to do work in several emerging markets, before transfering back to Germany within McKinsey. 

Given my years in both BCG and McKinsey, and based on our compiled insights from placing dozens of mentees into Bain & Company, we can give a good comparison across the three firms. This also comes handy when discussing cross-offers with our mentees (who oftentimes must decide between several MBB offers).

Here is a high-level outline:

1. Reputation and (perceived) Though-Leadership

McKinsey is still the gold standard in terms of recognition across all industries, from tech to large established corporates. 

Whilst on some specific areas other firms might have developed a stronger expertise (e.g. EY-Parthenon is a leading firm for education), everybody recognizes that hiring McKinsey is the safest bet to ensure consistent, high quality work. The level of knowledge created by McKinsey grants it top pages in leading newspapers, a coverage that is still not matched by BCG or Bain. 

BCG has been trying quite successfully to go in the same direction, establishing reputation as a knowledge-based company, but is not yet there. 

Bain, on the other hand, has been focusing less on knowledge leadership and instead cultivating a reputation focused on its capability of making things happen by adopting a distinctly cooperative approach.

2. Alumni Network

Consulting is usually regarded as a springboard to a brilliant career. This is why the alumni network that you'll find when leaving should be considered among the key decision criteria. 

McKinsey has the largest workforce (~30k employees vs ~21k BCG and ~12k Bain), hence the largest alumni network. Moreover there is a strong cohesion and sense of belonging fostered whilst working at McKinsey that usually remains after leaving. You'll be surprised at how many people who were "counselled to leave" by McKinsey (basically advised to find another job elsewhere) turned themselves into key McKinsey clients after leaving. 

Alumni networks are weaker in BCG and Bain due to the lack of critical mass and also a weaker sense of belonging after leaving. However, BCG has become increasingly active in engaging its alumni network, providing extremely valuable resources to their alumns. My subjective impression (as an alumn of both McK and BCG) is that BCG have indeed managed to close a significant part of the gap to McKinsey!

3. People

All MBB firms are obsessed about hiring the best and the brightest. The smartness of colleagues in all three MBB firms is absolutely amazing. 

Here I'd say that the main difference in the hiring criteria between McKinsey and BCG is in consistency and ease of being "shaped" according to the standards.  While BCG is mostly focused on hiring bright people, McKinsey values a lot the alignment in terms of mindset and the ease of "formatting" the candidate according to the McKinsey standard. This includes speaking using a top down approach, keeping a friendly but assertive approach, and most of all being open to feedback. McKinsey puts a lot of emphasis on these three characteristics and regards them as a key decision factor in the selection process.

4. Client Mix

This varies to a large extent by office and by country. 

As a general trend, Bain has higher mix of PE clients (Bain Capital, although now separated from Bain, was co-founded by several Bain partners). McKinsey is the leading consultancy for healthcare and governments, especially in developing countries.

5. Projects

It has often been said that BCG focuses more on pure strategic projects, McKinsey on organizational projects. This is no longer the case. 

All three MBB firms have been trying to move downstream in order to provide end-to-end solutions to their clients - from devising strategies, to testing/piloting, and fully implementing them. 

Moreover, they are all massively investing to ride the massive wave of digitalization and data & analytics that is still building up.

6. Approach to serving Clients

McKinsey tends to have a more top-down approach and usually takes pride in challenging and often contradicting clients. They do cooperate with clients but tend to be quite assertive in pushing forward their solution. "Telling uncomfortable truths" to the client is a deeply entrenched value at McKinsey.

BCG is slightly more “cooperative”, putting a special emphasis on “delighting” clients. BCG consultants often spend a bit more time building consensus in the organization by engaging the middle management, instead of obsessing over analysis (i.e., the cliché "McKinsey way").

Bain is relying on their partner group to build strong relationships with its clients, selling consulting projects staffed by small teams of highly qualified professionals recruited from leading undergraduate and graduate institutions. What makes Bain's approach unique, however, is the firm’s central belief that meetings and presentations and meaningless unless they result in actionable change that results to a positive outcome for the client. To initiate and cement change, Bain also relies on its junior employees to work hand-in-hand with middle-managers at the client. This collaborative approach builds trust and fosters an openness to changing often entrenched ways of getting things done. 

7. Approach to Problems

All MBB firms leverage a lot past work to provide answers including tested, off-the-shelf elements. 

However, BCG has cultivated a reputation for being looking at each problem with a fresh perspective and building innovative solutions. It is also something that many BCG interviewers like to hear when asking candidates "Why BCG?"

8. Way of working / resources

A point that is often neglected in answers to this kind of question is understanding how everyday work will change across firms. Whilst there are many similarities (4 days a week on client site, teamwork, challenging lifestyle), there are also two key differences:
  • Staffing: McKinsey is more global in terms of staffing, meaning that you are more likely to end up staffed on the other side of the country but also that you'll have more chances to e.g. do a project in a developing country if you are interested in development or government work. Also, the project teams at McKinsey are mor internationally mixed – hence you might find team members from completely different parts of the world staffed on a project in South Africa for example. At BCG, it would be more homogeneous, e.g., the partner who covers the client will staff most of his team from either his home office or the client’s geography.
  • Support resources: McKinsey wants its consultants, including Business Analysts, to focus solely on value-added activities. To ensure this, it developed large organizations aimed at supporting consultants, such as:
  • Visual graphic centers to ensure consultants can save time by sketching powerpoint slides and have the quickly produced by visual graphic teams, 
  • ​Research centers for performing desktop research for consultants
  • ​Survey desks in India and Costa Rica to set up web-based surveys for clients
Whilst Bain and BCG have both developed similar support resources, they still do not have the scale of McKinsey.
If you, as an applicant at one of the big strategy consulting firms, would like to learn how to ensure success in your interviews with McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, then feel free to apply for a free initial consultation with us. In this free session we will find out whether we can help you, and if so, how we can help you to reach your goal of joining a firm like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain & Company. 

About the author: 
Dr. Sidi S. Koné

Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey & Company | Former Senior Consultant at BCG

About The MBB Offer Machine™

We help aspiring graduates, young professionals, and seasoned topic experts to ensure success in their job interviews with the world's most reputable Strategy Consulting Firms.

We place a special emphasis on "MBB":
  • McKinsey & Company
  • ​Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
  • ​Bain & Company

About the author: 
Dr. Sidi S. Koné

Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey & Company | Former Senior Consultant at BCG

About the author: 
Dr. Sidi S. Koné

Former Senior Engagement Manager and Interviewer at McKinsey & Company | Former Senior Consultant at BCG
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