Free Guide to Bain Consulting Case Interviews

Updated: Jan 22

1) Overview

2) What Bain are looking for

3) Bain application process

4) Types of interview

5) Case interview

6) Tips



1) Overview


Bain & Company are one of the three strategy consulting firms that make up the prestigious MBB (McKinsey, Bain, BCG). They are a global consulting firm with revenues of over $4 billion and 10,500 employees worldwide.


Every year Bain receives thousands of job applications for a limited number of jobs. The success ratio of applicants is less than 1% and the firm has a reputation for attracting the top talent from academia and industry.


2) What Bain are looking for


Bain’s employees all have strong academic records and so Bain looks beyond this and is open about the four key skills and traits they are looking for in candidates:


Ability to lead – Strategy often involves periods of uncertainty or imperfect information whereby consultants need to exercise judgement with confidence and lead others around them to find pragmatic solutions.


Problem solving – Bain’s clients seek their help with complex problems and are looking for robust solutions that can be framed in a simple way. Candidates are expected to be comfortable creating and applying structured thinking from the outset.


Passion – Drive and enthusiasm will positively benefit individuals and their team in a strategy consulting environment, especially when exploring complex problems.


Results delivery – Bain are proud of their track record of achieving measurable impact on their clients and enabling them to meet their objectives. Demonstrating a focus on quantifiable achievements in your applications is important.


3) Bain application process


There are four stages to the Bain application process:


The first step of the Bain application process has been relaxed in recent years with more candidates being invited to the second stage before being filtered out. The resume and cover letter requirements are in line with the rest of consulting but the cover letter needs to be tailored to Bain rather than generic.


The online assessments consist of numerical reasoning questions, logical reasoning questions and a situational judgement test. Bain has developed their own partnerships and tests for their candidate screening but they are similar to common tests seen at other employers.


The first round interviews are usually with a junior consultant (3-6 years experience) and is where you will first be tested with a case interview. You will typically have 2 interviews both starting with fit questions such as ‘Why consulting?’ or ‘Tell me about a time when…’ for the first 15 minutes and then followed by a 45 minute case interview.


The second round interviews follow the same structure as the first round interviews but are conducted by more senior members of the team, usually directors, junior or senior partners. These consultants will be more rigorous in their assessment and provide a final hiring decision.


4) Types of interview


Bain use three types of interview across their network; case interview, experience interview and written case interview (also known as a structured case interview). The most common interview is the case interview but you need to be prepared for all three unless the recruiter states the type of interview you can expect.


Case interview


The case interview’s that Bain use are all based on real life client examples. The interviewer’s are encouraged to use their own client engagements for their case interview questions because they know them well and will be able to provide data and context easily. This format is the most common interview format used by Bain because it is the closest resemblance to the work required on the job and allows the interviewer to answer the question ‘Can this person do the work of a Bain consultant?’


They assess candidates over a number of different attributes during a case interview:

  • Approach and structure

  • Analytical and creative thinking

  • Application of data

  • Communication skills

  • Business acumen


Scoring well across all these attributes will result in being progressed to the next stage or ultimately, a job offer. For further information on how to demonstrate these skills see our full case interview guide here.


Experience interview


The experience interview is usually conducted prior to beginning the case interview but has been known to be conducted as a separate interview in some firms. Bain provides a list of possible questions on their website:


Why are you interested in Bain?

What experience are you most proud of?

What experience do you wish you could do over, and how would you do it differently?

What is a difficult decision you have made in the last year?

What is an example of a time when you showed initiative and leadership?

What aspects of your internship did you like less?

What do you most like to do in your free time?

What attributes would you bring to a case team?

Describe a role where you changed the direction of a team. How did you do it?


The key with these questions is to develop a structure that can be applied to all of them. By structuring your answer, you will show that even when discussing non-business related topics you apply a considered approach to your answer. We cover an approach in our case interview coaching sessions.


Written (structured) case interview


The written case interview assesses the same attributes as the case interview and requires the same skills. However, instead of working through the case with the interviewer you are given a large document pack (20-30 pages) that contains all the information required to answer the case. The information pack is dense and the time provided to read and digest it is small (c.10 minutes). This means that you are required to find the key pieces of information, interpret data quickly and structure a recommendation to present back to the interviewer under time pressure.


As with the case interview there is not a correct answer and the important part of your answer is the consideration of trade offs for making decisions and comparing the possible strategic decisions the business in question can take. The interviewer will test your thinking and recommendations to see how robust your conclusions are and the steps you took to get there.


Our full structured case interview guide is here.


5) Case interview


The consulting case interview is the cornerstone of every strategy consulting firm’s interview process due to the ability to replicate the problems and challenges of the work they do.


To score well in a Bain case interview, you must meet the criteria laid out above and you can do this following a structured approach to case interviews. The structure of a Bain case interview is as follows:


1. Situation and problem

2. Hypothesis validation

3. Framework development

4. Root cause analysis

5. Mathematical calculation (sometimes)

6. Creativity test (sometimes)

7. Recommendation


At the start of the case, the interviewer will outline the context and the problem to be explored. An example might be:


“A high street retailer wants to cut costs by 30% in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, how would you approach this?”

You would then be expected to put forward an initial hypothesis on what the answer might be and explain your intention to prove or disprove it.


From there you will be expected to develop a framework to conduct your analysis and test it with the interviewer.


If your framework is MECE and you explore it correctly then you will find the root cause of the issue for the client (in this case where costs can be reduced) and begin calculations if relevant.


The creativity test is when the interviewer asks you for an alternative to your findings or recommendation e.g. “Okay, the client says they do not want to shut stores, how else can they reduce cost?” They may ask this more than once and it tests the candidates ability to think of alternatives, even if their answer is appropriate.


Finally you will be asked to provide a recommendation whereby you need to synthesise your findings and give a clear and concise proposal.


For more information on how to approach and solve case interviews, read our full guidance here.


6) Additional tips


Fast maths


Case interviews are pressurised situations where your anxiety levels are heightened and you don’t have the safety net of notes or the internet to fall back on.


For in-person interviews it is common that one of the questions will have a mathematical element or be a market sizing question included. These require long maths calculations without a calculator. If you haven’t practised long addition, multiplication, division or subtraction recently then it is a good idea to do so. Being quick at maths shows your competent quantitative skills and reduces unnecessary pressure during the interview, increasing your overall performance.


We have published guidance and practice questions dedicated to case interview maths here.


Practice


As with the maths, practicing case interviews is the best way to improve your performance. Through practice you will begin to develop a robust approach that satisfies the structure and framework components of the case and you will recognise how to navigate the case successfully.

If you are applying to Bain then you are probably applying to other strategy consulting firms too, this practice will be relevant to all of the firms you apply to as they all use case interviews in their application process.


We have published guidance and practice questions appropriate for Bain cases here.


Apply structure to everything


The key requirement of a candidate in a case interview is the application of structure, specifically with a MECE approach. As mentioned above, you can even apply structure to the FIT questions and it is recommended you do so.


An example answer to the question ‘walk me through your CV’ would be to segment your experience into; 1) Experience relevant to consulting 2) Experience not relevant to consulting and then briefly cover the experience you have in each bucket. This shows you understand what consulting is and what is relevant and also a key skill of a consultant – structured thinking.

If you can demonstrate robust structured thinking in your interview, you will score highly.


If you’re upcoming interview involves technical questions then please see some of our other online resources here:


Market sizing

Case interviews

Psychometric games

Numerical reasoning

Resume and cover letter templates

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