McKinsey "optional" Cover Letter
Hi, I am planning to apply for McKinsey in Germany. On their homepage it says that amongst the documents necessary for the application process are a CV and all relevant certificates. Regarding cover letter, it says "Cover letter (optional)". In what cases do you think it makes sense to include a cover letter and do i have far lower chances when not including one (vs. sending a mediocre one)?
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you should always consider including a cover letter in your applications even if you feel like you do not have enough knowledge about the firm/ position to tailor it appropriately as, in my experience, applications sent without a cover letter tend to have far lower success rates. Like many other things, preparing a cover letter is a signal that you put effort into your application.
However, you should not prepare a "mediocre" cover letter. Instead, my suggestion would be to prepare one standard cover letter to use in all your consulting application and then personalise some parts of it for the specific firm you are applying to (e.g. if you are applying to Bain, you may make reference to their Private Equity or Luxury industry expertise; for McKinsey, I believe some interesting points would be related to their global alumni network, international staffing model and/ or the strength of their Strategy & Corporate Finance practice, which - at least in Italy - has a great reputation).
Hope this helps!
Good question! And one we all had one day :)
The truth is that it does not add, at all. None reads it.
However, if you have it written -perhaps becuase you used it for referrals, or you have something you can easily recycle...- never hams. Once it´s more or less done, zero opportunity cost.
Furthermore, it´s always good to have something similar to a CL/motivational letter ready, since it´s useful for networking and follow ups.
Hope it helps!
Most likely they won’t read it. However, I would still prepare one and attach it for the following reasons:
- You will need to prepare one for all the other consulting companies . The rework to edit a cover for McK should be minimal
- There are no downsides if you attach it, but there may be possible upsides
I would not recommend a mediocre one. Better to invest the time to create a great template and reuse it for all companies.
If you need more help please PM me.
I would include a cover letter but would not overinvest. Recruiters do not really read them thoroughly
For McK, it will not add anything to your application. Since you already have one prepared for other firms (I guess), just change it up a bit and include it with your application (no harm done).
McKinsey doesn't really care about cover letters.
That said, should you include one? I would...downside risk is 0, upside exists. Simple math.
If you don't want to put in all that work/energy, reach out to me...I have a process that allows you to "mass produce" top-tier cover letters for all your consulting applications! (i.e. if you just get setup right, any additional cover letter should take under an hour).
A lot of the general advice here is helpful for most firms. However, McKinsey employees across many platforms have specifically said they don't read/evaluate cover letters, so it makes no impact to your application. Feel free to look this up on Fishbowl, reddit, etc.
I did not include a cover letter and still got an offer.
Note, this doesn't apply for other firms, but it does for M.
If you can always include an impactful cover letter to complement the CV. Explain why you are a great FIT. Please search the Q&A forum broadly for tons of tips on this subject.
It helps to send a cover letter. It is not the most crucial part of the application process but definitely a plus especially if there are points you want to elaborate on or explain.
A cover letter is only necessary if there is something about your background/CV that requires explanation (e.g., longer studies due to health issues, etc.). If not, I wouldn't bother as recruiters usually don't bother to read through and it is not passed on to your interviewers either.
others might disagree but I would always include a cover letter, because it has way more upsides:
- If you get an invite, interviewers will have read your cover letter and it might be a good talking point
- When recruiters are not fully convinced, they might have a look at your cover letter to get a feel for what person you are -> Then it's a great tool to distinguish yourself from the mass
- It shows you generally avoid the easiest way and commit to an application (this says something about you as a consultant as well)
That being saig, I would advise against taking the same for all consulting firms, but rather ask myself the question why I would want to work for McK instead of the other firms, i.e.
- What makes the firm special?
- What might be values you share?
- How can you identify with what the firm identity stands for?
In the end, it might be that the work put into the cover letter is not recognized too much because you check other boxes but anyway, it will be a learning point for you why you want to work for a specific firm. + a good cover letter has never hurt anybody ;-) Hope this helps! Jonas
Cover letter is optional and they will probbably not read it, but I would suggest you to attach one. In this way you can show your proactivity and accuracy. Do not waste so much time on it, it's enough to have a decent cover letter that does not attract attention for negative reasons.
McKinsey recruiters won't really read it, I can only confirm.
On the other hand, you can't really lose when preparing one.
The choice is yours ;)
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All About Bain Recruitment Process
If you want a job at Bain, you might ask yourself, what is the Bain recruitment process?
Bain & Company is the third largest of the prestigious “MBB” ( McKinsey & Company, BCG , or Bain & Company ).
Bain, founded by former Boston Consulting Group consultants, has grown by 15% annually for two decades.
Of the big three, Bain stands out for its culture .
Bain is known for entrepreneurship, tailored solutions, and a work-hard & play-hard culture .
Bain is also #2 on Glassdoor’s 2020 Best Places to Work list.
Bain & Company is a great company for candidates interested in private equity as a post-consulting exit opportunity.
Its sister company, Bain Capital, also uses Bain & Company consultants in private equity engagements.
Bain’s recruitment process is one of the most selective as well:
It is common for only the top 1-3% of consulting applicants to receive offers .
In this article, I will remove the mystery of the Bain recruitment process , including the resume and cover letter screening, the Bain Online Test, the experience interview, and the case interview. Plus, Bain’s special twist: the written case interview.
Let’s find out what it takes to become a Bainee .
Table of Contents
Consulting salaries report: what happened since 2020, get the latest data about salaries in consulting, an overview of the bain recruitment process.
From the time you apply, until you accept the job offer, you will have to progress through a series of steps in the Bain recruitment process.
Most of the time, this process takes between 4 and 6 weeks, with often 14 days between steps on average.
However, the two rounds of interviews can be planned for 2 consecutive days.
The typical feeder into Bain is through a target recruitment school published here.
Undergraduates participate in an Associate Consultant Internship before the typical fourth year.
MBAs complete the Summer Associate program between the first and second years.
Let’s see which deviations from the standard Bain recruitment process, as shown in the picture above, can happen.
If you are applying to a South American office, particularly Brazil, it is likely that you will have to take the Bain Online Test before, maybe, being invited to interviews.
Finally, you may have a different interview process if you apply to a non-consulting position within Analytics & Customer Insights, Digital & Innovation, or Business Services.
For instance, your interview could include coding tests and project discussions with product engineers, portfolio reviews with other designers, or discussions about coaching and agile methodologies.
To conclude, check the video below.
This video from Bain & Company shows what Bain looks for when hiring Consultants.
Show Your Uniqueness: The Resume And Cover Letter Screening
Your resume, with a cover letter, is the first step to a very lucrative job at Bain & Company.
Yet, less than 30% of applicants receive a call for an interview.
So, what is Bain looking for when screening your resume and cover letter ?
First, Bain Is Looking For Academic Performance
A recent study from poetsandquants.com shows which schools are the top MBA feeders in the consulting industry .
For instance, top MBA programs with good placement in the consulting industry include MIT, London Business School, INSEAD, and Columbia Business School.
Secondly, Bain Is Looking For Specific Qualities
Bain & Company is looking for people with certain characteristics and skills .
Therefore, all your resume and cover letter content should demonstrate that you have mastered these skills .
To be more precise: your resume and cover letter content must show how you used these skills and the IMPACT you had .
Lastly, Bain Wants To Understand Your Motivation To Join The Firm
Are your cover letter and resume ready for applications?
Check these two articles to learn how to write winning resumes and cover letters and get lots of examples: consulting resume: 17 advanced writing tips , and how to write a persuasive and customized cover letter .
Don't Stress Out: The HR Screening Interview
In most cases, the HR screening interview is conducted by phone and is aimed at briefly reviewing your background.
For instance, the HR screening interview can include a list of questions such as :
- Background questions include “Tell me about yourself” or “Describe your work history.”
- Motivational questions include “Why are you interested in consulting?” and “Why Bain & Company”?
- Specific skill-based questions include “Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem in a team”
For this stage, you can expect a 20-minute interview.
Note : This in-depth guide will teach you how to answer those questions later.
Alternatively, to a phone screen, you may be asked to complete the One Way Interview (or One Way Video Interview) .
Bain is following BCG in introducing this interview method .
The Bain one-way interview is a series of interview questions asked (similar to the questions above) and answered via the video interview website Spark Hire.
Hence, you won’t be speaking with a live interviewer.
Instead, you’ll receive the interview questions when you log onto the site from your laptop.
Spark Hire will record a video of your answers for a Bain recruiter to review at a later time.
To conclude: you won’t have a case interview at this stage .
Show Your Logical Reasoning: The Bain Screening Test
The Bain recruitment process includes a screening test.
And the type of test you’ll have to take depends on the office you are applying to.
But the type of test will be one of these 2 types:
- A GMAT-like test (also known as the Bain online test or Bain Gorilla test)
- The Bain SOVA assessment
Let’s explore these two tests in the next two sections:
The Bain & Company Online Test
As a Consultant or Associate Consultant at Bain, you will spend a lot of time reading and analyzing data (from a graphical chart or an Excel spreadsheet).
Besides, you will have to derive insights from these data and connect these insights to your client’s problem.
The Bain Online Test tests your ability to complete these tasks well.
Indeed, this test has been designed to assess how you use deductive, inductive, and quantitative reasoning abilities to solve problems logically.
First, the Bain Online is a digital test like the McKinsey PST and BCG Potential Test, with a similar feel to the GMAT and GRE. You can expect 25 multi-choice questions for 50 minutes.
Secondly, the two most common types of questions you can have are:
- Calculate X, Y, and Z given the following data
- Which of the following conclusions are accurate given the following data
These questions will come in two sections : a business case study with multiple-choice answers and an analytical reasoning section ( GMAT-like questions).
Thirdly, no business background is required .
You only need your common sense to answer the Bain Online Test questions.
Lastly, be prepared if a calculator is not allowed , and use your natural abilities.
Math questions are solvable with simple math or approximation.
To conclude, the most challenging part of this test is the time management .
Manage the time allotted to ensure you do your best.
In fact, wrong answers are penalized, while not answering is not.
The Bain SOVA assessment (aptitude and personality test)
This Bain online assessment, also called the Bain online test, is a 75-minute test that can be taken on your own device from anywhere.
The test will examine how you react in certain situations and how you respond to new information.
Sova assessments power the test and include 6 sections:
- Situational Judgement Test
- Numerical Reasoning
- Verbal Reasoning
- Logical Reasoning
- Personality Questionnaire
- Video interview
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Do NOT Neglect It: The Experience Interview
After the screening process, there is a selection process consisting of multiple interviews.
This section will tell you everything you need about the behavioral interview .
But, before we start, I want to point out a mistake made by too many candidates: do NOT neglect your preparation for this part of the interview.
What To Expect During The Experience Interview
During each of your behavioral interviews , you can expect the four following types of questions :
First, “ Tell me about yourself ” or “Walk me through your resume.”
Then, “ Why Consulting? “.
Thirdly, “ Why Bain? “.
Finally, several behavioral interview questions .
You can expect the experience interview (also known as a fit interview) to last around 10 minutes.
With one exception : during the second round, one interview of the three interviews may consist of only behavioral questions.
Now, let’s go through these 4x questions.
Tell Me About Yourself
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
This question, or common variants such as “Walk me through your resume,” is an easy and open-ended start to a conversation where your interviewer wants to know the following:
- What are your motivations, and what drives you?
- Which problems you had to solve, and how you solved them ?
- What is your academic background?
- How do you deal with people ?
- What impact have you had in the past?
Related article : Tell Me About Yourself: How to Answer This Question.
A natural question following “Tell me about yourself” is “ Why consulting? ” .
Because the second most important thing that Bain wants to know after who you are is:
- if you understand what Consulting is,
- and if you are truly interested in pursuing a career in that industry .
Because Bain doesn’t want you to leave after six months when you would have realized that the consulting lifestyle doesn’t fit your objectives.
So, whether Consulting is a thoughtful career choice or an “I don’t know what to do, let’s try” career choice, there are many good reasons why Consulting can be a good opportunity.
7 Reasons Why Consulting Can Be A Good Career Opportunity
- #1 - It's a good career choice after University if you don't know what to do : if you don't know what to do after University or after your MBA (you're not alone!), then Consulting is a safe bet. You'll have the opportunity to explore which career, sector or specialty is right for you
- #2 - You'll have a strong impact : you'll have the opportunity to work on and solve the most pressing problems faced by big corporations
- #3 - You'll have a strong exposure to C-level Executives : early on in your career, you'll work directly for CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, etc. and start developing the soft skills to become a senior Executive later
- #4 - You'll learn a lot : Consulting firms invest a lot in training their consultants. In addition, the feedback culture is very strong and you'll get full performance reviews regularly
- #5 - You'll work with bright people : consultancies pride themselves on hiring bright and interesting people. Plus, with 3-month projects on average, you'll meet a lot of different people in consulting
- #6 - You'll have the opportunity to work in an international environment : large consultancies sell work to businesses and governments all around the world
- #7 - You'll have access to an amazing alumni network : having worked in a consulting firm will give you access to its alumni network that will help you throughout your career
2 Other Reasons Why Consulting Can Be A Good Career Opportunity (But You Can't Tell Them To Your Interviewer)
- #8 - You'll have great exit opportunities : headhunting firms or big corporations love ex-consultants. Even now, 5 years after I left Consulting, head hunters still contact me on Linkedin to point out interesting opportunities
- #9 - You'll earn a lot of money : consulting is also known as a very well-paid industry. The average base salary for a Bain Consultant is $156,000 a year according to Glassdoor. Plus, your salary will increase between 10% and 25% each year
Besides listing a couple of reasons why you want to pursue a career in consulting, a compelling answer should explain WHY these reasons are important for you .
To conclude this section, you can check this article to learn how to craft a compelling answer to the “why consulting?” question.
Next, “Why Bain?” : This question evaluates your motivation to join Bain&Company.
I have explained in this article how to have a compelling answer to this question.
Behavioral Interview Questions
- Describe a challenging situation when you have had to work hard to achieve something, in a limited time, outside your comfort zone
- Tell me about a time when you have had to work with someone with an opposing opinion
- Describe the greatest challenge you have had to overcome when working effectively together with a group of people
Watch the video on this page to see Bain’s examples of the experience interview.
Hence, be prepared to go into detail and explain your options, your decisions (and why), what was difficult, what you enjoyed the most, etc.
Be Exceptionally Structured: The Case Interview
The case interview is another problem-solving test.
Bain believes the best way to assess your problem-solving skills is to discuss a real client scenario with you .
This helps them understand how you structure tough, ambiguous business challenges, identify important issues, deal with all the implications of facts and data, formulate conclusions and recommendations, and articulate your thoughts in a fast-moving discussion.
For instance, you can watch this that outlines what to expect during the case interviews:
Besides what is outlined in the above video, you can watch what a real interview looks like in the next video:
Interviewer-Led vs. Candidate-Led Interviews
The Bain-style case interview follows the candidate-led case study interview format .
What does that mean?
First, your interviewer will present a problem .
After asking clarifying questions, you must structure an approach to solve this problem.
Secondly, it is up to you to determine the course of the conversation – with some help from the interviewer.
Here are the steps Bain evaluates:
- Problem structuring – organize the problem into an issue tree
- Hypothesis – direct the conversation by choosing a logical path to follow
- Analysis – review a graph and synthesize information relevant to the client
- Quantitative analysis – solve a simple mathematical calculation without a calculator and synthesize the results for the client
- Synthesis – the partner or client CEO is in the elevator with you. What do you recommend they do?
Your interviewer knows the details you learn by asking good questions.
But don’t worry.
The interviewer won’t let you get stuck.
Good examples of interviewer-led cases can be found in the sample cases on the Bain website.
Furthermore, you can read my free case interview guide .
Other consulting firms, such as McKinsey & Company, might use interviewer-led case study interviews , in which the interviewer asks a series of formal questions about the case.
The Bain Written Case Interview
Bain gives some candidates – depending on the office – a written case study.
It’s not an essay .
You’ll craft two handwritten slides.
Bain believes some candidates do better when offered extra time to formulate thoughts.
The written case study is a chance to use the extra time to demonstrate your problem-solving skills .
Your interviewer will give you 20-30 PowerPoint slides .
You can ask your interviewer questions.
You’ll then have 55 minutes to craft a recommendation.
One slide will show your recommendation , and another for your rationale .
Your interviewer will then discuss your recommendations with you for 40 minutes.
My advice to you is the same as with the candidate-led case study interviews.
But with extra time, you should strengthen your argument by considering alternatives and counter-arguments .
Keith Bevans, Bain’s global head of recruiting, talks about the written case study in this video.
Bain Wants You To Succeed
Unlike in many industries, management consulting firms tell you exactly how to interview.
The challenge is meeting Bain’s level of excellence.
To help you and other candidates meet baseline expectations, Bain provides these resources to candidates :
- Job-level specific advice
- Two interactive practice case interviews
- Mock interview examples at the Associate Consultant and Consultant levels
I want you to succeed, too: you can find a list of 250+ practice cases on this page.
Related article : 11 must-know frameworks to ace your case interviews.
You’re Almost Done: Ask the Interviewer Great Questions
You’ve made it through the behavioral and case study portions.
Now, the interviewer asks if you have any questions.
Bain is genuinely interested in your questions. Interviewers want to know you are passionate about consulting and working at Bain & Company.
Here are some ideas for great questions:
- Make a connection with your interviewer . Ask questions about their background and their current work that interest you
- Explore the culture of the office at which you are interviewing
- Clarify the structure of the office, Bain, or client engagements
You can read this article to build your list of smart questions to ask at the end of your interviews.
The Infamous Blacklist: Does It Exist? And How to Overcome It
The jury is out on if there is a Bain blacklist.
Here’s what I do know: only apply if you are ready to interview .
Remember, management consulting is a destination job for university programs and experienced hires.
Competition is strong .
For instance, if you do not pass the interviews, consulting firms will request you wait 12-18 months until you reapply .
Even then, Bain & Company may want to see a significant career change as evidence your skills have improved to pass another set of interviews, such as through a graduate degree, significant promotion, or work at a top-tier company.
Don’t dwell on the question of the blacklist, but remember, competition is tough.
Be confident before you interview.
Offered an interview but not feeling ready? I can help you prepare in as little as 4 weeks .
The Bain Recruitment Process: Conclusion
To conclude, you now better understand the essentials of the Bain & Company interview process.
Curious about the recruitment process for other top firms? Read more here:
- Boston Consulting Group
Now I want to hear from you:
Do you have any questions about the process?
With which part of the process do you struggle the most?
Leave a comment below.
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A wonderful and exceptionally accurate precis of the recruitment journey. I can attest to that from first hand knowledge.
Well done Sebastian
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