The Bain Case Interview: Everything You Need to Know to Pass

The Bain Case Interview Everything You Need to Know to Pass
Davis Nguyen
Davis Nguyen

Former Bain Consultant, Founder of My Consulting Offer

Bain is one of the consulting firms that our case prep clients are most interested in working with and for good reason. The company tackles some of the toughest business problems for top global corporations and has a significant presence in the private equity market. But passing the Bain case interview and the personal experience interview is tough.

As a former Bain consultant, I can tell you what the Bain interview process looks like and what their interviewers look for in candidates. Read more to find out how to prepare so you have the best shot possible at landing that Bain offer!

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What sets Bain apart?
  • What does Bain look for?
  • The Bain interview process.
  • The Bain case interview, including a case interview example.
  • The Bain personal experience interview.
  • The Bain written case.
  • 5 tips for passing your Bain interview.

Let’s get started!

What Sets Bain Apart?

Though Bain is the youngest and smallest of the top 3 strategy consulting firms (referred to as MBB which is short for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain), it has managed to set itself apart and is rated as one of the best places to work.

Why?

Relentless focus on delivering results. Bain aims to “set new standards of excellence” in their clients’ industries through the work they do. As a Bain consultant, you’ll be taught to drive your clients to a decision and to take action, not to just provide them with nice research and fancy charts.

Strong work and professional relationships. At Bain, people help each other out, within and outside peer groups. An unofficial Bain philosophy is “A Bainie never lets another Bainie fail.” This means if you are up late debugging your model and need help, someone will answer your call whether from within your team or outside your team. Regular training led exclusively by fellow Bainies around the world and firm-wide events like the Bain World Cup (the annual global soccer tournament) build a strong firm culture.

Local staffing model. At Bain, you work largely with people from your home office. This can make it easier to build tight, long-term relationships. This is distinct from McKinsey’s global staffing model or BCG’s regional model.

Growth & development opportunities. Bain has a generalist staffing model. Consultants typically don’t specialize in a particular sector or function until well after business school, though if you are especially interested in one area there may still be an opportunity to dig in, especially if your home office serves that industry. This generalist approach provides an opportunity to learn to crack any problem in any industry, function area, and business model.

Because of this, if you are set on focusing on a specific sector or function, have a candid conversation with your recruiter to see if that is realistic to expect in the office you are recruiting into. Also keep note that due to the local staffing model, you will likely be serving the industries in your region, so make sure the region you select is aligned to your interests.

Strong Private Equity practice. Getting exposure to Private Equity is easy as a Bainie.  A rotation in the Private Equity practice will provide you with hands-on experience and sharpen your business and research fundamentals super fast. Bain is also known for having great exit opportunities and can help you springboard into private equity or investing.

For more information on what sets Bain apart read Why Bain? What Bain’s Culture Is Like & Why Work There. For more information about Bain’s culture check out Bain’s Career website.

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What Does Bain Look for in Candidates?

Similar to the other top management consulting firms, Bain hires people who are passionate about solving transformative challenges for industry leaders and disruptors. Bain generally looks for candidates who possess analytical, interpersonal, creative thinking, business management, and leadership skills.

If you want your application to stand out, ensure that you highlight the following skills that Bain specifically looks for.

  • Entrepreneurial spirit: You don’t have to have started your own business venture while attending college, but you do need to be relentless in your pursuit of “the answer” and maybe a little scrappy when the data’s not available. A great way to demonstrate this in an interview is to tell a story of when you led a team through uncertainty or had to make a timely decision with limited information.
  • Ability to lead and work with a team: Bainies invest a lot in ensuring team members understand each others’ working styles and are set up to support each others’ success. They want to see that you’ve been an involved member of your community, ideally in a leadership role. This does not have to be a business leadership role. It can be a university sports team or club.Bainies look to hire folks they genuinely want to spend time with and they are known for building lasting friendships outside of work. They look for people who are smart and hardworking AND well rounded — candidates who excel in their studies and other interests.
  • “Nose for value”: Bain looks for candidates who can spot the critical path issues, and know when the information is sufficient to make a decision or recommendation. You should possess analytical skills but know when “good enough is good enough” and understand when to stop and transition to synthesis and recommendation.
  • Results/impact-oriented: Candidates should be able to infer the “so what” of any conclusion for the client. As you generate interim insights on your cases, tie them back to what that implies for the emerging answer and therefore for what you might expect to recommend to the client when the case wraps up.

The Bain Interview Process

Bain Case Interview: Interview Process

Bain’s interviews are designed to stimulate productive discussions and help your interviewers get a better sense of you as a candidate. The type and number of interviews will vary depending on the office. Typically, Bain’s interview process consists of 2 – 3 rounds of interviews:

  • First round: 2 back-to-back interviews with consultants
  • Second round: 2-3 back-to-back case interviews with partners

There is sometimes a third round of interviews that’s comprised of one interview with a partner.

These interviews consist of case interviews, experience interviews, and in some offices, Written Case Interviews. In the following sections, you will get insight on how to prepare for each of these interviews. 

At Bain, all consulting role candidates (and some non-consulting roles) can expect a case interview, regardless of which office they apply to. The Bain case interview is an open conversation around real issues facing their clients. It provides your interviewer an opportunity to understand your approach to problem-solving and how you communicate your ideas.

Bain case interviews are challenging and to pass them, you’ll need to start practicing early. Bain is less focused on getting the “right answer” and more focused on having a structured approach to solving the problem. This is because with a structured approach, you can solve any problem.

Here are 4 steps to help you structure your approach to case interviews:

  • Step 1: Opening – Understand the client’s problem. If you do not understand the client’s business and the problem they are trying to solve from the start, you may spend a lot of time answering the wrong question. Repeat the case problem to your interviewer after they have described the case to ensure that you understand it. Ask initial questions to deepen your understanding.

  • Step 2: Structure – Outline your approach to solving the problem. Take a moment to consider your approach to solving the case and use this time to write down any additional information you’ll need. You can leverage business frameworks or, better yet, develop your own structure for solving the problem. Share your approach with the interviewer. Suggest an area of your approach to focus on first and seek your interviewer’s feedback on that starting point. Listen for feedback from them on any other part of your approach as well.

  • Step 3: Analysis – Drill down on issues in your structured approach & do case math. Start your analysis by going through the issues you outlined in step 2 one by one. Ask questions of your interviewer and identify insights based on the information you receive. Be proactive, driving towards a solution to the client’s problem.

  • Step 4: Recommendation – Summarize your recommendation for the client Conclude the interview with a logical summary outlining the case problem, the synthesis or “so what” from your analysis, and your key conclusions. Remember that you have to convince your interviewer that these conclusions will solve the client’s problem or provide an opportunity, so be persuasive and use the case information.

For more information on preparing for a case interview, read our Comprehensive Guide to Case Interview Prep.

Key Characteristics of Bain Case Interviews

Bain case interviews are interviewee-led (or candidate-led). The interviewer presents an open-ended case situation to the candidate and the candidate drives the approach to solving the case in a structured manner. You’ll be expected to structure the key topics to be analyzed, then pick where to start the analysis (unless the interviewer suggests a different start point), and drive the case all the way to final recommendations.

Read more about interviewee-led case interviews in our article, Interviewer vs. Interviewee-Led Case Interviews: What’s Different?

Additionally, Bain case interviews have a quantitative focus and typically involve market entry or profitability.

A Bain Case Interview Example

Client background: Your client is a Private Equity firm that specializes in investing in eCommerce primarily in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. They are interested in expanding into Africa due to the growth in the number of eCommerce firms in the region and customer demand. In particular, they’re considering acquiring the third-largest general eCommerce company in the region. The African market shows a lot of potential but there is uncertainty about profitability in the market and the growth potential.

Bain Case Interview Step 1: Opening

Repeat your understanding of the client’s business and problem to the interviewer. Make sure to ask any clarifying questions, for example:

  • What countries in Africa would the firm want to look at?
  • What is the target company’s business model and what countries does it do business in?
  • What does success look like for entering the regional market? For the acquisition?
  • Other than uncertainty about profitability in the market and potential for growth, are there any other concerns?

Bain Case Interview Step 2: Structure

Take a moment to think about your approach and how you would structure your analysis of this problem. Before reading ahead, write down your approach and compare it to our solution.

Here’s one potential approach:

Strategic considerations

  • Is the African eCommerce market favorable overall?
    • Current market size
    • Historical growth
    • Projected growth (projected market size)
    • Competitive dynamics
      • Is the market fragmented vs concentrated?
      • Is there a way to clearly differentiate yourself?
    • Other trends (e.g., delivery infrastructure, consumer preferences, penetration of credit cards/debit cards/mobile money)
  • Is the target general eCommerce company attractive?
    • Is the target’s market share meaningful compared to others and/or trending upwards?
      • Historical trends
      • Projected
    • Is the target’s offering well positioned within the market?
      • Are product(s) differentiated vs competitors on aspects customers care most about?
      • Does the customer base view the products favorably?
      • Is the customer base sticky (high switching costs)?
    • Is it positioned well in the most attractive African markets?
    • What is our exit strategy and potential ROI?
  • Is the target general eCommerce company a good first acquisition for our client’s portfolio?
    • Is there a strategic reason to bring them into our portfolio?
    • Do we have specific expertise that can drive value from this acquisition?
    • Are there any synergies with other companies already in our portfolio?
    • Is this a sector we want to learn something specific about?
  • Are there any other considerations or risks?
    • e.g., regulatory, macro-economic, etc.

You typically only have a few minutes to come up with and lay out your structure and it’s not expected that you cover all aspects. However, it is good to demonstrate that you have covered the most important ones in a structured manner.

Bain Case Interview Step 3: Analysis

After you’ve laid out your structure, the interviewer will prompt you to dive deeper into the various strategic considerations you’ve mentioned. Ask relevant questions, make logical assumptions about the market, and tie back what you learn to the main question you’re trying to answer. While it’s not necessary to have industry-specific knowledge to pass Bain interviews, if you do have content knowledge that can help you draw relevant conclusions, do draw on it. (E.g., “I know that in a lot of emerging markets, credit card penetration is low, but I’ve also read that Africa has a high adoption of mobile money. For this reason, I would expect the consumer behavior trends to be in our client’s favor.”)

Remember, you are driving the interview. Once the interviewer is happy with your structure, move on to the next logical step. In this case, it is to analyze how big the market is. You can ask the interviewer if they have any data on the market.

Suppose your interviewer tells you that total household consumption in Africa is $1.5 trillion and asks you to size the market for eCommerce purchases in Nigeria, Egypt, and East Africa based on that. Before you look at the answer, take a moment to consider how you would approach this calculation.

Number needed

How to Get it

Answer

Total household consumption in Africa

 

$ 1.5 trillion

% African household consumption in 3 regions of interest to the client (Nigeria, Egypt, and East Africa)

Candidates may assume that Nigeria, Egypt, and East Africa as a region, represent about half of the continent’s economy (the actual percentage is 40%)

50%

Total household consumption in 3 regions of interest to the client (Nigeria, Egypt, and East Africa)

Total household consumption * % of consumption in 3 regions/countries

$750 billion

% consumption driven by internet / eCommerce

Candidates can assume that this is still a young market for eCommerce

5%

Current size of the eCommerce market in Nigeria, Egypt, and East Africa

Total household consumption in the 3 regions * % driven by eCommerce

$ 37.5 Billion

There are different ways to calculate the current market size and the above is just an illustration. The key thing is to remember to have a methodical and structured approach to your analysis and to verbally “show your work.”

A potential follow-up analysis could look at the target eCommerce company’s attractiveness and map its operations to the countries where the African eCommerce market is growing.

Bain Case Interview Step 4: Conclusion

Say that from further analysis you identify that the African eCommerce market will have an annual growth rate of 15%, that the client’s target company is attractive, and that the target operates in two of the three countries where eCommerce is growing most quickly. So what? When your client comes back and asks you about your findings and recommendations, what will you tell them?

Your conclusion should start with your recommendation to the client and provide evidence from your analysis that supports that recommendation. You should also consider any risks of pursuing this course of action that the client should be aware of as well as next steps to pursue this path.

A sample conclusion could sound like this:

“I recommend that assuming favorable deal terms, you invest in this target to expand into Africa, specifically into Nigeria, Egypt, and East Africa initially, because those are the largest economies, before expanding to the rest of the continent. The target is attractive because it has a growing market share and a highly-differentiated product. The market is attractive because the expected growth of eCommerce is 15% in these three regions and the target is well-positioned in the strongest country-level markets. There is potential for even higher growth given that household consumption and internet penetration are low and expected to grow at a very fast rate due to the growing middle class.

“One risk to be aware of is that last-mile logistics infrastructure in the region is more nascent than in many of the markets where our client has invested in the past. A next step I would focus on is the target’s operating model and whether they have an approach that serves customers well in the local context and has the flexibility and creativity to deliver in markets where infrastructure is still being built.”

The Bain Fit Interview (a.k.a Bain Experience Interview)

Bain’s fit interview provides an opportunity for the interviewer to learn about your accomplishments, understand your motivations and passions, and understand why you want to be a consultant at Bain. Bain wants to understand who you are so that they can assess whether you will fit in with the organization and succeed as a consultant.

Here are some tips for preparing for Bain’s experience interview:

  • Read their website to find out what they look for in candidates, view consultant profiles, and go through the sample Bain experience questions.
  • Prepare your stories to answer common experience questions before your interview.
  • Keep a healthy balance between talking about “me” and talking about “the team” in questions about team results. It’s important to show where you led the work, but equally important to show you are happy to work as a team and share credit where it’s due.
  • Expect follow-up questions to your stories. Be prepared to go into deeper detail.
  • Practice your stories to ensure they are tight, that your answers are structured, and that you are confident in your storytelling.

For common experience interview questions and more details on how to prepare, read our article The Bain Experience Interview.

The Bain Written Case

Bain Case Interview: Written Case Interview

At Bain, several offices use written case interviews as part of the consultant and summer associate interview process. They’re used mainly in European and Asian offices, not in North America. They are used for final round interviews and not first round interviews.

The written case interview is an extension of the traditional interview; you’ll receive key questions, facts about the case, and be given some time to develop your recommendations before you meet with your interviewer.

  • Bain will provide you with 20-30 PowerPoint slides describing a client’s situation.
  • You will have ~55 minutes to identify key insights and write recommendation(s) before the interview.
  • You will have 40 minutes to present and discuss your recommendation(s) with your interviewer.

Similar to a traditional case interview, the interviewer may challenge your assumptions or interpretation of the facts in order to see how you might handle a real client situation.

Read our article on Written Case Interviews for more information. You can also visit Bain’s career website.

5 Tips for Passing Your Bain Interview

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Own Structure

Don’t use rote case structures to solve Bain case interviews. Bain interviewers like to see a little original thinking and creativity, so be sure to tailor your framework to the case. A Bain interviewer would rather see a simple framework that shows you thought about this case specifically than something “fancy” you memorized from a book. Read our article on Case Interview Frameworks for tips on using and developing frameworks.

2. Be Authentic

Bainies care about who their colleagues are outside of work. During your experience interviews, don’t be shy about speaking about your non-academic accomplishments and interests. Be sure to be friendly and collegial with the interviewer. (This can actually help calm nerves.) They are looking not only for poise and polish but also whether you will be an enjoyable, positive teammate – even if you have to pull an unexpected late evening in the team room. And Bain interviewers really want to see candidates succeed. Going in with that knowledge also builds confidence.

3. Make Sure You’re at the Bar on Each Part of the Bain Interview

Always ask your case partners for detailed feedback on the various parts of the case and act on that feedback. Review past cases you’ve done and rehearse with a live partner. Practice! Practice! Practice! Get comfortable doing math fast and accurately, reading exhibits, and coming up with structured answers on the go.

4. Embody a Bain Consultant

Demonstrate your ability to solve a business problem in collaboration with someone. During your interview, walk your interviewer through your thought process and any assumptions you make. Imagine that this is a real-life consulting project and act as though they are your teammate.

5. Consider “80/20”

Don’t be so detail-oriented or perfectionistic that it slows you down. When time and information are limited, an important skill is to know what information is most important and invest your limited time in digging for that. Feel empowered to round numbers where you need to, make assumptions, and take your interviewer through them. Remember you don’t “need to boil the ocean” find a sound answer or approach.

 – – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Bain’s unique culture, growth and development opportunities, and client focus set the firm apart from other management consulting firms.
  • Skills that Bain is looking for in candidates.
  • Bain’s interview process, including the traditional case, written case interview, and experience or fit interview.
  • MCO’s top 5 tips on acing your Bain case interview.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the Bain case interview, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people prepping for the Bain interview process found the following pages helpful:

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