When we first spoke to Keith Bevans from Bain & Company in the summer of 2013, he had recently been appointed the company’s head of global recruiting. Three years later, Bevans says that Bain’s summer associate class for 2016 will be the largest the company has ever had. Bain is also hiring interns from a more diverse pool of business schools and countries as a result of two new webinar series. One of the main things Bevans is focused on is communicating the two things that he thinks makes Bain unique: the ability to have an impact on clients and its supportive work environment. In this interview, Bevans, a 20-year Bain employee and HBS graduate, discusses his views on what makes Bain an attractive company to work for, as well as the company looks for in its MBA hires.
This summer's associate class will be Bain’s largest. Why is that?
We've continued to grow well into the double digits for the past two decades. The underlying strength of the business is why the associate program is continuing to grow. The strength and growth of our business is continuing to increase our appetite for finding the best talent out there.
When we hire summer MBA interns our goal is that 100% of our interns get offers to return full-time at the end of the summer. We've consistently been well over 90%. The vast majority of students who get offers accept their offer and return full-time.
Every intern that I hire is based on who I'm looking to hire full-time. In some ways, I'm getting an early lead by hiring for the summer, because my hope is that it's one less person that I need to hire full-time later. The good news is that, because of our growth, we've had our largest intern classes and our largest hiring classes.
When you were interviewed by TopMBA.com three years ago, you had recently been appointment Bain's head of global recruiting. Has the hiring strategy changed since then?
It's not a change per se, but we've put more effort around conveying what makes Bain a special place to work for students who are interested in consulting.
We think that we're unique in the sense that while we are solving some of the toughest problems for our clients, we're also really focused on having an impact. We're not out to just study problems or collect logos for our website. What we're actually after is doing work where we can have a tremendous impact through our day-to-day efforts. That's really important to the people that choose to work at Bain.
In addition to the focus on impact, the other thing I think that makes us special is Bain’s tremendously supportive culture and environment. Working at Bain is not just about what you can do to help the client. It's also about what can we do at the firm to help your professional development. This is true whether you choose to work at Bain for 20 years like I have or you choose to do it for a few years before going to work for another company. That combination of having an impact while working in an environment where your colleagues and the firm itself are tremendously supportive is unique.
Our recruitment strategy has been to convey why that combination is special and why that combination is unique to Bain. As I think about all the things that we've done from an outreach perspective and from a communication perspective with recruits, conveying that message is probably the biggest thing that we've tried to double down on in the last couple years.
How do you think Bain's hiring needs will change in the future?
The strength of our business has led us to hire more and more people each year. I don't see that changing anytime soon. The business is tremendously strong.
What I would say is that – and this is good news for your readers – the strength of our business and the appetite that we have for hiring new people has led us to recruit from an even broader set of business school programs.
We are doing a series of webinars called Bain Strategies where we discuss our intellectual property, how our staffing model works and the different aspects of the firm culture online for a much broader audience.
We also have a web series called Bain Passport. Bain Passport has all 53 offices around the world running webinars to talk about the business in their region share a little bit of the case work that they've been doing with, again, a broader audience.
We said, "We're going to need to hire people from a broad background." It's no longer practical to visit every campus and do the big events we host on some of the larger business school campuses. Yet, we absolutely have to find a way to attract talent from schools that have great people that may not be able to meet us in person at one of our bigger events. That's why Bain Passport and Bain Strategies have become an important part of our casting a wider net.
We also have programs such as Connect with Bain where all of the offices around the system host conference calls and live events for people who are getting into business school so they can get educated about Bain and Company. The webinar topics don't just cover our intellectual property like our gender parity research. They also cover the ethics of the firm, how do you work in a team, what the career path looks like. We have different panels, not just presentations.
Are you finding that the webinars are allowing you to recruit MBAs from a wider variety of schools and regions?
Each time we do these webinars we're seeing a broader set of schools represented. I'm thrilled to see some really great students from schools where we typically haven't met students before.
Last year at the Chicago office – my home office – we had interns from at least three schools where we haven't been able to identify the top talent in the past. The webinars were an important part of us doing that. I suspect that the webinars will be an important part of our strategy going forward, because there are lots of talented students out there.
Through Bain Strategies and Bain Passport, we're also seeing students getting introduced to Bain from all around the world, not just the US. I think it's easy for people sitting in the US to focus purely on US business schools. The fact is that there are a lot of great business schools around the world. The webinars have become a great way for us to meet students in different countries such as Hong Kong, the Netherlands and the UK and get to know them.
Do you find that Bain is hiring more graduates from distance and online programs than they have in years past?
We haven't seen as many students coming through those channels as we would have expected back in 2013.
What we are seeing is a lot more interest from students with different educational backgrounds. We're certainly seeing a continued increase in our part-time MBA program applicants which has become a very important source of candidates for us. We're also seeing what I would say are hybrid majors, such as Masters of Science in Analytics or big data or digital type degrees.
But, I wouldn't say that we're seeing people who are applying from purely online or distance learning MBA programs.
Why do you think so many MBAs want to work for Bain?
The biggest reason that I keep hearing from campuses all across the country as well Europe and Asia is twofold. One, I think applicants understand the value of that I discussed earlier in terms of going someplace where they can have an impact while also being supported.
They're making a big investment to attend an MBA program. My advice to students is after you've spent that much money investing in your education and, in many cases, taken time out of the workforce to get that education, you owe it to yourself to challenge yourself to go out and do more than just take a job. You should go someplace where you can have an impact.
I challenge students to think about the next step in their career in that way, but that's scary and that's risky. I encourage them to not just go someplace where they can take a risk and have that impact instead of having a stable job, but go to someplace where all incentives are aligned for them to get the help that they need to really thrive at the company they choose to join. That is one of the things that I think attracts students to us.
Now, the other piece of it is that I think they look at what our alumni do. When they look at the list, they see that people stay at Bain for their entire careers. It tends to be a very sustainable career path because of the types of people that we hire and the type of support that we provide. You also see people move into expert roles internally working with our practice areas and becoming practice managers, consultants and directors. People who have an inclination toward a specific industry can do a few years in the product-facing side and then take an internal role working on a knowledge team.
Candidates also look and see where our alumni go. You also see a wide variety of companies represented across our alumni pool including: startups, mid-sized companies, large companies, private equity, nonprofits, and nonprofit startups. Our alumni network is really tight. In a lot of ways, it's an extension of the supportive community that you experience when you're working at Bain. You feel that the minute you start thinking about doing something different in terms of the outreach and support that you get from alumni. I think people realize that the combination of all of those things mean that there is certainly value in the foundation you start with as you leave business school and transition back into the workforce.
What do you look for when evaluating a candidate’s résumé and work experience?
There are three things that we look for when evaluating résumés.
One is academic background. We're looking for evidence of analytic skill and just raw horsepower. That includes where they went to school, their overall academics, GMAT scores and things like that. What we're really looking is some indication that they have the talent to do what it takes to be successful analytically.
The second thing that we look for is leadership. We look for people who have led organizations or events and are leaders amongst their peers. Leaders are responsible for making sure that things happen – no excuses. When you're planning a conference and your speaker's plane is delayed, you have to make decisions on the fly to compensate which requires leadership and creativity.
When we're working with our clients and we're working on our case teams, there are always surprises. A competitor does something in the market that you read about and that changes the nature of what you were working on. The data comes through and it's incomplete or it's complete but says something different than what you expected. We hire people who have been in leadership positions because they tend to have that experience rolling with the punches and coming up with creative ways to compensate for them.
We also look for work experience. I think what's surprising to a lot of people is the diversity of backgrounds of people that Bain hires. When you have the analytical skills and you have the leadership skills, you can actually apply those in a lot of different ways. We'll see people who were your typical former consultants and former managers, but we'll also see people who have corporate jobs, people who were school teachers. In the Chicago office, we've had people who were musicians prior to attending business school. The diversity of backgrounds for people that we hire is actually quite strong. What we're looking for with work experience is stability and career progression as well as a certain amount of professional maturity in terms of being able to come into a corporate environment, especially when you talk about our clients.
One thing that is always interesting to me when I read résumés is how people talk about their jobs. To me, there's a difference between telling me what you did and telling me why I should care. Telling me that you studied this industry or published reports is interesting. What's more interesting and more compelling to me, however, is when candidates that talk about their work experience in a way that shows that they were results oriented and trying to have an impact. That's really what I'm looking for in the professional experience part of a résumé. Are they telling me what they did and what impact they had or is it a list of tasks they did every day for a couple of years? That differentiates people. It tells me who will come into Bain and have an impact on the client work.
Regardless of your past career, it's the results orientation that matters. It doesn’t matter if you were a teacher, an engineer, a chef or somebody who worked in finance. Just telling me that you taught your subject or you published a weekly report and managed an operation that had 50 people is very different than saying that you improved the efficiency of the manufacturing line you were running by 5% or that when you were a teacher in a classroom your student test scores improved by X%. That results orientation tells me a lot about what gets you motivated to come to work every day. The people who are motivated and have an impact and have meaningful, tangible results they can speak about are the people that Bain wants.
What are the most common mistakes MBAs make when applying for jobs at Bain?
I think the most common mistake is not taking the time to review all of the content that we put out there in our webinars and live events (when applicable). There are differences between the firms – all of the firms. It’s important that candidates understand why Bain is a great fit for them and why it's the next step in their career
For example, I think a lot of people want to do consulting because their classmates are doing it and they think the project work and variety is interesting. That's true and that's necessary, but not sufficient. There is a difference to the way Bain does its work and it's a difference worth understanding.
Our consultants work within the highest levels of an organization. They work with the CEO and COO to explain the data and explain what the answer is. Our consultants also have the humility to go down to the frontline teams and explain to them what we think the answer is and ask them for their insights, how they would adjust the answer so it can actually work in the real world.
I like to say that Bain hires people that are bilingual. They can speak to the CEO in the c-suite, but they can also speak to the person on the shop floor on the front lines actually creating the product. The ability to do both of those things is unique to Bain. We hire people that thrive in an environment that allows them to use both of those skill sets. We believe that gets to a better answer which has a real impact, because it's not just something that sits at headquarters in the boardroom. It's something that's vetted, something that's been embraced by the front line. I think recruits who are really doing their homework and getting to know the differences between the firms see that as something unique to Bain and it attracts them to Bain.
The common mistake that people make is not taking the time to understand the nuances between the firms. At a very cursory level, it looks like consulting – it's variety, it's project-based, it's strategic. But when you peel away the layers, you start to see all of the subtle differences.
Bain people are fanatical about coming up with the most creative, best answer and being able to explain it to the most senior people at the client company. But we're also fanatical about communicating it in a way that drives real impact to the people who are doing the work on the front line.
There are two other, smaller things that are worth mentioning. The first one is the mistake of talking to dozens of people in the office they're interested in before they apply. That tends to be draining for both of us. I think that the anxiety is probably a big driver there. But just getting to know the differences between firms, writing a good cover letter and résumé, and submitting your application is enough.
The other one is over preparing for cases. A lot of MBAs will do 50 to 100 cases before they interview, so they come across as overly rehearsed and scripted. What we prefer is people who have clearly done some of their homework and preparation, but are comfortable coming in and discussing a business situation in the interview. A little bit of practice over a long time is better than cramming nonstop for a month or two before an interview. The difference shows.
What does Bain expect from its interns? What can they do to increase their chances of getting a full-time position?
We want 100% of our interns to get full-time offers at the end of the summer. Therefore, we do everything we can to make sure that the summer is successful.
The interns that are the most successful come in understanding that we want them to work hard, and have a real impact on their clients.
We want them to get to know people. There is a social component to the summer which is great. It's a chance for them to get to know Bain people a little bit more closely (whether it's the office or the other interns) and participate in social aspects of the program so they can really get to know their coworkers (both interns and full-time) on a more personal level.
I think the most successful interns are able to do that and also recognize it's work. It takes a lot of effort and energy to get good at the job over time. All of the resources are there to help them do that over the ten-week summer. Coming into the internship with that mindset is really important.
What can they do to increase their chances of getting a full-time position?
Having the humility to learn from the people around you is really important during the summer. I think the most successful MBAs realize that, yes, they may be at a top MBA program and they may be one year in and they got an internship that's very difficult to get. However, that second-year analyst that's sitting next to them actually has been doing the job for two years and is really good at the job and can actually help them with their job even though they're only two years out of undergrad. I think that humility of saying, "When we're having a case team meeting, anyone with an idea or smart question is a potential teacher, mentor and coach", that mindset, translates to people when they become full time. They realize that the person who is working on the salesforce who never graduated college, but is a tremendously successful salesperson actually has something to say – something that you might be able to learn from that might actually help the answer get better. Realizing that you can learn something from everyone around you in every situation that you're in is a really important part of succeeding in this job.
We can see that when people come in for the summer and how they approach the rest of the team and the rest of their colleagues. We tend to hire people that are tremendously gifted and talented but also have an equal measure of humility. I think that combination is the hallmark of Bain folks. They are really sharp and really great at what they do, but they are also really humble in the way they approach it.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I think we're at that time of year for students who are entering business school are about to take a big leap of faith in their own abilities as well as the program that they're joining. We try to meet them at that point of the leap with our Connect with Bain program which is a program that connects people entering business school programs with our Bain offices around the world. We have had several students join us for the summer and then full-time after participating in that. It's just a good way for them to get to know us and what we're about. What's great is that there are also students who go to Connect with Bain and decide that consulting is not the fit for them.
When I think about where we're at in the recruiting season for your readers who are going to business school this fall, Connect with Bain is a tremendous opportunity for them to learn more about consulting and more about Bain so they can spend their time more wisely when they get to campus this fall.