MBA Recruiter Interview: Keith Bevans, Bain & Company

Discover what attributes Bain & Company look for in their MBAs

The last time we spoke with Keith Bevans, the chief recruiter at the prestigious Bain & Company consultancy, in 2016, his summer associate class was on track to be the largest ever. This year Bevans plans to match that feat and recruit north of 200 summer associates, most of whom will be MBAs. It is not just recruitment targets — which have grown every year for the past six years that Bevans, a Harvard graduate and former engineer, has been in the job — which have changed. 

Bain is hiring consultants from a more diverse pool of business schools and from countries outside the US. INSEAD of France and Singapore was its top source of talent in 2017, Bevans says from the seventh floor of the firm’s plush London office. Bain’s business growth — last year global annual revenue was up 2.2% to $2.3 billion, according to Forbes — coupled with flat business school student populations have led the elite firm to recruit from a wider range of degrees than in the past, too, he claims. Bevans reckons Bain will hire more Master’s in Management (MiM) graduates in 2018.

He says: “At the associate consultant and consultant level, our growth has outstripped most of the campuses we recruit from. We need to start looking for other pools of talent, which could be the MiM. As a result of those degrees becoming more popular, we will see more students from those programs in our process, and I would expect us to hire more as a result.”

Students who apply for jobs at Bain are also becoming savvier. The firm’s recruitment process is challenging and highly competitive. Would-be consultants must compile a stand-out resume and cover letter, dazzle during interviews and crack a case. Bain is the fifth toughest firm globally to secure a job at, says Glassdoor.

Students know this, which is why they are showing up to interviews more informed and inquisitive, according to Bevans. Business schools’ career departments are educating them better and students know they must stand out from the competition to secure a job. “Online forums are playing a bigger role in the process. Students can go online and read articles about our recruitment process or case studies, or engage with people working at the firm.”

Campus recruitment has changed as a result. “When I joined the firm 20 years ago, we would pummel you with an hour-long PowerPoint presentation followed by cocktails. Now it’s 15-20 minutes of presentation followed by a panel discussion or a live Q&A. It’s more interactive.”

What is Bain looking for in an MBA hire? What can you do to stand out in the process and secure a coveted job at the consultancy? Read on to find out.

 

Can knowing more about the firm help students differentiate from other candidates?

Keith Bevans, chief recruiter at the prestigious Bain & Company consultancy explains why he expects to hire 200 MBA interns this summerIt is a differentiator later in the process. If you come to interviews and ask basic questions, that might not play so well. But a lot of people come to business school to change careers, so we are a new industry for a lot of people. Tomorrow I’ll be on campus at LBS and will meet students who are three months into school. They will ask basic questions because they are still building up their fact base and they shouldn’t be afraid to do so. I don’t want to scare anyone off! But by the time second year recruiting comes around, you expect students to have more nuanced questions about the firm.

 

How do you think Bain’s hiring needs will change in the future? 

Our MBA hiring targets will grow: as you grow the business you have to grow the number of teams; if you grow the number of teams you have to grow the number of people you hire. Then, you have to grow the number of managers who oversee those teams, which means I have to invest in every single new hire like they are a future leader in our firm. That’s more of a necessity now.

What we are seeing across Bain, globally, is us hiring a more diverse set of people for groups like our Advanced Analytics Group. We see us hiring people into our Advanced Digital Products Team who bring an entirely different set of skills to the table. Those people tend to not be our MBA hires, but you are seeing us hire more data scientists and designers. What’s different about Bain is that we bring those specialists into our case teams. Consultants will learn from working alongside them. 

 

Why do so many MBAs want to work at Bain? 

A lot of them understand the skillset they will get when they work at Bain. They are attracted to, and are excited by, the prospect of working harder than they’ve ever worked on problems that are more challenging than they’ve ever seen before in business. That’s exciting to a lot of students, and the prospect of being able to have a huge impact on something very early in their careers. In some ways getting the opportunity to do that right out of school is validation that the investment they made in getting an MBA, was worth it. 

They are also attracted by the fact that we don’t make them specialize right away; they can be a generalist and get exposure to lots of different industries. So, they are building a solid business foundation for their career. Students appreciate that. And working in a truly team-based environment. 

 

What attributes do you look for in consultants? 

From a resume standpoint, we’re looking for people who are academically very good — the GPAs, the test scores. We’re also looking for people with a certain level of professional maturity, at the MBA level. That means they’ve had some type of professional work experience, which does not have to be in consulting. But they need to understand what it’s like to come and work in a corporate environment, and in client services. And lastly, we look for demonstrated leadership — can you make it happen? Can you cope with ambiguity?  

In the interview process, I’m looking for your ability to engage with a business problem in a structured way, and to do the analysis, and communicate a coherent insight. 

 

What are the most common mistakes MBAs have made when applying for jobs at Bain?

In the application process, students should have evidence to back up the claims they make about themselves. When we read a student’s cover letter, it should be a road map to the types of things on their resume. It shouldn’t be a list of attributes which they just want to say about themselves: I’m a hard worker or a problem-solver. Make sure your cover letter is evidence-based.

Another thing students should keep in mind when writing their resume is results-orientation. Many students say they are good at something without providing any evidence that I should care. Saying that you’re an engineer and that you designed the next generation of the iPhone is great, but we’re not designing the next generation of the iPhone. Telling me you were in charge of managing all the different project engineers and that you finished the project on budget, ahead of schedule. Well that is evidence that you’re actually good at your job. Tell me what characteristics of your previous job will make you good at the job you’re applying for. 

In the interview, treat it more like a business discussion; it’s not a quiz. I’m not here to test you or grill you, I’m here to have a dialogue, and replicate a client talking to you about their business. It should feel natural and you shouldn’t be nervous about going into an area of business that you’re not familiar with, or doing a bit of math. Your ability to engage will be important on the job. 

 

The internship is crucial to securing a full-time job. What can an intern do to increase their odds of getting hired? 

The good news is that we are very selective in who gets an offer in the summer. That translates into the fact that 90% of our interns get offers to come back full-time. We anticipate all of our summer interns getting offers — that’s our goal. When students get that offer to join Bain for the summer, in some ways they are making a really important career decision, about where they want to be after their MBA program. 

 

Where does that leave MBAs in Europe without a traditional summer internship?

There is a well-established set of schools that have a custom internship, like Kellogg and Columbia, so we are familiar with fitting our internship around different schools. We do a summer internship for INSEAD, it’s not the full 10 weeks, it’s shorter. One of our offices in Asia did a one-week internship program last year, too, for example. What’s important is that you get too see people doing the job in a live environment, even if that’s just for five days. 

 

What about second years, do they still have a shot without an internship? 

Some students are anxious about second-year recruiting. They may have worked in a start-up over the summer, but changed their mind and want to work in consulting. They worry that they’ve missed the boat, but they haven’t. Some firms have pulled back from second-year recruiting, but we have actively grown ours. It was not because our summer program was not successful — we had blowout year for summer recruiting, but our business was so strong that we still had to go back to campus and do second-year recruiting. 

 

What final advice would you give to someone who has their heart set on joining Bain? 

The reason people stay at Bain for a long time is that they’ve looked at the value proposition of the firm compared with another career. You have to ensure that what you’re doing now is a good fit with your long-term goals. We are interested in business and personal success stories. I’m not interested in getting you to stay here by all means necessarily, I want you to thrive professionally, whether that’s here or elsewhere. It’s okay to have that conversation. People who know why they want to be at Bain tend to be the best performers.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

0 Comments
Log in from the top right-hand corner or click here to register to post comments