Recently I interviewed with McKinsey and Bain in Eastern Europe, got to the final rounds at both but did not get an offer. Especially getting rejected at Bain was devastating as it would be my dream company because of the cultural fit.

My Bain interviewers encouraged me to get some more business experience, practise and reapply in 6 months.

For the practice part: cases with various partners + calculations. I eliminated my calculations problem after McKinsey and did 20+ extra cases with a partner. Still, I was surprised by how much I underperformed at Bain. I believe that since it was my dream (and last top 3) option, the pressure I felt decreased my performance. The feedback was that I did not focus on the most important part of the case. I think that more of deliberate practice and some stress management before the interview could prevent me from rejection next time.

For the business experience: here I am more puzzled. My options now are either joining a boutique or a technology start-up in a business development role. I am more inclined towards the start-up as I think I can have lots of impact and I like the people. At the same time I wouldn’t like to miss a second chance at Bain because of not getting the “right” experience. How much does the option matter for the later MBB prospects? Which one would you find more suitable if I still want to have a shot at top-tier consulting?

I would be grateful for your help! Thank you very much for all your materials and inspiration.

My Reply:

In terms of your next role, take the role that you would 1) excel at the most, 2) enjoy the most. If you got two interviews this time around, I’m assuming your resume to date is fairly strong. If the only reason you take your next job is to interview again for consulting (especially if you don’t like the interim job), I will tell you the self imposed pressure is much higher for a re-applicant than a first time applicant.

If you actually enjoy your work and if for some reason consulting didn’t work out in 6 months, you will feel less pressure and paradoxically are more likely to perform well. And who knows, you might not even accept the offer if you like your interim job a lot.

If you want some “insurance” that you can get the interview again, take the next 6 months to maintain ties with people you’ve met at the top firms. Take them out for coffee or lunch… though don’t ask for an interview (but if they offer to get you one, don’t turn it down). Just keep the relationship warm.

After that, actually do well at your new job – whichever one it is. You’ll learn the most this way, you’ll be better prepared for consulting, and you will end up with a strong alternative to consulting too.