I am a Senior Manager at XYZ in [ABC Country] (equivalent to Manager at Bain and Associate Principal at McKinsey I think i.e. one level below partner) and have always been interested in working for Bain & Co and they have just started significant growth momentum in [ABC Country] bringing two new partners to the complement (McKinsey & Monitor have been here for years and BCG are not).

I have an upcoming 1st round interview with them and would like to ask you whether you had any idea what kind of answers they would be expecting from someone looking to join at that level? Even though the case interview question may be exactly the same as that given to a new graduate, the answers and insights, etc. would need to be that much more sophisticated I presume. Any thoughts, comments, observations?

My Reply:
I do not have any experience in these types of interviews as they are fairly rare in the United States where I was based. So what follows is speculation.

In general, the higher up the top firms you go, the less important analytical (case interview type) skills are and the more important a) client management skills, and b) sales skills / relationships / rolodex. So I frankly I don’t think they would expect case interview answers to be at a more sophisticated level. At the top firms, all level of consultants are very sharp, so it’s expected you would be equal to others but it would be tough to exceed.

What I suspect is much more likely is this…

1) They do the standard case interview to see if your analytical skills are in the same caliber as their existing consultants/partners.

2) They MAY (serious speculation) ask you about more about staffing questions like — how long do you think this project will take? How many consultants would you need?
(Though I was never formally an engagement manager, I did manage a few projects as an Associate. The joke at the EM -> partner level is that the standard answer for any case interview was NOT a framework… it was, “Hmm…. that’s an interesting questions, that sounds like 1 Engagement Manager + 3 Associates for 6 months, or $1.5 million”

Associates think in frameworks, partner-type folks think in terms of staffing, scheduling, and seeing which consultants internally are available.

3) Assuming you pass that test, they will focus much more on the general interview. Who are your clients? What relationships do you have at which levels? How have your built the practice you’re in at your current firm? Basically are you a “heavy hitter” (someone who knows EVERY CEO) or a “rain maker” — massively outperforming your colleagues in revenue generation?

In the US for the core consulting team (as opposed to some speciality consulting groups like finance or supply chain), I could only remember McKinsey poaching a senior partner from Booz. The guy was like the heavy hitter in Media. Every New York Times story about Hollywood movie studios or the entertainment industry quoted this guy… seriously every one. All of the McKinsey partners in Media could not match this Booz guy in terms of visibility, keynote speech requests, publicity, etc…

Last I heard, they finally gave up trying to beat him and asked him to join the firm directly as a senior partner.

Trust me, they didn’t recruit this guy for his case interviewing skills.