How to get a referral for McKinsey, BCG, or Bain

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Getting a referral is a crucial step in your application journey with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. Candidates, who are referred are usually on top of the pile for recruiters and have a higher chance to make it to the next stage of the application process, such as the aptitude tests, or case interviews.

In this article, we answer the following questions:

  • Should you get a referral before you apply?
  • How can you actually get a referral with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain?
  • How does the ideal referral look like?

Should you get a referral before applying?

The answer is yes. In general, having a referral is better than not having a referral (stating the obvious). This is especially relevant for candidates with a resume that does not meet 100% of the requirements set out by MBB. In such cases, a targeted referral from a senior leader in the organization such as a partner or even a senior partner can make the difference. For instance, a partner referral in McKinsey is worth a lot (see below for your strategy to get one).

However, if your profile is strong and you are applying at the beginning of the year or early in the recruiting season (fewer slots filled), you should be fine even without one.

Additionally, with the introduction of remote aptitude tests such as the McKinsey Imbellus game, the BCG Online Case, or the Bain SOVA, the top-tier consulting firms have started to widen the funnel a bit to get more people into the process since they can administer the tests at no additional cost.

How can you get a referral at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain?

Now, how can you get a McKinsey referral, BCG referral, or Bain referral? Your goal should be to build a list of referrals from several people in your target firm.

First of all let’s answer where you can get them.

Where to get a consulting referral

We discuss this point in greater detail in our article about networking with consulting firms. In general, there are three ways to link with consulting firms and their employees:

a. Participation in events

Attend recruiting events, talk to the consultants. Get an impression of the firm and the people and leverage the contacts you have made for a referral afterward.

b. Networking with consultants and alumni

Tap into your network. Chances are some of your peers are working for your target firm. If not, use Linkedin and other platforms to reach out to consultants of your desired employer. You have a better chance when reaching out to people with a common background (alumni of your school, same hometown, same previous employer, same clubs, etc.)

c. Try to get into a mentorship program

Firms such as McKinsey and BCG have talent programs for high-potentials to mentor them during their studies. Being part of these programs is a referral in itself and an invitation to the interviews is almost guaranteed. However, getting into one of those is not as easy either and we discuss this in more detail in our networking article linked above.

How to secure an MBB referral

Once you know where to hunt for referrals, you need to actually secure them.


The context of the relationship and how the relationship was established with the consultants is important (met via an event, alumni of the same school or employer, same hometown, etc.).

The most important aspect is to leave the consultants you talk to with a positive impression. For example, you need to be memorable from the discussions you have or show a stellar performance in a case challenge during a recruiting event, etc.

Be aware that after every recruiting event, HR will ask the consultants about the candidates that participated in the event. If there are several positive observation points about you, you will get a call and they will encourage you to apply. This is almost like a referral and a perfect opportunity to ask for help from the consultant that is calling you.

Regardless of where you meet, in private interactions, it is not so much about your achievements than it is about the relationship you have established with the person. Approaching a partner randomly via Linkedin rarely won’t land you a referral. Tailor your messages to your recipients, showcasing genuine interest in their journey before consulting and within the firmAsk them for advice on how to apply and how to prepare.

If you are cold-calling or emailing consultants, be prepared to answer questions or provide your resume on the spot if they were to get back to you quickly.

Consultants are constantly reminded by HR to look out for potential new hires. Hence, they will automatically offer to refer you should they be convinced by your resume and the interaction they had with you. Hence, never ask for a referral directly. Lastly, for the person referring you, there is little financial incentive since there is no bonus paid out for successful hires in most offices of the MBBs. Keep that in mind and don’t pressure them or be too blunt about it since they are doing it as a favor.

What is the ideal referral?

There is an easy formula. The more

  • referrals
  • diverse
  • senior

the better will be your chances to move to the interviews or aptitude test stage of the application.

Having two referrals is definitely beneficial for your McKinsey, BCG, or Bain application. The more often your name pops up with HR, the more interesting of a candidate you appear to be. Similarly, if you are getting referrals from different practices, locations, etc. it is a sign of a strong candidate. I’d put a bit more weight on the local referral because people might know each other, and that is obviously a benefit, however, referrals often also work across borders. Lastly, the higher up the ranks your referrers are, the more weight the referral(s) will carry. A partner referral goes a long way at MBB.

From who to get a referral?

The referrals only count from actual consultants and not HR staff, so focus your efforts on the consulting staff.

As a consequence, you should start the networking process early to ensure having one or several referrals lined up once you decide to apply. Keep the above points in mind when working on your referral strategy and you should be able to collect a few good contacts that will boost your application.

How we can help

As former McKinsey consultants, we have specialized in getting our coachees into MBB to start their McKinsey careers, BCG careers, and Bain careers. We are consistently ranked as the best McKinsey and MBB coaches on PrepLounge. Reach out to us if you need advice on

  • the proper networking approach
  • issues with getting a referral
  • creation of your cover letter and resume
  • consulting aptitude tests for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain
  • MBB case interviews
  • MBB fit interviews

We are always happy to help!

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