How to prepare before starting at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain

the image is the cover for an article on how and what to prepare before starting at mckinsey bcg bain

Congratulations! Chances are that if you are reading this post you received an offer from a prestigious consulting firm.

A question we receive a lot is once you made it into McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, how can you best prepare for your start?

  • Is there anything you need to buy?
  • Is there anything you need to learn or prepare?
  • Do I need to know business concepts or industries?

I want to answer these three questions in the following brief article.

What to buy before starting at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain

There is not a lot you actually need for the traveling lifestyle of a consultant. All tech and support equipment will be provided by the firm. Apart from that, invest in these three quality products

  • Business attire (A couple of suits, shirts, and shoes,…)
  • A nice carry-on suitcase and a checked baggage suitcase for longer trips (quality is key here since cheap stuff breaks quickly if you fly 2 to several times a week – been there, done that)
  • Travel essentials such as a vanity case, etc

What to learn before starting at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain

Now, this might surprise many but there is actually nothing you need to prepare for. People are always eager to kick-start their consulting career, however, would rather benefit from taking it easy.

When I got the McKinsey offer some years ago I did the same. I reached out to people I knew in McKinsey and people who interviewed me to ask:

  • What can I do to make the start easier?
  • How can I prepare?
  • Do I need to buy a specific Excel or Power Point course?

The answer from everyone was: Relax! Enjoy your time before you start and don’t think about it. You will figure it out on the job.

I followed that advice and it made only sense to me once I joined.

When you start at McKinsey (and pretty much every other consulting firm) there are two ways to learn:

  1. Formal training. The formal training sessions/ weeks/ days in the beginning, are nice, however, they are more for networking and meeting your peers. You learn some interesting concepts and get some useful day-to-day tips from more experienced consultants that will help you survive your first couple of weeks on the job BUT
  2. Constant and implicit learning on the job is where it’s at. No matter if you are a newcomer or a veteran after 2 years, you will always find yourself on a steep learning curve. As soon as you have barely mastered one skill or the skills needed for one level in the hierarchy, you will take care of things are expected from a more senior colleague. This cycle never ends. You are expected to learn on the job, learn from your colleagues, your mentors, sometimes even the client. So basically, a newly promoted Engagement Manager has the same ‘struggle’ as a new-hire Business Analyst. They both need to work in a completely new environment and role.

Now the skills you need to know are both soft skills such as people skills, communication, etc. as well as hard skills such as data crunching in Excel or data visualization in PowerPoint or Tableau.

You will learn all of this by doing it on the job. None of it is rocket science, you will make mistakes and receive rapid feedback.

The feedback culture of MBB encourages quick learning. The most important thing is to be open to feedback and willing to ask questions on how to do something, how to approach something, or plainly ask for help if you are stuck. Everyone on the team will be happy to sort it out with you.

The learning effect of doing it and receiving feedback is much greater than going through theoretical Excel formulas and you will make sure to remember those things much more easily in such an environment.

Knowing that, if we now go back to square one in your MBB consulting journey it makes perfect sense to enter a consulting firm with a blank slate with a lot of curiosity and eagerness to soak it all up and quickly learn the ropes.

No book, no training, no coach can prepare you for your first day, your first week, your first engagement. Nothing matches the experience and the learning, and this is a good thing (also the reason why ex-McKinsey, BCG consultants, or Bainies are valued highly on the job market).

You will learn everything you need to master while doing it. You will be thrown in the cold water and need to swim. However, your colleagues will always be happy to help you and mentor you. And for the rest, you will figure everything out along the way. The key here is always to ask for tips, shortcuts, feedback, etc. Don’t be quiet if you get stuck.

Also, for every technical problem (IT, Excel question, etc) McKinsey has a Global Helpdesk and the rule is to call them for every problem you can’t solve within 5 minutes. They will fix your computer, guide you through Excel formulas, etc. While BCG and Bain do not have the same level of support system in place, you can be sure to receive the help you need.

Do I need to know about business concepts or specific industries?

In general, you are not required to have any business-specific knowledge when joining a consulting firm. 50% of new joiners usually have a business background. For the other 50%, McKinsey offers a several-week-long mini-MBA program that brings all new consultants up-to-speed. Similar programs are available for Bain and BCG.

Lastly, if you have no domain knowledge about a certain industry or topic, MBB firms have extensive internal libraries of documentation to learn, as well as support staff, and firm experts you can always call to learn about the topic. Usually, they are happy to offer you a short call to get you up to speed.

Don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy the ride! Instead of preparing before starting, rather enjoy the time and go on an extended vacation, focus on your interests, friends, and family. Once you start out in MBB, you will have less time for these things, and it’s important to start your journey well-rested.

How we can help you break into consulting

We have specialized in placing people from all walks of life with different backgrounds into top consulting firms both as generalist hires as well as specialized hires and experts. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we help you by

Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program to help you break into consulting.

Ace the case interview with our dedicated preparation packages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *