How to Switch from Big 4 to MBB (McKinsey, BCG, Bain)

the image is the cover for an article on switching from big 4 to mbb

Last Updated on January 24, 2024

It is possible for someone who has worked or currently works at a Big 4 to switch to MBB?

In short, yes it is!

Many experienced professional service workers at the Big 4 are well-suited for strategy consulting because of their strong analytical skills and their ability to solve complex business problems. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the hiring process at MBB is very competitive. It may be challenging to make the switch, but it is not impossible, and I would argue it is not harder to move into MBB from a Big 4 than getting into MBB with any other background or straight out of school.

The top three consulting firms are known for their higher prestige and compensation compared to the Big 4. This raises the question of whether it’s possible to transition from a Big 4 to an MBB firm.

Although it’s possible to move from a Big 4 to an MBB, MBB firms are more selective, and getting an offer is challenging, despite having a Big 4 background.

Let’s break down how you could make this move.

First, a bit of an overview.

What are the Big 4?

The Big 4 refers to the four largest accounting and professional services companies in the world, which are: Deloitte, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), EY (Ernst & Young), and KPMG. These firms provide a range of services including audit, advisory, tax, and consulting services to businesses across various industries.

What are the MBBs?

MBB is an acronym that stands for McKinsey & Company, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company. These are the three most prestigious management consulting firms in the world, often referred to collectively as the MBBs. They are known for their rigorous selection processes, high standards for client work, and ability to attract top talent from around the world.

Motivation to Move from Big 4 to MBB

Before applying for a position at an MBB firm, it’s important to take a step back and consider if it aligns with your long-term career goals and personal values. Depending on your priorities, a Big 4 role may be a better fit for you than an MBB position.

The benefits of working at a Big 4

  • Larger and bigger global presence
  • Lower working hours, less stress, less travel
  • Evergreen industry (tax and audit are needed also in a recession, consulting spending is often cut first)
  • Less pressure or up-or-out
  • More career stability

The benefits of working at MBB

  • Higher salaries and better benefits
  • Faster career progression
  • Better exit opportunities and prestige
  • More transferable skills for the business world
  • Strong alumni network
  • More diverse project work

Think about these points before committing to the process as intensive preparation is required to get an interview and then excel at it through several rounds. Talk to current and former MBB consultants to get a realistic picture of their lifestyle and work. The general recruiting message always paints a rosy picture…

In addition to the normal interview preparation (which this article covers below as well), there are several things to consider when planning the transition from a Big 4 to an MBB firm.

The following courses have helped hundreds of former Big 4 consultants make a move.

Switching from Big 4 to MBB

There are several things that you need to consider.

Networking as a Big 4 employee

Networking should be at the very start of your recruiting journey as it should be for any other role. You want to make sure that you cut through the noise and get noticed. When you apply at MBB, you are competing with hundreds of thousands of applicants per year, and only 1% of those make the cut.

the image is a chart on the breakdown of mbb offer rates through the different stages from screening to the interviews
MBB consulting application funnel

To increase your chances of success at an early stage of the funnel, it’s crucial to connect with current consultants within your target firms who can provide insight into the hiring process, and, most importantly refer you to HR.

Establishing these connections can not only help you get noticed but also provide a more personalized approach to your application. McKinsey, BCG, and Bain have structured internal referral systems and processes that allow current employees to refer new candidates. Having someone speak directly to your qualifications and experience can go a long way in increasing your chances of getting your resume screened.

A referral is not a guarantee to get hired, but it makes sure that you will be properly looked at and considered for an interview invitation. Once you are at the interviews, the process is the same as for anyone else and success is purely based on your case interview skills.

Generally, more senior referrals bear a higher weight on the recruiters’ decisions.

Improving your profile

Your networking efforts and informal outreach might yield additional information and hints for your application. It might be that you need to make some changes to your profile before being eligible to apply to an MBB firm.

In that case, it might be necessary to pursue another degree such as an MBA or MiM. Generally, getting an MBA from a target school can greatly improve your chances with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These firms often recruit from a set of preferred schools, and enrolling in one of these schools naturally increases your chances of landing an interview and subsequently an offer.

This is mainly due to three reasons: First, if you attend – let’s say – HBS, which is a target school for all three firms, you’ll have a better chance of getting a positive resume screening due to the nature of the school and the prestige of the program. Second, getting an MBA also allows you to network with all firms as they are spending a significant amount every year on applicant outreach and networking events for students of target schools. This facilitates screening as I mentioned above. Third, the case-based teaching method of most MBA programs will equip you with crucial skills that can help you in the preparation for case interviews.

However, getting an MBA is a significant financial investment and time commitment, so it’s important to weigh the benefits against the costs and find out early (through networking) if it is even needed to make the switch.

This is even more relevant if you are outside of the U.S., where MBAs tend to be less of a requirement.

Sharpening and matching your profile

Often, it is not required to pursue a new degree. The MBBs are looking to hire a diverse set of candidates with different backgrounds to accommodate the diverse needs of their clients. As a result, you might even be able to leverage your unique profile and background during your application with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain.

For instance, if you have worked in the audit division of a Big 4, you might be a great fit for the corporate finance practice of a top three strategy consulting firm.

Consider what practice and area in MBB you would fit in best. This is not necessarily the generalist or integrative consulting path but any other area where you can benefit from specializing or where the MBBs are growing their presence and revenue and are looking for new types of employees (even outside of the traditional strategy consulting field such as implementation).

Drafting the perfect application documents

Same as for every other applicant, you want to make sure to draft the perfect resume and cover letter to impress recruiters and let your experience and motivation shine in the best possible light. A few tips:

  • Pay attention to flawless formatting
  • Include your most relevant experiences
  • Focus on successes and achievements, not task descriptions
  • Highlight your motivation to work in the target company
  • Demonstrate what you can bring to the firm
  • Avoid mistakes at all costs
  • Get feedback from consultants, screeners, and/or coaches

If you want to learn more about both the cover letter and resume, see both articles below:

Get the help you need to turn your consulting application into success.

Adapting your strategy

If your applications with the MBBs are not successful, consider adjusting your approach and also including other top consulting firms such as Oliver Wyman, Kearney, Roland Berger, L.E.K., Strategy&, Accenture Strategy, or switching to the consulting divisions of the Big 4 such as EY-Parthenon or Monitor Deloitte.

The acceptance rate at MBB is extremely low, with only 1% of applicants receiving offers from McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. For certain offices, this number is even lower. Casting a wider net increases your chances of landing an offer in consulting. Repeat the steps I outline above, most importantly the networking aspect.

Acing the case and fit interviews

Once you have made it past screening it is time to prepare for the case and fit interviews that every consulting firm employs.

A case interview is a type of job interview commonly used by management consulting firms to assess a candidate’s problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills. In a case interview, the interviewer presents a business problem or case and asks the candidate to analyze and solve it, often using a structured framework, chart interpretation, and math. The goal of a case interview is to determine how a candidate thinks, approaches a problem, and communicates their thought process. It is also used to determine a candidate’s fit with the firm’s culture and work style.

To learn more about the process, the format, and how to prepare for a case interview check out this article here.

The fit interview or personal fit interview is a type of interview commonly used by consulting firms to assess a candidate’s personality, work style, values, and fit with the company culture. The purpose is to determine whether the candidate is a good match for the firm and would be a successful consultant. Fit interviews often involve behavioral and situational questions, role-playing exercises, and discussions of the candidate’s background and motivations. The interviewer may also evaluate the candidate’s communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and ability to work in a team.

To learn more about the process, the format, and how to prepare for a fit interview check out this article here.

If you have to go through aptitude and recruitment tests, click here.

How we can help you get a job with MBB

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.

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