When I attended the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, I specialized in arts management. I was convinced that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector at an arts center like the Pacific Film Archive or Film at Lincoln Center; accounting or finance or marketing careers did not interest me.
I did identify one temptation in the for-profit sector that intrigued me, though: management consulting.
Consulting is truly brainy and collaborative work that involves using analytics and management techniques to solve problems. It caters to a wide variety of industries, including the nonprofit, media, and arts organizations I love. In addition, this competitive field offers high salaries, challenging projects, and an opportunity to be surrounded by intelligent and driven co-workers and clients.
I ultimately decided to stick to the nonprofit industry, starting my career out of biz school as a manager at the Museum of the Moving Image years before turning to writing full-time. But my curiosity rebounded recently as I read about career opportunities at Bain & Company, an American management consulting firm with a global reach that routinely plucks MBA grads straight out of graduate school.
It came in first place on the Glassdoor list of best domestic companies to work for in 2019. And that ranking is no anomaly: Vault ranks Bain the second-best employer among consulting firms, right behind archrival McKinsey & Company. Reliable sources say Bain is a good place to work.
Then there's the prestige. Bain recruits from top MBA programs, hiring the best and the brightest students with mighty analytical skills. The firm seeks out strong communicators and team players who also know how to lead, coach, and be coached. This YouTube video lays out the Bain way — and how to get the Bain name on your resume.
Finally, Bain has a reputation for cultivating a culture of support and encouragement. As one Bain employee (or "Bainie") told Glassdoor in his review of the employer: "Bain really lives and breathes its values. I feel both challenged yet supported every single day, and truly feel that I am making an impact. I have pivoted multiple times within Bain and I can 100 percent say that Bain supports people to build their own individualized career journey."
Founded in 1973, the Boston-based firm employs over 8,000 people worldwide. With 55 offices in 33 countries, Bain has a global reach, offering business and technical advice across sectors to for-profit, public, and private entities. The range of industries it supports is expansive: are you interested in airlines or healthcare? Consumer goods or media? Evolving markets or high finance? They all turn to Bain for advice, whether it's in strategic planning, information technology, crisis management, or mergers and acquisitions.
According to the Bain website: "Our management consulting services focus on our clients' most critical issues and opportunities: strategy, marketing, organization, operations, technology, transformation, digital, advanced analytics, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions and sustainability across all industries and geographies. We bring deep, functional expertise, but are known for our holistic perspective: we capture value across boundaries and between the silos of any organization. We have proven a multiplier effect from optimizing the sum of the parts, not just the individual pieces."
In short, the company is a brain trust for hire that charges top dollar for on-demand expertise. According to Forbes, the company earned $3.4 billion in revenue in 2017. Vault adds that Bain is "one of the world's most respected companies... with clients in sectors representing 90 percent of the global economy with offices covering 97 percent of the world's GDP."
The foundation upon which this management consulting firm is built is, not surprisingly, the consultant. This position – perhaps under the more specific title of knowledge management expert or digital media expert or e-commerce senior expert — is highly competitive and requires an advanced degree, typically an MBA. Bain recruits from the best b-schools in the world, grabbing candidates from INSEAD, the Wharton School, Harvard Business School, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and The London School of Economics and Politics.
These analytic, passionate, highly communicative MBAs work from domestic offices in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other major cities; or, they travel the globe to far-flung sites.
The pay at Bain is competitive; starting associates (with just a bachelor's degree) often make between $75,000 and $80,000 to start, with MBAs likely to start in the low six figures. According to Glassdoor, the average consultant earns a $151,134 salary, plus bonuses and profit sharing.
Among the other positions you might seek here, and their average salaries:
The centerpiece to the Bain hiring process is the case interview. If you know anything about MBA programs, you probably know that case studies form the basis of many classes. In school, they're typically presented in booklets or online.
At Bain, they use slides. You'll see the case projected on a screen; you'll have time to process the information, and you'll be asked to provide an analysis of the problem and offer solutions. It's an on-the-spot problem-solving exam.
Business Insider reports that successful applicants are those who process the large-scale problem and reduce it to its most essential elements.
They also need to be able to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely with the interviewer, shifting the mood of the exchange to one between relative equals discussing a business problem; also, they need to back their positions with data from the case. Finally, applicants need to demonstrate the ability to listen to feedback and, potentially, adjust their suggestions.
The case study interview replicates the work of a management consultant in microcosm. Often applicants prepare and study for weeks with fellow students and mentors to perfect their ability to perform case studies, much as a debate competitor will prepare for a national meet. Given what's at stake, that seems a wise approach to this ordeal.
The surest on-ramps to a Bain career are their generous paid summer internship programs, which can earn a Bain Summer Associate in the neighborhood of $12,000 for the season. The process for getting the opportunity is competitive and includes a case-study interview. Significantly, 90 percent of interns go on to full-time careers at Bain, according to Clear Admit. There are some opportunities for pre-MBAs in these programs, but most of the recruiting focus is on graduate students between their first and second year.
Bain's Advanced Degree Program holds events around the country courting JDs, MDs, and Ph.D.s who may be interested in consulting but are unsure of a path to success from their current occupations. These include a one-week summer program called ADvantage, a highly selective event that gives advanced degree candidates (Ph.D., JD, MD, post-docs or medical residents) a full day of training, followed by in-office placement with existing Bain clients. It's a good way to find out what consulting is like, and whether it's a fit for you.
Other potential career paths for the advanced degree holder include analytics and customer insights, digital innovation, and business services. These positions demand degrees in data science, statistics, project management, data engineering, and software engineering.
If you’ve set your sights on an MBA or are seeking an advanced degree in medicine, law, economics or computing, you may be able to exploit your specific skill set on one of Bain's many business consulting teams. If you clear all the hurdles and land a job, expect to be challenged within an inch of your life, surrounded by highly-educated co-workers interfacing with managers from the top companies around the world.
In an interview last year with Clearadmit.com, Bain global head of consultant recruiting had this to say about his employer:
“There are a couple of things about Bain people that set us apart. In my role, I have had the opportunity to travel to offices around the world hiring people, and what I have found is that Bain people are passionate about both the work they are doing and the things they are doing outside of work. They really jump right in with both feet. When you align that around our goal of having our clients be successful, you can really see the passion Bainies have for their clients — it just oozes out of them. We are having a big impact on our clients, and we are hiring people who are really energized by that."
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