Bain case interview: step-by-step guide

At IGotAnOffer, we have helped more than 20,000 candidates prepare for their consulting interviews. Students who go through our full training programme are a happy bunch: more than 80% of them get an offer at their target firm.

Bain case interviews can seem intimidating. But over the years we have managed to develop a simple step-by-step system to get you from "What are case interviews like at Bain?" to "I am confident I can get a job at Bain". We have summarised some of the key things we have learned in this free guide.

Part 1: Bain interview process and skills tested

Let's first take a look at the interview process you will go through to get an offer from Bain.

Bain case interview process

1.1 Bain interview process

Bain uses up to four steps in its recruiting process:

  • Resume and cover letter screening
  • Bain maths tests (South America only)
  • First round interviews
  • Second round interviews

The resume and cover letter screening is standard and similar to what you will come across at other companies.

Bain also uses maths tests to screen candidates BEFORE interviews in some countries. There are two Bain maths tests. The first one is largely based on the GMAT and includes 15 critical reasoning, data sufficiency and problem solving questions that need to be compelted in 25 minutes.

The second one is closer to the McKinsey PST and BCG Potential Test. It contains 2 business cases with text, graphs and tables as well as 15 questions that need to be answered in 45 minutes.

According to our information, these tests have only been used in South America so far. For instance, Bain Brazil seems to actively be using these tests at the moment (2018). But we haven't seen them being used in North America, Europe or Asia yet.

Once you make it to the interview rounds, Bain will use three tools to assess your application:

First round interviews at Bain are typically carried out by junior consultants and managers. If you make it to the second round you will then be interviewed by partners of the firm who will make a final decision on your application.

Interviews in both the first and second rounds typically start with one or two fit / PEI questions (~10mins) and your interviewer will then ask you case questions (~35mins). We will cover what to expect from Bain case interviews and fit / PEI questions in more details below.

In addition, Bain also uses written cases in its SECOND ROUND interviews in some countries including the US, UK and Russia. For written cases, your interviewer will give you a pack of 5 pre-filled slides that you will need to complete in 1h30 by doing analysis on a 20-page business document. You will then need to present and discuss your 5 slides with an interviewer over a 30mins slot.

You can download a sample Bain written case here (top of the page). In addition, Bain's written case interview advice can be found here.

1.2 Skills Bain looks for

You might be wondering why Bain uses so many different tools in its recruiting process. The answer is that they are trying to test for a variety of skills that you need as a consultant. The top 3 ones are:

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Soft skills

First, Bain wants to make sure that you've got the problem solving skills it takes to be a consultant. Bain often gets hired by clients to solve problems they are not managing to solve by themselves. Case questions are therefore designed to test that you have the analytical horsepower to work through complex problems.

Second, Bain will also test your ability to communicate your thoughts clearly. Being an analytical genius has very little value if you can't make your clients understand and believe what your solutions to their problems. Bain will therefore want you to communicate your thoughts as simply and as clearly as possible during the whole recruiting process. This will be tested both in case and PEI questions.

Finally, Bain wants to hire junior consultants who have the potential to become future partners. And partners' main job is to lead the firm, handle clients and sell projects. Demonstrating that you have good soft skills is therefore extremely valuable and will be extensively tested in the fit / PEI questions.

If you would like to read a bit more about what Bain looks for you can look at their official page here. While this list is helpful, some of the skills they mention (e.g.: passion, results delivery) are only secondary considerations in our experience. What really matters is that you are able to a) solve problems, b) communicate clearly and c) have good soft skills.

Part 2: Bain case questions

Now that you know what to expect in your Bain interviews, let's start diving in the different parts you need to prepare for. And let's begin with case questions. The video below will give you a good overview of what Bain case interviews are like:

2.1 Case structure

Bain case interviews are similar to BCG case interviews and can be broken down into 7 types of questions:

  • Situation
  • Framework development
  • Framework exploration
  • Quant question – Data provided
  • Quant question – No data provided
  • Creativity question
  • Recommendation

Bain case interview structure

If you would like to deep-dive in this topic, you can read our article on case interview questions types. The next few paragraphs are a summary of this content.

In every case, the first thing your interviewer will do is lay out the company’s problem you are going to solve. Then, they will ask you the areas you would look at to solve the company's problem. This is what is called the framework development question. If you would like to learn more about frameworks you should take a look at this blog post.

In certain types of business problems, you will then have to explore the framework to find the root-cause of an issue. This is the framework exploration question. For instance, if the objective of the case is to find why the company profits are going down, you will have to explore the framework and test different hypotheses. Profits could be going down because of revenues or costs or a combination of both. And the objective of the case is to find out which drivers are causing the decline.

Note that you will not always get a framework exploration question. Your interviewer will sometimes jump straight into quantitative questions. This will for instance be the case if you are asked to analyse which countries Starbucks should go into next. The problem is not about finding the root-cause of an issue, and exploring your framework therefore makes less sense.

Then, you will usually have to solve a quantitative question to further understand the business problem at hand. There are essentially two types of quantitative questions in case interviews. Questions where the interviewer provides you with graphs and tables. And questions where no data is provided and you have to make assumptions by yourself.

In addition, your interviewer will also often ask a creativity question. These are typically open-ended questions such as “what can the company do to justify increasing its product prices?” These questions aim at assessing your capacity to generate qualitative ideas to solve the problem your client is facing.

Finally, at the end of the case your interviewer will ask you a recommendation question. This will test your ability to summarise your thoughts on your clients’ situation and what they should do as a result.

The order and format of these questions may vary slightly between your different interviews. But you will invariably come across them at some point during your cases and should be ready for them.

2.2 Candidate-led case tips

Bain's case interviews are candidate-led. This means your interviewer will expect you to drive the case forward. They will only intervene if you are going completely off-piste. There are three main tips that we recommend following for candidate-led cases:

  • Tip #1: Only use a hypothesis in certain cases
  • Tip #2: Lead the case
  • Tip #3: Only make data assumptions if you have to

You can read a detailed discussion of these candidate-led case tips here. The following paragraphs are a summary of our recommendations.

First, you should only use a hypothesis in cases where you are looking for the root-cause of an issue. For instance, a hypothesis is very helpful in profitability case interviews. But using a hypothesis for other cases makes less sense. For instance, if you are trying to decide what product Coca-cola should launch next, there are so many different options that stating a hypothesis at the beginning of your case is just a wild guess.

Second, your interviewer at Bain will want you to lead the case. This is why we call Bain cases candidate-led cases. In practice this means that you will have to be very proactive during your interview. There are two easy ways to achieve this. First, every time you answer one of your interviewer's questions, you should suggest a next step for the analysis. And second, you should always try to link your findings to the overall client question as you progress through the case. If you do these two things consistently, your interviewer will be impressed.

Finally, interviews with Bain tend to involve less charts / tables than interviewer-led cases at McKinsey. As a consequence, candidates often ask us when they should ask for data vs. make assumptions. The answer is that you should always ask for data FIRST. And only make data assumptions if you have to. Making good assumptions is hard, so you should only resort to that solution if that's really what your interviewer wants you to do.

Right that's it for Bain case interview tips. If you would like to read more about this you can also take a look at Bain's own case interview tips here. They are worth looking at but unfortunately remain quite generic.

Part 3: Bain fit and PEI questions

Bain interviewers will also ask you behavioural questions during your interviews. You will come across two main types of questions:

  • Fit questions (~90% of questions) such as "Why consulting?" or "Why Bain?" These questions are used to assess if you are a good FIT for Bain.
  • Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions (~10% of questions) such as "Tell me about a time when you lead others" or "Tell me about a time when you managed a team conflict." These questions are asked to assess your SOFT SKILLS.

All firms ask a slightly different mix PEI and fit questions. We have analysed data from Glassdoor.com for Bain and have summarised the top 5 fit questions asked by the firm and the top 5 PEI questions. Let's step through each list one by one.

Bain fit / PEI questions

3.1 Top 5 fit questions asked by Bain

Let's start with fit questions. Note that the percentages for the top fit questions discussed below add up to 100%. But as mentioned above, altogether fit questions just account for ~90% of behavioural questions asked by Bain interviewers.

So here is the top 5:

  1. Why Bain? (33% of fit questions)
  2. Why consulting? (25% of fit questions)
  3. Introduce yourself / Walk me through your resume (20% of fit questions)
  4. Tell me about X on your resume (5% of fit questions)
  5. Why choose location X? (4% of fit questions)
  6. Other (13% of fit questions)

Fit questions at Bain are extremely predictable. The top 3 account for ~80% of all questions. We've extensively discussed how to answer the "Why Bain?" and "Why consulting?" questions in previous posts. Questions 3 and 4 are also frequent questions and we've covered them in our main guide on consulting behavioural interviews.

But one question that seems to be more frequent at Bain than at other firms is "Why choose location X?" This question is often asked as a follow up to the "Why Bain?" question.

Bain interviewers really want to make sure that you have carefully thought about whether consulting and Bain are a good fit for you. And a big part of your experience as a consultant will depend on the office you are joining.

If you are joining the Houston office, you'll do a lot of oil and gas work. If you are joining the New York office, you'll work in finance and media a lot. Your interviewer wants to make sure that you have done some reasearch and are aware of these differences.

This question is also an indirect way for your interviewer to make the conversation a bit more personal. If you have family in New York or have always wanted to work there because you love the city now is your opportunity to say it!

Overall, our recommendation to answer the "Why choose location X?" question is to mix some work reasons and some personal reasons. For instance, you could say something like: "I'm really excited to join the New York office for two reasons. First, I'm interested in Finance and Media and I understand this specific office does a lot of work in these areas. And second, I've got a lot of family and friends in New York and I've decided it would be a good place for me to start my career."

3.2 Top 5 PEI questions asked by Bain

Let's now briefly turn our attention to PEI questions asked at Bain. These questions only account for about ~10% of behavioural questions asked by the firm. You should only start preparing for those once you are very comfortable with fit questions which are much more frequent (~90% of behavioural questions).

The PEI questions used at Bain are similar to McKinsey Personal Experience Interview questions. They are competency-based questions designed to test the skills Bain looks for such as leadership, impact and passion. PEI questions are easy to identify because they almost always start by "Tell me about a time when ..." and then some variation of the topics listed below. Here is the top 5 for Bain:

  1. Leading others (50% of PEI questions)
  2. Managing a team conflict / situation (20% of PEI questions)
  3. Managing a personal conflict (10% of PEI questions)
  4. Overcoming challenges (5% of PEI questions)
  5. Influencing others (5% of PEI questions)
  6. Other (10% of PEI questions)

We've written extensively about how to answer PEI questions in the past. Our recommendation is to prepare in advance and to use a pre-defined structure that will ensure you cover all the aspects you interviewer expects. You can read more about this approach here. In addition, you can also find Bain's own tips on the personal experience interview here.

    Part 4: Bain case interview preparation plan

    So what's the best way to prepare for your Bain interviews? In our experience, the following 4-step approach yields really good results.

    Bain case interview preparation plan

    • First, develop fast and reliable maths skills
    • Second, master a consistent method to crack cases
    • Third, practice case interviews
    • Fourth, work on fit / PEI interview questions

    For full disclosure, this is the approach we take in our BCG & Bain Case Interview Training Programme and more than 80% of people who used it so far ended up getting an offer. But even if you don't end up using these programmes, we still encourage you to take this four-step approach. Trust us, it really works!

    Let's step through each stage of the preparation plan to give you more details about what you should do in each.

    4.1 Become really confident at maths

    Bain will test your maths skills during the case section of your interview. It is therefore difficult to succeed at these interviews without being confident in maths.

    Unfortunately, it is extremely common to have rusty maths skills when you start preparing. In our experience, candidates who end up getting a job in consulting take some time at the beginning of their preparation to brush up their maths and regain their confidence.

    We find that making this initial investment is really worth it. This is the first step candidates take when they enrol in our Bain case interview training programme. We have also put together a few maths tips here which you might find helpful to get started.

    4.2 Develop a consistent method to crack cases

    One of the challenges of interviewing with companies like Bain is that you will have to do five to ten interviews before getting an offer. For each of these interviews you will get a case that you need to crack. You therefore need to learn a CONSISTENT way of cracking the case.

    As mentioned previously, the good news is that candidate-led cases can be broken down into very specific types of questions: situation, framework development, framework exploration, quant question with and without data, creativity question and recommendation. If you find an approach to consistently crack each type of question within a case, then that means you will be able to consistently crack the case overall.

    At IGotAnOffer, we were frustrated with the inexistence of a consistent approach to solve case questions when we were preparing for interviews. This is why we created a step-by-step method to solve cases that we teach in our Bain case interview training programme.

    Developing a consistent step-by-step approach will enable you to develop HABITS. And having developed these HABITS during your preparation will enable you to focus on the case at hand and to consistently crack the questions interviewers throw at you.

    4.3 Practice cases out loud

    One important aspect of your preparation is also trying to reproduce the conditions of a real interview when you practice. A great way to achieve this is to do case interviews with friends or with former consultants who do coaching interviews.

    However this isn’t always possible and you will have to do some cases by yourself. In these situations, we would really encourage you to practice out loud. This means you should both play the role of the candidate and of the interviewer. In practice, that means you should ask questions and answer them out loud in the same way two people would do in an interview.

    This will feel odd at first. But trust us; it actually makes a huge difference in your preparation. This is because THINKING about the right answer is only half the battle in case interviews. The second half is COMMUNICATING your answer in a clear and structured way. If you don’t practice out loud, you are only practicing half of the skills required to be successful. We really encourage you to give it a go as in our experience candidates who use this approach are much more likely to get an offer.

    4.4 Learn from every mistake you make

    Finally, you should really focus your preparation on quality rather than on quantity. Sure, there is a minimum number of hours you need to put in to develop good case interview habits – probably ~30h+. However in our experience, successful candidates find it more valuable to do 20 cases and to learn as much as possible from them, than to do 40 cases and to not learn much at all.

    The best way to achieve this is to keep a notebook where you write down your mistakes at the end of each case. You should go back to that notebook on a regular basis and remind yourself of the things you have learned. This will enable you to avoid repeating the same mistakes twice and to make sure you actually progress as you do more and more cases.

    A good way to check that you have actually progressed is to redo some of the cases that you did at the beginning of your preparation after a while. For instance, after you have done case #20, you could go back to case #1 to make sure you are not repeating the same mistakes. This way you can be sure that you are on the right track and actually making progress.

    Additional resources

    If you would like to fast track your case interview preparation and maximise your chances of getting an offer at Bain come and train with us. More than 80% of the candidates training with our programmes end up getting an offer at their target firm. We know this because we give half of their money back to people who don't.

    BCG & Bain Case Interview Training Programme

    BCG & Bain case interview training programme

    Any questions about Bain case interviews?

    If you have any questions about case interviews, do not hesitate to ask them below and we will be more than happy to answer them. All questions are good questions, so go ahead!

    The IGotAnOffer team