Bain case interview: step-by-step guide

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 helped more than 30,000 candidates prepare for their consulting interviews, and in this guide, we have summarised the most important things you need to know to prepare for your Bain case interviews. 

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 recruiting 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 completed 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 detail 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 90 minutes 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 30 minute time 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 Timeline to get an offer at Bain

When preparing for your Bain case interview, it can be difficult to know when to expect each stage of the interview process. To help illustrate a typical timeline, we've created the below overview of Bain's recruitment schedule. As a rule of thumb, you can expect the whole process to take 4 to 6 weeks.

Please note: this is meant to give you a general overview, and may not reflect your specific interview timeline. Actual interview timelines depend on a number of factors (e.g. experienced hire vs. university hire). The below is based off of the expected recruitment timelines at the University of Chicago (an MBB target school). You can find the original document from the University of Chicago here

Bain interview timeline

1.3 Core skills to demonstrate to get an offer at Bain

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. According to Bain's website, they look specifically for 4 things in candidates during the interview process:

  1. Problem solving
  2. The ability to lead
  3. Results delivery
  4. Passion

In addition to the above skills that Bain formally lists, it's important to mention two additional qualifications that will be critical to your success: 

  1. Communication
  2. Soft skills

Now, let's cover each of these skills in a little more detail, to give you an inside look at what Bain recruiters will be looking for during your interviews.

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 have been unable to solve by themselves. Case questions are therefore designed to test that you have the analytical horsepower to work through complex problems.

Second, 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 leadership ability, and good soft skills, is therefore extremely valuable and will be extensively tested by the firm.

Third, Bain will want to see that you have a results orientation, and that you have a track record of strong academic and/or professional performance. Your interviewers will likely be speaking to many candidates, and in order to stand-out, you're going to need to demonstrate that you are a top performer that can elevate results for your future clients. 

Fourth, Bain wants to know that you are passionate about the type of consulting work you would do at their firm. For Bain, this isn't just a marketing slogan, they are very serious about employee engagement and values, which is one reason they are ranked #1 in 2019's Best Places to Work list. During your interviews they'll want to see that you've thoroughly considered why you want to be a consultant, and specifically, why you want to join Bain. 

Finally, 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 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.

If you would like to learn a bit more about what Bain looks for, you can watch the video below which was produced directly by Bain. However, before watching, please note that the video only covers part of the skills mentioned above and uses some slightly different language.


Part 2: Bain case questions

Now that you know what to expect in your Bain interviews, let's dive into 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 on this topic, you can learn more about preparing for case interviews in this free case interview guide.

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.

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 usually also 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, and will require you to provide a suggested course of action, given the clients’ situation.

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, so make sure you're ready for each type of question.

2.2 Case practice questions

One of the most effective ways to learn the 7 different types of case questions, is to practice with realistic sample cases. Below you'll find a short list of case books from consulting clubs at prestigious universities. These are great resources for preparing for your Bain case interviews. You can find a larger list of examples, here

A good approach for using these sample cases, would be to read the question statement, and then to respond (out loud) with your own answer before reading the suggested solution. If you can practice with a partner or coach, that's even better. This will allow you to begin developing the skills you will need to succeed in your Bain case interviews. Try to replicate real-life conditions as much as possible, as this will help you be more prepared for the real thing.

There's also a page on Bain's website that has some information about case interviews, provided directly by the firm. The information there is somewhat helpful, but we find it to be rather general. You will likely find it to be more beneficial to prepare with practice cases. 

In the next few sections, we'll highlight a few tips that will help you perform on the candidate-led cases Bain uses. If you want even more tips, check out our larger post about case interview tips.
2.3 Tip #1: Make a hypothesis at the right time

One of the questions candidates often ask us when preparing for case interviews is: “Should I use a hypothesis? And if so, when should I use one?” Some coaches such as Victor Cheng from caseinterview.com use a hypothesis all the time. But doing this in practice can feel quite artificial during your case interviews.

For instance, if you are trying to decide what type of new beverage Coca-Cola should launch next year, using a hypothesis is possible but does not add a lot of value. You could start by saying something like: “I’m going to hypothesise that Coca-Cola should launch a new diet orange juice next year because customers are more and more health conscious”.

But, this would be nothing more than a wild guess at the beginning of a case. This is why a lot of candidates are uncomfortable using a hypothesis driven approach. In real life, the main situation when consultants use a hypothesis is when they are looking for the root-cause of an issue.

For instance, when they are trying to understand why the profitability of a company has decreased. The root-cause could be many things: lower price, lower volume, higher variable costs, etc. Using a hypothesis in these cases is actually very helpful because it enables consultants to stay really focused and to methodically test all the potential sources until the real issue is identified.

Our recommendation is therefore to do the same in your cases and to only use hypotheses in framework exploration questions where you are looking for the root-cause of an issue.

2.4 Tip #2: Lead the case

Another important feature of candidate-led cases at Bain is that the interviewer will want you to take lead on the case. This is why Bain cases are often called “candidate-led” cases. After you present your framework to your interviewer they won’t tell you what to do. They will expect you to take the lead and to suggest a next step.

This can be surprising at first, if not intimidating. However, there is a very simple way of dealing with this. Every time you answer one of your interviewer’s questions you should simply suggest a next step.

For instance, if you have just presented your framework, you should say something like: “To summarise, I think we should look into revenues and costs to solve this problem. As a next step, my suggestion is to analyse revenues in more detail. I understand revenues have been going down. Would we happen to have any details on how fast that decrease has happened? And how it has impacted the company’s different products?”

By suggesting a next step and asking for more information, you are taking a lead on the case. Interviewers are instructed to be well-intentioned. If you get stuck or are not on the right track, they will nudge you in a different direction.

2.5 Tip #3: Only make data assumptions if you have to

Another important aspect of candidate-led interviews at Bain is that they will require you to make more data assumptions than interviewer-led cases at McKinsey. This is because Bain tends to use more quantitative questions without giving you any data, but McKinsey is less likely to do that.

One question we often get from candidates is: “When should I make a data assumption vs. directly ask the interviewer for the data?” The answer to this is actually very straight forward. You should always ask for the data first. And only if your interviewer tells you the data is not available should you make data assumptions.

A lot of candidates worry about asking for data that is not available, but in reality that’s perfectly fine. It would be nearly impossible for you to guess which data points the interviewer has or doesn’t have. As a result, if you ask for a data point that your interviewer would like you to estimate, they will simply tell you that they don't have the data available.

2.6 Tip #4: Follow the Bain case interview dress code

Another question that candidates often wonder about before their first case interview with Bain, is "what should I wear for my Bain interview?". There are a few things that you should keep in mind when it comes to the dress code. We've summarised some highlights below, and you can also read more in our article on the consulting interview dress code for men and women.

First, follow recruiter instructions. If your HR contact tells you to dress business professional, do it. If they say business casual, dress accordingly. If they haven't specified the dress code, you should feel free to ask your recruiter. They get these questions all the time and will be happy to answer.

Second, don't try to impress interviewers with how you dress. You should dress conservatively for your Bain interview. This may surprise you, but your goal for attire should be to NOT stand-out. Your Bain interviewers are far more interested in your analytical and communication skills than your wardrobe. 

At the end of the day, probably the only reason an interviewer would remember your attire is if you dressed badly. So don't take unnecessary risks, and avoid wearing anything flashy or attention-grabbing, like big jewelry and cuff links. Below is the typical attire for Bain case interviews, for both men and women.

Typical dress code for men:

  • Suit in a neutral color (e.g. black, grey)
  • Button-up shirt in a simple style and color (e.g. white, light blue)
  • Tie without flashy patterns
  • Black or brown dress shoes that go with your suit

Typical dress code for women:

  • Conservative dress or pantsuit in simple colors (nothing shiny or bright)
  • If wearing a pantsuit with a blouse, white is standard for the blouse
  • No large or loud jewelry, small and simple items are appropriate
  • Shoes should be conservative and comfortable 

Use your judgment in choosing your interview attire. Asking your HR contact for the dress code is helpful, especially for events or mixers where it's less clear. When in doubt, choose clothes that are professional and conservative. It's better to go unnoticed than for interviewers to be distracted by your wardrobe choices.

Next, we'll turn our attention to the fit and PEI questions that Bain uses.

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 of 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 go through each list one by one.

Fit and PEI questions at Bain

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, fit questions account for ~90% of behavioural questions asked by Bain interviewers, with PEI questions making up the remaining 10%.

So here is the top 5 fit questions:

  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 research 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 for answering the "Why choose location X?" question is to give a mix of work reasons and personal reasons. For instance, you could say something like: "I'm 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 have family 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 these 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 with "Tell me about a time when ..." and then some variation of the topics listed below. Here are 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 enroll 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, 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 lack 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 good interviewing 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. 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.

    To achieve this, 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