An interview with Michael Gaviño, who joined Bain as a consultant in 2017. Prior to joining Bain, Michael completed his Ph.D. in Biology at MIT at the Whitehead Institute. We ask him about his decision to become a consultant, the interview process, and what life is like at Bain.
Q) What post-Ph.D. career options are available and how did you decide on consulting??
There are definitely many more than I’m aware of (much less able to speak intelligently about!); that said, the options that I looked at seriously were consulting and data science. In the end, one of the things I really enjoy is working with others – brainstorming together, working together to get the answer – and this was one of the factors that tipped the scales toward consulting.
Q) What skills did you develop as a PhD that were applicable to consulting?
First and foremost the ability to think in a systematic and logical way; the scientific method, at its core, is something that I still use every day in my current job. It turns out that having a hypothesis, coming up with an approach to test that hypothesis, and interpreting data are absolutely essential tools in consulting!
Q) What aspects of consulting did you find were more difficult to adapt to?
The single biggest thing for me, as it is with entering any new field, was learning the language. There’s a lot of business jargon that at first can seem impenetrable, but in reality its sort of the same experience one has when going into a new branch of science – you need to learn the language first, and once you do, the concepts are not any more difficult than anything else.
Q) In what ways did you prepare for a career in consulting prior to the interview process?
I started first reaching out to folks I knew who were already in consulting to get a feel from them about the job. I also picked up some books to learn a bit more about the job – specifically “the lords of strategy” which is a sort of historical book about the origins of management consulting.
Q) How did you start your interview preparation?
I started attending any on-campus consulting events I could – to learn about the firms, and to meet current consultants, but maybe more importantly to network with others interested in consulting; It’s absolutely necessary to put serious hours into case practice, both to learn some of the language referenced above, but also to be able to perform in an interview setting
Q) How did you practice for case interviews?
I picked up a few case practice books and found some people at consulting club events who I could practice cases with. I also recruited my girlfriend to help give me cases, and when I had no one around I would practice my case openings – reading the prompt, setting a ~2 minute timer and then sketching out my approach. Toward the end I also got a couple of current consultants to spend 30 minutes to give me a practice case and get their feedback.
Q) From an interviewer’s perspective, what aspects about the candidate do you look for during the case interview?
A strong opening structure is probably the most important thing – having an organized plan of attack that is not derivative, and clearly the interviewees own invention. Beyond that it’s then: how quickly do they grasp implications and use those to drive to sound business judgement. I don’t usually get so stressed about the math unless it’s a repeating theme in the interview.
Q) How did you practice fit interview questions?
I pulled together a list of common questions from a few case books and used that as a starting point to ask “what have I done that would be good example for each of these questions?” So then I brainstormed a bunch of ideas and tried to map them against questions and essentially boil my list down to 4-5 stories that could be told slightly differently depending on the question. I didn’t spend a ton of time practicing these, but I did do a few runs having someone ask a question and me answering it on the spot. The point was that I wanted to have the stories in mind, but not be so versed as to be a robot.
Q) From an interviewer’s perspective, what aspects about the candidate do you look for during the fit interview?
For me it’s really about perceiving humility, honesty, feeling like the person is genuine. Per my previous point about sounding robotic, that to me makes it difficult to determine what kind of person the interviewee is and as a result hard to know if they would be a good fit. I feel like most candidates will have good experiences to share so it becomes to me more about how they convey the story.
Q) Did you attend any connect programs (i.e. McKinsey Insight) and can you tell us what you found valuable about them?
I didn’t, but from having seen others do them they seem extremely valuable simply because they put you on the job so you can see what its like.
Q) Can you talk about the interview process specifically for Bain?
Sure. I don’t think it’s much different than the other big firms, but basically there are two rounds of interviews, and the first is largely focused on cases. The second round will have some cases as well, but also where more of the fit part comes into play. The attitude at Bain (which came across when I interviewed) is that the interviewer wants the interviewee to have fun and not be stressed. This is obviously incredibly hard given the “high-stakes” nature of a job interview, but of the interviews I had, my Bain interviews involved more friendly banter than any other – so mission accomplished I guess?
Q) If you had other options, what were they and why did you choose to join Bain specifically?
After a couple years of postdoc I worked at a firm called ZS Associates doing mostly health care consulting for a year and a half – I forwent McKinsey and Bain interviews that were happening later in the year to get into a job quicker. I had met a few Bainies both at consulting events and then on the job at the client site while I was at ZS, and I remember thinking “every time I see these guys I end up chatting with them, cracking jokes, and having fun” so I decided between that, and my desire to do broader work beyond healthcare, that I should apply there. I wasn’t really interested in a switch per se so I didn’t apply anywhere else. In the end I got the Bain job and the rest is history.
Q) What makes Bain stand out from other consulting firms?
It’s really the people – which sounds like a throwaway line! But it’s true. I genuinely like everyone I work with, we have fun at our jobs, and even when it’s a rough week I feel like there are people I can go to. The work with top companies, the very difficult problems, the tremendous learning, the myriad exit opportunities – I think you can probably get these at all the top firms; at Bain the difference is really the people and the very serious effort the company makes to keep the job enjoyable and sustainable.
Thank you Michael, for taking the time to answer our questions and give back to the Consulting Club at MIT