Case Study Consulting Preparation For Decision

Killer Tip No.2: Number your items.

This is the fastest way to sound more structural in Case Interviews. Let’s hear the following two examples and I want you to decide which pitch is more structured?

  • Example 1: “In order to help In & Out with their profitability problem. I would look at Revenue and find out if that‘s what causing profit to go down or not. I would also look at cost and do the same.”
  • Example 2: “In order to help In&Out with their profitability problem, I would try to look at the following two items. No.1: sales revenue. And No.2: cost of goods sold.”

Notice that content-wise, the first example is more MECE and structured. However, we can’t help but have the impression that example 2 is more structured and clear.

The magic behind example 2 is that the candidate just numbers his items. So, to instantly sound structured, put this  into every pitch: “There are X number of items I am going to say. No.1 … No.2 … No.3 … and so on

Killer Tip No.3: Apply the “Map habit” as much as possible.

In the End-to-End program, the feedback about this comes so often that I even have a name for it. It’s called the “Map Habit”. Think about it like the times you go on road trips. As the driver, at multiple times during your trip, you pause, look at the map, and see what part of the journey you have covered to get an idea on where you are heading next.
Similarly, in case interviews, you should also pause often to brief the interviewer on what you have done and where you are going next in the approach.

This is not very difficult to do, but it’s beneficial in multiple ways.

  • One – It helps the interviewer understand and follow your approach easier.
  • Two – This tip makes you sound really structured and systematic.
  • And Three – It helps you be more aware of your own approach and not get lost with the flow of the case.

Killer Tip No.4: Stick to the big and original problem.

This may sound like an obvious thing, but trust me, a lot of good candidates can’t do this. The level of pressure and complexity in case interviews is so high that it’s really easy to go with the flow and completely forget the main reason you are doing it.

You can’t pass an interview by solving the wrong case. A very simple yet very effective tip to fix this is to literally write the case’s key question in BIG and bold letters in your notes. Every time you look at your notes, you are reminded about it.

This actually leads us to the next tip:

Killer Tip No.5: Take good notes.

If you’ve watched our  Case Interview 101 video, you would know that one of the key principles in solving problems in Consulting and in Case Interviews is to find the ROOT CAUSE instead of just curing the symptom.

This principle is so profound that I even use it in coaching. A lot of times I see candidates miscalculate really simple calculations. Other times, I see them asking for data they already have. Sometimes, I see them going in circles in their approach. And it’s not very unusual for me to see candidates just break down in stress when dealing with the complexity of fairly simple cases.

Most coaches out there just try to fix the symptoms; they tell you to do more case interview maths, remember the data, use better case interview frameworks, etc. But what I found out is that, there’s a very simple root-cause to all of those symptoms. It’s because those candidates don’t take good notes.

Note taking is very important in case interviews. Bad notes can lead to all types of other problems. Through the years, I have been researching and piloting different systems for case interview note taking. I came up with a system that works very well for me. Notice that there is more than one way to be right. But if you have no idea on how you would do this, my system is a good place to start.

 

Please refer to our “Case Interview Note Taking” video for more detailed information regarding that system.

This approach will allow you to crack any type of case study

Solving a case in a case interview is not very different from the approach a consultant uses in real life to solve clients' problems. You will need to:

  • Develop an exhaustive structure that will guide you throughout the case interview efficiently. The structure ideally will tell you where to look for the solution of the problem
  • Develop a hypothesis early on and prioritize the information you need to gather. Apply the 80/20 rule to figure out which answer to what question will have the biggest impact on the case solution (80/20 rule or Pareto Principle);
  • Gather data and know why you need the information and what conclusions can you draw which would ultimately help you get to the solution

In a case interview, your only source for data is the Interviewer. Hence, it is important that you establish an open bi-directional communication and obviously your rapport with the interviewer is very important.

Make sure you ask for only relevant information and ideally let the interviewer know why you need a particular piece of data, be as open and transparent in your thought process as possible, and think out loud to let the interviewer know your thinking process including your current hypothesis.

The Interviewer will likely provide verbal information or charts based on your questions.

The foundation for a successful case is set at the beginning so follow these steps religiously during your interview practice

1. Restate the question and make sure you understand the problem statement by confirming with the interviewer

Understand the problem really well before structuring or asking for data. Do not simply repeat the question but rephrase it in such way that it would avoid misunderstandings. This is important because in consulting, it is crucial to understand the needs of the customers.

2. Clarify the goals

Ask specific questions to clarify goals. “So our objective is to increase the bottom line. Are there any other objectives I should know of?” If there is more than one objective, do not try to solve them all at once, instead, break the problem into pieces and solve one piece at a time. This will allow you to stay focused.

3. Write out your structure

First, ask your interviewer for a minute to prepare your structure since this part is extremely important and determines whether you will succeed in solving the case. Don’t be afraid of the silence!Practice structuring the case! If you have a good structure that is Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive (MECE), you do not have to worry about running into dead ends because even if you do, you can dig down an alternative branch that will ultimately help you solve the case. Use an issue tree to help in customizing your structure.

4. Ask questions to understand the trends of the company, industry and product

Ask questions about the firm’s business model, the state of the competition and its substitutes, the firm’s position within the industry, and the product. Make sure to ask about changes (or deltas) [how/if things have changed]. Example categories

  • What is the current situation of the client
  • What has changed from previous years
  • What are the financial (& non-financial) predictions given the current situation

Client:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the business model. Even if you have graduated with a business degree, it is impossible to know a company's business model without investigating details. Thus, solving a case based on false assumptions is worse than asking a question you think you should know beforehand. Typically, you'd want to know:

  • The size of the company
  • Whether it is profitable and growing
  • How a business transaction works within the company
  • How is the product being produced and what are some crucial production steps?

Industry:

For cases where external factors are decisive (e.g. market entry), you may want to know:

  • At which point of the lifecycle is the industry?
  • What is its configuration?
  • Who are the key players?
  • Who are the suppliers?
  • What is the client’s position relative to other firms?
  • What has changed? Who has left the industry? Who has recently entered the market? Why? Have any of the competitors changed their pricing? What about buying behavior?
  • Was there a change in regulations?
  • What are the major substitute products?
  • What are the future predictions about the market?

(For a systematic view, see Porter’s Five Forces)

Product:

In some cases, the crux of the matter is the product. In these cases, you want to know:

  • What exactly is the product? What does it do? What are its strengths/weaknesses? What is it mainly used for? Has there been a change in the way it is being used?
  • What is the lifecycle of the product? Is it still in the development phase or about to become outdated?
  • How is the brand/reputation?
  • How do competitors’ products perform in comparison? What are their strengths/weaknesses?
  • Who are the customers? How are they segmented? What do they need? Has the need changed recently (e.g. connectivity, “eco”, social)?
  • What is the price of the product? How is the price compared to competitors?
  • How is the product being promoted? Has a competitor recently changed its promotion activities?
  • What are the distribution channels? Is the sales place where the customers are? Have new distribution channels emerged recently?
  • What is the service (e.g. after sales) like? How does it compare to competitors? Has there been a change?
  • Closely related to the industry part: Are there any new technologies or products on the market?
  • What does the product consist of? What are the parts and where are they sourced?

(For a systematic view, see 4 Ps Framework)

A key evaluation criterion is your ability to structure a case and being able to adapt the structure throughout the case

A good case structure is the most important part of the case. Based on your structure, you will need to interpret the new information and draw conclusions from it. Try to segment your information until you have isolated the problem. If the problem is not captured by your structure, you will likely not be able to solve the case. Remember to practice setting up a case structure during your interview preparation.

Visit the issue tree lesson to learn how to set up a good structure

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