Ace your case interview with 4 consulting secrets.
No case interview is harder than that of McKinsey — it is consistently ranked as the toughest in the world. In the case interview, you will solve a business challenge that could determine the fate of a corporation. The interviewer presents you the case in a few sentences. Your client could be a large distillery company. The question could be: ”How can they grow the business?”. Now it is on you to drive the case. Time is of the essence — the case must be solved within 25-30 minutes.
You will be competing with the best and brightest of candidates. Memorizing frameworks or specific industry knowledge will not do the trick. To ace the case interview, you need to be like a surgeon — work quickly and effectively on the specifics of the case at hand. In order to do so, you must have the right tools and to know how to use them.
The best candidates I interviewed at McKinsey mastered these 4 secrets. They can make you stand out in your case study as well:
1. Define with clarifying questions
You start your case in the dark. The primary question is vague and often ambiguous: “how can we reduce costs?” or “what is the right technology for us?”. It is up to you to illuminate the case. Instead of trying to solve it right away, you need to define it first. The right questions will shed light on the case and point you in the right direction:
- Context: What is the client currently selling?” “How is it selling?
- Scope: Is the client focused on organic growth? Or also acquisitions?
- Success: What is the goal that the client wants to achieve? Is there a target?
2. Structure with open questions
Once you have defined the problem, you proceed by disaggregating it. The right way to do it is with a series of open questions in sentence form. “How can the client minimize its overhead costs?” is more useful than “I would analyse overhead costs”. Open questions – questions that begin with “what,” “how,” or “why”– generate deeper insights than closed ones, which start with “can” or “does.” A problem can be structured with open questions in different ways. For example, if the primary question is “how can Berg Distillery grow 1 billion kr over the next two years?”, you may break it down into three issues:
- Issue 1: “What is the expected growth?”
- Issue 2: “What additional growth can be stimulated?”
- Issue 3: “How much growth can we capture with acquisitions?”
3. Connect the dots
Top consultants can recognize interdependencies and infer patterns. You need to do the same. Connect the dots of the different case elements – issues, hypotheses, analyses, findings. Ask yourself “what are the relationships among these elements?”. Make that connection visible to the interviewer during two stages:
- Analyze: Losing your interviewer with a series of fragmented analyses could lose you the interview as well. Invite him into your thought process by providing internal summaries and transitions between the different analysis you perform — think out loud.
- Recommend: It is pointless to present many ideas but not connect them to the problem. Start by recapping the main analysis (“we realized that 43% of our customers view our brand as old school”). Then present a solution that links to the case discussion and answers the primary question (“I recommend we launch a new beer and revamp the brand to target millennials”).
4. Add perspective
It is not enough to come up with an elegant analytical solution to the case. As a consultant, your clients will ask you “what do I do” and “how do I do it?”. Therefore, you need put your recommendation into perspective:
- Action: Translate your overall solution into the specific actions that the client should take
- Practicality: Consider how your recommendation will work in the real world, including risks and implementation barriers
- Further investigation: Outline any limitation of the recommendation or what you would want to analyze further
Practice makes it perfect. Mastering these case interview secrets with surgical precision will be invaluable for your interviews and, ultimately, your career as a consultant. To go further in depth with these 4, as well as with other secrets to help you ace the case, read my post about the interview day. It will help you understand what awaits you in a case interview with McKinsey, BCG, or Bain.