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February 21, 2016

Why you should not use case in point to prepare for your consulting interviews

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Case in Point is the single main resource which aspiring consultants turn to - almost all candidates flick through it at some point during their preparation.

Many particularly diligent applicants will read and re-read this book, memorising the  Ivy Case System's 12 frameworks. The belief is that these will be the candidates' key to open the doors to consulting.

Unfortunately, the fact is that, despite pouring in endless hours of hard work, many of these candidates will face swift rejection at interview. Why? Because they were let down by their prep material...

Why the Case in Point approach is misleading

So, what's wrong the 12 apparently magical frameworks of the Ivy Case System? It's all about the faulty mindset they embody and which they instill in you. The frameworks are presented as the universal solution to all business problems. Whatever case study you are given is supposed to be soluble by applying one or more of these twelve generic schemes. If only real consulting cases were that easy!

Indeed, it's worth noting that, if the claims made on behalf of the Ivy Case System or similar methods were true, management consulting would simply not exist as an industry. Why would any company pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to bring in consultants if it was possible to solve all possible business problems with a $20 book with next day shipping from Amazon? Of course, management consultants are brought in precisely when issues aren't able to be addressed by generic solutions. Given that the cases you are given will be directly based on your interviewer's own work, you should expect to encounter case studies which refuse to fit into any framework.

Perhaps more straightforwardly, put yourself in the position of an MBB firm. What would you look for in a candidate? Brains? Check. Drive? Check. Communication skills? Check. Ability to memorize 12 frameworks... Wait, what?

Overall, then, consulting firms are not looking for the ability to memorize and follow a prepackaged approach. They want to see you solve a complicated problem in a structured way. What is more, they want to see that you are able to adapt your approach to new challenges.

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If not frameworks, then what?

So, how are you supposed to solve cases without frameworks? How are we supposed to approach case studies based on real consulting engagements? The answer is like a real consultant.

Real consultants never use anything like frameworks (ask one - they'll be very clear!). Rather, they approach each project on its own merits, understanding exactly the client's issues before logically structuring the problem using fundamental logical principles and then employing their characteristically pragmatic hypothesis-driven approach to efficiently arrive at solutions. This bespoke approach is exactly what their clients are paying for.

This way of working is exactly what we do at MyConsultingCoach. Our four-step Problem Driven Structure method for cracking case studies is effectively a slimmed-down version of the seven-step approach employed by McKinsey to tackle real projects. We designed our approach to give you the flexibility to reliably tackle any case you are given and to really impress your interviewer by doing so in exactly the way they would themselves.

You can read more about our approach to case studies in our introductory article on case interviews. This will link you to further useful articles to give you a great start on solving cases the right way. However, the very best place to learn how to use the Problem Driven Structure method to crack cases like a real consultant is with our MCC Academy course, which we explain more of below.

But this is not a marketing article! Let’s give you some advice on what to do if you already own or have read a copy of Case in Point, so that your time and money hasn’t been entirely wasted.

Prep the right way

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How to use frameworks

Whilst flawed, existing frameworks make for fine study aids where they are used in the right way.

For all their problems, frameworks wouldn't have survived for so long, or show such convergence on one another, if they didn't bear some meaningful relation to reality. Some of the concepts employed are basic strategy ideas that are useful to know - for instance, the difference between value based pricing and cost based pricing. In other situations, frameworks can be useful checklists to make sure you don't neglect any salient aspects of a case - such as considering Porter's five forces when analysing a market.

Important note! Even if you find a useful way to deploy aspects of a framework in your analysis, never ever tell the interviewer this is what you are doing! Interviewers loathe frameworks for all the reasons listed above and generally want to see you think for yourself.

However, there's something existing frameworks are not:  turn-key solutions to get you all the way through your case interview. Consultants (and clients) expect solutions which are tailored, original and actionable - something that frameworks can seldom deliver.

So, it’s starting to look like there are some advantages associated with frameworks after all!? It’s true that they might not work on their own, but they do capture some regularities in the business world – and with sufficient judgment, they can serve as shortcuts to help you analyse cases more quickly. In short, they can save you time on approaching every new problem entirely from scratch.

However, all this requires a very sophisticated level of judgment to accomplish reliably. All the time there will be the risk of falling back towards the kind of over-reliance on frameworks that sees candidates fail interviews in droves.

The best of both worlds: Building Blocks


At MyConsultingCoach, we have devised our “building blocks” to allow our approach to capture what is useful about frameworks without inheriting any of the failings we have enumerated above. Each of our building blocks encodes a recurring structure that come up across many different cases. Thus, we teach you how to deal with themes around estimates, profitability, pricing, valuation and competitive interaction.

These building blocks are designed to be modular, with you slotting one or more into your bespoke structure to significantly accelerate your analysis. However, we are clear any single building block is highly unlikely to capture the specific complexities of any real case study.

Thus, the end result is that you can reliably leverage the symmetries between cases without risk of defaulting to dysfunctional frameworks.

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Our case interview method

You can start reading about our Problem Driven Structure approach to case cracking and the building blocks that accompany it our website articles. However, the best place to learn everything you need to know about these tools, as well as all the background knowledge and skills you need to excel in case interview, is in our MCC Aademy course.

Our MCC Academy case interview course was developed with a single goal in mind – to help candidates succeed by teaching them to think, act and communicate like a world-class strategy consultant. After completing our course, you’ll be equipped not only to ace the interview process, but also to hit the ground running on day one of the job.

The idea of getting hired by acquiring the fundamental skills associated with the job might seem obvious. However, our approach is actually in stark contrast to the old-fashioned case interview systems you have probably have run into already.

These other methods simply have you memorise perhaps a dozen “standard” frameworks. This shortlist of generic recipes is supposed to allow you to answer any case question the interviewer comes up with. This is in spite of the fact that that cases will be based on real engagements, where major firms were forced to call in consultants as they couldn’t solve the problem in-house… In short, frameworks are unlikely to give you correct answers.

Our unique Problem Driven Approach allows you to tackle each case on its own merits, developing a bespoke solution to capture all of the problem’s unique complexities – just like a real consultant! We equip you with everything you need to know, starting from the ground up. Specifically, we can support you in:

  1. Understanding business fundamentals: Get your mini-MBA with our Marketing, Strategy and Economics, Accounting & Finance modules
  2. Learning how to crack cases:  Identify the problem, build a bespoke problem driven structure, lead the analysis and how to provide recommendations.
  3. Accelerating your approach with our building blocks: Master profitability analysis, competitive dynamics, pricing discussions, among others to let you deal with recurring themes in cases without restricting you to simplistic frameworks.

Our coaching sessions

Coaching from a real MBB consultant can help even the best candidates pinpoint their weak points and turn them into strengths. As well as helping you master case studies, a coach will give you a new self-awareness of your profile and how best to position yourself for an MBB offer. Just as importantly, they will give you the confidence to know for sure you can succeed against such a formidable challenge!

Join thousands of other candidates cracking cases like pros

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