February 21, 2016

Why you should not use Case in Point to prepare for your consulting interviews

News

An unofficial survey among aspiring consultants shows that Case in Point clearly stands out as the main preparation resource for aspiring consultants: several applicants used it as their only guidebook and almost all candidates consulted it at a point during their preparation. If something is so popular there must be some good, you could argue. The highlight of Case in Point is the Ivy Case System, basically a collection of 12 frameworks that allegedly cover most situations you could encounter in a case. Several committed applicants memorize them, thinking that they are the key that opens the doors to consulting. Unfortunately usually none of them ends up becoming a consultant.

Why the case in point approach is misleading

What's wrong about the 12 magic frameworks of the Ivy Case System? It's all about the mindset you are led to acquire. The frameworks are presented as the master key top all cases: just learn them well and every case you'll face will be solvable by one or a combination of the 12 frameworks. All you have to do is understanding what the case is about and picking the right framework. If it was that simple, then the only thing a strong candidate should do is learning the 12 frameworks to the highest level of detail and precision. 

However consulting firms are not looking for Manchurian candidates and don't see much value in your memorizing skills. They want you to show to solve a complicated problem in a structured way, but the way is often to be figured out in each case. That is why everyone who tried desperately to solve make the case he was given fit into one of the 12 frameworks failed miserably. 

HOW TO USE FRAMEWORKS

Existing frameworks are good study aids, they should just be used in the right way. Some concepts are basic strategy ideas that is good to keep in mind, such as the difference between value based pricing and cost based pricing. In other situations they can be useful as a check list to make sure you don't leave anything out of your radar, such as the Porter 5 forces when analysing a market (although better to never tell the interviewer you are using them). In summary, frameworks are good and powerful, they should just be used for what they are: (overly) simplified methods of solving generic problems.

However cases are usually not generic and each of them requires a new framework, that you will build on the spot, based on:

  • Proper understanding of the objective of the case. Ask yourself: What is the single crucial piece of advice that the client absolutely needs.
  • Identification of the drivers. Ask yourself: what are the key forces that play a role in defining the outcome.

You will need to define a clear and strong structure at the beginning of the case, drawing inspiration from other frameworks, your common sense (the most undervalued asset) and your intuition. Two recommendations here:

  • Devote time in laying down a clear structure at the beginning of the case and share it with the interviewer. If you get the interviewer's buy in, this will be the path you'll have to follow to crack the case
  • Be analytical: if you really think almost everything can be transformed into a formula. This way you'll see the factors that you already have and quickly prioritize the ones you are missing.

Find out more in our article on the Priority Driven Structure.

How you should prepare for cases

Here a list of key steps you should take to maximize the effectiveness off your interview prep:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the basics of the case interview. There are some good videos by Bain that filming real case interviews.
  2. Get a grasp of basic frameworks: casebooks from the business schools (Harvard, MIT, LBS) are easily found online and can be very good sources. But remember, try to get familiar more with the way authors identify objectives and key drivers than with the frameworks themselves.
  3. Learn from an experienced consultant. The case interview is a rite, and there is a lot that can be learnt. Practising with an experienced (ex-) consultant is the ONLY way of making sure that your preparation is on track. Since it can be hard or  expensive, we strongly advice to get 4 or 5 sessions spread across your preparation period, so that you can make the best of the feedback.
  4. Practice on your own. Important caveat: when you read a solution that is different from your solution don't panic. Potentially they might be equally good. Focus on structure, objective and drivers. Those are the important factors, not the final results.
  5. Practice with friends: while practicing on your own helps you get started, it is difficult to effectively assess your performance. Practice with fellow peers who are also applying to consulting. Struggling to find someone? Join our meeting board to find case partners and practice using our case bank. All for free. Forever. Yes, free forever.
  6. Keep track of your progress: Doing a wide variety of cases in different areas you'll be able to iteratively build your own frameworks and keep track of your mistakes.

Our programmes at My Consulting Coach aim to put you in the best position to maximize the effectiveness of your preparation without charging you a fortune. What makes us different from our competitors is our approach. We believe in enabling you to do as much as possible of the work autonomously: this is why we provide clear feedback and follow up cases that you can do with friends (or even on your own).

One final caveats: pay LOTS of attention when picking interviewers. There is sometimes an adverse selection here: people who give case interviews on the internet tend to be the ones who were fired after 5-6 months in consulting. Most of them avoid specifying the number of months on their Linkedin profile, so that it looks longer. At My Consulting Coach all the interviews are performed by ex-MBB (McKinsey/Bain/BCG) consultants with at least 2 years experience. We provide their resume and give you the right of choosing a different interviewer should you decide to get mentored.