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Read and Download Ebook ([PDF]) Case Interview Secrets: A Former McKinsey Interviewer Reveals How To Get Multiple Job Offers In Consulting PDF ([PDF]). Victor gave me a clear understanding of how to structure a case interview .. my free online tutorials on this subject: hamhillfort.info To download these free companion items, visit hamhillfort.info Download CASE INTERVIEW SECRETS A FORMER MCKINSEY Julia and the girls FREE BONUS ITEMS The free companion items to this.


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Case interview free ebook, no charges and no email registration required. They are all available for immediate download, without putting you. Google Download with Facebook or download with email. Free ebook: 75 interview questions an aswers The Complete Job, Interview, Resume/LinkedIn. free download, save or read online victor cheng case interview pdf file for free from our if searching for the ebook case interview secrets: a former mckinsey.

Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Case Interview Secrets Victor Cheng. Thi Nguyen Thi Tien. Victor gave me a clear understanding of how to structure a case interview using a highly logical approach. Thanks, Victor!

Its two distinguishing features are as follows: The interviewer not you determines which parts of the case are important, decides which questions are worth asking, asks you those questions, and then expects you to answer them. The flow of the case is very abrupt. If a case has four key areas, in a traditional case you would determine which of the four areas is most important, analyze the first area, move on to the second most important area, determine your conclusion, and present that conclusion.

Format 5: The Written Case Interview In a written case interview, you are given a lot of charts and exhibits; expect somewhere between 5 and Other variations include starting a case in written format and finishing it in another format, such as a group or presentation-only case interview. Format 6: The Group Case Interview In a group case interview, the interviewer presents a case problem to you and, typically, three other candidates.

The interviewer gives you and your teammates several exhibits, poses an open- ended question, and expects you to work with each other to solve the case. Format 7: The Presentation-Only Case Interview The presentation-only case overlaps partially with the written case.

As in the written case interview, you will typically be presented with a large stack of charts and exhibits, given an hour or two to analyze the information, and then be expected to create a slide presentation of your findings and recommendations.

After preparing your presentation, you meet the interviewer for the first time. Your presentation is the sole factor the interviewer uses to decide whether you pass the case. The interviewer never observes your analysis or problem-solving skills—only how you present the results of your analysis and problem solving. Of the major firms, McKinsey headed in this direction first, and Bain and BCG have experimented with this approach in some countries.

It is primarily a math, estimation, logic, and critical-thinking test written to be accessible to people with nonbusiness backgrounds and from a variety of countries and cultures. In some respects, having some business background could be a bit of a liability in this situation. Someone with an analytical and logical bent will take the questions and data literally—which is good.

I suggest you read each question carefully. If you rush, you might think a question is familiar and quickly answer the question you think is being asked. Instead, answer the literal question being asked, using the actual data presented. Take sample tests from McKinsey and some of the other firms that use a similar process. The upside is that these are the most realistic representations of the real tests.

The downside is that there are very few sample tests available online, so you likely will go through them quickly. One of the main skills evaluated is how to solve a math word problem—a verbal description of a situation for which you have to figure out the type of math computation required, given what is asked.

This general skill is very useful on the job as a consultant. Another fundamental skill is data interpretation—you have data in charts, graphs, and tables, but what does it mean? Which data is necessary to answer the question? Which data is just a distraction? Math and numerical critical-reasoning skills are like muscles—the more you use them, the stronger you get.

To sharpen these skills, I recommend using a subset of questions from GRE practice tests. If you become extremely proficient and efficient in answering the straightforward math questions that are, relatively speaking, easier to prepare for in advance, you maximize the time you have available during the test to answer the more complicated, multipart questions that require math computation, data sufficiency, and critical-reasoning skills.

Note that the math, numerical critical-reasoning, and data interpretation practice resources help with only 50 to 70 percent of the test. Practice the speed and accuracy of your arithmetic. The McKinsey PST is a timed test designed to identify only those who are very good at math and logical thinking. Even if you have a PhD in physics or math, it is very important that you practice your math computations. I have received many emails from engineers who had 4.

Practice Resources Because these tests evolve over time, I have a resource guide on my website with up-to-date links to practice resources, sample questions, and sample tests: I also provide a tool to help with arithmetic speed and accuracy: This tool compares your math accuracy and speed to those of other www. In consulting, clients often ask you to evaluate dozens of potential opportunities. Often consultants determine whether an opportunity is worth considering by evaluating whether the estimated financial impact is even remotely close to the minimum financial return expected.

Using this estimation skill can easily eliminate 80 percent of the opportunities from consideration. For example, I recently worked with a client to develop options to grow the business. The executive team came up with 30 different possibilities, but the company, being relatively small, simply did not have the manpower to analyze, let alone pursue, 30 new revenue streams simultaneously.

Using a marker and flip chart, I worked with the client to estimate the best-case-scenario revenue impact for each opportunity. I asked the client the following questions: What percentage of the existing customer base would be prospective buyers of the new product?

In the best-case scenario, what percentage would realistically buy? What is the maximum price you could realistically charge? We killed the idea on the spot and ended a three-year debate in just ten minutes. Clients value the ability to resolve long-standing debates of opinions, using estimates based on reasonable assumptions. And if clients value something, then consulting firm partners value finding people who can give clients what they want.

Given this context, you can see why interviewers ask estimation questions. Computation-Level Estimates To effectively answer estimation questions based on a set of basic facts that provide a snapshot of a particular situation, you must be able to 1 do mental math with larger numbers, and 2 round numbers intelligently.

Estimation Skill 1: Ideally, you need to be able to do these computations in your head or, at most, with only a pen and a piece of paper.

Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng

The trick is to simplify the problem before you attempt to solve it. Let me illustrate using the example above. So I try to move decimal points only when the math is very simple. Looking at the following equation, I think about which type of operation multiplication or division will be less confusing to tackle. I go with multiplication. The formula is currently: All I need to do is solve the first part of the formula and split it in half in order to get the second half: Often it is much easier to solve a long series of simple math problems than a short series of complicated ones.

You may not need to break down this problem into as many simpler parts as I did, but the process of doing so is important when it comes to passing quantitative assessment tests. You can simplify a problem in any mathematically correct way you choose. The secret here is to become accustomed to rearranging a large-numbers math problem into a simpler format before you compute anything. As with any new habit or skill, you will want to practice this math-simplification skill.

You can do so by using the large-numbers math practice tool available here: Estimation Skill 2: We need a directionally correct answer only. Pay attention not only to the math but also to my thought process and rationale for why I make certain adjustments. I start with the following formula: I need to get it to a round number. I could round down to 50 million or up to 60 million.

It is very important to keep track of whether your estimate will be too high or too low. Back to the computation, we now have: I have a decimal in there, and 17 is a hard number to work with.

Well, I could round to 15 percent or to 20 percent, and both are 2. That means my estimate so far is too low. So, if possible, in my next step I want to round in the opposite direction, up. So now I have: This is the mental thought process you want to use when estimating numbers—round numbers intelligently in an offsetting fashion.

If you round down to start, you want to round up next, and vice versa. The discreet hand signals I use are as follows: Estimation Skill 3: Finding a Proxy One of the big secrets to solving extremely complicated estimation questions is to find a useful proxy. What is a proxy? When interviewers asked me questions like these, my instinctive response was to panic, but I successfully answered these questions, passed the interviews, and got offers from all three firms that asked me those questions—Oliver Wyman, McKinsey, and Bain.

The interview process for these firms today differs from when I went through it. The examples that follow illustrate the range of difficulty you can expect when tackling a question like this. However, you should not use my personal experience as an indicator of which firms ask these types of questions in which interview round. As a candidate, I solved many of these estimation questions without explicitly realizing what I was doing.

That step is finding the proxy. When I first learned how to tackle estimation questions, most of the examples I found were about estimating a market: How many X are sold in America? Without realizing it, I used population as a partial proxy for market size. The key to solving estimation questions is not to base your estimates on population size automatically.

Instead, base your estimates on a relevant proxy coincidentally, this is population much of the time. Example 1 How many gallons or liters of gasoline does a typical filling station pump each week? What factors correlate with how much gasoline a typical filling station pumps on a given weekday?

Any thoughts? Here are mine: The average number of pumps each station has on-site The average number of cars that drive by, based on time of day more cars during commuter hours, fewer cars during off-peak hours The average percentage of pumps being used The average volume of gasoline pumped per car The average pump time per car Example 2 Assume the year is , and Motorola just invented a new technology called the cellular phone.

I nearly answered this tough question wrong. First, let me provide the context. It was my Bain final-round interview.

I had done well with all the other interviewers, and this was the last question, from the last interviewer, in the last round. I heard the interviewer ask the question, and I panicked. Furthermore, based on personal knowledge, I knew the mobile phone would ultimately succeed. But how could I prove this based on what was knowable in as opposed to what we know today?

As I often do when I panic, I stalled for time! I smiled calmly on the outside, but inside I was scratching my head. Here was my thought process: Clearly, sales will be a function of the size of the U. I also knew that sales of this technology would skyrocket and be significant, so clearly population alone was not the best proxy.

But what was? The main issue was the price; it was just so damned expensive. So, as time progresses, technology costs will go down, prices will go down, and consumers will respond by buying more. And how big will the unit sales increases be? If prices fell by 20 percent, how much would unit sales increase?

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What would be the closest proxy? That was the vague sentiment I had in my head, and I wish I had known enough to phrase it using these terms. We have the first three years of sales data for cellular phones, and assuming we can get Motorola to estimate manufacturing costs at various product run sizes, we can triangulate the unit sales growth with the price-drop ratio for cellular technology.

We could do this by comparing the first three years of sales for cellular technology with the first three years of sales for every other major new technology. As prices of fax machines dropped by 20 percent, for example, how much did unit sales increase? What about microwave ovens? In essence, the adoption curve for cellular phones might mirror the adoption curve for other major new technologies. She ended up offering me a job the next day. In hindsight, I got lucky. I realize now that finding the proxy is the critical step in solving this and every other estimation question.

Estimation Skill 4: For example, if we look at the gas station example, we know that how much gasoline a typical filling station dispenses is correlated to how many pumps the typical station has and what percentage of those pumps is used at any given time. If every pump is used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then the total pumping volume will be determined by how many pumps that station has on the premises.

We can be confident that this proxy sets the upper limit. We know, however, that a gas pump will not be used all day long. Sometimes pumps sit idle, so the number of pumps is a useful but imperfect proxy. Here was my rationale: Car traffic peaks on local roads during commuter hours, which in the United States are roughly 7: The likelihood that most, if not all, of the pumps at a gas station are in use during those hours is quite high.

Estimation Skill 5: In the case of the gasoline-pumping example, I created three different estimates: Conceptually, my estimate looked like this: Solving the Sub-estimates via Assumptions aka Guesstimating Once you have segmented your estimates to minimize the imperfections caused by a particular proxy, solve each sub-estimate. You will typically be able to use a pen and a piece of paper but not a calculator to solve these computations. Continuing with our prior example, we would start by estimating peak hour gallons pumped.

Each island has two stations. Each station has two pumps one on each side of the island. The actual pumping takes about four to five minutes, and it takes another minute to put the pump back, grab the receipt, and move my car. In a minute time period, at six minutes per car, that means each pump can fill ten cars per hour.

I know some cars take a lot more, and some of the smaller fuel-efficient cars take less. We also have to factor in those cars whose tanks are not completely empty when being filled. I mentioned earlier that the typical island has all eight pumps running at roughly 80 percent utilization during peak hours. So my guess is that the utilization rate is around 25 to 50 percent during off-peak hours, and we can simplify that by saying 40 percent of the pumps are utilized.

This works out to be exactly half of the 80 percent utilization rate during peak hours. That works out to 4, gallons: Practice Makes Perfect! I hope this chapter has demystified estimation questions and shown you a process you can use to tackle these questions in your interviews. To practice the component-level math of large numbers, including rounding, go here: You can submit your answer and compare it to the answers of several hundred other people and to my answer key.

This sample question and its answer key can be found here: If you demonstrate that you have mastered the skills that consulting firms want, you will do well in every type of case interview. To appreciate why this is so and its implications for you, you must recognize why consulting firms do certain things during the recruiting process.

They often report back to me on what advice from me they found helpful in passing the case interview. The information that follows is that advice. Why Consulting Firms Do What They Do Candidates often send me feedback about my explanations as to why consulting firms do what they do. Why do interviewers ask certain questions? Why do they use certain assessments?

Why do they challenge your answers so aggressively? This is important because what consulting firms do in the recruiting process changes yearly and sometimes from one interviewer to another. But why they do what they do has not changed in decades. If a candidate has enough interviews, he will encounter an exotic question, a new twist, or an extremely unusual case.

With that in mind, consider the following implications. First, if you hate case interviews, you likely will hate the job. Being a consultant is like going through a case interview every day of your career. Second, case interviews involve estimation questions because clients ask estimation questions all the time.

I was asked plenty of estimation questions when I was a candidate, but once I started working at McKinsey, I ended up answering more estimation questions as a consultant than I ever did as a candidate. Third, everything that happens in a case interview happens because it simulates some aspect of the on-the-job experience. When the interviewer asks you a random question in an interview, stop thinking like a candidate trying to impress the interviewer.

Instead, think like a consultant: Proving Yourself as a Consultant The consulting team and firm must prove themselves early in their relationship with a client. When you start working with a new client, some individuals within the client organization may express skepticism about the value you and the consulting firm can bring.

So how can you prove your worth and be taken seriously? Develop data-supported conclusions especially counterintuitive ones that lead the client toward a different set of decisions. Often the client or certain members of the client organization are looking to discredit you so they can get back to running the company. In that case, a semi-hostile client is looking for you to screw up somehow. The two most common screwups are the following: Clients often interpret nervousness as a lack of conviction about a particular recommendation, which is why answering a case perfectly but nervously will get you rejected.

For example, if a consultant were to recommend nervously that the client lay off 2, employees, the client would second-guess the recommendation. Even if the recommendation were percent correct, the client would sense some degree of hesitation, uncertainty, or reservation from the consultant based on how the message was delivered, not the content of the message itself. As a result, consulting firm interviewers assess the level of confidence you project while solving a problem analytically.

As I mentioned, every aspect of the interview process happens for a reason, and most often that reason is to simulate some aspect of the on-the-job experience. This is the vital point to keep in mind as I cover in the next chapter the specifics of what interviewers are looking for and explain why they look for the things they do. Most candidates start the case interview learning process by seeking out rigid rules to follow.

They think that if they can learn every interview format and every type of case question, they will be prepared. But in addition to preparing for your case interview, keep in mind a simple principle: Interviewers look for candidates who seem like colleagues already. The tone of the interview switched from evaluative to collaborative. In essence, the candidate who stands out the most in an interview is the one who acts like a consultant already.

To me, a case interview is no different than a team meeting with the partner. Clients demand certain things of consulting firm partners, and partners expect their consultants to offer what the client demands.

Consultants, who also serve as case interviewers, in turn demand these skills from the candidates they interview. How the Consulting Business Works At the heart of every consulting firm are two groups of people: At McKinsey, we never discounted fees; we over-delivered, did extra work for clients for free, and worked harder. Each consultant on the team has two billing rates: These rates are rarely published internally or if published, not published very widely , but they exist to keep track of whether a client engagement is profitable.

When partners and managers look to staff their teams, they tend to look for the strongest contributors at every cost point— who provides the most value per dollar—in order to deliver higher-quality work at lower costs and maximum profit. An interesting problem arises with brand-new first-year consultants, who often contribute negative value to an engagement team. More-experienced consultants must double-check at an extremely detailed level anything these consultants work on.

Thus, the additional time required to manage new consultants largely offsets their contributions. In these situations, the cost of the first-year consultant on his or her first assignment is billed to the training department. This entire process, convoluted as it seems, exists in large part because first-year consultants have not yet proven their ability to solve problems independently.

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The Value of an Independent Problem Solver Let me share a story with you that illustrates why consulting firms value independent problem solvers. In my third month at McKinsey, when I was only 22 years old, I was assigned to a client based in New York that had a small division in Cleveland, Ohio. The entire team, including me, was based in New York. All the other consultants on the team were married and had kids.

My manager went to Cleveland weekly, at most, for just one day, mostly to build client relationships and attend key meetings. The rest of the time I was on my own. So, what was the project? See you in a few months. Plus, I had just 90 days of consulting experience then —not much more skill than what I had during the interview process. When a consultant interviews you, she is wondering, Can I drop you off with a division of a Fortune company by yourself, with little to no supervision? Can you handle the client, solve its problems, and in the process make the firm look good?

She is also thinking, Do I want you on my team right now? Phrased differently, that interviewer is asking herself, Will you be an independent problem solver fairly quickly, or will I have to babysit you for the next two years of your career?

My manager on the Cleveland project became a partner at McKinsey. His ability to do partner-level work was directly related to my ability and the ability of the other consultants on the team to be an independent problem solver. This is exactly why managers need independent problem solvers—their own career progress very much depends on it. Doing as Little as Possible vs. Boiling the Ocean As I mentioned previously, a routine problem in consulting is not having enough consultants to do all the work the client wants done.

Clients want you to do as much work as possible for the lowest possible cost, whereas consulting firms want to charge as much as possible while doing as little work as possible and still delighting the client. You end up having to make difficult choices in how you manage your time. In this context, many consultants use the phrase boiling the ocean to describe how not to prioritize your client work.

As the metaphor goes, if you want one cup of hot water, there are two ways you can get it: Get one cup of water, put it on the stove, and boil it. Boil the entire ocean and then scoop up one cup of the boiling water. Basically, the metaphor means that you can do as much or as little as possible to get the job done. In consulting, the latter is valued and praised. So how does this relate to the case interview? At this point, the interview might as well be over because the decision has been made, but for the sake of politeness the interview continues.

Accurate Enough vs. Precisely Accurate One trait about consulting that drives some people crazy is its general lack of precision. It drives engineers and scientists, who are accustomed to a high degree of precision in their chosen fields, particularly crazy.

If you talk to a civil engineer about how best to design a bridge, she will tell you precisely how thick the steel beams need to be, given the design specifications of the bridge.

And why is this? You guessed it—the client! Should we merge with our No. Should we close our South America division? Should we enter the corporate accounts market segment? What should we do? The introduction of XYZ technology has us deeply concerned about the future of our business. Our two largest competitors just merged and are now bigger than us. Should we do it? The seasoned consultant would immediately stop the analysis and present the conclusion.

The person accustomed to precise math would be inclined to spend the extra two weeks to determine the more precise number. This is a mistake. In consulting, you always pick and choose your words carefully, because you need to be able to back up anything you say. What the client hears is not that you think it should take X action; it hears that BCG thinks it should take X action.

The single biggest nightmare of partners at the top firms is some first-year consultant shooting off his or her mouth, saying something the firm cannot factually justify.

After all, it makes the partners themselves look really bad. Their second biggest nightmare is the new consultant being a jerk and offending the client. Choose Your Words Carefully Why do interviewers nitpick every word you say during an interview? Because clients nitpick the same thing every day. A consulting firm will interact with many people within a client organization. The primary client contact typically is friendly to the consulting firm, but some of the other client contacts may not be.

Some resent the outside consultants. Some feel threatened that the outside firm will find their mistakes and make them look bad. Some even want to discredit the consulting firm. These are the client contacts who nitpick what consultants say, which is why your choice of words even in an interview is important. If you say that something always makes sense for the client to do, be prepared to defend every possible situation in order to substantiate your argument.

If the interviewer is in a particularly finicky mood and believes you made the wrong word choice, he might think up five different scenarios where your recommendation would not be correct, thereby forcing you to defend your point of view that the recommendation is always true. It sure is. Why do consulting firms do this? Being Right vs. Client friendliness is particularly important. Many businesspeople have excellent judgment and make good decisions including many billionaires, incidentally , but many would make lousy consultants because they present their ideas too bluntly, without regard for how the other person receives the comment at an emotional level.

For example, making or stating conclusions without showing and explaining your work is not client-friendly. Maybe she saw a sign of a major life-threatening stroke.

The same idea applies to consulting. Clients do not accept factually accurate recommendations; they accept factually supported recommendations they can understand.

Those last three words are worth gold, because they explain why interviewers look for good communicators, not just analytical problem solvers. Interviewers highly value candidates who can think and communicate linearly as opposed to jumping around in a scattershot way. They tend to reject candidates who jump from concept A to U and then from F to T, even if these candidates arrive at the factually supported answer.

The right answer is pointless unless a client can understand the process undertaken to get it. This principle applies to case interviews too. I recommend that you practice your communication skills as much as you do your technical problem-solving skills. Would I want to spend three hours sitting next to you on an airplane? Sadly, you often do spend a lot of time on airplanes with your colleagues. As you might expect, the No. No one likes to work with one, and that kind of behavior is just not client-friendly.

Some client contacts perceive you as a distrusted, unwanted outsider. That way they can discredit you and the firm, turn everyone else against you, and ultimately get you and your firm kicked out of the client organization. But because many McKinsey consultants were extremely accomplished, and often those accomplishments were mentioned early in an engagement to establish credibility, some people found McKinsey consultants arrogant.

Because that perception was so strong, I went out of my way not to be perceived as arrogant. In my first year at McKinsey, one of my engagement managers was a native German who transferred to the New York office.

Germans have a reputation for prizing efficiency, and this engagement manager was no exception. In his first few months, he had difficulty adjusting to U. Of course, if you know Midwesterners, you know that some of them take offense at this kind of brisk treatment. If you want their cooperation, you have to do it too.

He actually became chatty and made small talk. He stopped being an asshole and immediately became much more effective with U. Along these same lines, when you interact with the major consulting firms, your initial contact most often will be with a recruiting coordinator who plays an administrative role and does not participate in the client service functions of the firm. In the context of a case interview, process excellence is when a candidate is consistently able to follow a problem-solving process successfully over and over again.

In a case interview, you are evaluated on two things: Of these two areas, the former is much more important. Your ability to use a successful process consistently is substantially more important than is getting the right answer within the allotted time for the interview. Interviewers perceive a candidate who gets a mostly correct but incomplete answer derived from a good process as more desirable than they do a candidate who gets the right answer but uses a poor and unrepeatable process.

Interviewers see the latter as someone who just got lucky. Consultants complained there was no downtime and vacation time between projects. Some of the partners expressed concern about this potential morale problem.

During a weekly Friday lunch, the head of the office held a discussion session to address the issues bothering the associates. During the session, a consultant suggested that office leadership eliminate all the snack foods in the entire office. The consultant made the suggestion for two reasons: He proceeded to give a very rigorous analysis to explain his suggestion.

Add it up over the course of a year: It was linear, logical, and based on facts and reasonable estimates of them ; it used numbers to quantify; and most important, other people could follow the line of reasoning easily. Interviewers assess how well you synthesize and communicate your big-picture conclusions.

You have to shift your focus from the detail-oriented aspects of a business to the higher-level implications that need to be presented to the CEO. What should we do about it? The consultants will then assemble a recommendation, using supporting facts and analysis, and present it to the client, often at a cost of millions of dollars.

Consulting firms are often criticized for this type of behavior. There is some truth to this criticism, but it misses an underlying point: When a client has greater clarity about and confidence in a particular course of action, the client is much more likely to take action. So how exactly does a consultant convey clarity and confidence to a client? One word: When a consultant delivers a well-synthesized recommendation, she usually has done two things well.

First, she has put the recommendations in context. Instead of simply recommending that the client do X, a well-synthesized recommendation will recommend that the client do X because it will have ripple effects Y and Z, both of which are favorable. There may be concern about issue A, but the benefits of ripple effects Y and Z outweigh it. I call this process of highlighting all the ripple-effect ramifications of a particular course of action connecting the dots. In subsequent chapters, I provide examples of how to synthesize a case effectively.

Think about that mental model as we transition to talking about the core problem-solving tools every aspiring consultant must master. I always aimed to master the problem-solving tools that you have to use in any imaginable case format so I would be prepared for whatever happened in an interview.

If you develop your problem-solving skills as opposed to just your case interview skills , you will be able to deal with a wider range of problems in a case interview. At McKinsey, I used these tools every single day, without exception.

Kearney, and others tell me they use these tools every day too. You can use the exact same tools to tackle any type of case interview: Hypothesis The word hypothesis comes from the scientific method, which a scientist uses to test an idea she has about what might be true in our world. From here, the scientist makes intuitive guesses that form the basis for her hypothesis.

The next step in the scientific method is to construct an experiment to test this idea, or hypothesis, conclusively to determine if it is true. For example, in the pharmaceutical drug industry, you often hear the phrase double-blind study. In such a study, two groups of patients are compared: If those who take the medication show the desired effect better or faster, scientists conclude that the pill works.

These three steps—hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion—are the same ones an aspiring management consultant should use to solve cases. Viagra, which is used to treat erectile dysfunction, was originally hypothesized to be useful in treating high blood pressure. Researchers hypothesized that Viagra would reduce blood pressure in patients by dilating blood vessels. In the experiment that followed, scientists discovered only modest blood pressure improvements in those male patients who took the drug.

But those same patients reported having a remarkable sex life during the study, and thus a life-changing discovery was made. The rest is history. In science, the scientific method is an iterative cycle, with each phase based on a slightly different hypothesis born of the observations made in the previous phase.

Many successful business leaders solve complex business problems intuitively, based on gut instinct, but this approach is frowned upon in consulting, because even if intuitive recommendations are correct, proving them as such to clients is difficult. Clients need proof as to which opinion is correct.

Consulting firms have come to favor the scientific method approach when they need to prove a point, and as noted, this approach starts with the hypothesis.

To test this hypothesis, I need to know how the components of profits have changed since last year. In particular, I need to know how sales and expenses have changed since last year.

Sales have remained unchanged, and costs have increased by 20 percent. My conclusion is that my initial hypothesis seems to have been proven false. It looks like the client is facing a cost problem more so than a revenue problem. My next hypothesis is Notice how this hypothesis-experiment-conclusion process repeats itself. The first step is to state a hypothesis, and the second step is to decide how you will test your hypothesis using an issue tree, or framework.

An issue tree lays out a set of logical conditions that, if proven correct, prove the hypothesis correct. The term issue tree comes from the way such a logical structure looks—like a tree on its side—when diagrammed on paper: Figure 1: Issue Tree Diagram Alternatively, you can think of an issue tree as a logical argument. Attorneys use an issue tree structure when writing a legal brief.

Your high school English or native language teacher used something similar when assigning an expository writing assignment in which you had to argue logically for a point of view. The logic of an issue tree is as follows: A two-layer issue tree has two layers of conditions: A two-layer issue tree looks like this: Frameworks as Issue Tree Templates A framework is essentially a template based on a commonly used issue tree.

Because consultants tend to see similar problems among many different clients, some have developed frameworks to deal with these frequently occurring problems. For example, many clients experience declining profits.

Revenues are further broken down into their component parts: A similar breakdown is used for costs. Figure 2: Profitability Framework Diagram In the profitability framework, the logical construct happens to be quantitative in nature and uses a mathematical equation to solve profitability problems. For example: Eating Mexican food for dinner is the optimal choice Culinary benefit: We like the food Financial benefit: Assuming the structure is valid, the logic says that if all three conditions are proven true, then our hypothesis is true.

Yes, we should eat Mexican food tonight. Consultants refer to the process of devising logical arguments or issue trees to test their hypotheses as problem structuring.

So if an interviewer tells you that your problem structuring is weak, it means one of two things: I call this drill-down analysis because you start at the top of your issue tree and drill down through all the logical branches and sub-branches, gathering data to factually prove or disprove that branch or sub-branch.

When you do drill-down analysis properly, you reach a logical dead end—a point at which you have clearly proven all conditions within a branch and can logically conclude that a particular branch of your argument is valid.

When the latter occurs, you have effectively disproven your hypothesis, so you must consider a new one. As part of this process, you will often go back to your revised hypothesis and use drill-down analysis to analyze the remaining branches of your issue tree assuming the branches are still relevant and have not been modified due to your revised hypothesis. Drill-down analysis is essentially a process of elimination.

You drill down one branch of analysis, disqualifying or qualifying its relevance, which very much simulates the iterative problem- solving approach typical of consulting and case interviews.

You do this over and over, all day long, in both consulting and case interviews. Drill down, pull up, revise the hypothesis, restructure the issue tree, drill down again Your communication must be concise, integrate detailed analysis in view of the big picture, and be action-oriented. Many analytically strong candidates, including those with PhDs in engineering and the sciences, who are new to the case interview process can solve a case effectively up until the synthesis stage.

These candidates understand the logical and quantitative aspects of the case clearly, but they sometimes find that explaining their discovery concisely to an interviewer or client can be challenging. Most candidates close a case by summarizing the steps they took to arrive at the conclusion, which typically looks like this: What I learned 1 What I learned 2 What I learned 3 What I learned 4 What I learned 5 Essentially, case interview beginners instinctively want to list every fact they discovered during the case.

For example, someone using this structure might say: Sales are down 20 percent in the Northeast. The Fortune account customer segment is growing the fastest.

This is not the preferred way to synthesize. The preferred method uses the following structure: What client should do Why client should do it—Fact 1 Why client should do it—Fact 2 Why client should do it—Fact 3 Restate what client should do based on these facts In the ideal synthesis, you start your communication by stating what the client should do.

The following are examples of this type of statement: You need to shut down the Eastern region factory. To achieve your financial goals, you must enter the XYZ market immediately. You should lay off 3, employees. After making your action-oriented conclusion statement, lay out the rationale for your recommendation by citing key facts to support it.

Quite often the structure of your closing argument will mirror your final issue tree structure. So here they are again: In some cases, you may be asked to use the first three tools to prepare and then give a presentation to the interviewer, as in a presentation-based case interview. Regardless of the format of the case interview, you will use these core tools repeatedly.

In the next four chapters, I outline everything you need to master these four tools. Many case interview beginners find it unnatural to decide upon and verbally state a hypothesis at the beginning of a case. In a client engagement, you have a set number of weeks to deliver a recommendation, but in a case interview you typically have only 30 to 40 minutes either to complete the case or to get within a step or two of the finish line.

This shortens the problem-solving process by reducing the range of possible conclusions. The consensus among interviewers is that a hypothesis should be used early in a case interview, though interviewers are divided regarding precisely how early. One school of thought says you should state your hypothesis immediately at the opening of a case. The minute the interviewer explains the case background, state your hypothesis and move on to the other problem-solving tools.

Interviewers in this camp argue that stating a hypothesis when you have no background information seems overly formulaic and robotic. As a candidate, I belonged to the latter school of thought, and out of more than 60 cases, I never stated a hypothesis within the first 30 seconds. You can ask a few background questions before stating your hypothesis, but if you take this approach, you risk forgetting to state a hypothesis at all.

Going through your prep materials, I realized that understanding the problem through some cursory data gathering was the key to laying out a sound structure for the case My trusted personal rule is to consider what works with clients and then do that with interviewers.

If you meet client team members for the first time and tell them your hypothesis as to what is wrong with their company before you ever ask them any questions, they look at you with suspicion and distrust. You want to delay stating a hypothesis long enough to establish some basis for it but not so long that you forget to state it at all.

Several candidates forgot to state a hypothesis during mock interviews in my Look Over My Shoulder program www. In the debriefing sessions, these candidates had difficulty determining where to draw the line between asking a few initial clarifying questions and asking too many.

I asked these candidates about this. They all said they knew what a hypothesis was and that they were supposed to state one, yet two out of three did not do so. Stress is to blame here. This is why I emphasize not just taking notes on how to do a case but also devoting as much time as possible to practicing your case interview skills.

My discussion with these candidates prompted me to create a rule for a specific time within which you should state your hypothesis. I call it the Five-Minute Hypothesis Rule. Regardless of what you have discovered by the fifth minute of the interview, I suggest that you state your best-guess hypothesis right then, lest you forget to state a hypothesis at all.

But if you do forget, the interviewer can remind you of your original intention, and this incurs less of a penalty than does forgetting entirely. The Five-Minute Hypothesis Rule will not work in a certain type of case interview.

The whole case interview consists of about five sections, each lasting about six minutes and focusing on a different aspect of the same case. This type of interview jumps from one part of the case to another in no particular order. In one section of this type of interview, the interviewer will ask for your intuition about the case, which is basically just another way of asking for your hypothesis.

The hypothesis and its corresponding issue tree are a distinct prescheduled step for this interview format. During the specific time allotted for the hypothesis and issue tree, you must define both items, and you will not have the chance to revisit this step later in the interview.

Interviewers commonly call this step problem structuring. When a candidate cannot find a clean, logical, definitive way to test a hypothesis, interviewers often say the candidate has poor problem-structuring skills. To test a hypothesis, you need to create an issue tree, which identifies the key issues that, once known, will conclusively determine whether a hypothesis is true.

The term framework is used more often than is issue tree in case interview circles. A framework is an issue tree template—an initial structure for common business problems.

A framework serves as a starting point for an issue tree and should be customized for every case. Thus, one commonly used issue tree deconstructs profits into component parts, enabling you to analyze each component to identify the root, or underlying, cause of the profitability problem. Because this is a somewhat standard analysis, we call this the profitability framework. Issue tree: A logical argument or structure designed to test the validity of a hypothesis Framework: An issue tree template used to solve common business problems must be customized on a case-by-case basis The Structure of an Issue Tree As noted in Chapter 7, the term issue tree comes from the way such a logical structure looks— like a tree on its side—when diagrammed on paper: Figure 3: Issue Tree Diagram An issue tree, which is also sometimes called a logic tree, is a logical argument, the validity of which can be tested via data.

This is the essence of problem structuring using issue trees—you make a logical argument based on the hypothesis that can be easily validated with concrete data. A well-structured issue tree passes the following three validity tests: Your Hypothesis Most candidates obsess over memorizing a few key frameworks and end up focusing on the wrong things.

The framework is a commonly but not exclusively used tool. The more important skill is the ability to take your hypothesis and create an issue tree or customize a standard framework that will logically test your hypothesis in this specific case. A framework is a commonly used issue tree to test common hypotheses. But a framework has limitations—it does not cover all hypotheses for all possible situations.

Many candidates jump into a framework without having stated a hypothesis, which interviewers find ridiculous: Interviewers give this type of feedback all the time, and many of my readers email me asking how to interpret it.

The only reason you use a framework or issue tree is to test a hypothesis! Remember this. Issue Tree Validity Test 2: In considering a decision your hypothesis , the issue tree lists the most relevant factors you must consider in making that decision. In the context of consulting and case interviews, the MECE principle describes how decision- making factors should be categorized in order to minimize confusion and ensure problem-solving thoroughness.

Specifically, all the information should be grouped into discrete categories, with no overlap between categories mutually exclusive , and all the categories added together should cover all possible options collectively exhaustive. We can group customers into categories which consultants call customer segments in accordance with the MECE principle or not. Customers grouped by hobbies, for example, do not follow the MECE principle because an individual customer can belong to more than one hobby category.

In contrast, customers grouped by age pass the MECE test because no individual can belong to more than one age category mutually exclusive , and the age categories cover the entire population collectively exhaustive.

The MECE principle can be applied to groups of related items, such as customers in different age brackets, and can also be used to group quantitative data. The components of revenues typically unit pricing and units sold do not appear in the cost category and vice versa. As such, this formula fulfills the mutually exclusive criterion of the MECE test.

In addition, if you combine all the factors both revenues and costs , the combination of all categories fully explains the cause of a change in profits; no other factor is missing. Thus, this categorization fulfills the collectively exhaustive criterion of the MECE test.

The MECE principle can also be applied to conceptual data. Every possible reason for or against this decision can be grouped into one of these categories.

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Items that are financial in nature cannot appear in the nonfinancial category, and vice versa, so the categorization structure is mutually exclusive. In addition, if you combine all the financial and nonfinancial factors, no other reason exists as to why entering the XYZ market is a good or a bad idea.

Both categories together cover all the possible factors to be considered, so this categorization is collectively exhaustive. Because both categories are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, this categorization passes the MECE test. External factors market factors such as customers, competitors, industry regulation, etc. In addition, because all factors are either external or internal, both categories combined are collectively exhaustive. As a result, this structure passes the MECE test.

When you create an issue tree or modify an issue tree template, the structure should as closely as possible adhere to the optimal MECE structure. Let me give you some examples. In a math-driven issue tree such as the profitability framework, the issue tree can maintain its MECE structure through multiple layers: In practice, we interchange units manufactured and units sold because at a strategic level the difference is considered negligible unless information exists that suggests otherwise.

Issue trees can also categorize conceptual data where the relationship among categories can be described in a mathematical formula. For example, many clients ask consultants to advise them on whether they should introduce a new product.

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So the issue tree structure looks like this: Introducing XYZ product makes sense. Sure, customer factors, competitor factors, and company factors are fairly mutually exclusive, but the product factors could overlap with competitor factors and company factors. You could cover products twice—once under competitors and once under company.

In the example above, I simplified the problem enough that I felt comfortable doing the math computations in my head. You can simplify a problem in any mathematically correct way you choose.

The secret here is to become accustomed to rearranging a large-numbers math problem into a simpler format before you compute anything. As with any new habit or skill, you will want to practice this math-simplification skill. You can do so by using the large-numbers math practice tool available here: Estimation Skill 2: We need a directionally correct answer only.

Pay attention not only to the math but also to my thought process and rationale for why I make certain adjustments. I start with the following formula: I need to get it to a round number.

I could round down to 50 million or up to 60 million. It is very important to keep track of whether your estimate will be too high or too low. Back to the computation, we now have: I have a decimal in there, and 17 is a hard number to work with. Well, I could round to 15 percent or to 20 percent, and both are 2. That means my estimate so far is too low. So, if possible, in my next step I want to round in the opposite direction, up.

So now I have: This is the mental thought process you want to use when estimating numbers—round numbers intelligently in an offsetting fashion. If you round down to start, you want to round up next, and vice versa. The discreet hand signals I use are as follows: Estimation Skill 3: Finding a Proxy One of the big secrets to solving extremely complicated estimation questions is to find a useful proxy.

What is a proxy? As manufacturing costs and prices decline, what will sales for cellular phones be in ? When interviewers asked me questions like these, my instinctive response was to panic, but I successfully answered these questions, passed the interviews, and got offers from all three firms that asked me those questions—Oliver Wyman, McKinsey, and Bain.

The interview process for these firms today differs from when I went through it. The examples that follow illustrate the range of difficulty you can expect when tackling a question like this.

However, you should not use my personal experience as an indicator of which firms ask these types of questions in which interview round. As a candidate, I solved many of these estimation questions without explicitly realizing what I was doing. That step is finding the proxy. When I first learned how to tackle estimation questions, most of the examples I found were about estimating a market: How many X are sold in America?

Without realizing it, I used population as a partial proxy for market size. The key to solving estimation questions is not to base your estimates on population size automatically.

Instead, base your estimates on a relevant proxy coincidentally, this is population much of the time. Example 1 How many gallons or liters of gasoline does a typical filling station pump each week? What factors correlate with how much gasoline a typical filling station pumps on a given weekday? Any thoughts? Here are mine: The average number of pumps each station has on-site The average number of cars that drive by, based on time of day more cars during commuter hours, fewer cars during off-peak hours The average percentage of pumps being used The average volume of gasoline pumped per car The average pump time per car Example 2 Assume the year is , and Motorola just invented a new technology called the cellular phone.

I nearly answered this tough question wrong. First, let me provide the context. It was my Bain final-round interview. I had done well with all the other interviewers, and this was the last question, from the last interviewer, in the last round. I heard the interviewer ask the question, and I panicked. Furthermore, based on personal knowledge, I knew the mobile phone would ultimately succeed.

But how could I prove this based on what was knowable in as opposed to what we know today? As I often do when I panic, I stalled for time! I smiled calmly on the outside, but inside I was scratching my head. Here was my thought process: Clearly, sales will be a function of the size of the U. I also knew that sales of this technology would skyrocket and be significant, so clearly population alone was not the best proxy.

But what was? The main issue was the price; it was just so damned expensive. So, as time progresses, technology costs will go down, prices will go down, and consumers will respond by buying more. And how big will the unit sales increases be?

Implicitly, I was trying to identify a good proxy for how quickly consumers would buy cell phone technology as prices fell. If prices fell by 20 percent, how much would unit sales increase? What would be the closest proxy? That was the vague sentiment I had in my head, and I wish I had known enough to phrase it using these terms. We have the first three years of sales data for cellular phones, and assuming we can get Motorola to estimate manufacturing costs at various product run sizes, we can triangulate the unit sales growth with the price-drop ratio for cellular technology.

We could do this by comparing the first three years of sales for cellular technology with the first three years of sales for every other major new technology.

As prices of fax machines dropped by 20 percent, for example, how much did unit sales increase? What about microwave ovens? In essence, the adoption curve for cellular phones might mirror the adoption curve for other major new technologies.

She ended up offering me a job the next day. In hindsight, I got lucky. I realize now that finding the proxy is the critical step in solving this and every other estimation question. Estimation Skill 4: For example, if we look at the gas station example, we know that how much gasoline a typical filling station dispenses is correlated to how many pumps the typical station has and what percentage of those pumps is used at any given time. If every pump is used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then the total pumping volume will be determined by how many pumps that station has on the premises.

We can be confident that this proxy sets the upper limit. We know, however, that a gas pump will not be used all day long. Sometimes pumps sit idle, so the number of pumps is a useful but imperfect proxy. Here was my rationale: Car traffic peaks on local roads during commuter hours, which in the United States are roughly 7: The likelihood that most, if not all, of the pumps at a gas station are in use during those hours is quite high. Estimation Skill 5: Segmenting Estimates to Minimize Proxy Imperfections Once you have a qualitative sense of what makes a proxy imperfect, segment your estimate into smaller, more precise sub-estimates.

In the case of the gasoline-pumping example, I created three different estimates: Conceptually, my estimate looked like this: Estimation Skill 6: Solving the Sub-estimates via Assumptions aka Guesstimating Once you have segmented your estimates to minimize the imperfections caused by a particular proxy, solve each sub-estimate.

You will typically be able to use a pen and a piece of paper but not a calculator to solve these computations. Continuing with our prior example, we would start by estimating peak hour gallons pumped. Each island has two stations. Each station has two pumps one on each side of the island. The actual pumping takes about four to five minutes, and it takes another minute to put the pump back, grab the receipt, and move my car. In a minute time period, at six minutes per car, that means each pump can fill ten cars per hour.

I know some cars take a lot more, and some of the smaller fuel-efficient cars take less. We also have to factor in those cars whose tanks are not completely empty when being filled. I mentioned earlier that the typical island has all eight pumps running at roughly 80 percent utilization during peak hours.

So my guess is that the utilization rate is around 25 to 50 percent during off-peak hours, and we can simplify that by saying 40 percent of the pumps are utilized.

This works out to be exactly half of the 80 percent utilization rate during peak hours. That works out to 4, gallons: Practice Makes Perfect! I hope this chapter has demystified estimation questions and shown you a process you can use to tackle these questions in your interviews.

To be extremely proficient, you must practice the component-level math of large numbers and tackle estimation questions from top to bottom. To practice the component-level math of large numbers, including rounding, go here: You can submit your answer and compare it to the answers of several hundred other people and to my answer key.

This sample question and its answer key can be found here: If you demonstrate that you have mastered the skills that consulting firms want, you will do well in every type of case interview. To appreciate why this is so and its implications for you, you must recognize why consulting firms do certain things during the recruiting process.

They often report back to me on what advice from me they found helpful in passing the case interview. The information that follows is that advice. Why Consulting Firms Do What They Do Candidates often send me feedback about my explanations as to why consulting firms do what they do.

Why do interviewers ask certain questions? Why do they use certain assessments? Why do they challenge your answers so aggressively? This is important because what consulting firms do in the recruiting process changes yearly and sometimes from one interviewer to another. But why they do what they do has not changed in decades. If a candidate has enough interviews, he will encounter an exotic question, a new twist, or an extremely unusual case. With that in mind, consider the following implications.

First, if you hate case interviews, you likely will hate the job. Being a consultant is like going through a case interview every day of your career. Second, case interviews involve estimation questions because clients ask estimation questions all the time. I was asked plenty of estimation questions when I was a candidate, but once I started working at McKinsey, I ended up answering more estimation questions as a consultant than I ever did as a candidate.

Third, everything that happens in a case interview happens because it simulates some aspect of the on-the-job experience. When the interviewer asks you a random question in an interview, stop Instead, think like a consultant: Proving Yourself as a Consultant The consulting team and firm must prove themselves early in their relationship with a client.

When you start working with a new client, some individuals within the client organization may express skepticism about the value you and the consulting firm can bring.

So how can you prove your worth and be taken seriously? Develop data-supported conclusions especially counterintuitive ones that lead the client toward a different set of decisions.

Often the client or certain members of the client organization are looking to discredit you so they can get back to running the company. In that case, a semi-hostile client is looking for you to screw up somehow. The two most common screwups are the following: Clients often interpret nervousness as a lack of conviction about a particular recommendation, which is why answering a case perfectly but nervously will get you rejected.

For example, if a consultant were to recommend nervously that the client lay off 2, employees, the client would second-guess the recommendation. Even if the recommendation were percent correct, the client would sense some degree of hesitation, uncertainty, or reservation from the consultant based on how the message was delivered, not the content of the message itself.

As a result, consulting firm interviewers assess the level of confidence you project while solving a problem analytically. As I mentioned, every aspect of the interview process happens for a reason, and most often that reason is to simulate some aspect of the on-the-job experience. This is the vital point to keep in mind as I cover in the next chapter the specifics of what interviewers are looking for and explain why they look for the things they do. Most candidates start the case interview learning process by seeking out rigid rules to follow.

They think that if they can learn every interview format and every type of case question, they will be prepared. But in addition to preparing for your case interview, keep in mind a simple principle: Interviewers look for candidates who seem like colleagues already. The tone of the interview switched from evaluative to collaborative.

In essence, the candidate who stands out the most in an interview is the one who acts like a consultant already. To me, a case interview is no different than a team meeting with the partner. Clients demand certain things of consulting firm partners, and partners expect their consultants to offer what the client demands. Consultants, who also serve as case interviewers, in turn demand these skills from the candidates they interview.

How the Consulting Business Works At the heart of every consulting firm are two groups of people: At McKinsey, we never discounted fees; we over-delivered, did extra work for clients for free, and worked harder. How Client Billing Works Each consultant on the team has two billing rates: These rates are rarely published internally or if published, not published very widely , but they exist to keep track of whether a client engagement is profitable.

When partners and managers look to staff their teams, they tend to look for the strongest contributors at every cost point— who provides the most value per dollar—in order to deliver higher-quality work at lower costs and maximum profit.

An interesting problem arises with brand-new first-year consultants, who often contribute negative value to an engagement team. More-experienced consultants must double-check at an extremely detailed level anything these consultants work on.

Thus, the additional time required to manage new consultants largely offsets their contributions. In these situations, the cost of the first-year consultant on his or her first assignment is billed to the training department. This entire process, convoluted as it seems, exists in large part because first-year consultants have not yet proven their ability to solve problems independently. The Value of an Independent Problem Solver Let me share a story with you that illustrates why consulting firms value independent problem solvers.

In my third month at McKinsey, when I was only 22 years old, I was assigned to a client based in New York that had a small division in Cleveland, Ohio. The entire team, including me, was based in New York. All the other consultants on the team were married and had kids. My manager went to Cleveland weekly, at most, for just one day, mostly to build client relationships and attend key meetings.

The rest of the time I was on my own. So, what was the project? See you in a few months. Plus, I had just 90 days of consulting experience then—not much more skill than what I had during the interview process.

When a consultant interviews you, she is wondering, Can I drop you off with a division of a Fortune company by yourself, with little to no supervision? Can you handle the client, solve its problems, and in the process make the firm look good? She is also thinking, Do I want you on my team right now? Phrased differently, that interviewer is asking herself, Will you be an independent problem solver fairly quickly, or will I have to babysit you for the next two years of your career?

My manager on the Cleveland project became a partner at McKinsey. Initially he tried to His ability to do partner-level work was directly related to my ability and the ability of the other consultants on the team to be an independent problem solver.

This is exactly why managers need independent problem solvers—their own career progress very much depends on it. Doing as Little as Possible vs.

Boiling the Ocean As I mentioned previously, a routine problem in consulting is not having enough consultants to do all the work the client wants done. Clients want you to do as much work as possible for the lowest possible cost, whereas consulting firms want to charge as much as possible while doing as little work as possible and still delighting the client.

You end up having to make difficult choices in how you manage your time. In this context, many consultants use the phrase boiling the ocean to describe how not to prioritize your client work. As the metaphor goes, if you want one cup of hot water, there are two ways you can get it: Get one cup of water, put it on the stove, and boil it. Boil the entire ocean and then scoop up one cup of the boiling water. Basically, the metaphor means that you can do as much or as little as possible to get the job done.

In consulting, the latter is valued and praised. So how does this relate to the case interview? The interviewer has to resist the urge to roll his eyes, because it would take far too long to get all the information the candidate suggests. At this point, the interview might as well be over because the decision has been made, but for the sake of politeness the interview continues. Accurate Enough vs.

Precisely Accurate One trait about consulting that drives some people crazy is its general lack of precision. It drives engineers and scientists, who are accustomed to a high degree of precision in their chosen fields, particularly crazy.

If you talk to a civil engineer about how best to design a bridge, she will tell you precisely how thick the steel beams need to be, given the design specifications of the bridge. And why is this? You guessed it—the client! Should we merge with our No. Should we close our South America division? Should we enter the corporate accounts market segment? What should we do? The introduction of XYZ technology has us deeply concerned about the future of our business.

Our two largest competitors just merged and are now bigger than us. Should we do it? The seasoned consultant would immediately stop the analysis and present the conclusion. The person accustomed to precise math would be inclined to spend the extra two weeks to determine the more precise number.

This is a mistake. To me, the title represents a certain kind of business philosophy—not the philosophy of the management consultant.

In consulting, you always pick and choose your words carefully, because you need to be able to back up anything you say. What the client hears is not that you think it should take X action; it hears that BCG thinks it should take X action. The single biggest nightmare of partners at the top firms is some first-year consultant shooting off his or her mouth, saying something the firm cannot factually justify.

After all, it makes the partners themselves look really bad. Their second biggest nightmare is the new consultant being a jerk and offending the client. Choose Your Words Carefully Why do interviewers nitpick every word you say during an interview? Because clients nitpick the same thing every day. A consulting firm will interact with many people within a client organization. The primary client contact typically is friendly to the consulting firm, but some of the other client contacts may not be.

Some resent the outside consultants. Some feel threatened that the outside firm will find their mistakes and make them look bad.

Some even want to discredit the consulting firm. These are the client contacts who nitpick what consultants say, which is why your choice of words even in an interview is important. If you say that something always makes sense for the client to do, be prepared to defend every possible situation in order to substantiate your argument. If the interviewer is in a particularly finicky mood and believes you made the wrong word choice, he It sure is. Why do consulting firms do this? Being Right vs.

Client friendliness is particularly important. Many businesspeople have excellent judgment and make good decisions including many billionaires, incidentally , but many would make lousy consultants because they present their ideas too bluntly, without regard for how the other person receives the comment at an emotional level.

For example, making or stating conclusions without showing and explaining your work is not client-friendly. Maybe she saw a sign of a major life-threatening stroke. The same idea applies to consulting. Clients do not accept factually accurate recommendations; they accept factually supported recommendations they can understand. Those last three words are worth gold, because they explain why interviewers look for good communicators, not just analytical problem solvers.

Interviewers highly value candidates who can think and communicate linearly as opposed to jumping around in a scattershot way. They tend to reject candidates who jump from concept A to U and then from F to T, even if these candidates arrive at the factually supported answer. The right answer is pointless unless a client can understand the process undertaken to get it.

This principle applies to case interviews too. I recommend that you practice your communication skills as much as you do your technical problem-solving skills.

Would I want to spend three hours sitting next to you on an airplane? Sadly, you often do spend a lot of time on airplanes with your colleagues.

As you might expect, the No. No one likes to work with one, and that kind of behavior is just not client-friendly. Some client contacts perceive you as a distrusted, unwanted outsider.

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That way they can discredit you and the firm, turn everyone else against you, and ultimately get you and your firm kicked out of the client organization. But because many McKinsey consultants were extremely accomplished, and often those accomplishments were mentioned early in an engagement to establish credibility, some people found McKinsey consultants arrogant. Because that perception was so strong, I went out of my way not to be perceived as arrogant. In my first year at McKinsey, one of my engagement managers was a native German who transferred to the New York office.

Germans have a reputation for prizing efficiency, and this engagement manager was no exception. In his first few months, he had difficulty adjusting to U. Of course, if you know Midwesterners, you know that some of them take offense at this kind of brisk treatment. If you want their cooperation, you have to do it too. He actually became chatty and made small talk. He stopped being an asshole and immediately became much more effective with U. Along these same lines, when you interact with the major consulting firms, your initial Similarly, when working with CEO clients, be extremely respectful of their administrative assistants.

In the context of a case interview, process excellence is when a candidate is consistently able to follow a problem-solving process successfully over and over again.

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In a case interview, you are evaluated on two things: Of these two areas, the former is much more important. Your ability to use a successful process consistently is substantially more important than is getting the right answer within the allotted time for the interview. Interviewers perceive a candidate who gets a mostly correct but incomplete answer derived from a good process as more desirable than they do a candidate who gets the right answer but uses a poor and unrepeatable process.

Interviewers see the latter as someone who just got lucky. Consultants complained there was no downtime and vacation time between projects. Some of the partners expressed concern about this potential morale problem. During a weekly Friday lunch, the head of the office held a discussion session to address the issues bothering the associates.

During the session, a consultant suggested that office leadership eliminate all the snack foods in the entire office. The consultant made the suggestion for two reasons: He proceeded to give a very rigorous analysis to explain his suggestion.

Add it up over the course of a year: It was linear, logical, and based on facts and reasonable estimates of them ; it used numbers to quantify; and most important, other people could follow the line of reasoning easily. Interviewers assess how well you synthesize and communicate your big-picture conclusions.

You have to shift your focus from the detail-oriented aspects of a business to the higher-level implications that need to be presented to the CEO. What should we do about it? The consultants will then assemble a recommendation, using supporting facts and analysis, and present it to the client, often at a cost of millions of dollars.

Consulting firms are often criticized for this type of behavior. There is some truth to this criticism, but it misses an underlying point: When a client has greater clarity about and confidence in a particular course of action, the client is much more likely to take action. So how exactly does a consultant convey clarity and confidence to a client? One word: When a consultant delivers a well-synthesized recommendation, she usually has done two things well.

First, she has put the recommendations in context. Instead of simply recommending that the client do X, a well-synthesized recommendation will recommend that the client do X because it will have ripple effects Y and Z, both of which are favorable. There may be concern about issue A, but the benefits of ripple effects Y and Z outweigh it. I call this process of highlighting all the ripple-effect ramifications of a particular course of action connecting the dots.

Great synthesis connects all the dots, clarifying what likely will happen if the client follows—or ignores—the recommendation. In subsequent chapters, I provide examples of how to synthesize a case effectively. Think about that mental model as we transition to talking I always aimed to master the problem-solving tools that you have to use in any imaginable case format so I would be prepared for whatever happened in an interview.

If you develop your problem-solving skills as opposed to just your case interview skills , you will be able to deal with a wider range of problems in a case interview.

At McKinsey, I used these tools every single day, without exception. Kearney, and others tell me they use these tools every day too. You can use the exact same tools to tackle any type of case interview: Hypothesis The word hypothesis comes from the scientific method, which a scientist uses to test an idea she has about what might be true in our world.

From here, the scientist makes intuitive guesses that form the basis for her hypothesis. The next step in the scientific method is to construct an experiment to test this idea, or hypothesis, conclusively to determine if it is true.