Acing cases is the most important from an interview perspective as the interview process at consultancy firms mainly revolves around solving cases. The interview is designed to replicate a real-life case problem and test one’s problem-solving and communication skills.
- Step 1 (Understand the type of Cases): The first step at Case Practice is to understand various cases – Profitability, GTM, M&A, Growth, Pricing, and Unconventional Types of cases. Victor Cheng (Undoubtedly the best for Case prep) offers a great introduction to the case interview format, and his videos are a must-watch.
- Step 2 (Learn the frameworks and Industry Drivers): Once acquainted with the types of cases and the expectations out of the interview, the next step is to study the frameworks. Each type of case has a framework. The objective of a framework is to break down a problem into smaller addressable parts that are Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE). This analysis helps locate the problem and develop a solution quickly. You can either by-heart the frameworks or understand them, whatever works best for you. Besides understanding the various types of frameworks, you should also acquaint yourself with the different industries such as – Banking, Automobile, Steel, Cement, Airlines, etc. It’s important to remember that your aim here should be to have a working knowledge of the industry (Understand the Value Chain, Key Players, Future Trends, Industry Size, Cost, Revenue, and Growth drivers)
- Step 3 (Practice, Practice, Practice): Being armed with an artillery of knowledge, it’s time to put yourself to the test. You can practice cases from several case books. My favorites being – Case Interviews Cracked, IIM A Consult Prep Book (2020-21), and IIM Indore Consult Prep Book (2020-21). Practicing cases is key to cracking the interviews. Here are some pointers while practicing cases:
- Reiterate the problem statement: You must understand the problem in the same sense as intended. Solving a completely wrong problem could prove disastrous to your interview. It also sends a wrong impression if you re-visit the problem statement later during the interview. Hence understanding the problem statement in the proper sense at the beginning is crucial.
- Take adequate pauses: While it’s a natural tendency to equate speed with being proficient. While solving cases, it’s advisable to take sufficient pauses. The winner here is not the fastest but the most exhaustive one. You can ask the interviewer for 30 seconds to 2 minutes to gather and structure your thoughts. It is crucial to do this at three stages. At the start, when you are building your hypothesis, during the case while constructing or modifying your framework, and lastly, before you make your final recommendation.
- Take cues from the Interviewer: You should always view the interviewer as your partner rather than a foe who wants you to go down the wrong path. The interviewers often give out cues when heading in the wrong direction or have gone into a state of analysis paralysis. Pick up on those cues, move on and get back on the right track.
- Mix up the cases: Don’t get attached to a single type of case. I loved Profitability cases and dreaded Unconventional Cases. I would solve 2-3 different types of cases every day to overcome this.
- Shuffle your Interviewers: Shuffling your interviewers adds that element of unpredictability and prepares you for the D-day. You could approach your batch-mates, college friends, seniors, and even your siblings to help you with your preparation. I kept a limit of 5-6 cases max per interviewer.
- Obtain constructive feedback: Post facto analysis is as critical as preparation. Obtain feedback on your performance from your interviewer. Maintain a log of your mistakes and your points of strengths. Re-visit this log before you practice a new case. Ensure that there is a minimal repetition of errors.
Another important area of preparation is Guesstimates. Guesstimates were my Achilles heel. However, there is nothing that you can’t master without practice. Before solving Guesstimates, you should understand the technique of solving guesstimates -
- When to adopt a Top-down or Bottom-up approach.
- How to drill down from a data point to your final answer. (For simplicity’s sake, let us take an example that the client wants to launch a luxury watch and wants to understand what its target audience size would be, your starting point would be the population, then you would break it down to the male population, then you would break it further down into age group/income group and finally you would arrive at your target audience size)
I would recommend watching the practice Guesstimates videos by The Consulting and Strategy Club of IIM Lucknow. Besides understanding the technique of solving Guesstimates, one should be aware of essential statistics such as:
- The population of India, Important Cities, and States
- Income level break-up of the population
- Gender level Break-up of the population
- Religion break-up of the people etc.
I practiced 2-3 Guesstimates every day from Case Interviews Cracked, and IIM A Consult Prep Book (2020-21). While you can solve Guesstimates on your own to get the hang of the structure, I would recommend solving at least 5-10 guesstimates with an interviewer. Also, keep practicing arithmetic calculations, especially if you are weak or get nervous while performing calculations at an interview (you don’t want to be making these errors)
3. Know thyself:
Last but not least are the hygiene questions that you should be ready to answer (these usually come as ice-breakers at the start of the interview)
- Tell me about yourself
- Why Consulting?
- Why XYZ firm?
- Why do you think you are the right fit for Consulting?
Besides, you should be ready to talk about any point on your CV for 1-2 minutes.
Final Tips to ace the D-day
While practice is essential, your selection is ultimately dependant on how you perform on the D-day. Here are a few pointers to ace the final interview:
- Appear Confident: You must appear confident at all times, even if you don’t know squat. Never lose your cool and keep playing on your strengths.
- Seek help: Whenever stuck, don’t try to solve the problem by yourself. Keep asking for help. The interviewers would love to give you proper guidance (remember they’re on your side)
- Create a connection with the interviewer: During the short ice-breaker session of 3-5 minutes, try to have a good conversation with the interviewer. Bring up some good points about yourself, past work experience, etc.
- Respect the interviewer’s time: Most case interviews last around 20 minutes, be mindful of the time and ensure that you don’t go beating around the bush. It could frustrate the interviewer.
To conclude, based on my internship experience, consultancy can be summed in 3 Taglines– MECE, So-What? and Simple Banao. Ensure your analysis is MECE, always question your analysis (ask yourself if my analysis leads to an actionable outcome or is it just a data point), and finally present your analysis and recommendation in the most straightforward manner possible.
All the best for summers!