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Consulting Case Tips from Pulin

We are now closing in on the start of MBA-2 consulting recruiting season, and I wanted to offer some tips from my own background as a consulting interviewer that may help as you go through your case preparation. 1. Recognize what the case interviews are testing for. Case interviews are designed to test your ability and readiness to analyze a complex business problem. In general, cases are designed to test your ability to identify issues (i.e. disaggregate a complex business problem into a well-structured, collectively exhaustive set of sub-issues), analyze (conduct quantitative analysis to generate facts and insights on the issues you have raised), and synthesize (draw well-argued conclusions and recommendations from your analysis). Case formats differ from firm to firm, but in general most firms will spend most of the case testing these three areas. 2. Practice the three keys to case success. I have given hundreds of case interviews during my time in consulting. The best candidates I interviewed typically demonstrated three keys to success: relentless comprehensiveness, appropriate use of structure, and the ability to explore the second-level insights and trade-offs around their recommendations. Relentless comprehensiveness means that you drive yourself to identify all of the important issue areas relevant to each question. The single biggest mistake I saw too many candidates make was randomly brainstorming two or three (often good) thoughts against a question, and then settling for that. The best candidates will drive themselves to explore the fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh insights until they have covered the entire landscape of important issues. So the obvious question is, given that the interviewer is expecting you to be comprehensive, how can you make sure you are covering everything they are looking for without being a mind-reader? That is where the appropriate use of structure comes in. A good structure will help you break down the question you have been asked into categories that are both mutually exclusive (i.e. categories do not overlap with each other) and collectively exhaustive (in sum, categories cover all the important issue areas). Structure does not have to be anything fancy it does not have to be a Michael Porter framework that came from a case guidebook. Instead, it can just be a logical exploration of the question on the fly, but with some upfront thought put into deciding what you will cover before you start speaking and answering the question. Structure is meant to be a tool, not an end-goal, so leverage structure in a way that is useful to you, and dont feel any pressure to memorize all the structures in the different case guides they may do more harm than good if you end up stumbling around a structure that sounds impressive, but that you are not comfortable with. The ability to explore second-level insights and trade-offs associated with your recommendations is the third key to case success. Let me illustrate this with an example. Lets assume our client is National Airlines. They are facing a threat to their profitability in the face of rising fuel costs. How can they

maintain their profitability as fuel costs rise? If you were answering this question, an obvious recommendation might be to raise ticket prices to offset the rising fuel costs. This would be considered a first-level insight. The second-level insights would be the implications and trade-offs associated with the first-level insight. For example, you might point out that if National Airlines raises ticket prices and its competitors follow, then this might raise profitability for everyone in the industry, which would be a good thing. However, if National Airlines raises ticket prices and its competitors dont follow, then it will quickly lose customers to its competitors since it is easy for customers to switch to the low-cost airline. And if National Airlines and its competitors raise ticket prices too much, then it may discourage people from flying altogether, and they may choose other forms of transportation or choose not to travel at all, which would depress demand for the entire industry. The second-level insights enable you to give a much more robust recommendation instead of just saying National should raise ticket prices, you might say National should explore raising ticket prices, but it will need to carefully monitor both the customer and competitor responses, and be prepared to adjust its strategy if either of those are adversely affected. 3. Take your time on the quantitative questions. Most of your cases will have a quantitative component. In general, the math on the quantitative portions of the case will not be difficult usually just the basic arithmetic that you have been great at since high school. The challenge is usually around structuring your calculation the right way. Most candidates who get tripped up on the quantitative portions of the case rush through the structuring and sometimes dont listen closely enough to the question. Listen carefully to the question as it is being given to you, and carefully map out on a piece of paper the inputs you have been given (and units they are in) and the output that you are being asked to calculate (and the unit it is in). Then structure the calculation on the piece of paper, once again carefully keeping track of any changes in units that are happening. If you are missing an input that you need to complete your calculation, ask your interviewer for it, since the question may have intentionally omitted some information. If you need to make an estimate on something, just try to be reasonable and commonsense based. Finally, once you have completed the calculation, ask yourself if it passes the smell test does it seem like a reasonable, common sense answer to what you have tried to calculate. After giving your answer, you may want to go the extra step by trying to draw some relevant business conclusions from the number you calculated, to demonstrate that you can think about what the numbers mean. 4. Practice, practice, practice. I have now met with the recruiting leaders from most of the top consulting firms, and one message has come through loud and clear there is a perception that in general our students are less prepared than students at our peer schools. You can give yourself a major leg up in the recruiting process by practicing as many cases as you can before your interviews. How many? Up to you, but just be aware that at our peer schools, many students average 25-30 practice cases before setting foot in the interview room. In my opinion, that may be overkill, but I certainly think 10-15 cases (i.e. a practice case a day over the next two weeks) might help your chances. And by practice, I really mean practice. Reading through a case and then reading through the answers will not give you the practice you need in structuring and articulating a distinctive answer. And it is important to realize the bar you are shooting for, which is problem solving distinctiveness. You might make it

from Round 1 to Round 2 by being solid across the case questions, but to receive an offer, you will need to demonstrate problem-solving distinctiveness, and your ability to demonstrate distinctiveness will increase exponentially with practice. 5. Use the resources available to you. Meet 1:1 with a CMC advisor to practice your story and behavioral interview questions. In addition, there are many sources of practice cases, including the websites of the top consulting firms. The websites of the firms also have case preparation videos and other tools. Please dont hesitate to reach out to us as you go through this process we are here to help in any way we can.