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Part Six: Case Interview Worries

Max is an aspiring consultant who is looking to secure an analyst role with one of the top firms for the upcoming recruitment cycle in September 2011. His interest in management consulting was sparked by a failed McKinsey interview last year. In this series of blogs, he will be sharing his background, case preparation process, useful resources, and any breakthroughs or setbacks that he experiences.

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For those of you who are also in the recruiting process, I would like to share some of my current case interview worries, and what I’m doing to combat them. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what’s worrying you! My two biggest fears are:

1) Not having enough academic firepower on my résumé.

2) Preparing for case interviews, and not actually getting a chance to apply my skills in a real interview.

I feel that the caliber of candidates going for BBM jobs is higher than it is for other industries. To give you an idea of where I am in the food chain, I’ll share the following academic stats:

• Top 10% in my engineering program at a premier Canadian university

• 93rd percentile on the GMAT

• Several scholarships during undergrad based on academic merit

The way that I chose to combat this fear is to focus on improving my leadership skills, and other “soft” aspects of my application. My hope is that the extra points I’ll get from my soft skills will allow me to get over the hump, and get a first round interview with all three top firms.

Of course, the firms take a holistic view of your application when considering your candidacy, but it’s kind of difficult to compare various extracurricular activities and leadership positions – and that’s why I have not included mine here. Now I don’t think my academic stats are all that bad, and they’re probably better than most people’s credentials when interviewing for a “normal” job. However, I feel like I’m probably in the bottom half of the candidate pool based purely on academic achievement when it comes to BBM. This worries me somewhat since we always hear that the top firms like to take “the best”, and how can I possibly make it when my academic credentials are not in the top-tier?

The way that I chose to combat this fear is to focus on improving my leadership skills, and other “soft” aspects of my application. My hope is that the extra points I’ll get from my soft skills will allow me to get over the hump, and get a first round interview with all three top firms. As I understand it, candidates are on somewhat of a level playing field once the interview stage hits, and the most important factor is your case interview performance. This leads into my second fear mentioned above.

Of course, I would always use the quick and fast rules on an exam, but understanding something from first principles allows you to see things (sometimes very efficient shortcuts to solving a problem) that you would otherwise miss.

From playing lots of sports in high school, and going through university education I became very familiar with my learning style – I am not a “crammer”, and cannot become good at something at the very last-minute. My preferred method is to take it nice and slow at the beginning, and let everything sink in as I go through the process. I believe this works for me because I like to understand everything at a fundamental level. Take calculus for example. There are many rules on integration and differentiation that you can use to get through most undergrad engineering math courses without ever taking the limit of an expression (which is how the rules are derived). I didn’t like taking the limits of an expression any more than the next guy, but I usually did it at least once for every rule just so I understood how it actually works.

The thing about going for a deep understanding in any subject is that it takes time. From what I understand, there is just not enough time between when you find out you have an interview, and your real interview date to reach this level of understanding.

 

Of course, I would always use the quick and fast rules on an exam, but understanding something from first principles allows you to see things (sometimes very efficient shortcuts to solving a problem) that you would otherwise miss. I knew that to succeed at case interviews, I needed to understand it from a fundamental level, and be able to do everything from first principles (MECE). Maybe in a real case interview I would come up against a problem where it’s clear that a certain framework would fit perfectly, but I think it’s still useful to understand it from first principles since this allows you to solve ANY case – regardless whether there is a pre-cooked framework.

The thing about going for a deep understanding in any subject is that it takes time. From what I understand, there is just not enough time between when you find out you have an interview, and your real interview date to reach this level of understanding. There are always going to be people who can do it in a couple of days, but unfortunately I am not one of them. This means that I have to start preparing well in advance of even applying for an analyst position. After all the preparation, I will be very discouraged if I don’t even get a chance to interview.

The way that I chose to combat this fear is to look at it from a more positive angle. Even if I don’t get any interviews, I will at least have an enhanced ability to break down problems from doing all these cases. This ability is a desired trait for pretty much any job I can think of.

I am starting to move into the application process, and will keep everyone updated with my progress!

Please leave a comment if you would like to share some of the things you are worried about as you go through the recruitment process.

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