All full cases have 5 components
(1) Answer-first or issue-first
(2) Interviewer-led or interviewee-led
(3) Clear objective function or missing objective function
(4) Weak or heavy data intensity
(5) Solvable with a framework or not (many McKinsey senior partner cases in the final round are not framework driven, so you will see most of the partners leading our training programs use non-framework cases in the latter stages of TCO.)
For example, a McKinsey case may require (1) the answer first, (2) be interviewer led, (3) the objective function is clear and(4) may have substantial data presented to frame the case, even though a (5) structure cannot be used because it will not work.
On the other hand, a case may focus on (1) breaking down the issues, (2) will be interviewee led, have a (3) clear objective function and be (4) light on the data provided, and (5) could be solved with a framework.
There are many permutations and combinations. You need to be able to handle them all and they are not hard to do once you can recognize the patterns.
Note that we teach clients to develop frameworks from first principles versus memorizing pages and pages of frameworks.
Subscribers tend to be too narrow in their expectations of cases and misread the requirements. A subscriber must be able to handle a full case using any combination of the 5 factors above.
You will be able to recognize the 5 types based on the language the interviewer will use. The types are not necessarily specific to any one firm since a BCG alum could end up at McKinsey and use an approach McKinsey does not favor. So focus on the language versus assuming that “100% of McKinsey people are answer-first in their approach.”
14 different types of cases/areas are taught in the program. And we had new case types in newer seasons of TCO.
Interviewer-led cases: These are cases most common to McKinsey and Bain where a candidate must analyze a problem after the interviewer guides the candidate to an issue. Most candidates tend to struggle with this approach. This is generally confused with the answer-first approach which is different.
As well, McKinsey answer-first cases can be broken into two groups: those where frameworks must be used and those where frameworks cannot be used.
Example: A water utility’s profit has plunged 30% due to deregulated pricing and competition, even though there is a drought in the country. In the last 20 years, this utility has not upgraded its assets due to limited capital. It has seen a steep drop in productivity at that time. Infer what you think is happening and what you think is the most important area we should analyze?
This McKinsey case should not be solved with a framework. Can you see how to solve it?
Interviewee-led cases: More typical to BCG, in this format the candidate will lead the case and lead the interviewer along in the process. Most candidates do better in this process since they at least have some control over the direction of the case. BCG calls this technique facilitated brainstorming.
Example: A mobile company has seen a doubling of its churn rate. Help them fix the problem. What would you do?
Answer-first cases: Also more common to Bain and McKinsey, in this approach a candidate is given sufficient data to identify the key question, generate a structure and very quickly arrive at a set of hypotheses.
Answer-first cases can be done in the interviewer-led or interviewee-led style, though the former is more common. Moreover, the hypotheses can be built using a typical case approach, from almost no data or even from just a single exhibit.
Candidates are taught to be comfortable with all approaches. We use lots of drills throughout the program to get candidates comfortable generating hypotheses.
Example: A client saw an increase in its diaper market share when competitors lowered prices. At the same time, the price of oil has gone up and the client has started consolidating production into zones outside the countries of sale. These zones are chosen by the local legislation, labor costs and distance from the consumption point. What do you think is happening?
Estimation cases: These are the classic cases of asking candidates to estimate the market size for grapefruit juice in Latvia or the amount of Vodka sold in Swedish nightclubs on a Saturday night.
All our training begins with estimation cases were we teach candidates a unique, disciplined and robust 5-step technique to handle all types of estimation cases.
We also correct the common mistake of treating all estimation cases as demand-side cases. We also introduce the technique to solve brain teasers. Brain teasers are not the same as estimation cases since they have one key difference. This is a fatal flaw of many aspiring consultants who confuse all types of estimation cases AND forget that a structure can easily be built to solve them.
Example: Estimate Vodka sales at Moscow’s elite nightclub in a single night – without considering the number of patrons?
Brainstorming: Arguably the most important skill in case interviews, these cases cover a broad spectrum of case types from brainstorming ways for Apple to increase its margins to the types of cosmetic brands Elizabeth Taylor used. Crucially, candidates need to apply this skill within a full case – brainstorming is rarely a standalone case.
The common mistake is to only focus on brainstorming business issues. We teach candidates a unique but very effective 4-5 step process to brainstorm. It is by far the single most important skill sought in a McKinsey case.
We teach brainnstorming so clients can develop bespoke structures for cases versus memorizing structures.
Example: Brainstorm how to reduce waste in a typical Fortune 500 company and prioritize the likely solutions?
Full cases: Full cases can be segmented in many, many ways – all taught in this program. There are interviewee-led cases and interviewer-led cases. There are cases with a clear objective function and no objective function. There are cases which can be solved with decision trees only, those with hypotheses only and others with a mix of both. There are answer-first cases and issue-led cases. We cover them all in great detail using videos and cases across major sectors – auto, aviation, retail, e-commerce etc – and across the major functional areas – strategy, operations, corporate finance, market entry, deregulation etc.
Example: An Australian company wants to enter the foreign-exchange trading market. What would make this a good idea?
Communication: Sessions that are video recorded make it easy for a subscriber to observe the body language and styles used by the candidates, and the feedback we provide. There is no guessing required on the side of the subscriber about the reasons we are providing our feedback.
Communication is a pillar of management consulting.
No matter how well a candidate cracks the case, unless they present a professional image, they will not be selected. In other words, how can the interviewer know you are intelligent unless it is communicated to them? Rafik’s videos provide a compelling case for the tangible link between communication skills and case performance – his case performance materially improves once his communication skills are bedded down from session 7 onward.
Example: “I am sorry. I made a mistake in my calculations. May I take a few moments to fix this problem?” What is the fatal error with this candidate’s communication?
FIT/PEI: We focus on helping candidates deliver responses which explain the context, their role, the challenges they faced, action taken, language they used to garner support and the results of those actions. Candidates are taught to tell the story only they can tell. We teach candidates to avoid describing roles and responsibilities but rather describe one event in a career which demonstrates their leadership and analytic skills, and ability to get things done.
Moreover, there are too many possible fit questions to practice them all. It is far more important to learn a technique which can handle any type of fit case – that is what we focus on.
Crucially, too many applicants worry about planning perfect answers. That is a mistake since the interrogation questions cannot be anticipated. You either know the background or do not know it. It is far more useful to understand all the detail than plan the perfect answer.
Example: “Tell me about a time you worked with a team to solve a complex problem. Be specific about your role, that of the team, the actions taken and the results.”
“When did you experience this problem?”
“At what time did you tell the manager about this problem?”
“Why did you wait 3 days”
“Why did you chose this time?”
“What was the managers physical and verbal reaction?”
“How did you respond?”
“Why did you choose this response?”
“What happened immediately after the meeting?”
“Why did you wait 3 hours to send the next-steps email?”
Data/Written cases: We sometimes pick a sector/functional theme for a candidate. For each theme, we select a McKinsey or BCG article and teach clients how to read exhibits and develop hypotheses to move from one exhibit to the next. From the mid-point of the training in TCO I this becomes a continuous drill which candidates are taken through, exposing them to over 100 different exhibits.
Example: You are given an exhibit with two bars: profits in 2009 and 2011. Profits are $1.2B and $1.2B respectively. Advise this Telco CEO on his strategy?
Conversational hypotheses: Final round partner cases can be the standard case, or it could be a general discussion, leading to a case, where the objective function is not initially clear.
For example, you could be talking to the partner about your flight in for the interview, and the conversation gradually moves to the additional charges you paid for beverages in-flight. This then leads to a case. In these types of cases, the typical case structuring approach always fails. We teach candidates the 4 elements they need to structure such a case and what to do if the data is not always available.
From the mid-point of the training in TCO I this becomes a continuous drill which candidates are taken through, exposing them to over 30 different conversational cases.
You: But the leg room was bad.
Partner: Yes, leg room is a burden on Acme Airlines. Well, at least you got here for your interview. Why do you think they don’t fix this common complaint?
Article review: In this technique, the candidate is forced to find, review and introduce an article they have read, from McKinsey, Bain or BCG, about a sector/office they are interested in. It was healthcare, and oil & and gas for the remaining two candidates, as well as Australia and Germany.
Brevity and the ability to understand the key concepts in the article are the skills we are developing. Too many candidates fail by trying to explain the entire article: consultants are not paid for their summary skills. Through this exercise we want candidates to have meaningful and articulate conversations, of a region/country/office they are targeting, with a partner or interviewer.
We use McKinsey Global Institute articles for the region/country/office discussions.
Example: “I found the McKinsey article very insightful in the way it analyzed the reasons for Germany’s lower productivity, versus France, between 1995 and 2000.” Can you identify the common mistake in this candidate’s answer?
News pieces: We ask candidates to comment on current affairs. This technique teaches candidates how to analyze issues which may be controversial due to gender, ethnic, religious, political or historical precedents. Of greatest importance, we teach candidates how to provide their opinions, the key part of this exercise, without being controversial or coming across as vague.
Example: “The situation in Libya is traumatic and will take a long time to stabilize. Western corporations should do their best to support a legitimate government by providing investment support.” Can you identify the common mistake in this candidate’s answer?
Inference cases: Senior partners, who make the final hiring decision, rarely use cases that can be solved with a framework. They typically ask candidates to infer insights using their judgment and solve the case as these insights build up. These cases will not work with a framework.
Example: “Help a US auto company enter the Japanese market. Before you do that talk me through the business model of a typical auto company?”
Profit cases: If there is one thing everyone must understand it is how to conduct break-even curve analyses both from a technical and strategy level. Simply doing the calculations is insufficient and it is not something taught in MBA programs. This is a key focus of Seasons 2 and 3.
Example: “A honey company wants to raise profits. By analyzing their business model, what options could they pursue?”