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Poor Case Practice Session Lessons

Before boarding my flight today, I had one last case practice session with a candidate from the US. I did not feel the call went well at all. The candidate repeatedly struggled to grasp some of the basic concepts, made many similar mistakes, miscommunicated key concepts, and basically struggled to complete the case practice. My greatest concern was the candidate was becoming frustrated with her inability to make measurable progress and this could quickly spiral out of control – hurting her confidence and planning.

The last thing we want to do is leave a candidate feeling bad about their case practice session and themselves.

The last thing we want to do is leave a candidate feeling bad about their session and themselves. I think that can be damaging and I typically set up a short call thereafter to help the candidate place their performance in context. However, short calls do not fix the root cause of the session – why did the candidate do so poorly.

These kinds of sessions bother us greatly. They literally cause sleepless nights. I should be sleeping on this flight but felt it was vital to communicate to this candidate how to respond to these issues. Moreover, it is crucial as her coach we also think about how our approach needs to change to accommodate the challenges she is facing. Every student is different, and while they all need to eloquently solve cases at the end of the program, the path will never be the same. Some like direct and concise feedback. Others are more visual. Some need to be taught the basics very well.

Coaching Issues

• In numerous instances, we would provide guidance and feedback to a candidate. For example, if her calculation had a mistake, we would explain why the calculation needed to change and provide the new assumption to use. In some cases, the same change was explained twice. The candidate repeatedly forgot to use the new information. She was, not intentionally, ignoring the interviewer’s guidance.

• This example illustrates another type of problem. If we told the candidate, assume the company uses a new painting technique and the paint is now 75% less thick than previously used, and asked, what would be the new volume of paint used, the candidate would challenge the change. She would say that it did not make sense why the paint thickness would change. This was done repeatedly where the candidate basically challenged, unintentionally of course, the changes introduced by the interviewer. There is no basis for doing this. It does not matter whether it is technically possible to do this, the case is what the interviewer wants it to be and the candidate needs to answer the question. The case is fictitious. Debating the facts around a fictitious case is the same as arguing with someone that Superman would never beat the Green Hornet in the Omega system since there is too much Kryptonite around. The story is whatever the comic book editors want it to be. The same with the case. Unless what the interviewer is saying is illogical, use the new facts presented.

• The candidate makes a statement, which was intended to be a question or the candidate asks a question as a statement. And does this repeatedly. This confuses the interviewer since the interviewer can only respond to what is asked of him/her. The interviewer can only respond to what they are told/asked in the interview. If the candidate asks for the wrong information, they will get the wrong information. If a candidate ever needs to say, “I mean…,” then they have failed. They should say what they mean and mean what they say.

If the candidate asks for the wrong information, they will get the wrong information. If a candidate ever needs to say, “I mean…,” then they have failed. They should say what they mean and mean what they say.

Dealing with this is difficult: especially if the candidate does it repeatedly over multiple lessons. The problem is that if it continues too long, it becomes normal and the candidate is unable to change their habits. There is a worse dynamic at play here.

This is a crucial insight in the psychology of training. If a candidate expects to make mistakes in front of you, or thinks you expect them to make mistakes, they will make those mistakes.

If the candidate repeatedly makes the same mistakes in front of their coach, they become conditioned to make the same mistakes every time they speak to said coach, and will likely make the same mistakes in the real interview.

This is a crucial insight in the psychology of training. If a candidate expects to make mistakes in front of you, or thinks you expect them to make mistakes, they will make those mistakes.

Think of the famous experiment Pavlov’s dog. The dogs were conditioned to do something when they heard a bell (or was it a whistle?). The same principle applies here. When the coaching sessions starts, the candidate becomes conditioned to make the same mistakes.

It is vital to break this cycle. And both the coach and candidate will have to do things differently.

For the Coach

• I will need to totally change the dynamic of the session. It just cannot be the same approach as before. That will trigger the same (wrong) behavior.

• More than the dynamic, I will need to change the content, style and even examples. It must be new in all respects.

• I need to pinpoint this candidate’s exact misunderstanding, mistakes and confusion. Each student is different, and before one can fix the issues, they need to be carefully understood and a proper solution developed. Crucially, I need to get the candidate to understand why her approach is not working. This does not mean me repeating the same explanation. If the explanation did not work once, it will not work again. I need to adjust my approach.

• Be honest, but focus on the issue. The worst thing I can do is say everything is fine when it is not. However, I need to be creative in the way I fix the problem.

For the Candidate

• Take detailed notes in a session. Understand what mistakes you are making. Ask for specific explanations and make sure you understand them.

• In the next session, keep a printout of the issues to address, and make sure they are not made again. You have to break the cycle of making mistakes. If the coach successfully changes the teaching style, and the same mistakes are repeatedly made, you will simply recondition yourself to make mistakes in the new style.

Listen. Truly listen to what is being said. Communication is a two-way exchange. You need to take guidance from the coach.

• Do not make excuses and do not search for the convenient excuse. If something happens 3 times or more, it is a pattern and not a random event. It is better to spend the time fixing it, versus making excuses.

• When asking for feedback, it is your responsibility to do this, and your responsibility to ask clear and concise questions. If you ask the wrong question, you will get the wrong answer.

• Listen. Truly listen to what is being said. Communication is a two-way exchange. You need to take guidance from the coach.

With every single candidate, we have faced some point in the training where we have needed to rethink our approach and adjust our program a little. Everyone is unique. This is a bump in the road, not the end of the runway.

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