It is most definitely true that you can't crack a realistic interview case by relying solely on standardized frameworks – but all those business frameworks and concepts are extremely helpful templates that you can and even should put into your toolbox and use whenever appropriate (if not to the full extent, at least partly!). Such a standard business framework is just a tool – and the tool itself is rarely good or bad, it mainly depends on how and for which purpose you use it.
At the same time, for basically all of my coaching candidates, getting the case interview’s structure right is the largest issue in cracking case interviews. As this is a huge pain point for case interview candidates, it's worth looking more closely at this matter. And in addition, you might have heard the term "ABS" (Always Be Structured) – even though McKinsey is the pickiest one when it comes to structuring, all top-tier consulting firms have a very strong focus on being rigidly structured all the time in your interviews.
For looking more closely at structuring case interviews, let's distinguish 2 parts of a typical case interview where frameworks usually apply:
- Structure for the overall case at the beginning of the case interview
- Answering specific questions in later stages of the case interview
This is when you typically need to develop an overall structure on how you want to tackle this case. Interviewers often ask something like "What are the issues you need to consider here?" or "Let's assume you are the project manager of this consulting assignment – which areas would you like to investigate?".
It is highly unlikely that you will be able to fit a realistic case interview question into a standard framework – if it would be that easy, nearly all candidates would make it into the consulting firms, and clients could solve their business problems without paying millions of dollars to consult firms by simply applying a standardized framework.
So, whatever your approach will be, it needs to be very flexible because you will need to adapt it to a huge extent to your specific, individual interview question. And yes, it is your approach that needs to be flexible to make it fit the case question, and not the other way round.
In general, I can see two different approaches for this stage of the case interview: