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How to learn and apply frameworks?

Anonymous A

This might sound like a weird question, but how exactly do you study frameworks?

It is said not to simply memorize and apply standard frameworks. While I do understand that, I am wondering how much in depth study of the frameworks is necessary at all? Is it just enough to read through them and try to gain a high level conceputal understanding and work from there?

And how can I apply the framework during the interview without making it too obvious/seem like it was just memorized?

I hope you can understand my problem. I would really appreciate some help!

Nabil replied on December 22, 2016

To answer your questions:

  • "in depth study of the frameworks is necessary at all?" This depends on your own personal understanding and comfort with the underlying concepts of these frameworks. Please remember that frameworks are "organized" collections of the basic business concepts that you should know in order to solve a case. So, for instance, if you are not comfortable with the basic cost structure of a company, what belies fixed and variable costs, what does it mean when a company is more fixed cost or variable cost oriented... then it is best to dig deeper into that concept.
  • "Is it just enough to read through them and try to gain a high level conceputal understanding and work from there?" It depends on the impression that you want to convey during the case interview. Remember: case cracking is about being consistent and organized in your thinking process and frameworks offer a first step in that direction. Reading through them won't be enough (especially if you're aiming for MBBs) - you need to at least be extremely comfortable with their basic structure and the frequent underlying questions that you need to ask.
  • "how can I apply the framework during the interview without making it too obvious/seem like it was just memorized?" There are cases that are screaming "APPLY FRAMEWORK X" to be solved. Whereas others require a combination of two or more frameworks to be solved. The pitfall here is to blindly apply a given framework to all the cases that you can encounter. So, how can you apply frameworks without seeming having memorized them:
    • Don't announce that you're going to be using a given framework - announce a structure instead
    • Be comfortable about the concepts and questions underlying the framework so that you know which concept to apply/question to ask in the case (this ties in with your two previous questions)
    • Unless the case in question is extremely straightforward and obvious, rarely will you need ONE framework to solve a case - so as you go through the case, your initial structure (which is based off the initial framework you've used) will change as you're given data (and that change is brought upon by the other frameworks that you know).

Hope that helped.

replied on December 29, 2016
Ex-Bain & Company Case Team Leader * Placed 40+ MBB candidates as Partner in Europe's leading top-tier Consulting recruiting firm

In practice you will never want to use a framework in a case, with the arguable exception of a mathematical equation like Profit = Revenue - Costs. It can be interesting to read up on the likes of Porters' Five Forces to give you ideas (who else thinks about supplier power?), but case interview prep guides often over-exaggerate their significance. Interviews were different 20-30 years ago, and not all the guides have caught up.

What you instead should be doing is learning how to structure problems, which I'd break down into two main types:

"Quantitative" problems: Not necessarily only where you have numbers, but wherever you can break a problem down into mathematical drivers. For example, the revenue of a sandwich shop is always the number of customers x their average spend.

"Conceptual" problems: Is it a good idea for a company to go into x new market? What should the new CEO focus on? What would it take for company x to be the Uber of whatever?

Learn to identify what kind of question you're being asked and then practice a bit of both.

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