Experienced strategy consultant, now running own consulting business
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Hello all, I am not sure how to phrase this exactly so I will try as I could really use some advice from people of all backgrounds but especially those with a more Arts background (no MBA, etc.). Not trying to offend anyone who is super stressed about the case studies (I'm more stressed about getting offered an interview in the first place to be honest) but I'm just a bit confused as to me it just seems like fun common sense problem solving with math and business terminolgy...

I never heard of cases until a few months ago when I learned about consulting and decided it was what I want to do. I have a BA in History and am about to get my MA in Cultural and Linguistic Studies. Despite this background I've always been quite quick with mental maths thanks to my method of education as a child (Montessori), and I grew up with parents who owned a business together so I heard a lot of these conversations from a young age.

I've of course been researching cases a lot, and recently started listening to Victor Cheng's LOMS, as I have a 4 hour roundtrip commute to work several days per week. It's been a much better resource than I anticipated, however to be honest I'm just a bit confused. So far everything I've heard (from the solutions to the questions asked to find them) seem like total common sense, using of course some math to get there. I know this is quite simplistic which is where I need help. I'll hear where the candidate is going and know it's in the totally wrong direction/they are missing the point/etc. To be honest I've been terrified of these case studies since I first learned about them, and now I'm at the other end of the spectrum where I don't see why everyone freaks out...of course there's pressure/stress but it feels like just common sense problem solving which is something I enjoy.

I know that it's not so much about finding the correct answer in a case interview, as it is about showing the interviewer your method/that you have a clear and structured thinking process, etc. I've yet to learn anything about frameworks other than the basics because I seem to read a lot about people getting so trapped in these frameworks they hinder their success more than they help - and my normal/creative problems solving skills are some of my best assets.

I guess my question is, it seems to be that I have the logical thinking down, I'm just worried about not being structured enough...but I don't want to fall into the framework trap. Does anyone have any advice?
Same with for learning a lot of this business terminology. At this point I can solve the cases, but I just sound a bit...not uneducatated, but a bit too simplistic if that makes sense.

I hope this post makes some form of sense. Any help is appreciated!

(edited)

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Elias
Expert
replied on 09/22/2018
Experienced strategy consultant, now running own consulting business

Hey Anonymous,

you are totally right! You have spotted the emperor's new clothes.

Many, if not most, cases can be solved with common sense and some very basic business concepts (profit and loss, break even, distinguishing fixed and variable costs.)

I would daresay that 99% of consulting problems are of that nature as well. Very rarely you will encounter a problem as you do in physics, engineering, math etc. where you just don't know whether there is a solution to a given problem or even don't have an idea how to get there.

Consultants, despite all the business hokey-pokey, power suits, and buzzword bingo, still only cook with water and often times pretty lukewarm water at that.

So yes, if you have your wits together, don't crack under pressure, and have some basic business concepts handy, you can absolutely nail 95% of cases.

That being said, structureis a whole different animal. I have encountered very few business people without a consulting background that were brilliant at structuring. I am convinced that a good part of the money we as consultants are paid is actually for this: The ability to break down a problem and structure the path to a solution and present it in a structured manner.

So if you are confident that you can solve the problem, just work on the structure part.

(edited)

Guennael replied on 09/23/2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

LOMS is a great tool, and the reason why I got into BCG. There is still significant value in doing cases with current/former consultants, who will give you the personalized and actionable feedback you need. Last but not least, you will also want to practice with fellow candidates. Good luck

Anonymous B replied on 09/22/2018

Here’s my perspective:

1) Congratulations if you have actually nailed down the thinking behind solving a case. However, from reading your post it seems like the only case preparation you’ve done is watching LOMS. Watching or reading a case can make it seem easier than it is. Doing ‘live’ cases with a good partner is the best way to spot and improve your weaknesses.

2) if structuring is your main problem, it might be worth reading “The Minto Pyramid Principle.” (Not an easy read by the way).

3) I think the easiest way to learn business terminology and improve commercial awareness at the same time is to just read Bloomberg, the FT, the Economist etc. Whenever you don’t understand a word look it up on Investopedia.

Hope that helps!

Vlad replied on 09/24/2018
McKinsey / Accenture / Got all BIG3 offers / More than 300 real MBB cases / Harvard Business School

Hi,

First of all, there is a number of ways how you can approach in a structured way:

  1. If your structure works mathematically (e.g. Total time spent on cleaning operation = # of people x Frequency x Hours per cleaning per person)
  2. If your structure comes from a formula (e.g. output rate = total number of people being served / time to serve one person)
  3. If you are using the common industry drivers (e.g. revenues = # of customers x av. check) (e.g Passengers on the plane = capacity x Load Factor) or theindustry revenue streams (Fuel revenues / non-fuel revenues for the gas station) or the functional drivers (e.g. for the problems in sales : Sales strategy / sales people and allocation / motivation / sales process)
  4. If your issue tree is a real framework used by the consultants (e.g. the famous Bain Cap framework for PE due dills: Market / Competitors / Company / Feasibility of exit) (e.g. People / Process / Technology) (e.g. The famous McKinsey framework - People don't want to do smth / they can't do smth / smth prevents them from doing that)
  5. If your structure is a well-known academically MESE framework (e.g. Product / Distribution / Price / Marketing (Also known as 4P))

There is no magic pill how you can learn to build the structured issue trees. !!!! It comes with a lot of Practice and reflection and building proper industry and functional knowledge. !!!!

Answering you second question:

Focus on the most common industries in the following priority (sorted by probability of getting a case): 1-retail and CPG; 2-airlines; 3-Telecom; 4-banking; 5-natural resources; 6-tech

There are several sources of information that will help you develop the business sense:

1) Cases - you simply solve 50-70 cases and get a broad knowledge of different industries, common pitfalls and questions. The key here - find good partners who already had case interviews with MBB companies

2) Company reports, equity reports, IB roadshow docs - usually have a good overview of company and industries.

3) HBS cases - quite useful, but not sure if lot's of them available publically. Probably worth buying

4) Industry Books - one good book about airlines with numbers and industry analysis can give you all needed industry knowledge

5) News, Industry blogs

For each industry, you should understand:

  • Revenue streams
  • Cost structure
  • Margins
  • Key performance indicators
  • Key revenue drivers
  • Industry trends

I strongly recommend drawing the typical structures for each industry - profitability, value chain, etc

Then I will switch to getting functional knowledge:

  • Marketing (Brand and trade marketing tools, etc)
  • Supply chain (Ops metrics like cycle time and throughput time, distribution and delivery specifics, etc)
  • Operations (Process optimization basics)
  • Finance (Very basic Finance and Valuation)

Good Luck

Anonymous A replied on 09/22/2018

EDIT from poster: I've done a couple of practice cases and felt like I was completely missing something as while they weren't easy they didn't seem too difficult. This is why I got LOMS to see what steps I was missing/etc. So LOMS is how I realized I'm on the right track with the logical thinking but definitely need to work on structure/maybe learn some basic frameworks to help with that, as well as improve my vocabulary. Thanks in advance for any advice!

(edited)

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