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Data in case interviews

How does one deal with data (exhibits or verbal) presented by the interviewer during the case? I know the basics of PST problem solving, but would love any tips to improve my analytical skills during the interview. Isn't it quite different when someone is giving you a data exhibit in the interview, where you are supposed to analyze and present your insights quickly, as against in a test where you can take your time and answer calmly?

How does one deal with data (exhibits or verbal) presented by the interviewer during the case? I know the basics of PST problem solving, but would love any tips to improve my analytical skills during the interview. Isn't it quite different when someone is giving you a data exhibit in the interview, where you are supposed to analyze and present your insights quickly, as against in a test where you can take your time and answer calmly?

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This is a great question! Using data well can be the difference between a 2nd round or going home. How do I know? My very first case at BCG was so-so and the consultant had recommended I not move on; thankfully, I aced my second case (with a Principal); what was this second case you ask? Basically a series of data handouts that I had to read, understand and digest on the fly; that's all the case was, just 8 or 10 data tables that lead me from an initial hypothesis to the final recommendation!

Ok, so how did I do it?

- First, there is a method to the madness. When presented with an exhibit, you should follow a 3-step process: (1) Figure out what the table or chart represents; that could be as simple as reading the headline as well as the label of each column/row (2) Read and understand the data; you may have to do some math here, in your head or on paper (3) The most important, tell me what the insight is. Why were you given this exhibit, what should we do with it? This is basically what the company will pay you for in the future. Anyone can crunch numbers, not everyone can create information out of data and use it judiciously

- Second, remember to do all of this out loud. I cannot give you credit for something you were thinking but didn't verbalize - and if you make a mistake, I need to figure out when and where so I can help you course-correct. Yes you can be silent from time to time while you think, but if you go on mute for 20 seconds, there is a problem

- Third, remember to use this data in your analysis in the remaining portion of the case. One of the key characteristics we are looking for in applicants is their ability to use new information to refine or modify their working hypothesis

- Last but not least, remember to use some of that data in your final recommendation. I don't need you to remind me that you have done all this crazy amount of work and went to bed at 5am last night, but I certainly want you to mention that, oh by the way, 40% of the client's profit came from product A while product C only account for 2% and should therefore be cancelled.

Using exhibits is one of the easiest things you can do -> you should be happy when your interviewer opens her folder and pulls out a beautiful chart or data table. Good luck!

Guennael ex-BCG Dallas

This is a great question! Using data well can be the difference between a 2nd round or going home. How do I know? My very first case at BCG was so-so and the consultant had recommended I not move on; thankfully, I aced my second case (with a Principal); what was this second case you ask? Basically a series of data handouts that I had to read, understand and digest on the fly; that's all the case was, just 8 or 10 data tables that lead me from an initial hypothesis to the final recommendation!

Ok, so how did I do it?

- First, there is a method to the madness. When presented with an exhibit, you should follow a 3-step process: (1) Figure out what the table or chart represents; that could be as simple as reading the headline as well as the label of each column/row (2) Read and understand the data; you may have to do some math here, in your head or on paper (3) The most important, tell me what the insight is. Why were you given this exhibit, what should we do with it? This is basically what the company will pay you for in the future. Anyone can crunch numbers, not everyone can create information out of data and use it judiciously

- Second, remember to do all of this out loud. I cannot give you credit for something you were thinking but didn't verbalize - and if you make a mistake, I need to figure out when and where so I can help you course-correct. Yes you can be silent from time to time while you think, but if you go on mute for 20 seconds, there is a problem

- Third, remember to use this data in your analysis in the remaining portion of the case. One of the key characteristics we are looking for in applicants is their ability to use new information to refine or modify their working hypothesis

- Last but not least, remember to use some of that data in your final recommendation. I don't need you to remind me that you have done all this crazy amount of work and went to bed at 5am last night, but I certainly want you to mention that, oh by the way, 40% of the client's profit came from product A while product C only account for 2% and should therefore be cancelled.

Using exhibits is one of the easiest things you can do -> you should be happy when your interviewer opens her folder and pulls out a beautiful chart or data table. Good luck!

Guennael ex-BCG Dallas

Related BootCamp article(s)

Getting Up to Speed

In order to repeatedly demonstrate prerequisite skills under the pressure of a real case interview, you need to learn the basics and practice cases.

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Written tests such as the PSTs

Top tier consulting firms have started using PSTs to test for in-depth analytical skills needed to be successful as a consultant on a day-to-day basis.

Which companies are currently using written tests ?

All major firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain use tests to assess a candidate's analytical skills. However the design of those tests can differ a lot.

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