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How could I improve my business acumen for interviews?

Anonymous A asked on Jul 07, 2017 - 4 answers

Dear Preplounge community,

Yesterday I had my first consulting interview. It was 30 min personal fit and 30 min case study. After both interviews I had a good feeling but unfortunately I got not invited for the next round. They told me that overall they think I am a good candidate but that I needed some more business acumen to make the difference. I wanted to fully understand what could this be related to and also what could you suggest me in order to perform better in the next interview.

Thank you very much in advance for your help!

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replied on Jul 09, 2017
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It's difficult to narrow the list since there exist many resources to choose from.

From my experience, reading articles from WSJ, Bloomberg, Reuters, Forbes, etc. have helped gain an understanding of some general business terms / jargon. At the same time, it helps to read different books that cover topics across various sectors - for your convenience, I've attached a list of recommended readings by Management Consulted below (I would also add Case In Point and Case Interview Secrets as recommended readings).

For any particulary industry coverage, IBISWorld and Hoover's are great resources to use.

Lastly, I think slideshare is a great resource where you can search for any business topics you'd be interested in learning about (

Hopefully this helps!



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replied on Jul 11, 2017
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Hi Anonymous,

let me share an experience that I had during my first round at McKinsey; the practice I applied to was specifically on Oil&Gas (I did a master on Energy Economics), therefore I found natural to prepare on that and develop “business acumen” in the sector. I spent time reading a lot of material related to such a practice, including reports and blogs, and believed had a very good knowledge when I approached the day of the interview.

Then the day of the interview arrived, and instead of an Oil&Gas cases I got a completely different industry I was not familiar with. I managed though to spend enough time at the beginning to ask the right questions to clarify the industry. Once understood how that particular industry worked, I applied a proper framework, and managed to derive the right conclusion.

Thus, in my experience what is fundamental to crack a case is not much “business acumen”, but mainly two specific things:

  1. Your ability to ask the right questions at the beginning
  2. You knowledge of the right frameworks to use (for right frameworks I do NOT mean the standard ones in Case in point or Victor Cheng, which most of the time are too vague)

This is not to say that it is a completely waste of time to read books, blogs or reports on specific industries – such material may be indeed be useful; however it is probably not the best usage of your time to maximize the outcome of your next interviews.

What can you then do to improve? The definitive best thing you can do is what Vlad and Nuno have mentioned as #1 – Cases. So far that you manage to read in the right way 100+ cases you can be sure you will find a comparable scenario in your interview (for right way, I mean you don’t just read passively them, but try to think how to structure them before going through the solution). Then, if you ask the right questions as for step 1 above and apply the right framework as for step 2, you will be able to crack the case, even if you do not have specific knowledge of the industry.

As for your specific case, I agree with Nuno – a feedback mentioning “lack of business acumen” is not very explicative anyway. It is likely there are some specific areas you can improve doing cases – clarifying questions, structuring, graph interpretation – and the interviewer summarized it as lack of business acumen. As it is difficult for you to identify alone which was the issue, the best thing would be to find a proper partner for interviews, able to pinpoint the potential improvements that you have to concentrate on. This will help to derive what they actually meant with “lack of business acumen” and take the specific steps to avoid repeating such mistake. It is very likely that once fixed it, you will not need to read additional books/reports, but only read more cases in order to succeed in your next interview.



replied on Jul 07, 2017
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Builing Business Acumen is actually about building industry and functional knowledge.

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

There are several sources of info to develop 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) 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 practice drawing structures for each industry - profitability, value chain, etc

Then I will switch to getting functional knowledge and key concepts in:

  • Marketing (Brand and trade marketing tools, etc)
  • Supply chain (Ops metrics like cycle time and throughput time, distribution and delivery specifics, etc)
  • Finance (Basic Accounting and Valuation)

Good Luck

Anonymous replied on Jul 07, 2017

Sorry to hear that, but don't take it personally - Everytime someone says "no", it brings you one step closer to a "yes" :)

Regarding your question, first, you have to think about the case and determine what exactly has caused them to state your business acumen wasn't enough - I think 1 of 2 things may have happened:

1) They asked a specific brainstorming question and you failed to give enough input (i.e. what ways can you see of decreasing variable cost for this particular problem?)

2) You showed lack of overall business sense when moving the case forward (i.e. perhaps you focused on small stuff and forgot about the big picture)

Obviously, it is very hard to pinpoint without any detail from the case. So I would like to focus on 2 pieces of advice moving forward:

1) Some people will recommend you reading business journals and similar - I think that is great dont get me wrong - but to develop a better business acumen you should keep practicing cases in different industries facing different problems; studying also the major drivers of the main industries would help; but overall, as everything, it takes time and the harder you work the better you will become.

2) Sometimes HR will give you BS points why you didnt move to the next round (not saying that in this particular case it was) just because they had to - So I woulnt dwell on this particular point.

my 2cents for what is worth

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