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How to be better at notetaking?

Anonymous A

Hi, all. At the initially stage when the interviewer state the problem statement, I try to jot down everything. However, most of the time I could not follow the interviewer and missed some information. I assumed that it is also not possible to just tell the interviewer to slow down. Anyone have a good suggestion?

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Francesco replied on 11/07/2017
#1 Expert for coaching sessions (1700+) | Ex BCG | 850+ reviews with 100% recommendation rate

Hi Anonymous,

in order to better take notes initially, this is what I would recommend:

  1. Use abbreviations.Eg, for revenues use R, for costs use C, for increase use an arrow directed up, etc.
  2. Write down essential information only. You do not have time to write everything, thus you should exercise in writing down only the necessary information. If you have a client which produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants
  3. Keep different section in the paper for different pieces of information. My recommendation would be to divide the paper in 4 areas as reported below; when talking notes, you can then put the information in the appropriate box. Sometimes you would have to do back and forth, as you may get information, objective 1, additional information, objective 2, etc.
  • top-left: who is the client
  • bottom left: initial information
  • top right: objectives
  • bottom right: structure

It’s not ideal to ask the interviewer to slow down, although that’s better than missing key information; something you can definitely do is instead clarify the areas you feel you have not heard correctly when you repeat the initial information provided.

Hope this helps,

Francesco

Guennael replied on 10/22/2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

Needing multiple pages is not a big issue if you always know what is where - but I agree it is suboptimal when a candidate starts moving things paper around and gets lost due to too many pages.

Here is how I set up my page:

1. At the top of the page, I write the question

2. Right below, I draw out my framework

3. Below still, I do my calculations & write down my significant findings (which I put in a box to quickly find them at the end if needed)

4. On the side, I draw a line ~1 inch away from the edge; at the top of that long rectangle, I write out a couple of words for each interim conclusion I have (useful at BCG if the interviewer doesn't leave me any time to prepare a final recommendation

5. At the bottom of that rectangle, I'll write down crazy ideas I have in the middle of the case but that aren't relevant just at that moment. That will help me not forget, and perhaps use in the 'conclusion / next steps' if I haven't addressed by then

Some people write a lot, or write big. If so, a 2nd page can be useful for the question + recommendation; a 3rd page can also be used for all the math. I think that's probably the maximum number of page most people can properly use in a case; anymore and you will stress yourself out while trying to find what you are looking for.

Hope this helps; good luck!

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