How to communicate the structure for the case study

communication consulting interviewer led stucture
Recent activity on Feb 27, 2018
14 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Feb 27, 2018

Hi all,

After reaching two second and final round interviews in secondary consultancy firms I got rejected because the interviewers were not sure that I had a structure that allowed me to cover all the perspectives of the Case.

How to communicate my structure to make sure that the interviewer validate the fact that I have structured my thoughts? Should I write it on a paper, turn the paper to the interviewer and explain him/her my approach?

This is weeks and next week I have interview in MBB and other top consultancy firm so I would like to make sure to improve this point. I have already practiced more than 40 cases.

Thanks in advance

(edited)

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Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 27, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

I suggest the following approach:

1) Ask clarifying questions - they will help you build a better structure:

- Clarify the business model (i.e. how the business works and what are the revenue streams / core products or business lines)

- Clarify the objective both in money terms and timeline (e.g. Our objective is to increase profits by 5M in 5 years). When you have a to select from several options in a case - clarify the selection criteria

- Clarify other possible limitations if you feel that it's necessary

2) Repeat the objective and most important business model factors

3) Now when you've identified the most important factors - take a minute to make a structure on paper

  • In some cases, you'll be able to build a fully MESE structure (e.g. Profitability, Value chain). Usually, you go 2-3 levels deep in your structure in the beginning of the case.
  • In other cases, you should be using a broader structure. For example, in a private equity / due diligence case your structure can be: Market, Company, Competitors, Feasibility of exit. For the 2nd layer, you make subpoints (e.g. in the Market you put: size, growth rate, profitability, segmentation, regulation, etc). I usually use a bullet point list under each bucket.

4) When you are done - rotate the paper with a structure to the interviewer

5) Present your 1st level Hypothesis:

  • - "In order to understand whether we should invest in Company A, I would like to check that the Market is Attractive, the Company is Attractive, the competition is favorable and we have good opportunities for of exit"

6) Present the key 2nd level Hypothesis:

  • "In the market, I would like to make sure that the market is big enough and growing;
  • In the company I would like to find additional opportunities for growth;
  • In competition I would like to check that the market is fragmented enough;
  • Finally, I would like to check if we have potential buyers and can achieve desired exit multiples"

7) Make sure that the interviewer can see that you are presenting selectively and that the actual list of bullet points you would like to check is actually longer.

8) You never stop using the structures. The most common feedback on the interviews is "You are not structured enough". To avoid this you should always be structuring. Make an initial structure and then dig deeper with the new structures. These structures can be both fully MESE issue trees or frameworks or a combination of both.

For example, if you find that we spend more time on cleaning the job shop than the other division you go with the following:

  • Frequency of cleaning * Time spent per one cleaning
  • If we find that the frequency is the same, we structure it further into: People, Process, Technology

Best!

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Benjamin
Expert
replied on Feb 27, 2018
ex-Manager - Natural and challenging teacher - Taylor case solving, no framework

Hi,

Structure is indeed THE key point in case study that could introduce doubt to your interviewer.

- Ideally you structure must be tailored to the case, and not adapted from a standard framework that you can find in the books. So use your common sense here to build something that seems fitted to the situation
- It is important that each chapter of your structure brings a usefull elements in the recommandation you will formulate. So when building the structre this is a question you should ask yourslef
- Best scenario would be that you write something down, sufficiently clear so you can share it with your interviewer and he can follow your progression in your plan as you speak
- During the case resolution, you should always make sure to refer clearly to the initial structure so the interviewer knows where you're heading to and can understand / follow what drives your thinking is a plan and not just random questions.

To conclude I would repeat that structuring is key in succeeding the interviews, and hopefully that is something that everyone can work on. The appropriate exercice is called structuring drills and it focuses building and challenging structures of several case studies, without loosing time in case resolution.

Feel free to reach me out if you need help on this topic
Best
Benjamin

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Harri
Expert
replied on Mar 01, 2018
UNAVAILABLE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

Hi,

Communicating your overall structure and providing relevant justification is critical at the start of a case interview for the following three reasons:

  1. It shows the interviewer that you aware of all the key factors impacting this problem
  2. It shows you can communicate in a clear and concise way which is a critical skill for consultants
  3. By providing justification and rationale behind your decision making the interviewer can see you’re thinking logically – again, another key skill

Let’s assume I’ve received the case, played it back to the interviewer and asked some clarifying questions. I’m now ready to structure how I want to solve the case and ask the interviewer ‘is it ok if I take a minute to structure my thoughts?’

I then use the following process to communicate my structure to the interviewer:

  1. I take 60 – 90 seconds to draw out my structure on a landscape piece of A4 paper.
  2. Once I’ve finished my structure, I turn my paper towards the interviewer and change my body angle so I'm not directly facing the interviewer (this small change in body language signifies you’re trying to be collaborative).
  3. I then start be re-stating the original objective (which should be at the head of your structure)
  4. I then say something along the lines of “In order to understand this problem I believe we should take a look a ‘3/4/etc” key buckets.
  5. I then briefly communicate each of those key buckets to the interviewer (keeping it very high level), explaining what each bucket is and justify why it’s an important consideration relating back to the original objective.
  6. Once I’ve cycled through each bucket, I like to suggest a starting point to go through in more detail. For instance, “I would like to prioritise looking at bucket 1 first because of reason X “.
  7. I then ask the interviewer; “does this seem like a sensible approach?” This question provides an opportunity to get some feedback on two key areas before I start solving the case:
  • Structure – am I missing any key factors?
  • Starting point – is that a good place to start?

It’s better for interviewer to intervene at the start of the case and point you in the right direction rather than get lost half way through. It’s also worth noting being able to take on feedback quickly demonstrates your ‘coachability', a key skill interviewers look for!

Structuring cases and implementing the process described above can be a challenging. However, with practice it can definitely be mastered – opening the case in a confident and clear way really can set the tone for an interview. If this is something you would like to practice or have any further questions, feel free to send me a message.

Hope that helps.

Harri

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Andrea
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 27, 2018
Former BCG Principal and decision round interviewer

Yes, please always do write structure on piece of paper - turning around and explain is appreciated, but not necessary. Also structure when drawn should be easy to follow (e.g. a decision three with subsequent branches, bullet list, buckets of dimensions you want to consider). In terms of detail - ideal structure should be 2-3 level deep (e.g. under "market" you want to have competitors and few other categories, under "competitors" you can have how close is their product to ours, etc)

Hope it helps,

Andrea

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Originally answered question:

What is the best way to explain your structure

Dan replied on Jan 01, 2018
Dedicated to practicing and improving the performance of both myself and my partners. Prefer candidate-led style.

I think the first approach is more clear - it's easier to follow along if the interviewer (or case partner) knows generally where you are going before you dive into details.

I think of structuring the case interview like a talk or presentation: when giving a talk, one of your first slides should always an outline that gives your audience a "roadmap" of what to expect. This outline is followed by the actual details of the talk (data, insights, conclusions, etc). While there are ways to give talks where you dive straight into a narrative. it is easier for the audience to follow along and gauge progress if they see the outline first.

In a similar fashion, laying out "these are the 4 categories I want to explore" followed by "in the first category, these are my three key questions..." makes it easier for the interviewer to know where you're going and follow along.

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houman on Jan 01, 2018

I also think that the first one is a better approach. However I read some material of victor cheng with second approach which he thought that they were very clear and well-organazied. Thank you for your response!

(edited)

Originally answered question:

Structured discussion

Sidi
Expert
updated an answer on May 02, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Answer is yes! Conversational communication also needs to be crystal clear, structured, and very linear! If you jump around in your talks from Notion A to Notion D and back to Notion B, the partner will expect you to employ the same style of communication in a client setting. A lot of fantastic creative thinkers are naturally communicating in this way, but unfortunately such non-linear communication is the worst possible way to share your thoughts as a management consultant.

Cheers, Sidi

(edited)

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Originally answered question:

What is the best way to explain your structure

Anonymous replied on Jan 02, 2018

I highly recommend you read 'The pyramid principle' - it's a must-read for MBB. In short:

1. Don't go into list mode. Always do bucked mode. For example, if you are analyzing why birds in london are dying, don't start listing out "air pollution, food, weather, etc".. start with "natural causes, man-made causes, etc".

2. Start with top level structure first. E.g., don't go "natural causes: x, y, z". Say "natural, man-made, etc" and THEN dive into one or the other.

3. Use pareto principle. If you have 5 items in the top level, then choose which are the top-2 and start there.

Hemant

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B
Expert
replied on Feb 27, 2018
NOT AVAILABLE

Hey anonymous,

I would subscribe others’ views on this topic.

However, let me add/comment on your last point (‘have already done 40 cases’). I would be really careful if after so many cases you still get that feedback, it most likely indicates that you’re putting too much weight on quantity over quality (I’ve seen so many people doing that exact mistake at LBS in these two years... and the results were often the same: bad rejections!).

I would try to check if you are not doing any major (un)conscious mistake at that stage - eg, the most common one is not asking enough clarifying questions upfront and design a framework without fully understanding the problem and the case

if you want to know more about how to try to solve it, feel free to reach out

Best

Bruno

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Originally answered question:

What is the best way to explain your structure

Francesco
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jan 28, 2018
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.400+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com) | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

Hi Houman,

I agree with the previous comments, the first approach is definitely better as you will let the interviewer know immediately what’s the whole plan. With the second approach, the interviewer will have to wait the end of your presentation to understand what you had in mind as first level of your structure, which is not optimal in terms of his/her comprehension of what you want to do.

Best,

Francesco

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Originally answered question:

What is the best way to explain your structure

Anonymous C replied on Jan 01, 2018

I think 1) is the better approach. It is important to lay out the roadmap before diving into the detail of each branch. The interviewer should know from the beginning how you are sturcturing the problem on a high-level so they won't suspect you've missed something before you've gotten the chance to talk about it.

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Originally answered question:

What is the best way to explain your structure

Anonymous replied on Sep 26, 2020

Hi Houman,

I absolutely agree with my colleagues that the first approach is much better - it is clearer and easier to follow.

Also, if you have more than just one layer with sublayers better use the bucket structure and start with top layers, then go to their sublayers and so on.

Best,

André

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Vlad gave the best answer

Vlad

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McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School
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