How to develop business judgement properly?

business acumen business knowledge business situation Case Interview Case Prep Engineering interview skills qualitative analysis
New answer on May 04, 2020
19 Answers
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Vasiliy asked on Dec 04, 2017
2 years in banking, BA for a Russian Consulting company

Hi there!

So far I've heard several answers to such a question:
1) read business articles
2) practice more cases
3) read business literature

Tried all 3 options, but somehow I'm still stagnating (constantly recieving same feedback while improving in other areas). The only thing that works for me so far is real experience, but it's definetely not the most time/energy-efficient way to develop business judgement for case interviews.

Please elaborate as thorough as possilbe! Especially if you were able to solve such a problem for yourself.

Any specific business books will also be highly appreciated (since most "best-sellers" are.. let's say not really suited for case prep).

Thanks in advance!
Best regards,
Vasiliy

(edited)

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Originally answered question:

Tips for developing business acumen

Anonymous replied on Jul 13, 2018

Broadly agree with Jonathan. A couple extra suggestions:

1) Subscribe to Finimize: They will send you daily updates with recent business/finance news, and explain what is happening (and why) in Layman terms. It's an excellent way to both stay up to date with most recent events in a couple of minutes (e.g. on the commute to work) and also improve your business acumen.

2) Read up on some basic business/microeconomics: Any decent first year of University or even advanced highschool economics should do - to get the basics and understand some key terms (e.g. economies of scale, breakeven point, etc.)

3) Also read through cases to further improve if you run out of cases to watch/listen to

Hope this helps!

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Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Dec 05, 2017
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

Building Business Judgement is actually about building industry and functional knowledge.

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 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. One of the best sources to prepare

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

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Francesco
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Dec 04, 2017
#1 Coach for Sessions (3.900+) | 1.400+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

Hi Vasiliy,

it would be helpful to understand the exact feedback you received, as business judgment could mean different things: are you unable to find potential reasons for a decline in revenues in a specific industry? Or maybe how the business model works in a sector? Or maybe types of potential synergies?

Most of the time people expect that in order to have proper business judgment you should know everything about an industry – eg. that you cannot really solve a financial industry case if you don’t have deep knowledge of the sector. That’s not necessarily true. Although knowledge of the industry of the client helps, you can usually receive from the interviewer the necessary information you are lacking covering better two areas:

  1. Your ability to ask the right questions at the beginning
  2. You knowledge of the right frameworks to use (for right frameworks I don’t 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 that should be complemented with a more universal approach that helps you to identify issues even for unfamiliar sectors.

Thus in your case, this is what I would do:

  1. Ask for detailed feedback on what “lack of business judgment” means – such terms could hide several different things
  2. Understand what you could have asked at the beginning or added to your structure to unlock the missing element - posting a new comment on the PrepLounge blog could help to receive feedback on that particular area
  3. If you identify a specific lack of knowledge in a certain sector that you are unable to unlock with questions at the beginning or a proper structure, move to read cases from MBA handbooks related to such a sector – the INSEAD one has for example a good list of cases for that. Then, add the missing element to your structure/initial questions toolkit.

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Vasiliy on Dec 22, 2017

Thanks! By business judgement my last interviewer meant not being able to assume the right things fast in a certain industry, e.g. in case of selling \ not selling a steel plant, I've found out that the plant's profit is near 0, and the right course of action was to actually not sell it since "the profits can only go up"

(edited)

Vasiliy on Dec 22, 2017

So working through a case via structuring works just fine, but there's not enough time to question every possible assumption, and it seemed that "good business judgement" means quickly making the right ones

(edited)

Anonymous replied on Jul 09, 2017

Hi,

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 (slideshare.net).

https://managementconsulted.com/recommended-reading/

Hopefully this helps!

Best,

Carlos

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Anonymous B updated the answer on Dec 04, 2017

When you read a news article, try reading the headline only and think of the drivers/reasons for why that might be happening. And then read the rest of the article

E.g. WSJ article 'Company A buys company B for 70B USD'.

Ask yourself: why would company A buy company B?

1. Economics: Synergies (cost/revenue)

2. Data/patents

3. Assets/labor.

4. New markets / existing relationships with buyers/sellers.

5. Etc..

You won't be able to replicate this with 100% of the articles, just get in the habit of applying this technique to most articles and see which reasons you may have missed out on. That's how you learn.

(edited)

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Originally answered question:

Tips for developing business acumen

Jonathan
Expert
replied on Jul 12, 2018
McKinsey & Company | University of Cambridge | 50+ cases in various settings

Hi Serdar,

Coming from a politics / philosophy background, I can very much relate to your question. Next to case books etc. these are the things I would recommend:

  • listen to or watch case interviews: there are videos of case interviews on Youtube, and also Victor Cheng audio recordings of cases, which can help you understand how other people act in terms of qualitative aspects during case interviews specfically
  • get involved in startup events: there's this old selling juice on the street thing, but I think startups are a very good option to develop business acumen esp. with your computer science background - maybe try to apply for business plan competitions at your university etc.
  • watch pitches or interview of CEOs and founders: oftentimes founders or CEOs are tasked with presenting an audience of the appeal of their business (model) and they will often do so qualitatively (via eliciting emotions, using metaphors, "proving" with anecdotes etc.)

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,

Jonathan

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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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Ian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 04, 2020
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi Vasiliy,

It seems that your approach to-date has been mostly self-taught. This also includes the advice below (i.e. read more).

I honestly find that a lot of people with this issue fundamentally need a mindset shift. This isn't about # of hours spend reading/studying. This is about talking through your thinking, and reframing it. This can be fixed (for some) in as little as 30 minutes. However, you need to talk to someone for this type of learning to take root.

Sort of like frameworks, it can help to memorize them, but ultimately it's best to learn how to think about them.

Happy to offer you a session on shifting your mindset.

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Lorenzo
Expert
replied on Jul 24, 2018
BCG|Accenture|Consulting boutiques|750 GMAT|Got full MBA scholarship

Hi Kay,

I think that the most effective way to improve business judgement is to be curious. When I say "be curious" I do not mean just reading newspapers and listen to the latest FT podcast, but really try to understand what is behind macroeconomic trends. Just to give you an example: don't just read that interesting article about blockchain implementation in banking, but also ask yourself "how does blockchain work? why does it work? are the alternatives? will it have really a future?" and search for answers to these question. You may want to start this process with a topic that is interesting to you, so that at the beginning will be easier to do that. In this way you will build a knowledge and a forma mentis that will help you to rapidly put the "puzzle pieces" together and create your own point of view. Of course, even if you have not formal studies on this topic, reading some books about the main principle of macro and microeconomic is fundamental (i.e. you can't have real business acumen if you have not idea of what price elasticity is).

Best

Lorenzo

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Anonymous on Jul 24, 2018

Hi Lorenzo! Thanks for your answer. Do you have any recommendations for books on basic macro and microeconomics as a starting point?

Samuel replied on May 03, 2020

You have great answers here but similar responses I have read off different case interview sites didn't really make help to develop business judgement or show me how to mine my existing experience (my opinion) until I listened to this podcast "https://www.firmsconsulting.com/podcasts/what-is-business-judgement/". I am going to summarize what I learnt from it for you:

Business judgement/intuition effectively means your ability to make reasonable guesses/ inferences in business situations.It is the way you interpret things based on your collective past experience. What does that imply?

First, you have business judgement, you just lack the ability to mine your own experience. As soon as I learnt this, I took a pause from travelling, reading tonnes of Mckinsey quarterly and asked myself, how can I mine what I already know and bring into a case? It was then I realised that I knew a lot!

I was doing a case where I had to estimate the revenue Disney world generated in its theme park in Paris. I have never been to Disney World or any large theme park for that matter but as soon as I figured I could mine my experience with going to a stadium (I am a big premier league fan) and an Amusement park (I went to as a child), it all came together and I just drew inferences that impressed my coach.

Firmsconsulting.com has tonnes of practical articles on how to improve your business judgement that I encourage you to read and listen to. It will change the way you approach this.

I wish you the best.

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Anonymous C replied on Jul 25, 2018
  • Just do as many cases as you can across various industries....and across various business issues eg operations, profit, comp responses.
  • Read the news, watch the news, read annual reports. Listen to CEOS speak on youtube.

I think rather than picking up on acumen, it's more important to understand the value chain and operations of organisations. When you walk around in daily life, think about the places you visit, what is their purpose, what can be improved, whos working in this store, what behind the scenes operations are occurring? For example, when you visit the supermarket, walk around and observe the staff, the customers, try to think about what matters to the company and customers. Come up with some ideas of how you may improve this supermarket, is their a bottle kneck at cashiers, are the isles crowded? Then go home, read a supermarket case, read a supermarket annual report etc, compare your knowledge...make it a game if you can!

Also, im guessing you have friends who work in business...pick their brains...i would meet a person at a party who worked in a random industry, id ask him what exactly he did, what was the industry looking like atm, what are the challenges, blah blah blah.

BE CURIOUS...BE OBSERVANT...BE OBSESSIVE.

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THEERTHA HARIHARAN replied on Jul 24, 2018
Management Student at BIM

The following are the best ways to increase business acumen...

1. Reading more and more case studies.

2. Taking part in more management competitions.

3. Enhance the skills by playing more business stimulation games.

4. Keeping up to date with advancements in technology and news.

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