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How to improve ability to remember details? Is it important in consulting?

New answer on Jun 09, 2020
7 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Jun 07, 2020

In my previous job as a relationship manager in banking, my ex-boss mentioned that my memory is not good. For instance, he expects me to remember detailed information about a prospect, which I did KYC on one month ago. He was surprised that I could not remember all the details of the research I did (I spent a few hours doing this research 1 month ago, and didn't work on it later on). Also, he expects me to remember all the account details, and mentioned I should have memorized all the details in my mind naturally after I have read the information once.

I am curious whether it is because my memory is so bad, or my boss' memory is so good? It's hard for me to remember tons of details in my mind for a long period. I could do a good preparation if there is a need, but it's simply hard for me to juggle all the details in mind and keep it in my long term memory.

Now I am switching career to consulting, I am a bit nervous on this topic again. As I expect the work to be more "project based", I feel that the ability to remember tons of details in mind is not so important compared to my previous role. Could you share your thoughts on this? Are there anyways to efficiently improve the ability to "remember details in mind"? Thanks a lot!

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Anonymous replied on Jun 07, 2020

Hi there,

To put it simply, I think it would be helpful if you work on 2 things (which are needed for consulting)

  • Learn to identify the important information and memorize them (any data point that has a significant impact on your analysis should not be forgotten - maybe what you deemed to be irrelevant information was actually very crucial and this why your ex-boss remembered them....keep it 80/20, focus on 20% of the information that impacts 80% of the results)
  • In case you can't memorize everything (like me) - always have a notebook at hand with data pages where you put the relevant information in an organized way whereby you can access the information in less than 5 seconds.

I hope this helps


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Content Creator
replied on Jun 07, 2020
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Anonymous,

Remembering some level of detail of previous client work is definitely required, but I never faced a situation myself in which I needed to tell a consultant off for not remembering some details, so I don't believe it's a reasonable worry you are explaining.

Also I believe you potentially look at it from an unappropriate perspective (I am not saying right or wrong, with unappropriate I solely mean not how a partner would look at it). Based on real projects, I see 2 particular cases about remembering "something":

  1. Key issues/drivers/... etc. and take-aways. This is non-negotiable and you 100% of the time you need to remember the key issues/drivers/... etc. and take-aways. It is just embarassing if you (doesn't matter if entry-level hire or director) meet a C-level executive by chance, and after a few weeks of assignment you are not able to deliver a succint structured top-down picture of your findings and rationale. Same team-internally as more junior rank when discussing with your project manager. But it's not about small details leading to that synthesis (obviously not bad if you remember, but it's human that you cannot remember everything and totally acceptable if upon request of specific details you look it up and come back to the executive etc. on time and deliver the specific missing piece of information).
  2. "Some" kind of information that you came across. It's also crucial that you remember that you came across some information previously. Again it's not about remembering specific details, but much more rembering solely that there was something about that topic you saw. Often during an assignment you get a big pile of data and information upfront, and in that moment some things seem irrelevant or you just don't understand it fully and can not directly make use of it that moment. BUT - sometime later in the project you might need exaclty this missing piece of information, and after connecting the dots that perfectly makes sense later - so here it's just important that you remember that there was 'something' about that, and where you found it. If you need it later, just look it up.

(What is self-explanatory though, if you build a sophisticated model and you are the owner of it, it's clear that you need to be the person knowing all the nitty gritty details about it - also (if not to say especially) if it's 1 month later in the project - but in that situation you spend many days if not weeks to build the model, and you are anyway into the details of it.)

Hope this helps - if so, please be so kind and give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!


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Anonymous updated the answer on Jun 07, 2020


There is no miracle recipe for improving memory. I advise you to build simple tools (eg in Excel) that will allow you to have a clear view of the important elements to remember on a project. When you need to access information, you can open this tool and quickly get an answer.

Besides, the simple fact of asking the question "what should I memorize?" and taking the time to write already allows to remember most things :)

I hope this will give you a good food for thought!


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Anonymous replied on Jun 08, 2020

Hi there,

While you do need to remember some critical points about your project (like your key assumptions and insights) and about your client (like don't call them by the wrong names 2 weeks into the project), you don't need to remember everything you've come across. I certainly don't remember all the details of something I looked into 1 months ago, unless it is something very different from the norm (could go both ways, extremely amazing or extremely weird).

The key thing is just to know where you can find that information again when you need it. And this includes:

  • Make use of tools to take good notes of the info and key discoveries that you've collected. If your handwriting is not very neat, consider keeping an e-copy so you can still read them after 1 month
  • Know who might have the info or knowledge if you need to turn to them for help, and keep a good term with them.



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Content Creator
replied on Jun 08, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


I disagree with the part of memorizing.

Yes, remembering details is key, but not memorizing. Particularly in an interview, when you are nervous, don´t think this is the key to success

Key is in being systematic:

  1. Practice critical reading with each case: which are the key pieces of info and which are accesories?
  2. Note down in a piece of paper, always in the same and designated area, all the input.
  3. Have this area differenciated from the calculations part, so you can always come back to it

Hope it helps!



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Content Creator
replied on Jun 09, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there:

I have always struggled with this. This is my #1 weakness, so let me tell you what I do :)

1) Take great notes - AND ORGANIZE THEM

Make sure you take notes whenever you think you might to recall things. Importantly, take them in a manner so that you don't even need to work hard to remember where they are. I.e. if you have a weekly meeting on x, keep all your notes in the same place

2) (Related) Organize things

I have a folder structure in both my files and my outlook to organize things effectively. Right now I just across a million clients. As such, my folders are based on client names. Anything important related to the client goes into those folders.

3) (Also related) Focus less on remembering and more on where you can recall

I.e. Don't remember x, y, z, fact if you know you don't need to rapidly recall it. Instead, focus on remembering either where that information is or who you can ask to remind you

4) Use stickies

For anything you need to remember short-term, write it down on stickies. As you realise you no longer need it, or you have it memorized, remove the respective sticky to make space ofr others.

Good luck!

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Anonymous replied on Jun 09, 2020

Dear A,

I would basically recommend you to relax a little bit about your memory. It simply seems that your boss has probably a better memory on memorizing some specific information than you, but you have other talents. So don't worry about it.

In consulting good memory is always helpful, but it's not mandatory, because in consulting we take a lot of notes. Either through hand-writing in our booklet or now I'm using Microsoft notes - One notes, where documenting every meeting. So that you can always recall all the key information which you need.

To my mind, you simply need to develop the skill to quickly find all the nessessary information which you might need.

If you need any further help or advice, feel free to reach out, and I'm happy to share them with you.

Good luck,


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