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How to structure the initial data?

Case Interview
Recent activity on May 23, 2017
2 Answers
3.3 k Views
Alex asked on May 17, 2017

Hello everyone! So I've been recently thinking about what is the best way to structure the initial data given to you in the case. Since in some cases you need to refer back to your initial data, I feel like it should follow some logical pattern. I've developed a strategy that works great for me in most of the cases I do. So I take a piece of paper, turn it into “landscape mode” and I make 3 columns (equal width): ABOUT | DATA | OBJECTIVE. The About column contains all the qualitative information about the case (client's situation description); Data - Numerical information (Revenues, Costs, Profits, etc.); Objective is clear. I hope that someone will find this approach helpful.

My main question here is: Is it ok to tell the interviewer you're going to break the initial data into these 3 columns BEFORE he reads the actual case description? Or should I do it after he starts reading? In the last scenario I'm afraid to lose something of what interviewer says while I'm making and labeling the columns. Advice is highly appreciated.

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replied on May 18, 2017
Ex-Bain consultant, got offers from McK, BCG, Bain. Now a Product Manager at a startup

Hi Alex!

I wouldn't ask for extra time here. Your personal note-taking technique is completely up to you and if you chose to do the three columns then no problem, as long as it doesn't interfere with the flow. You might come across as too "processy" or too trained. You also wouldn't do it in an meeting with a client. It also takes about 5 seconds so it's not a big deal, you could do it in the meantime.

Hope I could be of help!


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Carlos on May 18, 2017

Hi Alex, totally aligned with Michal For me the answer is a clear NO. If a candidate does this I automatically think that he is clearly over-trained However a couple of tips 1. Use a full page to take this initial notes, use bullets points, big font. As an interviewer is great to be able to see what the candidate is writing (we as consultants think in slides  so the closer to a slide the better (imagine the initial info typically can be summarized in 5 bullets, so use all the space in the page 2. Clearly highlight (put a square) the goal – this is what you are solving for and the most important thing to keep in mind during the case – you need to refer to it several times during the case! (most of the candidates – most meaning like 70% forget about the goal stated at the beginning) 3. Initial info is essential in most of the cases – essential means that indeed you can start solving the case with the info Cheers! Carlos


Anonymous updated the answer on May 23, 2017

Hi Alex,

I agree with Michal here - you don't need to explain what you are doing in terms of note taking. My advice would be draw up your columns, don't worry about missing data, you can always double check and ask questions after. In fact, my advise is to always double check you have all written out:

"Just to double check I have all written up, the company is currently looking to..., the current operating profit is $X and sales is Y.."

The best candidates always check and they completely expect you to make notes. You can talk throuh structure after if you want, especially if it helps you structure your thoughts.


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Ex-Bain consultant, got offers from McK, BCG, Bain. Now a Product Manager at a startup
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