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In what major ways is problem solving during interview case different from real?

Case Interview
Recent activity on Aug 23, 2018
2 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Aug 22, 2018

Hi experts,

1. Can you suggest some of the major ways how the case solving approach, the questions that we get etc. in interview are different from those that we get during a real engagement?

2. Would good problem solving skills during interview make you a good real problem solver? (Not taking into account communication, ability to work with differnt people, fluency in navigating through politics, etc., I understand real engagements are more complicated).

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Anonymous replied on Aug 23, 2018

Hi Anonymous A,

The short answer is that case interviews try to be a bite-sized version of a real case, but because the scope and range of real cases is so wide, you'll have to adapt what you know from interviews quite dramatically.

Let's take a look at a typical case approach:

  • Receive a question and break it down
  • Use the data provided and apply any analytical tools or reasonable assumptions
  • Test your results against a hypothesis
  • Synthesise your response

Now let's consider a typical approach to a real world case:

  • Receive not one but fifty questions meant to support one overarching theme
  • Use the data provided, although it may or may not be accurate
  • Test your hypothesis as far as possible (you'll never have 100% certainty)
  • Synthesise your response, develop your output and make sure it's tailored to your audience

As you can tell, there are large similarities between both! However, the differences in scale, expectations of the interviewer/client and all the other shenanigans you alluded to can make the real case vastly different from an interview. You will need to adapt here, rather than relying on theoretical solutions.

As such, while the underlying mindset is very similar (words like MECE are thrown around a lot), to be effective in a real case requires a broader and different way of thinking. Your ability to solve problems in theory would guide you to solving problems in reality, but it'll take a lot of adaptability and perspective to create an answer that's right for the client in the end.

Hope this helps!



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updated an answer on Aug 23, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous,

I argue that there SHOULD be no substantial difference between the two! Proper problem solving (both in a case study and on an actual consulting project) should always follow rigorous logic and top-down disaggregation of issue-drivers. Unfortunately, this is rarely (or rather never) properly taught in the pertinent Case Study training literature. The approaches brought forward in these books and audio programs (LOMS et al) are NOT teaching proper problem solving. They rather create the (dangerous!) illusion that you can solve business problems with the short cut of "frameworks".

Cheers, Sidi


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