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Is structure the most important thing in case interview?

Anonymous A asked on Jun 26, 2018 - 3 answers
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replied on Jun 26, 2018
McKinsey Engagement Manager & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 100+ candidates secure MBB offers
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Hi Anonymous,

arguably yes. At least, structure is an absolutely crucial element towards success in a case interview. However, I want to emphasize one BIG misconception that I unfortunately see with many many candidates:

Structure DOES NOT equal frameworks!

The different frameworks that you can find in pertinent case literature provide a very good basic toolbox in terms of which areas to look into for certain types of problems. However, they are very poor regarding HOW TO APPROACH a case and HOW TO DRAFT A ROADMAP for solving the case. This approach and roadmap needs to be rooted in rigorous and specific logic. Unfortunately the "framework learning philosophy" brought forward by, e.g., Case in Point, is the very reason why an overwhelming majority of candidates will not get an offer.

By and large, most (or probably all) casebooks on the market are teaching a fundamentally flawed way how to think about business / strategy / organizational problems! A framework as such is worth nothing if it is not embedded into the specific context of the situation! This means, each element that you want to scrutinize ("building blocks" of the framework so to speak) needs to clearly relate back to the question that you want to address! This principle should form the basis of any structure.

This is why you ALWAYS start from the specific question that you want to answer! From there, you define the criterion or criteria that need to be met in order to anwer this core question in one way or another.

In 95% of cases, value creation will be the central element. Ultimately, this is nothing else than profit generation over a specific time frame. You then draw a driver tree for profitability in order to isolate the numerical drivers for your solution. And then, only after you have drawn out the driver tree, you can map out the relevant qualitative "framework elements" to the sub branches. This approach, visualized by means of a rigorous driver tree, is much much clearer then any framework you will find in any case book. And, contrary to such frameworks, which are hanging in the air and do not logically relate back to the specific question, this is a bullet proof approach when done rigorously.

The caveat is: this requires time and qualified coaching to internalize. But ultimately, this is how consultants think about problems - how can we optimize for value creation?

Cheers, Sidi

I could not agree more with Sidi's excellent advice. For those who will subsequently come across this thread in the course of their preparation, may I emphasise: please, take this advice to heart! Please, pivot away from a 'framework' driven approach, and learn to apply structured logic to the unique problems you encounter in each case! — Tyrion Lannister on Jun 28, 2018

Anonymous B replied on Jun 27, 2018

It depends and I think Sidi is right. Here are some points to think about -

  • Honestly, i feel as though if you present to me an average framework or structure to solve the case, but you present it eloquently, clearly and engagingly it won't matter.
  • Many candidates present an amazing structure but then will mess up the quant which probably means you wont get the offer or pass the case.
  • But on the other side, if you do an average structure but nail the quant you will probably pass the case.

I truly believe it comes down to a combination of the structure and quant. You must nail at least 1 area of this and be 'at the bar' in the other.

But to note something else - I also believe delivery is more important over the content. If you're average (not failing) at both these areas, but engage the interviewer, are interesting, confident and would be considered 'client ready' with some extra'll probably be ok and pass.

This is because they can teach you the hard technical skills if you have the base IQ, soft skills are far harder to teach someone.

Good luck!

replied on Jun 26, 2018
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Only in its broad definition. Basically, you are using many structures throughout the case:

1) Making the initial structure and then digging deeper while creating the new structures. Remember to present the structure (literally, rotate your paper and show your structure). Use the structures for math / market sizing / creativity questions

Here is a long post by me on how to communicate the structure during the case study:

2) Structuring while having questions on creativity

  • Ask the interview for a minute to think
  • Think of several buckets of ideas (e.g. organic growth / non-organic growth / differentiation). Remember to think as big as possible
  • Narrow down to each bucket and generate as many ideas as possible
  • Present the structure (buckets) and then your ideas

3) Structuring your conclusion. You can find a good example I've posted here:

4) Structuring your FIT stories

Use the top-down approach while communicating your stories. "The Pyramid Principle" is the must-read by ex McKinsey on this topic.

I recommend using the STAR framework:

  • In Situation, you should briefly provide the context, usually in 1 or 2 sentences
  • Task usually includes 2 or 3 sentences describing the problem and your objective.
  • Then you provide a list of specific actions you took to achieve the goal. It should take 1 or 2 sentences per action (Usually 3-4 actions). Note that the interviewer can stop you at any minute and ask for more details.
  • The results part should have 1 or 2 sentences describing the outcomes. This part is finalizing your story - make sure it can impress the interviewer and stay in the memory.