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Links to be best notetaking resources?

Anonymous A

My notetaking is poor. I often get lost in my numbers and have trouble getting all the pieces of information in the initial section. What are the best notetaking guides that you have seen?

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Vlad replied on 02/10/2019
McKinsey / Accenture / Got all BIG3 offers / More than 300 real MBB cases / Harvard Business School

Hi,

Several things here:

  1. If you don't have enough time, it is always fine to ask the interviewer in a polite manner to repeat what he just said. Basically, you have no choice.
  2. Another way is to increase the speed of taking the notes. Use acronyms, and practice to write short descriptions.
  3. Make a recap - usually, I recommend making a recap after asking clarifying questions, but in your case, it may be beneficial to make a recap right in the beginning. "Do I Understand correctly that..."

There are some questions that you should always try to ask in addition to what he told you:

1) You can also ask the interviewer to tell you more about the business model and how the company generates money. Even if you think you understand it, try to repeat it to make sure that you understand it correctly. e.g. if the case is about oil&gas company which revenues are declining, ask if it is Up / mid / down-stream problem. In this case, defining a revenue stream is critical to setting up the right structure.

2) Clarify the objective. Here make sure that your goal is:

  • Measurable
  • Has a time-framed
  • Has / has no limitations

e.g. Should I invest 100k in this business for 1 year if I want to get 15% return?

Note-taking tips:

Split the main sheet into 2 parts and then the left part into 2 quadrants:

  • Upper left - initial information given at the beginning of the interview and while asking clarifying questions
  • Lower left - Your objective. The objective should be measurable and should have a timeline
  • Right part - Your structure and the whole case flow

Also, a good practice is to put the key numbers near the corresponding buckets.

! Have a separate sheet for math calculations !

Best!

Francesco replied on 02/10/2019
#1 Expert for coaching sessions (1900+) | Ex BCG | 900+ reviews with 100% recommendation rate

Hi Anonymous,

in order to write better notes, my recommendation is to divide the paper into 4 areas as reported below for the first page; when taking notes, you can then put the information in the appropriate box. Sometimes you would have to go back and forth, as you may get information, objective 1, additional information, objective 2, etc.

  • top-left: who is the client
  • bottom left: initial information
  • top right: objectives
  • bottom right: structure

The vertical line should be closer to the left border and the horizontal line should be closer to the top border, so that there is more space for the structure.

After the first page, you can still divide the page into four parts. Left and right could now be at the same distance.

  • top-left: name of the first area analysed
  • bottom left: structure for the first area
  • top right: name of the second area analysed
  • bottom right: structure for the second area

Besides that, you can also improve your notes with the following:

  • Ask the interviewer to repeat in case you missed information. It is better to ask for missing information upfront rather than later
  • Do a recap after the prompt. This ensures you took notes correctly since the interviewer will correct you otherwise
  • Use abbreviations. Eg, for revenues use R, for costs use C, for increase use an arrow directed up, etc.
  • Write down essential information only. You do not have time to write everything, thus you should exercise in writing down only the necessary information. If you have a client that produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants

Hope this helps,

Francesco

Guennael replied on 02/10/2019
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

Keep it simple:

- First, I suggest breaking down the page into pre-defined sections so you know what is where

- Personally, I like to have a thin band on the right where I save the recommendations (on the top) and parking lot suggestions (on the bottom - I'll use this at the end for next steps); in the rest of the page, I write the problem statement at the top, my structure just below, and any note / calculation in the rest of the page; I'll also put any significant findings in a box so my eyes are drawn to it during my conclusion if needed

- Ultimately, which method you use doesn't matter as long as it works for you + use it the same way every time

- In terms of pure note taking, there's no trick. Remember to jot down the main numbers / trends / objectives, but otherwise it is mostly a matter of practicing taking these notes quickly while the interviewer is talking

- If you feel like you may have missed something, make sure to ask. The best way to fail a case is to address the wrong problem

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