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Out of box but irrelevant answers

Case Interview
New answer on May 18, 2024
9 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on May 06, 2024

Hi PrepLounge,

It has caught my attention that when I try to make my framework as original and problem specific as possible, I would usually mention some relevant but not mainly contributing factors to the problem in my framework (e.g, macro changes, industry trends, externality). As much as I have heard from many about the importance to be deep and broad with your framework, isn’t including so many external factors can be a little distracting, especially when they aren’t really the driven factor of the case? Should I make them more relevant by try to establish more of a link between them and the case prompt?

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Oliver
Expert
updated an answer on May 06, 2024
Former BCG interviewer (75+ interviews for associates, consultants and MBA hires) | I will make your practice perfect

Hi,

It's crucial to ensure that every factor included in your framework directly relates to solving the case problem at hand. Focussing on topics that are unrelated to the case are indeed distracting.

To refine your approach:

  • Relevance and Linkage: Focus exclusively on factors that directly influence the problem that you are solving. Each component of your framework should contribute directly to addressing the core challenges or decisions posed by the case. Always make these elements case specific - so if you mention any externalities, make sure those are clearly linked to the core challenge.
  • Prioritization Strategy: Understand and communicate how you plan to prioritize within your framework. Acknowledge that time constraints often necessitate focusing on the most critical aspects of the case. Explain to your interviewer how you would approach solving the problem by systematically addressing these prioritized areas one by one.

Best regards,

Oliver

 

 

 


 

(edited)

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Sidi
Expert
replied on May 06, 2024
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi,


In order to approach this like a strategy consultant, please forget the typical "case book approaches". As a consultant, you would never start your work with doing arbitrary qualitative research to "understand the market", "understand the customers" etc. 

 

This is the definition of inefficiency, aka "boiling the ocean", because you don't even know what you're looking for! I would have been an extremely poor Engagement Manager at McKinsey if I would have structured the team's work like this! From my experience, conceptually approaching a case like an actual strategy engagement is much more effective and powerful than book frameworks.

 

What you do is the following:

  1. Clearly define/boil down the core question (e.g., "Should the client start producing and selling the new product X?")
  2. Verifying the underlying objective (e.g., "The client wants to maximize its earning, i.e., profits.")
  3. Based on 1 and 2, you outline the primary criterion according to which the question will be answered. (e.g., "The additional value which we generate by launching this product needs to significantly exceed the corresponding investment costs over the client's investment horizon.")

Then, the only thing you have to do in the case is to quantify each element of the criterion ( (a) additional profits we can make, (b) investment need, (c) timeframe to consider) --> ONLY AFTER HAVING OUTLINED THE CRITERION, you start looking into qualitative elements (like customer preferences, demand development etc.), because now you have narrowed down the field sufficiently to do this in an efficient manner! 

You use this qualitative information in order to quantify the elements of the decision criterion (see 2. above; the qualitative aspects are the drivers of the elements of your criterion (value, time frame, investment)), and not in an arbitrary and untargeted way as described in most typical case books).

 

P.S.: The primary criterion (as described under 3. above) is mostly accompanied by two secondary criteria. Besides ensuring that the value creation is sufficient, the client also needs to make sure that:

  • The required capabilities to launch and operate the new product line are in place or can be built/acquired
  • There is willingness and capability to manage the corresponding risks that might come along with this strategic decision

Cheers, Sidi

_______________________

Dr. Sidi Koné 

(🚀 Ex BCG & McKinsey Sr. Project Manager, now helping high potential individuals join the world's top Strategy Consulting firms (McKinsey | BCG | Bain))

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Cristian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 06, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

That's a great question but rather difficult to discuss without an example on hand. 

Basically, yes, you should make the structure as original and tailored as possible.

By original, I mean that they should not be just a recycled framework you saw in a business school case book or learned from some other book. It should be something that has been built specifically for that case. 

By tailored, I mean that all the areas you discuss within the structure should be relevant for the question at hand or be potentially relevant (in the sense that if it's an open case you might not know exactly what will be relevant later on). 

Sharing here a guide on structuring:

And if you need some help and want to go deeper, I run a masterclass on structuring, specifically on first principles thinking: 

Best,
Cristian

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Ariadna
Expert
replied on May 06, 2024
BCG | Project Leader and Experienced Interviewer | MBA at London Business School

Hi there, 

to me it's simple, in order for a factor to be relevant, it needs to be contributing to the problem solving. 

Think about it this way: As a consultant solving a problem for a client, you simply won't have time to look into interesting facts that don't help solve the problem. 

Now, if those factors that you mention actually matter (and they very well could, even if you don't see them in the examples you are comparing yourself to), one practical tip I would give is to: 
1. Give them a grouping and a relevant name
2. Put them in the right place in the framework (e.g., based on their relevance vs. other elements)
3. Explain what they are (maybe with one, two very brief examples) and why they are relevant (aka how they help solve the case)
4. … but also don't take it personally if the interviewer then chooses not to focus the case on them. As I said, this does not automatically mean they are wrong. 

Otherwise, good mindset to think broader for case frameworks! I think this is generally a very good skill to have. 

Hope this helps, 

Ariadna 

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Florian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 06, 2024
1300 5-star reviews across platforms | 500+ offers | Highest-rated case book on Amazon | Uni lecturer in US, Asia, EU

Hi there,

I think there is a misunderstanding of what broad means in the context of a case structure.

The goal of your framework is to help you analyze the problem in the most effective way. If you are creating a framework with factors that are not relevant to this endeavor, you are going too broad, i.e. boiling the ocean.

If someone gives you the feedback that you have not been broad enough, it usually means that you are missing out on some crucial elements to understand the issue.

In short, broad means that you capture the problem fully, not more, not less.

Reach out if you want to learn more about this concept. 

Cheers,

Florian

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Dennis
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 07, 2024
Ex-Roland Berger|Project Manager and Recruiter|7+ years of consulting experience in USA and Europe

Hi there,

just to add to what was already mentioned:

You need to solve the case within a time limit. It therefore makes sense to get in the most relevant factors in first. These are elements that have a direct contribution to the answer/recommendation you are asked to derive. You can of course mention some ancillary factors as well to signal to the interviewer that you have a comprehensive view of all potential levers. However, if you start belaboring the point there you are just losing time and not getting closer to your answer.

Also, things like “macro changes, industry trends, externality” are such broad terms, that you could apply them to any case. But unless you get down to really specific drivers in these generic buckets, it won't be of any help. So if you can't come up with enough specificity, it's probably better to focus your attention on other aspects in the interest of time and efficiency. “Being original” won't compensate for not solving the case at its core.

Best 

 

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Pedro
Expert
replied on May 06, 2024
Bain | Roland Berger | EY-Parthenon | Mentoring Approach | 30% off first 10 sessions in May| Market Sizing | DARDEN MBA

You gave your own answer already.

See, the point is not to make a long list of possibilities or factors. The point is to define an approach, and define the critical aspects in order to get an answer. As you said: “establish a link between them and the case prompt”. If there's no link, then it is not problem specific.

To give a more specific example. What are “macro changes, industry trends, externalities”? This is just a “bucket” or a “topic” if you will, but there's no underlying objective.

One thing is to look at “competitive landscape". Another one is to understand if there were any changes in competitive landscape leading to a decrase in profitability, and understanding that these can be the result of a different market structure (new player, M&A), or different value proposition from existing players [I am building an issue tree here]. 

It is not enought to state “where” you are going to look for something. You have to state what you are looking for and WHY. And the why must be directly derived from the case objective.

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Hagen
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 06, 2024
#1 Bain coach | >95% success rate | interviewer for 8+ years | mentor and coach for 7+ years

Hi there,

I would be happy to share my thoughts on your questions:

  • First of all, creating an initial structure that integrates both core and peripheral factors is certainly required to address the problem at hand holistically. However, the key is to maintain focus on the core factors that are most impactful to the case's outcome.
  • Moreover, I would advise you to consider reaching out to an experienced coach to improve on the skill of structuring case studies. I have designed the Case Structuring Program specifically for candidates who struggle with structuring a case study like a consultant would do.

If you would like a more detailed discussion on how to best prepare for your upcoming interviews, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.

Best,

Hagen

 

You can find the consulting salaries report 2024 here!

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Agrim
Expert
Content Creator
replied on May 18, 2024
BCG Dubai Project Leader | Learn to think like a Consultant | Free personalised prep plan | 6+ years in Consulting

Let me tackle this step-by-step:

Being original and specific

  • One important aspect is to use words that are specific to the client and situation. e.g. “electronics” instead of “products”, “users” instead of “customers”, “other electronics firms” instead of “competitors”
  • Another important aspect is to avoid talking about things that can be an obvious no-go in the context of the case. So if the case if about a restaurant facing less visitors, blaming macro-economic trends for the problem will be rarely a good hypothesis.

Being deep & broad:

  • I'm not sure I fully understand what is deep & broad - somewhat contradictory.
  • I would say that a framework needs to cover a “reasonable” range of points. Without being too deep in one aspect, or too fragmented across many aspects.
  • The goal is to “communicate” a framework that can be easily spoken, easily understood, and easily traversed.

Making attempts to be more bespoke:

  • Yes of course - you should be more bespoke and realistic
  • Happy to guide you to become better in that respect through a casing master-class. Feel free to write to me for further questions on casing. There are some really simple tricks that can help elevate your framework skills and enable you to strike that perfect balance of depth and customization.

 

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Oliver gave the best answer

Oliver

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