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Spending too much time on cases, how to improve?

approaching a case Time limit
New answer on Jul 03, 2020
8 Answers
1.4 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Jun 30, 2020

When I mock interview, the main feedback I get is while I am structured and have good business sense, I am taking too long to complete the case, and often don't finish.

For some cases, there are only a few components that are meant to be explored in detail (ex. one framework, one analysis, one chart, one brainstorming section, and one recommendation). For these cases, I generally finish on time and receive good feedback. However, there are other cases that seem like they contain multiple cases, with the expectation that a candidate will move quickly through some sections.

How can I recognize which cases require a detailed exploration of a few components and which require a more broad analysis of more parts as I'm doing a case?

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Best answer
Francesco
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 30, 2020
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ interviewoffers.com) | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

I see two possible reasons for your issue with the cases where you are going long:

  1. You don’t use a hypothesis-driven approach or you don’t clearly present the first level of the structure first, as mentioned by Khaled. Due to that, the interviewer cannot understand your plan of action and direct you when needed
  2. Your peers are unable to lead well the case and cannot direct you when needed

If the issue is the first, you should work on improving your communication presenting the structure. If the issue is the second, you should find other peers ;)

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Anonymous replied on Jun 30, 2020

Hi there,

the issue is making sure that your approach is always top-down, it is not about recognizing which case requires detailed analysis vs. broad overview.

What is top-down:

  1. Lay-out the initial buckets you want to assess without digging deep into each one
  2. Take 2-3 mins to explain at least 3 sub-segments in each bucket (what do you want to assess, and give 1 example - e.g., To assess market attractiveness, I would like to dig deeper into any relevant trend in customer preferences/habits, such as any potential switch to "greener" alternatives")
  3. Finish by concluding you overall approach, recommend if it is ok to move the next step or is there something that the interviewer would like you to focus on - say something like "this would summarize the key areas that I would like to explore, I would recommend starting with detailing and analyzing "X", Is that okay? or do you prefer it if I focus on a different area?"

It is safer to stay top-down and not spend too much time on any topic and ask whether the interviewer would like you to dig deeper (and give an example on a potential deep dive that you could do).

Also, maybe the case prep buddies are not managing the interview properly (they should know to tell you, "Ok, let's move to the next topic" rather than let you keep rambling on a specific topic)

I hope this helps

Khaled

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Robert
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 30, 2020
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Anonymous,

Looking back over the last 10 years of coaching, the issue you are facing and describing originates mostly from 2 relatively simple root causes.

1) Overall case structure is more bla-bla than a laser-sharp approach

Since many candidates first start and stay in their prep way too long with peers (so basically blind leading the blind), they develop bad habits about structuring cases. Sometimes even harder to unlearn bad habits than to start doing it correctly from the beginning.

Result: Usually a vague, general structure with some random buckets and random general discussion topics below that first level.

Instead of that, you really need to start and learn thinking like a consultant and c-level executive. You need to own the issue at hand and immerse yourself into the situation, so that you can really develop a tailored, laser-sharp structure to quickly eliminate non-essential aspects and focus on the core issues to discuss.

2) Lack of appropriate communication

Not sure why, but many candidates are even afraid of asking questions and clarifying during the interviews. It's not a one-way-street.

And many interviews even look at the interview situation more in a way that you are the consultant, and they are the client. So it absolutely should be also feeling like a natural dialogue, which involves 2-way communication.

So whenever in doubt if you should move into more level of details (and no data points available suggesting either the one or the other way), try to clarify this with your interviewer. And some cases are even designed like that - in that situation you will get some direction to follow from your interviewer.

Hope that helps - if so, please be so kind and give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!

Robert

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Giulia
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Content Creator
replied on Jun 30, 2020
McKinsey | 6+ years in Consulting + Health Tech |Certified High Performance + Systemic Coach | Women Empowerment

Hi, exactly - Khaled and Francesco made very good points.

The challenge you currently have is normal! We all had this at the beginning of our interview preparation. There are some ways to solve this.

A) The structure you define in the beginning is of great importance!!

  1. Check with the interviewer that you have understood the interviewer's briefing correctly, and make sure that you analyze the correct underyling problem in this case (if you want to solve the wrong problem, you can analyze it endlessly).
  2. After the interviewer's intro: take 1-2 minutes to think about your structure to solve the case. This structure must be hypothesis driven, be MECE (mutually exclusive and overall exhaustive) and contain 3 layers of (sub) segments
  3. Present your structure: It is important that the interviewer can follow your structure and your thoughts. Explain why you look at each of these fields, then specify which aspect you would analyze first and why
  4. Ask the interviewer if this is the right direction or if the interviewer suggests otherwise

B) During the case:

  1. Have your structure always in mind
  2. Work hypothesis driven
  3. Make clear, legible notes and highlight the key results / conclusions (so that you don't waste any time for making the final recommendation in the end)

C) Your performance also depends on your interviewer

  1. Do not hesitate to ask your interviewer if you need further help or if something is unclear to you. This can be a typical scenario with a real client - you as a consultant cannot know everything, and it is very important that you admit it instead of pretending and lying
  2. Your interviewer has to guide you a little bit - but can only do this if you help the interviewer to follow your structure, your hypotheses, calculations and thoughts

If you are already following all of these recommendations, it is best to do a mock interview with an expert!

For further information do not hesitate to contact me!

All the best
Giulia

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Sidi
Expert
replied on Jul 01, 2020
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous,

I believe you have to be EXTREMELY careful with this feedback that you have received ("You need to be faster!"). It sounds to me that you are practicing with people who do not know very well what they are talking about!

"Speed" is NOT part of the assessment criteria in any of the three MBB firms! And it makes sense - the interviewer will always assume that the way you behave in an interview is also how you will behave vis a vis clients. For me as an Engagement Manager, there was nothing more dangerous than having a young consultant on the team who tends to give rushed and premature answers to the client, hence destroying credibility in an instant. What is expected from you is the maturity to understand (and communicate) how much thinking effort is needed to come up with a rigorous LOGIC which you can follow robustly.

But I can tel you that this is a very typical concern that candidates have when building their case skills, and it is usually amplified by practicing with peers. However, it is extremely important that you understand that putting yourself under time pressure while practicing is absolutely counterproductive! You first have to learn the right way of approaching and structuring cases, and time is the last concern you should have here! It is like learning an instrument - you first HAVE TO play much MUCH SLOWER than regular in order to be able to properly learn. Speed will come by itself after some time! If you try to force speed too early, you become sloppy and will never really master it!

Moreover, I can promise you that as long as you come up with a rigorous and compelling approach, focusing on the logic according to which you will answer the precise case question (as opposed to just listing buckets you want to look into), the interviewer will immediately forget about any perception of "slowness" he might have had a minute before!

In the tradeoff rigor vs. speed, always prioritize rigor! Always! Speed follows automatically.

Cheers, Sidi

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Ian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jul 01, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there,

First, you can stop thinking this way!

1) Focus on the objective - what actually matters? This will help you sift through unimportant information

2) Create a framework/buckets/hypothesis that allow for process of elimination - you should always be thinking high-level first, to eliminate areas you don't need to look at. For example, with a market entry, do we really care about looking at the competitive landscape, our product mix, etc. if the market is both tiny and shrinking? No! So, look at that first!

3) Forget about long vs short case - They are all problems. So, solve the problem! Figure out the 2-3 things that matter, and chase those!

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Anonymous replied on Jul 03, 2020

Dear A,

For me it's irrelevant to give you an advice just out of the blue. This is very individual. The only thing I can say is "practice-practice-practice" and follow the process during the typical case interview

or ask for structured and expert feedback.

If you need any help with this, feel free to reach out.

Best,

André

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Clara
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jul 02, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

To build on top of what has been said already, have you considered working with a coach?

He/she can make a diagnosis of the points where you are stuck and prepare and action plan precisely focused on those.

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Francesco gave the best answer

Francesco

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