Taking Client-Friendly Notes

notetaking
Recent activity on Oct 22, 2018
4 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Oct 22, 2018

Dear all,

I'm not experiencing any problems with my notetaking i.e. was never a problem while solving a case. However, I need on average at least 3-4 pages for each case - not that "sexy".
I still have time with my case study prep. and got very good expert feedback so far. Hence, I would like to improve my note taking skills to become more client friendly.

Any tipps and/or ressources?
Can the book "the pyramid principle" be helpful for this?

Thanks a lot.

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Francesco
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Oct 22, 2018
#1 Expert for Coaching Sessions (3.600+) | 1.300+ Reviews with 100% Recommendation Rate | Ex BCG | 8+ Years of Coaching

Hi Anonymous,

if you have too many pages as notes, it could be that:

  1. you are leaving blanks in the page - which means the structure for the notes can be improved
  2. you are writing too large
  3. you are writing too much information

Below you can find some possible solutions:

1) If the issue is related to blanks in the page, my recommendations would be to divide the first page into 4 areas as reported below; when taking notes, you can then put the information in the appropriate box. The left column and top row should be smaller than the right column and bottom row to leave space for the structure. 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: initial 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 row should be smaller to leave more space for the structures:

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

You should keep the page horizontal to optimize the space with this structure.

2) If the issue is related to the dimension of what you write, you could simply try to reduce the dimension of the letters - which would require quite some practice if you always wrote in this way.

3) If the issue is related to writing too much information, you could:

  • 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 don't have time to write everything, thus you should exercise in writing down only the necessary information. If you have a client which 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

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Guennael
Expert
replied on Oct 22, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

Needing multiple pages is not a big issue if you always know what is where - but I agree it is suboptimal when a candidate starts moving things paper around and gets lost due to too many pages.

Here is how I set up my page:

1. At the top of the page, I write the question

2. Right below, I draw out my framework

3. Below still, I do my calculations & write down my significant findings (which I put in a box to quickly find them at the end if needed)

4. On the side, I draw a line ~1 inch away from the edge; at the top of that long rectangle, I write out a couple of words for each interim conclusion I have (useful at BCG if the interviewer doesn't leave me any time to prepare a final recommendation

5. At the bottom of that rectangle, I'll write down crazy ideas I have in the middle of the case but that aren't relevant just at that moment. That will help me not forget, and perhaps use in the 'conclusion / next steps' if I haven't addressed by then

Some people write a lot, or write big. If so, a 2nd page can be useful for the question + recommendation; a 3rd page can also be used for all the math. I think that's probably the maximum number of page most people can properly use in a case; anymore and you will stress yourself out while trying to find what you are looking for.

Hope this helps; good luck!

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Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Oct 22, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

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!

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Anonymous replied on Oct 22, 2018

Agree with Guennael - also his approach is nice, try it.

But just one thing: On the job, there is no such thing as "too many notes". You will be juggling a million things at once, so even though you think you will remember something, a week later you will thank whatever deity you lean towards if you wrote it down, because more likely than not you WON'T remember. So keep that habit!

there's even a saying about this in German: "Wer schreibt, der bleibt"

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Francesco gave the best answer

Francesco

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