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Tips for developing business acumen

Serdar asked on Jul 12, 2018 - 4 answers
80+ cases done, real interview experience. Looking for experienced partners.


I am new to case interviews and I have a Computer Science background. While I am studying frameworks and Bootcamp articles, I am struggling to grasp some qualitative factors and they simply do not come to me intuitive. Do you have any advice for how to develop business acumen and literacy.



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replied on Jul 13, 2018
Bain & Company | University of Cambridge | CV/Resume writing | 770 GMAT
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Broadly agree with Jonathan. A couple extra suggestions:

1) Subscribe to Finimize: They will send you daily updates with recent business/finance news, and explain what is happening (and why) in Layman terms. It's an excellent way to both stay up to date with most recent events in a couple of minutes (e.g. on the commute to work) and also improve your business acumen.

2) Read up on some basic business/microeconomics: Any decent first year of University or even advanced highschool economics should do - to get the basics and understand some key terms (e.g. economies of scale, breakeven point, etc.)

3) Also read through cases to further improve if you run out of cases to watch/listen to

Hope this helps!

replied on Jul 12, 2018
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There are no specific requirements and the recruiting process is the same. However, although officially most of the companies would say that you don't need any specific business knowledge, in reality, it is hard to solve a case purely based on common sense. So the lack of business knowledge becomes a very common problem among the people with various backgrounds

Business Acumen is actually about building proper industry and functional knowledge.

Focus on the most common industries in the following priority (sorted by probability of geting a case): 1-retail and CPG; 2-airlines; 3-Telecom; 4-banking; 5-natural resources; 6-tech

There are several sources of information that will help you develop the business sense:

1) Cases - you simply solve 50-70 cases and get a broad knowledge of different industries, common pitfalls and questions. The key here - find good partners who already had case interviews with MBB companies

2) Company reports, equity reports, IB roadshow docs - usually have a good overview of company and industries.

3) HBS cases - quite useful, but not sure if lot's of them available publically. Probably worth buying

4) Industry Books - one good book about airlines with numbers and industry analysis can give you all needed industry knowledge

5) News, Industry blogs

For each industry, you should understand:

  • Revenue streams
  • Cost structure
  • Margins
  • Key performance indicators
  • Key revenue drivers
  • Industry trends

I strongly recommend drawing the typical structures for each industry - profitability, value chain, etc

Then I will switch to getting functional knowledge:

  • Marketing (Brand and trade marketing tools, etc)
  • Supply chain (Ops metrics like cycle time and throughput time, distribution and delivery specifics, etc)
  • Operations (Process optimization basics)
  • Finance (Very basic Finance and Valuation)

Good Luck

replied on Jul 12, 2018
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Hi Serdar,

Coming from a politics / philosophy background, I can very much relate to your question. Next to case books etc. these are the things I would recommend:

  • listen to or watch case interviews: there are videos of case interviews on Youtube, and also Victor Cheng audio recordings of cases, which can help you understand how other people act in terms of qualitative aspects during case interviews specfically
  • get involved in startup events: there's this old selling juice on the street thing, but I think startups are a very good option to develop business acumen esp. with your computer science background - maybe try to apply for business plan competitions at your university etc.
  • watch pitches or interview of CEOs and founders: oftentimes founders or CEOs are tasked with presenting an audience of the appeal of their business (model) and they will often do so qualitatively (via eliciting emotions, using metaphors, "proving" with anecdotes etc.)

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,


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replied on Jul 13, 2018
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Hi Serdar,

the major issue I find people have with developing business acumen is that they cannot make it a daily habit.

There is one simple process that can help you to develop business acumen in a time-efficient way (that is – spending 20mins per day). This is based on understanding first which are the most challenging concepts for you, and then work specifically on such concepts, instead of reading general literature on a topic. To do this, I would recommend the following:

  1. find some good consulting MBA handbooks. You can easily find several good ones online for free (eg Insead)
  2. do/read a minimum of one case every day. Chances are you find more challenging one specific industry. Try to skim through the handbooks looking for that particular sector (eg healthcare). Don’t focus on the structure (usually they are not particular good in these handbooks) but rather on the concepts present in the case. Track all the terminology/concepts that are challenging for you.
  3. once identified concepts you don’t understand, look for more specific resources on that online. If for example you identify it is challenging for you to understand how the typical value chain for an industrial goods company is structured, you can easily find a good structure for it in a 10-minute online search. If you start from reading a book on industrial goods companies, you will of course cover that as well, but also tens of other topics that are not of interest, and spend 4-5 hours instead of 10 mins. This will allow thus to pinpoint the exact areas you have to improve in terms of brainstorming in the case.

Hope this helps,


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