Tips for taking initial notes?

approaching a case notetaking
New answer on Jan 21, 2021
5 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Feb 08, 2019

Some long prompts involve quite a bit of data. I'm having trouble writing everything down and/or even remembering what i miss. Sometimes it feels like the interviewrs are talking much to fast. Any tips to be a better listen / better at jotting down notes during the initial prompt?

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Francesco
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replied on Feb 08, 2019
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com) | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

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

After the first page, you can still divide the page into four parts. Left and right could now be at the same distance. Top areas should be smaller to leave more space for the structures:

  • 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 should also:

  • 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 which produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants

As mentioned by Vlad, you can always:

  • Ask the interviewer to repeat in case you missed some information
  • Recap after the prompt, to be sure you did not miss key elements

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Henning
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replied on Jan 21, 2021
Bain | passed >15 MBB interviews as a candidate

Note taking is of course a critical piece of a strong case delivery, so it will pay off to practice this early on in your preparation.

Whatever system you chose (and practice), it needs to fulfill 3 main purposes:

  • Allow you to note down the critical data and information you hear during the case prompt and have the readily available whenever you need them
  • It needs to enable you to note down an initial framework and track the execution against it
  • It should provide room to store your key insights (1-2 numbers or 1 short bullet point per branch of your framework)

There are certainly many different styles of note taking that provide these three functions, so you should find our which one works for you and enables you to focus on the case execution, rather than the note taking. Keep in mind that you should practice this system early on in your journey, so you are comfortable with this method when you go into the interviews.

Find below a screenshot of the notetaking system that works for me personally. In this system, I first draw one vertical and one horizontal line. Then I use the column on the left side to take the initial notes during the case prompt and clarifying questions. Then I write down the key question of the case in the top row and develop the framework in the main area on the page.

During the case, I scribble less important stuff on separate pages (e.g. notes during the quant part). However, I will write down the key insights of each branch of the framework at the bottom of my main page. That way, when I get to the recommendation, I can simply read the notes from left to right to have the supporting arguments for the case recommendation.

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Ian
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replied on Dec 31, 2020
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Write in shorthand!

I.e. If I say "Your client is Bills Bottles. They earn $800M in profits each year by manufacturing bottles to soda companies in the US and Europe. Over the past two years they've seen profits falling and have brought you in to investigate"

You should write:

  • Bills Bottles
  • Manufacture
  • Client = soda comp
  • 800M P
  • P [down arrow] 2 yrs
  • US + Europe
  • Obj: Fix P
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Anonymous replied on Aug 23, 2020

Dear A!

Below some general recommendations on how to take notes:

Write down all the important information. You can use abbreviations

  • Client name
  • Industry
  • Geography
  • Current situation
  • Goal/objective:

And for your analysis put the name of area you supposed to analysed and it structure

  • Name of the first area analysed
  • Structure for the first area
  • Name of the second area analysed
  • Structure for the second area

Hope it helps,

Best,

André

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Vlad
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replied on Feb 08, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / 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!

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Francesco gave the best answer

Francesco

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