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Tips for taking initial notes?

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 replied on Feb 08, 2019
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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

Vlad replied on Feb 08, 2019
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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!