please find below the answers to your questions:
Q1: What does this unusual process mean?
As Vlad said, that’s not so unusual. It seems they are uncertain about your performance and would like to have a final interview to decide
Q2: Should I agree to do it by skype? Or should I wait 3 weeks, negotiate with the tier 2 firm and have the interview when I come back?
As a general rule, it’s easier to connect in face-to-face, so everything equal that could be an advantage. In your specific case, though, there could be some reasons in favour of the Skype interview:
- Negotiation with the alternative may not be possible
- You may not be in full shape for preparation in three weeks compared to your current level (my hypothesis is that since you nailed 5 out of 6 and didn't bump the sixth, you would not need a lot of further prep)
If these points are not a concern, I would probably go for the face-to-face interview.
Q3: Do you have any tips on how to handle a consulting interview by skype?
Good internet connection, being properly dressed and a quite environment are definitely required, as mentioned by Vlad. I will quote a previous answer I wrote with some further tips:
# 1. Put all the material that may be interesting for you to look during the interview (structures, tips for fit part, etc) attached to the wall in front of you – in this way you do not have to look for information on the go
# 2. Go the extra mile in the case when presenting what you think. This is important in face-to-face interview, but even more in phone interviews where the interviewer cannot see you or your notes. In short, this implies:
- Explain clearly upfront why you need some information. Eg don’t say “do we have information on price?”. Rather “In order to understand where the problem is on revenues, I would need to analyse price and volume for this segment. Do we have any information on how price and volume changed in the last year?”
- Present with numbers in a structured way each area you want to introduce. I would suggest to do that in two steps:
- STEP 1: mention first the macro areas of your framework. “In order to help our client, I would like to focus on three main areas. Number 1 we may work on [FIRST TOPIC], Number 2 on [SECOND TOPIC], Number 3 on [THIRD TOPIC]. If this is fine for you, let me go deeper in each of them”
- STEP 2: provide details for each macro point. “In area Number 1, this is what I would analyse. First, I would like to cover [FIRST STEP OF FIRST TOPIC]; second, I would like to focus on [SECOND STEP OF FIRST TOPIC]; next, I would like to work on [THIRD STEP OF FIRST TOPIC]. In area Number 2, this is what I would analyse. First,(…)”
# 3. Smile and show positive attitude – that's needed of course also in the face to face interview, but it is particular relevant on Skype interviews, as there is less interaction with the interviewer
Q4: Tips on how to improve creativity in cases?
I will quote a previous answer here as well. This is what I would suggest to improve creativity:
- Recap all the information received until that moment. This will give you time without sounding you don’t know where to go.
- Always try to identify 2-3 key elements that would constitute the fundamental pillars of your brainstorming. This requires knowing how to structure well. Some potential divisions are: Internal-External (eg reasons for an increase in costs); Current-New (eg product, customers, distribution channels); Financial-Non financial (eg benefits from a way to enter a market compared to another). Additional potential areas may be: long/short term; organic/inorganic; revenue/cost based. The important thing is that you stick to MECE.
- After having defined the key pillars, start to brainstorm for each of them. To improve brainstorming, best thing would be to read more cases (there are several good consulting MBA handbooks available for free online that could be a good source)
Bonus: you may ask for time after step 1 if needed, to think more on the appropriate structure to apply before brainstorming.
Let’s see a concrete example.
Interviewer: So, generally speaking, how would you decrease the cost of raw materials?
Step 1: Recap the situation
Interviewee: So, if I got it right, you would like now to move to the elements that could decrease this cost. If it is fine for you, I would like to do a small recap and then move through the key elements that can help to do so. At the beginning you asked me what brought a decline in profits. We have identified the problem lays in Product A, and in particular in the cost area. We then found out that the main increase in cost was related to raw material.
Interviewer: That’s right.
(Notice that you may have likely gained 30 seconds of additional time just summing up information)
Interviewee: Do you mind if I take 1 minute to think about it?
Interviewer: Please take your time.
Step 2: Present the key pillars of the structure
Interviewee: Thanks; I believe there are two key areas to decrease the cost of raw material; we may decrease the cost of each unit, or we may decrease the number of units we buy. I would like now to go a bit deeper in these two components.
(Notice that even if you are brainstorming, you are first putting down a list of the MECE pillars of a structure. This is fundamental to brainstorm correctly)
Step 3: Brainstorm elements inside each pillar
Interviewee: Well, in order to decrease the cost per unit we may do a couple of things, keeping in mind we want to maintain revenues at the same level: number one, decrease the quality of the units that we use; number two, negotiate with the supplier; number three, find another supplier.
In order to decrease the number of units, we may do two things; we may implement a more efficient method to use them, so that we would have to buy fewer of them. We may also substitute some of the units with something else that may be cheaper and with the same effect on the final product.
Of course, the best way to do correctly step 2 and 3 would be to have good structures already in place and/or have read a lot of cases, to backup your references.
Hope this helps,