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What are some best practices in regards to efficient note taking during case interviews?

Case Interview case interview note taking Notes organizingnotes Taking Notes
New answer on Mar 18, 2021
6 Answers
1.5 k Views
Ahmed asked on Mar 17, 2021

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Henning
Expert
replied on Mar 17, 2021
Bain | passed >15 MBB interviews as a candidate

Hi A!

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
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 18, 2021
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi Ahmed,

1) Decide physical vs virtual - are you a faster typer or writer?

2) If virtual, pick the best tool - try outlook draft emails (so you can store/organize with your email), try notepad, try a tablet so you can write on it, etc....find the one that works for you

3) Only write down what is important - you should know this! You don't need to capture everything. Just like in a case, figuring out what information is not needed is just as valuable as figuring out what information is needed.

4) And then, what you do write down, write it 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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Francesco
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 18, 2021
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com) | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi Ahmed,

I would suggest to divide the first page into 4 parts as below:

  • top-left: who is the client
  • bottom left: initial information
  • top right: objectives
  • bottom right: structure

Landscape format in general works better. Sometimes you will have to go back and forth, as you may get information, objective 1, additional information, objective 2, etc.

The vertical line should be closer to the left border and the horizontal line should be closer to the top border so that there is more space for the structure.

After the first page, you can structure as below:

  • 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

The vertical line can now be in the middle so that the left and right parts have the same distance.

Besides that, you can also improve your notes with the following:

  • Ask the interviewer to repeat in case you missed information. It is better to ask for missing information upfront rather than later
  • Do a recap after the prompt. This ensures you took notes correctly since the interviewer will correct you otherwise
  • 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 that produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants
  • Keep a separate sheet for math if you tend to be disorganized in that part

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Allen
Expert
replied on Mar 17, 2021
Ex-McK Experienced Hire and EM - I show you how to perform at your best

Hi there,

Here's a repost from a previous thread:

____________________________

That's a common challenge. I had someone ask me just yesterday.

My take on this is the following: It's really hard to do both at the same time and I find that it's typically better to listen more, writing only the key points, than to try to capture everything.

The challenge is really because everyone is anxious to try and capture everything in writing and this makes it even harder to listen. Nobody is looking at your notes (even if they collect them afterward) so the point is to help you solve the case, not to create a structured write-up! I encourage you to make it easier for yourself by only writing down key points that you will not remember unless you have recorded them.

Why do I think this? A few reasons:

  1. Even if you do successfully capture everything on paper, are you really going to be able to find the information you are looking for later with so much text on your page?
  2. Do you really need to write down the industry or the country or the name of the client? Sure, those are important, but you will surely remember much of this within the next 2 minutes. I think that time and headspace is much better spent actively listening to (looking at) the interviewer to try an interpret what's important.
  3. Better to write down things that you would forget like 50% market share in America, but 25% market share globally.

So, bottom line, my advice is to only write down what needs writing down and this way you'll have a much easier time capturing all the key information in your head.

One other approach to consider: I have seen some interviewees come prepared with a structured sheet for notetaking, with different pre-labeled sections that they complete during the prompt. I don't love this idea, but it's pretty neat and might work for you.

Best of luck,

Allen

__________________

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Gaurav
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 18, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hi Ahmed,

it might be useful to practice with any kind of text. Use the descriptions of the cases that you find online. The more you do it, the more you become accustomed to what’s relevant and what’s not. Interview simulations with somebody who's more experienced than you will help, too.

Tips for more efficiency:

  1. Use abbreviations, write in shorthand. It doesn’t matter what signs and letters you use as long as it works for you.

  2. Divide the sheet into sections and use them for different types of information.

  3. Try a mind-map approach.

  4. Always write down the entire question and go back to it before answering every part of the case.

Hope it was helpful,

Cheers,

GB

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Adi
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 17, 2021
Accenture, Deloitte | Precision Case Prep | Experienced Interviewer & Career Coach | 15 years professional experience

Hi Ahmed, this question has been answered many times in the Q&A forum before. Please search.

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