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Skill responsible for 50% of your success at a consulting case interview

By Peter K

Creating a solid opening structure for a case is part of the basics despite regular hype around it. Strong brainstorming and math are also just fundamental skills, not exceptional. If you are great at frameworks, ideation, and calcs, you will just match the expectations of your interviewers, but it won’t be enough to secure an offer.

Case interview isn’t about solving a case (the majority of candidates usually solve their cases). It is about your ability to talk.

Compare:

Basic: “In my first bucket, I’d like to explore the client’s airline market and analyze four areas – market size, its growth rate, competitive landscape, and typical profitability. In my second bucket…”

Advanced: “In my first bucket, I’d like to explore the client’s airline market and analyze four areas – market size, its growth rate, competitive landscape, and typical profitability. I am not that familiar with this space, but I would imagine airlines are a fairly commoditized market, as it is hard to differentiate. That makes me believe the customers are quite price-sensitive, and given this high price pressure the margins are likely slim. Narrow margins make this a volume game, so I believe we’ll see a consolidated competitive landscape with several major airlines that enjoy high brand awareness, developed distribution, deep marketing pockets, and competitive cost structure due to their economies of scale. This might be a tough environment for our client to play in and might be a root cause of the declining profitability, as big-name players might have been stealing our market share. However, this is just my running hypothesis I’d like to validate with you later. In my second bucket…”

This ability to connect the dots, identify 2nd/3rd layer insights, and demonstrate your business acumen, is what secures you an offer. The interviewers want to hire a candidate who can freely talk to the client, maintain a business conversation on an unfamiliar topic, and sound conversational.

And no, you don’t need to learn the specifics of popular industries like some people encourage you to. There are dozens of industries that are used in case interviews. You won’t have enough time to study their unique points.

What you can do is to learn business concepts. In the example above, all the statements are based on three concepts – a commoditized market, a consolidated competitive landscape, and key competitive advantages. If you know these and eight other b-concepts (link), you will be able to tell your stories about any industry and add a lot of colors to your framework and throughout the case. And more importantly – you’ll be able to get an offer.

This storytelling is the most powerful skill you can apply to your opening structure, math, chart-reading, and Q&A part. For example, after your interviewer’s request, you finished your calculation of the payback period for a new product launch. Compare:

Basic: “The payback period is two years, which meets the client’s expectations. As for the next step, I’d like to explore go-to-market strategy…”

Advanced: “The payback period is two years, which meets the client’s expectations. It looks attractive and we should expect newcomers launching a similar product soon, as other players might also see an opportunity with this new offering. The competition will intensify, increasing price pressure, which might cut our margins and our payback period might sky-rocket. So, we need to move fast to capture the first-mover advantage and get sizable market share. As for the next step I’d like to explore go-to-market strategy…”

Feel the difference?

These value statements shouldn’t necessarily help you identify another root cause or solve your case in general. They empower you to differentiate yourself from other candidates and sell yourself to the interviewer. Strong storytelling skills typically add to candidates’ credibility and position them as professionals who can see depth and generate value for clients.

Mastering storytelling is time-consuming though. And it is not accomplished through reading the Wall Street Journal or listening to business podcasts regularly. These passive learning techniques make you feel good, but you don’t internalize much. Ability to share stories and add flavors can be developed through drilling business-concepts (see their list here), writing down your stories, video-recording parts of your casing, and constant reiteration until you sound polished.

It’s a painful process for sure, but who said getting an offer for a $200k job would be easy?

Peter K

Professional case prep coach

Peter-K.thinkific.com

P.S. 11 business concepts commonly used in consulting case interviews – link

About Peter K

Peter K is a professional case prep coach. After 4 years of management consulting at McKinsey and L.E.K., Peter now trains candidates to prepare for their consulting case interviews. To date, Peter has conducted 4,000 sessions, assessed 1,000 candidates, launched self-prep site Peter-K.thinkific.com, and written a book.

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