[You have just completed about 10-15 minutes of fit questions]
Interviewer: Okay, shall we move onto the case?
Description of business problem (1 – 3 minutes)
The interviewer will jump straight into reading you the business situation at hand. While this is happening, you should be taking careful notes of all the important facts you may need. It does not have to be verbatim, but you should have enough down to fully understand the context of the current situation, what has changed in the business, what is the problem you are asked to solve, and of course any numbers given to you.
Confirmation of facts (30 seconds)
Interviewee: Sounds like an interesting problem. Do you mind if I confirm the facts?
Yes, this does sound a little stupid to repeat back what was just told to you, but the purpose is NOT to repeat here. The purpose is to tell the interviewer your interpretation of the problem to make sure you understood it correctly. This step is NOT optional, you should ALWAYS do this. Give the interviewer your interpretation of the situation, including facts and figures. If it appears you are not on the same page or misheard a number, he will correct you. It’s much better to get these misunderstandings fixed early than halfway through the case. This is also your chance to ask the interviewer to repeat a number that you could not write down quickly enough.
A moment to structure thoughts (1 – 2 minutes MAX)
Interviewee: Do you mind if I take a moment to structure my thoughts?
Interviewer: Absolutely, go ahead.
The first time I heard of this, I also thought it was a bit strange. You mean I should literally take time in the middle of the interview to write down my approach??? YES, this is expected, and you should ALWAYS do it. Many beginner interviewers make the mistake of jumping straight into the problem without doing this, and that is the ultimate deal breaker! I would even go so far as to say this is the most important step.
The purpose of this step is for you to structure your plan of attacking a problem once that you have understood it. If this is a declining profitability case, you would typically draw out a tree diagram splitting profits into revenues and costs, then revenue into price and value, and then costs into fixed and variable costs. You would also include on your paper any external factors you think might affect the situation such as customers and competitors. And that’s it. All the items you have written down are your areas of investigation. Remember, a case is like a treasure hunt. You are hunting to find the source of the problem.
Be aware that by structure, I do NOT necessarily mean pull out a framework. Learn why frameworks are overrated.
Verbally present your approach (30 seconds – 1 minute)
Interviewee: Okay, it looks like there are several areas that might be affecting the situation. Since the client is experiencing a decline in profitability, an obvious place would be to break down profits into revenues and costs, and within revenues to look at price and volume, and within costs to look at fixed costs and variable costs. I would also like to look at external factors that might be influencing the situation such as customers and the specific segments, and also competitors to see if this is an industry-wide problem or a firm-specific problem. Would you recommend a place to start?
Once you’ve written down your framework, you have to verbally present it to the interviewer. You should use the diagrams you drew as visual aids while you are explaining. Now the interviewer fully understands how you are thinking about the problem and can clearly follow your thought process as you move from investigating area to area.
Diving into the data gathering and analysis (around 20 minutes)
This is where you will spend the bulk of your time. I personally like to end my presentation of my approach with, “Would you recommend a place to start?” Most of the time the interviewer would give you a place to start, which might save you a lot of time than had you just picked a place yourself. At other times, the interviewer might just say, “Nope, where do you think is a good place to start?” Your decision here depends from case to case.
Up to this point, you are lacking a LOT of information. Beginner case interviewers try to solve the case without asking for more information and it’s just crash and burn. It is like trying to solve a 1000 piece puzzle when you only have 200 of the pieces. The point is to dig to uncover more of the pieces in order to understand the full picture.
For example, when you investigate an area like revenue, you should ask to understand revenue more deeply. How exactly does the company make money? What are the different revenue streams and products? What are the prices for each product? What percentage of overall revenues does each product make up? Learn how to ask the right questions that will reveal the answer to the case for you.
Conclusion (30 seconds MAX)
After around 20 minutes of digging, the interviewer will say, “Okay, let’s say the CEO at the client bumps into you in the elevator and wants to know your conclusion on the problem. Explain it to him.”
This will happen either when:
1) You have all the information necessary to solve the case
2) Time is up and the interview needs to be wrapped up
A pro interviewee will be able to recognize that he has all the information necessary and transition into the conclusion himself.
Be clear and state your key finding up front!
Good: The key area of profitability decline is that sales have been shifting towards a lower margin product. Some ways we can solve this are to reduce costs by using cheaper materials or renegotiating with supplier, or by increasing prices. So far I’ve analyzed the profitability of each of our own products, but some areas going forward I think are worth looking at are new products we could introduce and targeting a new segment with our higher margin products.
Bad: (Repeating your roadmap) Well, I’ve investigated revenues and costs, and also customers and competitors. (GET TO THE POINT!)
Really visualize yourself in the elevator going from the 30th floor to the lobby. You only have 30 seconds! Interviewers are pretty serious about this because the requirement for such concise and clear communication happens more than you would think!
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