You’ll probably agree with me when I say that starting your case interview prep is confusing.
There are countless resources out there that you have to work through, and you’re not really sure which resources to trust and which ones you should avoid.
That’s why I decided to write THE definitive guide that’s gonna show the EXACT steps you can take to begin your case interview preparation WITHOUT any guesswork.
In it, you will find…
- The 4 stages ANY candidate must go through to achieve mastery (and what you should be doing in each one of them).
- EXACTLY how to overcome the barriers and the deceptive fallacies that make even the smartest candidates postpone their practice and waste valuable weeks that could cost you your offer.
- Little-known techniques that will help you get the most out of your mock interviews and master case solving 2-5X faster than other candidates.
- Three consultant mindsets to incorporate RIGHT NOW that will change your perspective towards case interviews and get you practicing like the top 1% candidates do.
But first, I wanna share a story with you.
“The moment I got my offer wasn’t all that exciting.”
That’s what a client-turned-friend told me when I asked her about the moment she got her offer.
But it wasn’t an easy offer…
It took her a long, frustrating journey to get there.
She had prepared for roughly a year (full-time for six months) and still got rejected in her last round.
She got an offer at a second-tier consulting firm that she ended up accepting.
She needed a job after all.
For most people it would have been the end of the story.
But a year later she interviewed again. She prepared for only a few hours a week, and she got her dream McKinsey offer.
And on top of that, something that was even better…
“By the end of my interview, this McKinsey partner was telling me to start preparing for Ops and Implementation projects, as he wanted ME on HIS team.
He hadn’t even left the room to talk to the other partner who had interviewed me!
So when the recruiting team called me and told me they were extending an offer, there was no real super climax. I knew it was coming.”
When it comes to case prep, quality > quantity
Interestingly, my client from the story above didn’t prepare harder the second time (when she got the offer) vs. the first time (when she got rejected).
The difference was that she prepared better.
Most people who prepare for case interviews are giving it their best.
But the truth is, the ones who are getting the jobs aren’t the ones who are working harder.
They’re the ones who are doing the right things.
Unfortunately, most people spend their time doing activities that don’t bring them closer to their offer.
They’re doing things like:
- They keep reading books when it’s time for practice, not theory.
- They keep doing more and more cases when it’s time for targeted practice, not general practice.
- They focus their practice on whatever is easier to find resources for rather than on what’s their most important weakness.
Learning something, anything, is not a linear process.
If you’re learning to play basketball from zero, you first need to know the basic rules of the game.
But after you’ve learned that, you really have to get the ball and try bouncing it and shooting it. Learning more theory before even holding the ball would be a waste of time.
And if you wanna be the next LeBron James, there’s a ton of other things you’d need to do… Each at their own time.
Whatever it is you’re learning, there’s a sequence to be followed. If you don’t follow that sequence, you’re not gonna progress much.
And that’s what holds 90% of HIGHLY COMPETENT candidates back in their preparation: they keep doing the same thing when they should be doing something else.
And I get why they’re doing this…
There’s just too much random advice!
Much of it is good advice, but they all share a problem: there’s no sequence to them.
Isn’t it weird?
Every time you learn something new, there’s someone telling you the best sequence to learn it.
For example: when you first learned math, your school told you what to learn in grade 1, in grade 2, all the way to advanced Calculus.
When you learned your second language, you had a method. You started with how to greet someone and how to order food at a restaurant, and you worked your way up to reading literature.
But when it comes to case interviews, all you have a ton of random advice:
- Do 50 mock interviews.
- Watch videos on YouTube.
- Read Case In Point, Case Interview Secrets, and twelve other case interview books.
Yet no one’s showing you when to do these things.
Right, you could just come up with your own sequence.
But it doesn’t make sense that every single candidate should invent their own method from scratch, without having any experience whatsoever.
And that is exactly why I wrote this guide.
So you know the exact steps you’ll have to take, no guesswork, no BS, to take control of your preparation, starting on day zero.
Who this guide is for
This guide is NOT for everyone.
Depending on what stage of preparation you’re in, on how much time you have, and on how much time and effort you wanna put into your preparation, this might or might not be the best resource for you.
This guide is for you if you…
- Have at least 6-8 weeks to prepare before your interviews.
- Are a beginner or intermediate candidate (not advanced).
- Don’t want to rely on luck when it comes to your consulting interviews.
- Are willing to put in the effort to learn.
Who this guide is NOT for
This means that this guide is NOT for you if…
- You’re short on time (you have less than 6 weeks to prepare).
If you’re short on time, this guide is not ideal for you.
The unique logic behind it will still be useful as a North Star, but you won’t have time to implement everything.
If I were you, I’d still read it, but then prioritize the activities to your own needs.
- You’re an advanced candidate.
This guide is written for beginners.
If you’re an advanced candidate, you might find helpful stuff in here, but this won’t be as much of a breakthrough.
- You’re looking for shortcuts and are OK with relying on luck in your interviews.
The system in this guide takes work to implement.
Just reading it will probably take you up to an hour.
If you’re looking for quick and dirty shortcuts, this simply isn’t the best content for you.
But if you wanna minimize uncertainty, you might just have found the perfect guide.
About the author
I’m Julio Tarraf, ex-Bainee, co-founder of Crafting Cases.
I’ve helped thousands of candidates in their paths to their offers at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain.
I’ve helped them plan their preparation, find their weaknesses, and develop their practice methods and systems.
Over the years, I’ve seen…
- Beginners FULL of potential wasting weeks or even months preparing poorly because they didn’t know better… This mistake has cost them their greatest career opportunity so far.
- Experienced candidates who had reached a plateau and tried to overcome it by doing more of the same (i.e. more and more cases)… If only they knew there was a different way.
- Candidates achieving mastery and reaching cruise-speed learning, with more improvement every single day, despite being super advanced… Were they born natural consultants? I had met most of them before – most weren’t!
And after seeing what worked and what didn’t for those people over and over again, something finally clicked for Bruno and me.
It wasn’t a matter of what they were doing, but when they were doing it.
And that’s how we came up with what you’re about to read.
In this guide, you're gonna find...
If you’re learning a new sport, a new language, or any new skill, there’s an ideal sequence to follow. You won’t start playing with the pros, nor will you start reading ancient literature in whatever language.
Here I’ll show you the progression you’ll go through during your case interview prep, the goals and obstacles specific to each stage, and what you should be doing to move forward at each moment.
Most people start their preparation with too much theory and too little practice. This makes even highly competent candidates waste valuable weeks because they think they can solve cases better than they actually can.
In this chapter I’ll show you exactly what to do to make sure you won’t fall into those traps.
Even better, I’ll show you how to go through all this in only one weekend.
Everyone’s heard there’s a magic number of mock interviews to be ready for your interviews. Some say it’s 30, other say it’s 50.
The fact is: no specific number of cases will guarantee results. Still, that doesn’t mean quantity doesn’t have its role.
In this chapter, I’ll show you how to get the most out of mock interviews and how to get only great case partners all the time. Most importantly, I’ll show you how to know exactly when to stop doing more and more and more cases and move on to other types of practice.
If you wanna show your interviewers that you can think like a consultant, you need to start actually thinking like a consultant. Right now.
In this chapter I’ll show you three consultant mindsets to internalize right now that’ll change the way you see case interviews (and that’ll help you start preparing like the top 1% candidates do).
If you’ve read until chapter four, you know what it takes to be first-round ready.
Traditional case prep stops working at this point. (Which is why SO MANY good candidates get rejected in their final rounds.)
In this chapter, I’ll show you what to do about it.
The 4 Stages of Preparation
Before starting your preparation, it’s helpful to understand the full journey ahead of you.
That takes away much of the anxiety of not knowing what comes next. It’s also the kind of thing that’ll help you move forward when you get stuck.
Learning is not linear. We all know that.
But still, there predictable patterns. In case interviews specifically, there are four stages with distinct challenges, mental barriers and goals.
A few years ago, Bruno and I worked with long-term coaching with over 200 candidates. We quickly noticed that the things that worked for one candidate didn’t work for another.
At first we thought: “We’re all different people and learn in different ways.”
But soon we noticed something interesting…
People with different needs were actually in different stages of their preparation.
Here are some things we’d hear from our clients day in and day out:
- “I just need to read this couple of books/articles and do more cases. I think this will bring to the confidence level that I need.”
- “I feel like I’ve read every article and watched every video on the internet but the more cases I do, the more mistakes I make.”
- “It’s a paradox: at first I was learning a lot, but now that I’m better than most of my peers, my learning has stopped. Everyday practice feels like lots of ups and downs, but overall I think I have plateau’d. What’s even worse, I’ve stalled just a notch below what MBBs are looking for.”
- “The way I think through these problems has completely changed. Cases feel like an interesting business conversation now, and I kinda get a little upset when people around me are not structured enough. The only thing holding me back is that all the material out there is made for people way behind me.”
Different people, in different stages of their preparation.
Let me give you an overview of what the four stages of case interview preparation are and what you should expect along the way.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through all the tactics and best practices suited for each one of the first two stages. This will guarantee you know exactly what to do at each step of the way.
Why only two stages? Because this is a guide for beginners, and I don’t want to write an entire book in the form of a webpage 🙂
After going through these two stages you’ll have achieved two milestones:
Milestone #1) You’ll already be ahead of 80% of candidates who got stuck and never left the first two stages (even many who have done 50+ cases).
Milestone #2) You’ll have built a solid foundation and should expect consistent, fast-paced learning in Stages 3 and 4. More on that in chapter 5.
But first I want to walk you through something more important than tactics and best practices. I want to walk you through how each step of the way feels like.
And now you must be thinking: “What? An ex-consultant putting feelings first?”
You got that right.
Over and over again, we’ve seen candidates get frustrated over getting stuck, making more mistakes the more cases they did, and feeling like maybe they just weren’t born for it.
They all thought those situations were unique to them.
Yet, it happened to everyone.
Being aware of the typical emotional journey of case prep will help you be positive AND assertive on what to do next no matter how challenging your situation is.
(Which is much better than freezing and seeing three precious weeks go to waste, while ruminating how you weren’t born for this.)
Consider it emotional insurance. You don’t wanna be that person breaking down two days before your final round.
To show you what the emotional journey feels like, I have asked my partner Bruno to write about how case prep was for him in each of the four stages:
How to go from multiple rejections to multiple offers:
I had to apply twice to get a job in consulting.
Why? Pretty simple: I got multiple rejections the first time I tried.
And yet, when I applied for the second time, about a year later, I got a double offer from McKinsey and Bain. I also suspect I’d have gotten more offers had I kept interviewing with other firms, as they were all calling me for final rounds.
So, what happened in that year or so between being rejected from 10+ firms (most at first rounds) and several getting offers and requests for final rounds (all of them with ease)?
Did I get smarter? Did I use study drugs? Did I find some revolutionary method or a guru to guide me through the right path?
None of this.
Only thing I did was not getting stuck in Stage 2 (as I did in the first time I tried, and as most candidates do) and moving through Stages 3 and 4…
Year 1, Part 1: Off to a clueless start…
I first started preparation naively, as most people do.
My first stop was, as usual, Case in Point.
I had about two to three months to prepare, and was driven to make it work.
I devoured Case in Point. It’s the “bible”, after all, so it should be immensely helpful (right?).
Then I’d spend hours and days going through the cases from the book with friends who were interested in interviewing for consulting.
There were a couple of problems, though…
Problem #1: My friends were as clueless as I was.
Problem #2: We thought the cases from Case in Point were realistic representations of what we’d find in the interviews… And that the answers the book provides were at least good enough to pass these interviews… (It’s the bible, right??)
Now, I probably spent about a month – 30-50% of my total prep time – doing that. I wanted to make sure I absorbed every single message in that book and learned all the intricacies of every single case.
A year later, when I knew better, I felt stupid for having done that.
Nowadays I understand I was just acting on the best info I had (that CiP was the greatest resource out there) and sometimes you just wonder in the wrong direction for a while…
(That doesn’t apply to you, though, save your self a month and learn from my mistakes!)
Anyways, a couple friends and I did that until we reached the end of the book.
We made up market sizing cases and went through casebooks from MBA programs to do a few cases a week, just to stay with our skill sharp!
(Or so we thought…)
We had mastered Case in Point, the “bible” of case interview preparation, so all we had to do was to not rust our skills and stay sharp (right???).
I was really confident, so I was EAGER to jump into a “coaching” call a consultant from A.T. Kearney was gonna do with me (it was their way to make sure candidates would know what a case interview was before they actually spent 3 hours interviewing you for first rounds).
I’ll be honest with you: I was so confident I thought I’d show off my skills in that call.
And then, about 5 minutes into the call he stopped me:
“You really don’t know how to do this, right? Let me help you…”
I was appalled.
“Wait, I’ve read Case in Point a few times and have practiced every single case within that book with friends, and then some more… What am I doing wrong???”, I said.
And then he went on saying how I couldn’t make random assumptions in the beginning of the case and assume they were true without verifying with the interviewer. He told me to rely on data and be very diligent in getting that data in a systematic way. He also explained why I had to build a damn “framework” at the beginning of the case and why it couldn’t be one of the ones Case in Point ASSURED me would get me an offer at any firm.
He went on giving me basic instructions I should’ve know for the remaining 25 minutes we had together…
And in those minutes I went from anger to denial, then rationalized in my own mind… Only to find myself more or less depressed at the end of it.
It would take me about a week to accept that I had just wasted a whole month of preparation, and that I had to do something about it.
As you’re gonna learn with Julio in this guide, the consultant in my “coaching call” just threw me straight from the peak of The Slope of Overconfidence (Stage 1) right into the depths of the Valley of Awareness (Stage 2).
Year 1, Part 2: A glimmer of hope.
The ATK consultant helped me with one more thing at the end of the call:
He told me to check out this guy called Victor Cheng, as he used his resources to get his offer, and knew other consultants who had done the same.
I got his book.
Then watched his Youtube videos.
And then I noticed that this Victor guy told me everything the ATK consultant had told me in the call: don’t use pre-set frameworks, be data-driven and don’t make unnecessary assumptions, and so on.
Nice. Finally someone I could trust. (Or could I?)
I got some of my motivation back, although I was still puzzled about how to not use pre-made frameworks if no one told me how to create my own…
Learning with Cheng’s materials was much better.
For starters, I didn’t have to deal with 12 different frameworks I could never remember… I only had to deal with 2 main ones, that are pretty intuitive to remember.
Also, I could understand what to do and why. I still had to figure out the how on my own, but that’s part of the process… (Isn’t it?)
Anyway, a few weeks in this re-training process and I was feeling in more control with the interviews.
But then something weird happened…
I started to notice my own flaws!
Even worse, I didn’t have the time to fix these flaws!! Interviews were just around the corner and there was no way to postpone them.
Year 1, Part 3: Multiple Rejections
Right when I started noticing that I had many flaws, I had my interviews coming.
Talk about bad timing!
I noticed many things… My mental math wasn’t as good as it could be, my communication wasn’t as crisp and structured as that of other people who would practice with me, and I got stuck in some analyses.
Oddly enough, I thought my structuring was pretty good (even though it was the feedback I got over and over again after all rejections in Year 1).
I guess I hadn’t gone through the whole Valley of Awareness yet, and trusted Victor’s two frameworks (which he called the Business Situation and the Profitability Framework) too much.
Anyway, here’s a summary of (some of) my interviews:
Interviews #1 and 2 (BCG): I thought I did well in a consumer goods M&A case, as I reached the same answer other people who were interviewing with me who got the same case. It was my first interview, so it was kind of weird to do it in real life, and I could feel the pressure!
My second interview was an intra-conglomerate pricing case where no framework applied. I got stuck, then I resolved I’d figure it out. Then I froze as there was no way I’d find a way to solve a problem like that in a few minutes. Then I decided to persist and try harder. I got to an answer. I still don’t know if it was the right one.
This is how I found out memorizing frameworks could never work.
Interviews #3 and 4 (some 2nd tier firm): Two easy profitability cases. Perfect! I could fit the Profitability Framework I knew so well. There’s no way this could go wrong (right????).
I got dinged. The reasons? I force fitted a revenue structure that didn’t represent the company’s and I wasn’t structured enough when generating ideas.
I didn’t even know I was supposed to be structured when generating ideas (though it was obvious in hindsight… it’s consulting, after all).
And I’ve also learned that even when a framework perfectly fits your problem, you’ll still get rejected by using it…
Several 1st round interviews at several other firms: The pattern repeated. Either I couldn’t structure the case, or my structure was too “cookie-cutter”, or my ideas weren’t structured enough.
I was having a hard time figuring out what they meant by “structuring your ideas” beyond the framework (Hint: it’s what we call Brainstorming in our free course, called Case Interview Fundamentals).
McKinsey 1st round: I had some extra time to prepare for this one, so I got all the feedback received from other rounds and tried to find a solution: I tried to create my own frameworks and structures to different types of problems and “mix and match” what I had.
I didn’t know if they were good or not, but it’s what I could do.
My first McKinsey interview was the toughest case of my life so far: a public sector case with an impossible analysis (schedule optimization). Somehow I managed to structure that and solve the analysis correctly.
Then I had my second case, which was super easy. My nerves were out of control, though – McK was the last chance I had (that year, at least). I froze during a simple division problem and took about 10 minutes into something that should’ve taken 30 seconds.
My interviewer told me to calm down, and that if I did well in the next case I had my chances.
I nailed the third case, and as promised, they invited me to final rounds (even though I was skeptical… I had failed at simple math!)
McKinsey Final Rounds: I had three weeks before my final rounds, and I was aware of everything that could come my way so far. I thought I had good chances, as three weeks was plenty of preparation.
Little did I know that right after the Valley of Awareness (which I had just gone through) there’s The Plateau (Stage 3).
As Julio’s gonna show you, during The Plateau you’re trying to “fix” all the issues you become aware of with your performance during the Valley of Awareness. It feels like you’re not improving at all, though, because by the time you fix one mistake you used to make, you’re even more aware of the others.
Because of The Plateau, I can’t say I was super optimistic by the time I got to Final Rounds. It often felt like I was worse than before (which is an illusion). It also felt like there were few candidates out there that could help me out, as I often outperformed them.
That’s the mindset I got to final rounds.
Then what happened is that I got 2 Estimation cases and 1 Brainstorming case. While these are the simplest types of cases out there, they were the hardest cases I’ve ever seen, especially because of the questions the interviewers were asking me.
The cases were less clearly defined and the partners were asking questions expecting a whole new level of insight, business sense and problem-solving approaches.
I did my best, and I thought I knew what was coming, but I didn’t stand a chance.
Year 2: Mastering the consulting way of solving problems.
I’ll keep the story of Year 2 shorter and leave the details for another day.
But here’s what I decided I would do after all the rejections:
1) That I’d apply again once I could (I was fortunate to get a chance just a year later).
2) That I’d focus on learning how consultants actually thought and solved problems, not what case interview books and gurus were teaching.
3) That I’d only be satisfied with my preparation once cases were easy and fun, and once I could solve them in an intuitive way, with ZERO memorization.
Because of my near success at McKinsey’s Final Round, I figured this stuff is learnable. Through The Plateau, I noticed that even though it felt like I wasn’t making much progress, I was getting objectively much better than other peers I was practicing with.
I started seeing mistakes that others did without even noticing, and I had trained myself to effortlessly avoid them.
I surely wasn’t perfect yet. I had just gotten rejected. But the partner who had interviewed me last had encouraged me to reapply when I had the chance, and so I did.
I decided that if I could improve at this and go 60-70% of the way, there was nothing holding me back for the last 30-40%.
And I believed that at the end of the day this way of thinking had to be intuitive once you mastered it. Consultants did this day in and day out – it didn’t make sense that it’d be a struggle every single day.
And so I developed my own methodology to break through The Plateau and go beyond what traditional materials teach you.
I won’t lie to you: it was tough.
But eventually I did break through The Plateau, and what was at the end of it was Stage 4, which we call “Confidence from Competence”.
Why we call that?
Because all the way through The Plateau, you’re getting better but it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s frustrating as after you solve one mistake or bad habit, you find your self facing several others.
But when you go through your last major issue, your confidence skyrockets. And it does for the right reasons: you’re fully competent at solving problems in a structured, hypothesis-driven, data-driven way.
I kept practicing after that.
I had time before my interviews. I also didn’t want to risk not getting this offer.
More importantly, practicing was super fun!
New problem I have never seen before? No problem, here’s a customized framework that will work.
Framework doesn’t apply anymore because the situation has changed? Not problem, here’s how to adapt it.
Budget airline needs to deal with new government regulations? Here are the three specific issues most likely to affect this player in this market.
So, that’s how you get Multiple Offers even after having had Multiple Rejections: you go through the 4 stages of preparation and start thinking like a consultant. Then cases are easy, and you solve any problem your interviewer throws at you like a real consultant would.
Is this tough? Yes.
Can it be easier than it was for me? Yes, if you have the right methods.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Think of this as the ultimate way to get multiple offers at the lowest risk possible.
Bruno’s story is specific to him. But the emotional journey through each stage is always roughly the same.
Now you know what one of the 4 Stages feel like, and you’ve had a clear overview of what the objectives, challenges and key tools for each stage are.
Next, we’ll dive in depth into Stage 1 – The Slope of Overconfidence, and get into details of what you should expect within that stage, exactly what you should do, and what you should not worry about.
Stage 1 - The Slope of Overconfidence
Imagine you’ve just decided that the next step in your career is a consulting job.
In fact, if you’re reading this guide, you probably don’t even have to imagine it.
Once you’ve decided that, it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to find out that you’re not gonna get that generic job interview where you’re evaluated by your ability to convince the interviewer that being a perfectionist is actually a weakness.
Instead, you’ll have to learn to do this case thing.
So what do you do?
- Open your laptop and browse Amazon.com for case interview books.
- Buy a couple of the best-reviewed ones (on Kindle, if you’re short on time and are a cheap bastard without an Amazon Prime subscription).
- Open YouTube and search for case interview prep.
- Watch a few videos (and possibly get distracted by the latest PewDiePie viral joke).
- Message a few friends who have been through the process and ask them how they prepared.
- You might even shoot an e-mail to your recruiter to ask what they’d recommend.
After that, you’ll think you have all the knowledge in the world and that you’ll be fine.
But there’s one mistake 90% of candidates make after consuming hours worth of videos and articles and books:
Avoid doing actual practice.
And that simple omission will set them back for weeks or months and may be the root cause of several rejections down the line.
In this chapter, I wanna show you exactly how to prepare starting from zero knowledge and zero cases to make sure you start preparing the right way (instead of learning a bunch of stuff and yet not being able to apply any of it).
Over the course of this chapter, I'll show you...
- What The Slope of Overconfidence is and why it’s called that.
- The three myths that cause candidates to never leave The Slope of Overconfidence.
- The three substages you must go through within The Slope of Overconfidence, and what to do in each of them.
- Why exactly this stage has this specific anatomy.
- How to blitz your way through this stage and finish it in only one weekend.
What is The Slope of Overconfidence?
The Slope of Overconfidence is a stage you go through every time you learn something new.
It’s that moment when you understand what it’s all about and understand what is done (but not how), and it feels like you’re ready to do it, perfectly, at that very moment.
I still remember the first time I got that feeling.
I was just 14. I went water skiing for the first time, and I was SO excited.
My uncle told me everything I needed to know: keep your shoulders straight, do this with your feet, that with your knees, whatever. Sounds easy.
My expectation: I’d just stand up and ski like all these other awesome people doing awesome stuff.
I fell face down before I could even stand, got dragged around for a while, and (involuntarily) ingested all the water I’d need for the next couple of months.
When you know what needs to be done but haven’t experienced doing it, you feel at the top of your confidence.
That’s because you haven’t experienced failure yet.
When you fail for the first time, you don’t even know what hit you. You do so many things wrong that it just feels like you’re never gonna get it right.
Your confidence then drops from feeling like you can do absolutely anything to feeling like you can’t do a single thing (which is closer to the truth).
When learning case interviews, you’ll go through the very same thing.
Learn what should be done (but not how), try a first time, and question your ownability to function in the world afterwards.
That’s what The Slope of Overconfidence is about.
I’ll try to make it smoother to you, but I can’t guarantee you won’t feel the frustration.
The good news: with this guide, after you fail, you’ll know exactly what path to take to regain your confidence AND to build real competence.
Before all that, I wanna show you the three myths that hold back a ton of super smart candidates and what’s the truth behind them, so you won’t fall into the same traps.
Myth #1. “All I need is to do X”
This is a super common myth.
Candidates think that they only need to read a case interview book and they’ll be ready for their case interviews.
Or maybe it’s going to a workshop, or memorizing a few or a dozen frameworks, or doing whatever task they’ve been told to do.
As if there were a golden bullet that’ll solve the case interview issue. Then they can just cross it off their list, and off they go to their new job.
Unfortunately that’s not true. It doesn’t work like that.
Because a case interview is a simulation of real life problems consultants face.
And there’s no algorythm that’ll allow them to solve all their problems instantly.
For every new problem they face, they have to put their minds to work to craft a customized solution that’ll fit that specific problem, for that specific client, perfectly.
Imagine a world where you can just read The McKinsey Way or Case Interview Secrets (which are good books, by the way) and you’ll know how to solve the kind of problem consultants solve for their clients.
Consulting firms wouldn’t need to hire the top students of the top business schools.
They could simply hire anyone qualified enough to read, understand, and apply the techniques from that book. And then give their new hires the book.
And there wouldn’t be the need for a case interview.
Since you can learn it by reading a book, the interview would test other things you can’t learn from a book.
The interview would be about who you know and how good at selling you are, so they can tell whether you’d be able to sell projects.
They certainly wouldn’t be stopping partners in their tracks to check whether or not a candidate has read this or that book.
Myth #2: “I’m smart and well-educated, I’ll be able to learn it quickly and easily”
Ah, if only it were that easy.
In reality, I’ve lost count of people who got rejected or at least had a hard time getting in despite being top of their class in a top business or engineering school.
Even Harvard MBAs have it hard. It’s definitely easier for them to get an interview, but they’re not closer to the offer than any other interviewee.
Of course, there are the naturals. Everyone knows that one person who didn’t practice at all, winged their interviews, and ended up getting an offer.
But you’d have to rely on the chance of being one of those.
This is risky, and it has nothing to do with education or grades.
It’s the equivalent of going to a tennis tournment practicing a lot less than your oponents, hoping you’re a natural.
Remember the story I told you in the beginning of this guide?
That woman is definitely one of the smartest AND hardworking people I’ve ever met. She graduated with honors from Engineering Schools in two different countries (she was in a Dual Diploma program).
Yet, she got rejected the first time she applied to McKinsey. And on the second time, a year later, she had to work hard to finally get in.
In fact, if it were that easy, consulting firms probably wouldn’t even do case interviews.
They currently put in several managers’, principals’ and even partners’ hours into each candidate’s selection process. And these hours cost a ton of money.
There’s a fair reason to believe in this myth.
In our journeys through the educational system, we get used to kownledge-accumulation tests.
(Knowledge-accumulation tests are the most common type of tests in the education system. Their logic is simple: accumulate knowledge, repeat it on the test, or interpret it a bit, at most, and get approved.)
And at first glance, case interviews really sound like those kinds of tests.
There’s a case, there’s an answer to it, and it feels like if we get to that answer, we’re right and we get approved. If we don’t get to the answer, we’re wrong and we get rejected.
And then you get your first few cases wrong and it feels like if you just knew that one concept, you’d have nailed them all.
But solving cases is a skill. And skills don’t work like that. More on this in Myth #3.
Myth #3: “Reading books and watching videos is as helpful as practicing”
We’re conditioned at school to accumulate knowledge. Memorization is highly valued. Interpretation has its place, but always only as prescribed.
And that’s not necessarily a problem. Many topics really need to be memorized.
But we got good at it.
Because of that mindset, at first glance, many of us (I’m included in that one) think that case interviews work like that as well. Just memorize what needs to be memorize and the interview will go smoothly.
As Warren Buffett once said, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
But solving cases is really a skill. You don’t learn it by memorizing theory and then interpreting it.
Just as you can’t learn to play the drums or the guitar by watching someone play without practicing through every little step.
And you can’t learn a new langauge by memorizing a huge table connecting sounds with letters and then reading the dictionary.
To learn SKILLS, you need PRACTICE.
Yes, it is good to have some prior knowledge. But the optimal is just the bare minimum before you can to start practicing. (We call that the Minimum Viable Knowledge.)
More than that isn’t going to help.
Here's what your path within The Slope of Overconfidence will look like:
There are specific reasons why Stage 1 looks like this. These reasons are the three key principles behind this stage:
- Principle #1: Get the “Minimum Viable Knowledge” to start practicing.
There’s an emotional barrier before your first case. It’s hard to do it, and people delay it for months.
Because of that, they’re postponing the practice that’d be really making a difference in their performance. You want to gather all you need to know, but not more than that, to start getting real practice.
- Principle #2: Focus on Action / Practice.
There is not a single skill in the world that you can learn just by reading and watching. Practice is necessary.
During The Slope of Overconfidence (Stage 1), you’ll go from never having practice before to being able to practice all you need with any type of case.
- Pinciple #3: Learning from the simple (and avoiding the complex, for now).
Substage 1: Minimum Viable Knowledge
1. Watch 2-3 case examples and solve them along with the interviewee.
2. Understand the steps necessary to solve a case.
How to Open, Analyze and Close a Case Interview
Substage 2: Your first case
In this substage, the goal is just to get your first case done and out of the way.
The goal is not to do it perfectly, not even to get it right. It’s to get it done, using what you’ve learned in substage 1.
There are 4 common obstacles to completing this stage.
They’re what keep so many candidates from advancing (and hold them back in The Slope of Overconfidence for weeks, or even months on end instead of moving forward).
Here they are:
- I can’t find someone to do a case with me.
- I don’t know who to choose to do a case with me.
- I don’t know how to interview them back.
- What if I freeze?
And here’s how to get past them.
1. I can't find someone to do a case with me.
There’s a simple (and final) fix to this.
I’ll show you the main sources to get fresh partners to do mock interviews with.
You’ll find a partner through one of them and get your first mock interview done.
This won’t ensure you have only quality partners yet.
Because you can’t know beforehand whether your partner is good enough or not. Most of the information you need to figure that out, you’ll only find doing the mock with the guy.
So the first case with each new partner is really a gamble.
At some point, you’ll need to stop gambling for new partners with random internet strangers.
And in the next chapter, where I’ll show you how to get through Stage 2 – The Valley of Awareness, you’ll learn how to do that.
There’s a full section in it about nurturing the best partners you find to make sure you’ll always have good partners available.
But for now, you need to get done with your first case. Let’s go:
- Source #1) Someone you know who’s gone through the process.
You might know someone who’s been to consulting case interviews before. If you do, they’re one of your best options for case partners.
(Bonus points if their interviews were at McKinsey, BCG or Bain.)
These are great options because (1) they’re much higher quality than average, and (2) they’ll care about your outcome, which isn’t necessarily true for strangers from other sources.
FAQ about this source:
1. How do I know if my friend is any good?
As a rule of thumb, if they’ve been to at least one final round, they’re likely to be helpful to you.
2. How do I find them?
There are three ways:
Number one, the easiest: just try to remember which of your acquaintances have gone through the process. Think about when you were first looking for jobs. If someone mentioned they were going to try consulting, it’s worth reaching out.
Number two: Search for the ones you might have forgotten about, and for the ones that might just not have told you about their job search.
Ask friends about their friends.
Search them on Linkedin, as you might find out you have acquaintances that you didn’t know were working in consulting firms.
Number three, a much longer shot: If you search your social media and messaging apps for “case interview”, you might find someone mentioning them in older private or group messages. That person could be a potential case partner.
3. Why would this person help me?
Usually acquaintances will help you just out of generosity.
But it usually pays off to give them something in return.
It’ll show them your gratitude, and they’ll be more likely to help you again.
Consider paying them lunch, dinner, or drinks. Or maybe exchanging favors. Hell, maybe even paying them money.
Any of these options are MUCH cheaper than hiring a coach.
Not every coach is as expensive as Brad, but paying for lunch to get a good practice case suddenly sounds like a great deal.
- Source #2) Case Interview Practice Groups.
There are dozens, perhaps dozens of case interview practice groups spread around social media.
If you know how to find them and which ones to enter, you might find all the partners you need.
If you join the right groups, you’ll get instant access to hundreds of potential partners who also need partners ASAP. Most of the times you’re able to schedule an interview the next day.
These are the pros. But what about the cons?
The top problem with partners you find in these groups is that quality and experience of other candidates can vary A LOT.
To find one of them, you can just go to whatever social media you choose (Facebook, Slack – this won’t work for WhatsApp) and use their search engine. Here are examples of search terms:
- “Case Interview Practice”
- “Case Interview Prep”
- “Consulting Club”
- These same keywords in your native language
Searching for these keywords in English will usually yield you better results. But do search them in your native language as well, if English isn’t your first language.
Facebook tends to yield better results than other social media.
Many of the groups you’ll find will be closed groups. You need to request access to join. But to be honest, not all are worth your time.
Here’s how to know if the group’s worth the try even before joining:
(1) The group is large enough.
If there are less than 200 members, it’s probably not worth my time. The chances of someone being available exactly when I need a partner are too low.
(2) The group is active.
Here are two large, active groups, that might be worth the try.
– Case Interview Practice (yes, they both have the same name).
- Source #3) Matching websites.
The cool thing about matching websites is that they won’t let you down. Create an account in each and look for partners, and you WILL have an interview scheduled.
Some of the people there will be very good while others will not (even though they might think they are).
Here are the main matching websites out there:
- Source #4) Your university’s consulting club.
Consulting clubs are the only source of partners that’ll provide in-person meeting with lots of partners.
Many of them also have structured, periodic meet-ups, where you can find other members and schedule your next practice case.
The problem with these clubs is that they tend to be dogmatic in their ways while being led by people who may or may not have gone through the recruiting process.
Even if you’re already out of university AND moved away, you can still access the consulting club members and interact with the students online.
2. I don't know who to choose to do a case with me.
For now, don’t worry too much about this.
You can get someone advanced (if they’re willing to), you can get a beginner, you can even get a coach or a consultant friend if you want to.
Many people ask me whether it’s OK to ask their partner, their friends, their parents, their pet iguanas to interview them. I wouldn’t recommend you take someone who’s not preparing for their interviews AND has never been through the process before.
If that’s your last resource, go for it. But at least have them go through substage 1 before interviewing you, just so they have an idea of what they’re doing.
3. I don't know how to interview them back.
It’s normal to feel nervous before interviewing your partners in the beginning. If you don’t even know how to solve a case, how are you supposed to know how to interview?
In the next chapter, I’ll show you two brand-new techniques that’ll help you master the skill of interviewing AND learn 2X more from that.
But for now, just for your first case, there’s a super quick solution to this problem.
Bruno and I have created a free casebook with two cases that’s perfect for this situation. It has…
- All types of questions, to make sure the candidate gets a full interview experience.
- Word-by-word scripts to simulate MBB interviews, including even the seemingly spontaneous follow-up questions only REAL interviewers ask.
- Performance checklists for each question that’ll allow you to assess the candidate’s performance and give them specific, actionable feedback.
4. What if I freeze?
It’s super common to freeze and to get stuck in cases, especially when you’re starting out.
But if you think it’s gonna be embarassing, check this out:
Whoever is interviewing you either has gotten stuck a bunch of times before (if they’re advanced) or is scared to death of getting stuck (if they’re starting out as well).
They won’t care.
It’s going to happen, and it happens to everyone. Just be glad it happened in a mock interview, not in a McK interview (pun intended!).
Oh, and one last thing...
Remember how we’re learning from the simple and leaving the complex for later?
Don’t go out and do any case. There’s no point in trying to create a 10-year global corporate strategy for Unilever or Procter & Gamble in your very first case.
Ask your partner to do a market sizing case with you. If you have the chance to get a specific ask (and if they’re willing to put some effort), here’s what I suggest:
In this video (within Module 2 of Case Interview Fundamentals, our free 7-day course), you and your interviewer can find my suggested answer for it, along with a step-by-step process to answering this type of question.
It’s a 45-minute video with detailed explanations on the thought-process behind my answer and on what’s expected in a perfect answer.
If your partner watches it before interviewing you, not only would they do a better job, they’d also learn a lot themselves.
Substage 3: Mastering the mechanics of case interviews
By the time you reach Substage 3, you’re far ahead many candidates who’ve been preparing for a whole month.
They’re the ones who’ve read everything that’s out there, watched every single theory and example video (and probably know more buzzwords than you), but haven’t stepped within the cold waters yet.
But you have. And that’s gonna make a huge difference.
There are two goals in this substage.
Goal #1: Master the mechanics of case interviews.
That means knowing roughly…
- When it’s your turn to talk.
- How much time you should take to think.
- When to take time to think and when not to.
- How to ask questions.
- What questions are too broad to be asked to an interviewer.
- What to do when your interviewer doesn’t have answers to your questions.
But this doesn’t mean you’ll have an exact answer for each of those bullets. To most of them, there is no exact answer.
You’ll just roughly know what to do. The goal here is just to know how to navigate a case.
Goal #2: Be able to start and finish a simple case, even if not always correctly.
Even if you’re not always right, being able to start and finish a case is crucial so you can go through the extensive practice that waits you in Stage 2 – The Valley of Awareness.
In Substage 3, you’ll go through three sets of theory and practice.
In each one, you’re gonna learn a type of case in detail, then practice it extensively, and then move on to the next type of case.
The types will be market sizings (also called estimation cases), profitability cases, and market entry cases.
Market sizings are where you learn how to create a structure, communicate it, and how to communicate and/or discuss your assumptions separately and in-depth.
Profitability cases will introduce business problems, with root causes and solution brainstormings, while still being as simple as possible.
Market entry cases will introduce multifaceted decision problems, also still being as simple as possible for this type.
Here’s how you’re gonna go about this.
1. Market sizings (or Estimations)
Theory: Watch the first two videos of the Estimations module in Case Interview Fundamentals. (You might have already watched them after your first case.)
Practice: Do 4 more market sizing or estimation cases.
2. Profitability cases
- Watch this profitability case example video. Once again, try solving it as you watch.
- Read Profitability Framework and Profit Trees: The Complete Guide.
- Watch 5 Tactics to Stand Out in Your Profitability Cases.
Practice: Do 5 profitability cases. Yes, you can ask your partners to specifically use profitability cases with you.
(There’s no specific sequence to any of these activities. Mix them up as you’d like.)
3. Market entry cases.
- Watch this market entry case example video and try solving it as you watch.
- Watch videos #1, #2, #3, #4, and #7 (theory videos) of the Frameworks Module in Case Interview Fundamentals.
- Do 5 market entry cases.
- Work through the Brainstormings module in Case Interview Fundamentals.
So… I just told you to do 14 cases, aside from a lot of reading and active watching. You’re probably wondering…
“Do I need to do these 14 cases with other candidates?”
The answer is no.
You can do up to 50% by yourself with cases from casebooks or (preferrably) from YouTube videos, as long as you follow one condition.
Craft all of your answers exactly like you would to an interviewer.
Have a piece of paper, write on it, say your answers out loud, and if possible even record them with your phone so you can listen to them afterwards.
How to blitz your way through The Slope of Overconfidence and finish this stage in only one weekend
Do you like to get results FAST?
When I realized how much you had to do just to get through stage one of your preparation, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would take too long, and that I myself might not do all that.
No one likes to be stuck in the beginning.
If I were preparing using this guide, I’d find a way to blitz my way through this stage and get it over with.
That’s why I made this video.
If you’re like me, you can follow it and, after a hardcore weekend, Stage 1 is gonna be done and you won’t have to look back.
If you’d rather take things slowly and optimize for certainty and learning, you can skip this video. It won’t be missed.
Case Interview Fundamentals
Over the last chapters, I mentioned Case Interview Fundamentals several times. It’s about time I explain what it is.
Case Interview Fundamentals is a 7-day free course Bruno and I built based on the methodology we’ve developed over two years of long-term coaching for case interviews.
It’s centered around the ONLY 6 types of questions an interviewer will ask you in a case interview, and comprehensive step-by-step approaches on how to answer ach of them.
One of the main principles behind it is something a former teacher of mine used to say: “Practice makes permanent“.
So we teach you the correct form first and then provide several in-depth practice examples.
Over Stage 1, a few parts of it are primary tools, but if you have time left you can go through the rest as a secondary tool.
Bonus: The Case Kata Technique [FOR NERDS ONLY]
It’s super hard to practice with uncertainty and pressure.
That’s why you don’t see basketball athletes practicing shots with other players bouncing against them, even though that’s how it’s gonna be like most of the times when they shoot in real life.
And that’s also why you don’t practice your guitar or piano skills with an audience watching your every move.
If you remove uncertainty and pressure from your targeted practice, you can know exactly what you have to do, analyze the minimal details of your performance, and correct it to perfection.
In martial arts, one of the forms to practice following this pattern is called Kata.
If you’re a huge nerd like Bruno and me, you might wanna see what the Case Kata Technique is about.
Here’s a video where I’ll show you exactly what it is and how to do it:
Stage 2 - The Valley of Awareness
Over Stage 1, you’ve learned the basics and the mechanics of case interviews with 3 of the simplest types of cases there are: estimation cases, profitability cases, and market entry cases.
These 3 types of cases were your training wheels to understand how consultants solve problems in a structured, systematic, hypothesis-driven and data-driven way.
You’re probably feeling highly confident you can solve cases now, which is why the last stage was called “The Slope of Overconfidence”.
Unfortunately, your interviewers aren’t gonna be so kind and just give you three types of cases to solve… There are an infinite number of different situations they can put you in.
In this stage you will learn to start, guide and get to a good answer in any common type of case. By this I mean any case that would be likely to appear in a 1st round interview at any firm.
- Any type of business strategy cases (M&A, Market Entry, Pricing, Verticalization).
- Public Sector cases (education, waste management, housing, public healthcare, economy, and so on).
- Operations cases.
- Cases in all types of industries and business “functions”.
Needless to say, you can’t expect to have one specific “algorithm” to each of these types of cases. You’ll need to learn to be flexible and systematic at the same time.
And by learning to do this, you’ll become aware you’re not as competent with your problem solving skills as you once thought you were.
It’s where your confidence drops after The Slope of Overconfidence. This drop is what gives this stage it’s name, The Valley of Awareness.
When you enter this stage, the more you learn, the more you’ll become aware of all the things you haven’t mastered yet.
It’s this awareness of all these things you know you need to know (but don’t yet feel comfortable doing) that makes your confidence plunge even though you’re more skilled than you were in Stage 1.
But how are you gonna get there?
Let’s take another skill. Imagine you’re learning how to ride a bike, and you just got your training wheels removed.
You’re not gonna go after Lance Armstrong’s advanced techniques to become a world class cyclist.
Maybe later, but not now.
Now you’re gonna ride your bike. Again and again and again.
So what does your case interview prep need now?
It needs quantity and it needs a bit of variety. This means you just won’t choose the type of case you’ll face. Just do whatever comes your way.
Your preparation’s not gonna be like this forever.
The time will come when you’ll switch gears to quality. But right now, it’s quantity that matters.
A bit counterintuitive, right? But think about it…
- Imagine you’re learning to speak a different language. You’re not gonna go deep into gramatics and syntax and semantics and obsess over getting the Subjunctive conjugations right every time. You just need to speak a lot of it.
- Imagine you’re just learning to cook. You’ll take 10 dishes and do them a bunch of times. If you’re trying to become a chef and you already know how to cook well, then you’ll learn and practice the advanced stuff.
- Imagine you’re learning how to play football. You’re not supposed to obsess over performing free kicks like Cristiano Ronaldo. You’re supposed to play football. A LOT of it.
Now, I could just tell you to “do 30 cases” and let you go do them.
But then you’d face two problems that 90% of candidates face. (Which could cost you your offer, even if you’re one of the smartest candidates out there.)
Problem #1. Wasting valuable time in order to get enough practice.
But why are the chances of getting a good partner so low?
Here’s what a candidate needs in order to be a good partner:
- They need to know the case well. You don’t wanna sit there while they fumble through their PDF looking for the answer to your question about sizes of competitors (only to say they don’t have the data, and then find it later when this topic is long gone).
- They need to be good at interviewing. You want someone who can challenge your answers like an interviewer would, not someone who’ll just read words out of a casebook.
- They need to be good at giving feedback. You went through all this trouble to get to the feedback moment. You don’t want someone who’ll be nice and go easy on you. And you definitely don’t want someone who didn’t pay enough attention, or just didn’t know enough to tell you whether something you did was good or bad.
It’s tough to be a good interviewer. Even tougher to find a good one.
Mock interviews can be extremely inefficient. And the best lever to make it more efficient is to consistently have good case partners.
Later in this chapter, I’m gonna show you how to step out of the mock-interview-partner casino and consistently get good partners.
Problem #2. Not knowing when to make the switch from quantity to quality.
Earlier in this chapter, I told you not to jump the gun.
I said that if you’re learning how to ride a bicycle, you shouldn’t go straight to learning advanced Lance Armstrong techniques and practice routines.
So right now, in your case interview prep, you’re gonna be shooting for quantity rather than quality.
But once riding has become natural to you, you’ll start getting more sophisticated. You’ll fix mistakes you didn’t even know you made, you’ll learn techniques, and you’ll take up more elaborate routines.
Eventually, you’re gonna make that switch in case interview prepping as well.
But many people don’t know when to do that, or even that have to do it.
Take a look at this.
We once asked candidates to rate their performance level versus what they expected to reach before their interviews, in a scale of 1 to ten. Here are some of the responses we got.
To be honest, 6. I cannot deliver consistent performance, I still often get nervous, and I sometimes get way too detailed and waste time.
6. I don’t feel confident to get through MBB interviews. It appears in some cases I’m doing well enough, and in others I just have no clue what I’m doing. I don’t feel like I’m progressing at all.
In this chapter, I’m also gonna show you when to make that shift so you can keep improving without having to do 273 mock interviews.
You're gonna learn...
- The most common myths that hamper candidates’ improvement in Stage 2.
- Everything you need to know to get THE MOST out of every single mock interview you do.
- How to know you’re ready to leave Stage 2 – Valley of Awareness.
Myth #1. "After doing X cases I’ll be as ready as I can be for my interviews."
We’ve just talked about why this isn’t true.
Doing hundreds of mock interviews won’t turn you into a McKinsey partner or a problem-solving wizard.
So why is everyone saying that this is what you should do?
Well, this is the standard advice. It’s not only what everyone says, it’s also what everyone does.
So what happens?
Most people who just do more and more cases end up getting rejected. But most people who got offers also just did more and more cases.
And when you look for advice, you look for advice from those who were successful.
So you end up missing the graveyard of failed candidates: you don’t see all of those people who did more and more cases and got rejected in the end.
Myth #2. "I need to have a framework for each type of case", or "There is a limited number of types of cases and I can learn them all", or "I can create a single framework that’ll work for every case".
- Case 1: Netflix wants to increase their revenues by creating new revenue streams. What are potential revenue sources they can get?
- Case 2: A large supermarket chain in a developed country that has successfully launched their own brand for food products a couple of years ago is now considering creating their own label of cleaning products. How would you help them decide whether they should do it or not?
- Case 3: Over the last decades, the top-5 movie theater chains have gone from owning 30% of the screens in the US to almost 55%. And the industry keeps consolidating, with new mergers coming up. What is driving the movie theater consolidation?
- Case 4: The Peruvian government has been facing a primary education deficit for several decades. They have now decided to start woring seriously on this issue and have hired you to help them develop a plan to improve primary education in Peru over the next four years. How would you help them?
These are realistic cases that you could find on McKinsey, BCG or Bain interviews. (We took these straight from our advanced structuring course, but they could’ve come from your own interview at one of the MBBs.)
There’s no way you’d be ready for these cases if you were relying on pre-made frameworks.
You have to learn how to create your own frameworks to solve cases, on the spot, tailored to the situation you’ve been given.
No number of memorized frameworks, specific questions, or business problems will get you an offer. (And they definitely wouldn’t get you through the consulting day-to-day.)
The good news: it is possible to learn that. That’s where we’re going with this guide and with Case Interview Fundamentals.
But you need escape the “canned framework” trap first.
Myth #3. "The key to being successful in cases lies in reading my interviewer to find clues to the case."
In this stage, we’ve just switched from doing only 3 types of cases to doing ALL of them.
With that comes frustration: many of your methods and ideas won’t work as well as they used to.
And that’ll keep happening, as new types of cases come along. (Warning: they’ll never stop coming along. You’ll never have seen it all.)
At this point, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to read the interviewer for clues.
We’re all guilty of this. I know I was, when I was preparing.
The problem is it doesn’t work.
For one thing, it wouldn’t work for a consultant. In a real-life consulting project, the client’s not hiding the answer and trying to see if the consultant can figure it out.
He doesn’t even know it.
And in a case interview, even though the interviewer knows the answer to the case, he wants to know how you got to it.
And of course, it has to be in a way that would work in a consulting project.
That’s the only way to be sure you’d be great at the job.
It’s especially common to fall into this trap when you’re at the bottom of the Valley of Awareness.
After such a steep confidence drop, it’s expected that you’ll feel some self-doubt.
And this leads us to looking for simpler ways to solve cases – such as reading the interviewer for clues.
But at this point, I’m gonna need you to trust me, and I’m gonna need you to trust the system.
It is possible to learn to solve problems like consultants, and you can get there.
Everyone goes through that stage, and your confidence will eventually come back.
Stick with the plan.
Now, how are we gonna do this?
The foundation of this stage is quantity. And its main component is mock interviews.
Doing them, you will develop and incorporate a problem solving method.
- Solving all sorts of cases, of different types, in different industries, with different business problems, with all kinds of small and surprising tweaks and restrictions.
- Replicating the correct theory you’ve learned in all of them.
- Finding situations where you have trouble being structured and methodical and working on them.
Does this mean that quality doesn't matter?
No, it matters. But here, quantity is key. The quality of your mock interviews should be above a threshold, but after that you’ll focus on doing more.
Keeping your mocks above that quality threshold is simple: do them with people who know what they’re doing (intermediate or advanced candidates only), and debrief your cases.
The difference between the path you’ll take and what most candidates do is that your “crazy binge-mock-interviewing period” has an finish line.
At that point, all the mocks won’t help you much more, and it’ll be time to move on to the next stage, in which other activities will help you improve.
Just like what got you to Stage 2 won’t get you to its end, what got you up to stage 3 won’t help you get through it.
And how much is enough?
The benchmark is 20 to 30 cases. But it could even be more (or less).
How will you know? Once you feel like you’ve reached the goal of this stage, you can move on. You should…
- Have a method to solving cases. When you start a new case, you have an idea of what you’re going to do, and you can adapt that plan if something changes.
- Be able to start, guide, and finish with a good answer any simple, first round cases. Even public sector ones.
Now let’s dive into specifics.
Doing 20-30 mock cases
I understand that doing 30 full mock interviews can sound dreadful.
Each mock will take from 1.5 to 2 hours. Just thinking of doing 60 hours worth of cases makes me cringe.
And sometimes things just don’t go right: sometimes your partner won’t be there in time, sometimes they won’t be so good, and sometimes you yourself won’t be in your best shape for no apparent reason.
I wanna make this process as smooth as possible to you.
I can’t really reduce the number of cases you have to do. But what I can do to make this path less frustrating is make it more efficient.
I created two EXCLUSIVE resources to help you with that:
Exclusive resource #1) How to MASTER the interviewer role and 2X your improvement in mock interviews
I’d say it’s impossible to make it through Stage 2 without actually being a good interviewer.
“Wait, what? I thought I was supposed to be a great candidate.”
Yeah, this is counterintuitive, I know.
The thing is, the two are two sides of the same coin.
If you wanna be a great candidate, you’ve gotta know what’s going on in the interviewer’s mind.
And part of being a good interviewer’s also knowing whats going on in the minds of the good and the bad candidates.
As you develop your case solving skills, you’ll naturally become a good interviewer.
But there are ways to become a good interviewer faster. And that is great news.
There are two advantages to developing your interviewer skills faster (way before you’re a master at solving cases):
Advantage #1. You’re gonna learn twice as fast. There are certain things you’ll only see and learn if you’ve mastered the interviewer role.
Advantage #2. Everyone’s gonna want to do more cases with you. And we all know that practicing with better candidates is a great way to get more experience, more insights, and frankly, having more fun.
Here’s a video I made showing you EXACTLY how to master the interviewer’s role and make THE MOST out of your mock interviews, using two brand new techniques I’ve developed.
This guide‘s gonna to give you techniques, processes, tools, and tips to get the ABSOLUTE MOST out of each mock interview and to put you on track of ALWAYS having great partners to practice with.
In it, what you’re gonna find (that you didn’t see in this guide yet) is…
- How to nurture an inner practice circle so that you can effortlessly schedule a case with an AMAZING partner anytime you want.
- The “Case Debrief Technique” to virtually guarantee you always get the most out of each case and to systematically determine what to do before the next one.
- The 5 best sources of cases that’ll give you ENDLESS options of cases and guarantee you’ll never run out when you need them the most.
Three Consultant Mindsets
It’s surprisingly easy to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
Everyone else is doing the same stuff over and over again, so it doesn’t take that much. As you’ve seen in this guide so far, it’s a look of work, but it’s simple.
But you’ve got to have the right mindsets.
In chapter 3, I told you about a pattern among successful candidates: debriefing their cases.
That’s actually a part of a larger, more important pattern, which is having the correct mindsets that allow you to own your preparation.
That doesn’t mean only doing whatever drills and cases and tasks and techniques you’re supposed to do.
It means actually being in charge and taking control of your preparation.
A candidate who’s not in charge of their preparation does what everyone else is doing.
- They follow generic tips from their university career center.
- Their only solution for improvement is doing more and more cases.
- They’re always looking for that one silver bullet that will allow them to crack every case.
A candidate who IS in charge of their preparations completely different.
Here’s some examples of what they‘re doing.
- They find patterns and learn from the business as they interact with every day.
- They debrief their cases and try to think of questions that could have been asked.
- They keep a log of their feedback and actively look for patterns of what they should be improving on.
I’m gonna show you in this chapter three consultant mindsets to internalize.
If you do, they’re gonna step up your chances of getting an offer and make our preparation worth your time.
Mindset #1: Cases are meant to be crafted, not cracked.
Everyone talks about cracking cases. They try to look for the right answer for the case they’re doing no matter how they do it.
And that’s not what that’s about at all.
Cases are simulations of real life problems. And real life problems don’t have one right answer.
They involve uncertainty, incomplete information, and even limited problem solving resources (read “not enough consultants”).
So what we do in real life and what consultants do is to craft the best possible argument or answer or plan based on the best information we can get.
Everyone knows you can get you the right answer in a case and still get rejected.
And you know what?
When I was interviewing at Bain, I got to some wrong answers, and I got the offer anyway.
What they’re looking for is not an answer.
They’re looking for someone who can think and solve problems like they do.
What this means to your preparation is that you need to focus on learning to think like a consultant.
What this means to your cases is that you need to build the strongest possible argument rather than blindly look for an answer hidden somewhere.
The consulting job isn’t some school test where you need to find the one right answer and then the client’s gonna tell you whether it’s right or wrong.
Consulting’s a line of work where your job is to craft the best possible argument so your client can make decisions and take action based on that.
In fact, the consulting job in itself is a craft.
Once you get in, you’re going to go through a long journey to master that craft until you make partner.
And a huge part of mastering that craft is sharpening the way you think.
Which is why the whole point of case interviews is seeing if you can think like they do.
Mindset #2: My preparation is a case in itself.
The most successful candidates we’ve met treated their preparation as a problem to be solved.
And as good aspiring consultants, they solved that problem the consulting way.
Instead of winging it, they planned their preparation in a structured way.
Instead of tackling symptoms of poor performance, they tackled root causes.
And instead of just using easy cases from casebooks, they use the toughest cases they could find and prepared for the worst.
It’s a bit like Inception. You create a plan to learn how to think like a consultant by thinking like a consultant.
If you want results and you want them quick, you need to apply the consulting principles to your own preparation.
Here’s a simple framework to prepare effectively.
First, you find your main weaknesses.
Second, you find a best practices plan to fix it.
And third, practice until you internalize.
Rinse and repeat.
If you think about it, this is much like solving a profitability case.
First, you need to find the root cause of the profit, which is the company’s weakness.
Then to fix it, you’re going to look for benchmarks and best practices.
And third, the client implements the solution.
In your preparation, you’re both the consultant and the client. So you’ll be the one implementing it as well.
Of course, just knowing the best practices is not enough. You’ve gotta put them to practice.
If you implement this simple framework, find your weakness, find a best practice and practice until you internalize, here’s what you’ll end up with.
A systematic, well-planned, and effective preparation.
Mindset #3: I should be curious and ask why.
All that talk of structured and systematic preparation in Mindset #2 might have left you thinking that case prep and case solving are rigid in nature.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Great consultants are curious thinkers.
They like to understand why things happen, and they like to understand things from first principles.
And they love curious candidates.
Mindset #3 is all about being curious about your cases and being curious about your preparation.
(change in visual)
I once interviewed a candidate in a coaching session using a case where he had to solve a production bottleneck.
His initial framework was a business situation framework.
So he had a full category for customers, in which he asked me questions like…
- What is the customer’s price sensitivity?
- What are the customer segments?
- How do customers use the product?
A few moments later I had to show him why all of those were totally irrelevant to that case, and he was extremely frustrated. Here’s what he said to me:
That’s so obvious. I should have seen that before.
And indeed what I was pointing out to him was obvious and he could have realized it by himself.
But to do that would have involved freeing himself from a common mentality.
There’s a notion among beginners that you can solve a case by first applying a framework, asking a bunch of prescribed questions, and then trying to figure out how to get you the answer.
What they should be doing instead is laying out a tight, customized framework that is sure to get to the answer. A plan that considers everything beforehand and that has no loose ends.
Your feeling at minute five of the case should be that you know that you’re going to get to the answer, not that hopefully you’re gonna figure it out.
And to do this, the thinking work is done while building your framework. Before you present it, not afterwards.
And the key to that is asking yourself why.
- Why do I need to know the customer segments?
- Why do I need to know price sensitivity?
If my coaching client had asked himself those questions, he would know that those answers would NEVER help him solve that bottleneck problem.
So yes, you need to be systematic because this is how consultants work.
But you also need to keep yourself flexible and curious.
The types of systems that I showed you in this guide and that we teach in Case Interview Fundamentals (LINK) will allow you to always ask why, to keep your curiosity up, and to think about each problem with its uniqueness.
This is very different from the systems most candidates use.
Specifically, premade frameworks (like Victor Cheng’s Business Situation Framework) will keep your curiosity and your critical reasoning down.
Even if you don’t use our specific method, any system you use to help you solve problems should help you think and be curious, not stand in the way.
But this mindset is not only about curiosity within the case.
It’s also about curiosity within your preparation.
One thing we hear all the time is people asking, “what are the rules of case interviews??”
As if at some point in time the old prophets of management consulting had walked up to the top of a mountain and found ancient scrolls with the 10 commandments of Mr. McKinsey.
And that’s not the mindset you should have at all.
As everything in consulting, in case interviews, things have their own logic.
The “rules” are only useful if you know why they’re there. Because sometimes you’re going to have to break them.
Do you really think there’s a rule book hidden somewhere in McKinsey’s or BCGs office with all the procedures that a candidate must follow to get an offer?
What would that even look like? Maybe a checklist with things like…
- Did he take less than 120 seconds to build his issue tree?
- Did he seem like he did at least 30 cases?
- Did he repeat the question to you afterwards?
Or do you think the interview is just using a case to assess how you think and if you could do the job?
You’re going to notice throughout this guide, throughout our courses, throughout all of our material, that we always explain why things are the way we teach.
And we also expect you to ask why. To the things you learn with us and to the things you learn anywhere else.
It’s only by asking why enough times that you’re actually gonna learn and internalize the principles.
Now, there’s a final aspect in being curious in your preparation.
Being curious about the feedback you receive.
Never take the feedback that you get at face value. You need to understand your feedback specifically and clearly.
Some of the questions that’ll help you get that are…
- “How did you perceive that?”
- “Can you give me some examples?”
You’ve gotta really understand the feedback that you’re getting.
That’s the only way you can really take control of your preparation and take your own steps towards getting better.
Now you know exactly what the four stages of preparation look like, starting from day zero, and ending at mastery of problem solving in case interviews.
You know what to do to get through each stage, you know the main obstacles, the goals, and you know what the emotional journey feels like.
You’ve learned, down to the detail and to the technique, exactly what to do and in what sequence to get through stages 1 and 2 (The Slope of Overconfidence and The Valley of Awareness).
You’ve also learned the myths that hold 99% of highly competent candidates back in these two stages, and the untold truth behind them (so that you won’t fall into the same traps).
And you’ve also learned about the three consultant mindsets that’ll get you thinking about case interviews, about your preparation, and about each specific case like a real McKinsey, Bain, or BCG consultant would.
And now, what?
All of this got you ahead of the great majority of candidates. Most people don’t have a method to follow and don’t know what tools to use, when to use each one, and for what goal. You do.
But the real competitive advantage will come when you put all this knowledge to good use.
If you haven’t started yet, save this guide to your favorites (so you can check it later when you have questions), go back to Chapter 2 and start working.
But if you’re already done with Stage 2 – The Valley of Awareness, it’s time I tell you how to navigate Stage 3 – The Plateau.
But first – what IS The Plateau?
Over the years working with case interview, I’ve heard several hundred candidates talk about their struggles with their preparation.
Invariably, candidates who went through a crazy mock-interview-binging phase (which we now call Stage 2 – The Valley of Awareness) eventually felt like they just weren’t improving anymore.
After way too many of them reported feeling like they’d “reached a pleateu” in their improvement, it was clear that this was a thing.
Here’s what happens:
They have a structured method of solving cases, and get most of them right. But their method has flaws.
These flaws appear when they get a case type that they haven’t seen before, in an industry they don’t know, or when they feel too pressured or too comfortable.
That’s why in some cases they do well, in others they don’t, and they just don’t feel any real improvement.
What they need?
To pinpoint these flaws in a structured way, work on them tirelessly and efficiently, and have them fixed.
After that, they can step out of The Plateau into the most satisfying stage of preparation: Confidence from Competence.
And how exactly do you pinpoint the flaws in a structured way? And how do you work on them efficiently?
The answer is an iterative model: (1) Diagnostics. -> (2) Solution. -> (3) Laser-focused work. -> (4) Re-diagnostics.
And the good news: you already have the tools for this.
The best tools for diagnostics and for finding solutions:
- Tool #1) Case Interview Fundamentals
Use the step-by-step explanations and the best-practices answers in the practice drills to understand the elements of a great answer and what you have a hard time replicating.
If you haven’t signed up yet, here’s a shortcut:
- Tool #2) Case Debrief Technique (click here if you haven’t read about it yet)
Review your Case Debrief logs to have a bird’s-eye view of your performance and recognize patterns of mistakes.
You’ll need to use your self-awareness and to do some reflection on your thinking process to make the most out of this tool.
The best tools for laser-focused practice: Drills.
You already know how to do drills. If you want even more details on this, check out the second section of our Case Interview Practice Guide, on drills.
You can get them from Case Interview Fundamentals (with in-depth answers) and you can create them from casebook questions or even real-life situations. (You won’t have a best-practices answer example, but you already know the elements it should have.)
You can also find more in-depth structuring drills in a more advanced course we have (which is focused specifically on structuring skills).
But we only offer that to advanced students.
Once you’ve done enough of Case Interview Fundamentals, you’ll see it in your inbox.
“And what happens after The Plateau?”, you may ask.
Since this is a Beginner’s Guide, I won’t dive into how to prepare once you’re in the Confidence from Competence Stage.
What I can tell you right now is that, in that stage, they key thing that’ll make you improve is not doing more cases (you’ve already done a lot of them), and it’s not even quality (you’ve already mastered the consulting way of thinking).
At that point, the only thing that’ll really make a difference in your preparation is variety.
Variety of industries, variety of interview situations, variety of types of cases, and variety of problem-solving methods.
Now you know everything you need to take the wheel and decide your next steps for yourself.
Let me know in the comments what stage you’re in, and what exactly you’re gonna start doing right now.
I’d love to know what you’re gonna do next.