Every rookie case interviewer we’ve met mentions they wish they could improve on one of these three things before their interviews:
- To know how to start any case, no matter how uncommon (maybe not with the best structure, but at least a good one)
- To show great confidence on interview day
- To effortlessly connect with their interviewer during the short time they have together
These are important aspects of success if you’re interviewing with McKinsey, Bain, BCG or similar firms. Sadly, most people feel there’s little you can do to control these factors. They just hope for the best.
Case interview “experts” think they have it all figured out. To achieve these three goals, they say, you should memorize “the 4 core frameworks that solve any case”, power pose minutes before the interview and ask your interviewer a well-designed question about their work passion. “Oh, and make it feel genuine,” they will add after they’re done talking at you.
You’re gonna be the 10th person doing it that day, good luck being genuine with that. Oh, and power posing is just weird.
But I shall bring you another way!
While doing long-term coaching with 100+ people Julio and I have found a counterintuitive method so you’re able to start any case, be the most confident candidate your interviewers have ever seen and connect with them in a way they will want to get coffee with you by the time your interview is over. They would even bring you to the team room to help problem-solve their project’s most recent issue if they could.
Think I’m exaggerating? We’ve had several clients who had their interviewers talk to them for 2+ hours instead of the one hour assigned to the interview. No hurried consultant would spend more time than they had to with a candidate unless they liked them very much.
If it were not for the title of this article series you’d probably be asking yourself what is this mystical method that improves both your logic and your likeability. How can such a thing exist that gives you the power to do magic in the interview room? But you’re smart and you’ve guessed it: you should learn to answer any question using the right MECE structure.
But how can being MECE help you with all these things? Well, it’s simple:
- Uncommon cases are (called) uncommon because they do not fit the usual frameworks you find in case interview books. If you know how to create MECE structures from scratch you can tackle any case, even if you can’t solve it using “Revenues – Costs” or “Customers, Competitors, Company, and Products”. Even common cases have unusual questions within them.
- Interviewers do care about confidence, but only if it comes from competence. Confidence without competence has gotten no person an offer. Ever. So, the way to increase your confidence is to develop your competence. Imagine how confident would you be if you could nail every single case while practicing and in real interviews?
- I’ve met all sorts of people within McKinsey: extroverts and introverts, athletes and nerds, numbers-people and people-people. But every single person I met there would think and communicate in a structured way. Besides being a generally nice person, the key to connect with your interviewer is to speak their language: using structure implicit in all your reasoning and conversations. Learning to use the MECE principle fluently will help you achieve that.
MECE is a learned skill. No babies crawl around speaking with structure and I’ve never met a candidate who could think and talk MECE-ly at the beginning of their preparation.
Heck, I had to learn it myself the second time I went through the process.
I didn’t pass the first time I applied because I thought I could get away with using slightly adapted memorized structures. Guess what? I couldn’t. What I then learned at a high cost is that if you want to get an offer you need to be able to create your own structures. Many cases are weird and you need to be MECE throughout the case. No standardized structure can help you with that.
But I’ve learned to structure. And I was so poor at it at first that I know anyone can learn it.
Since I left McKinsey and Julio left Bain, we started helping candidates to get into top consulting firms. Because learning to be MECE is so critical to get in, we started on a quest to find a way to teach this skill to candidates. It was a two-year journey to understand how we ourselves structure problems and testing different teaching techniques with 100+ candidates.
On this journey we’ve found that not only candidates have trouble creating MECE structures, they also have a hard time knowing if their structure is MECE or not. Because this is a concern, we’ve come up with 5 approaches that ensure your structure is MECE.
Master these and you’ll shine brighter than every other candidate reading books and parroting the same frameworks over and over again. You’ll never be scared to get a strange case again; in fact, you’ll be happy to get one because you know’ll few can solve it. You’ll project confidence that comes from competence to your interviewer. You’ll speak your interviewer’s language during the interview, and hear phrases such as “Wow, that’s exactly how I solved this problem when I was in this project” or “Excellent structure, here’s all the data you need”.
I know it sounds utopian. “Can I really learn to quickly come up with the right MECE structure to any problem?”. “Isn’t this something other people do? Those naturally talented people that practice just a few cases and get triple offers and become partners before they’re 30?” I’ve been in your shoes. That was the story I used to tell myself. Looking back, it was easier to limit myself with that narrative than to do the hard work and learn the most critical skill a management consultant may have.
Because of that, I had to feel the frustration of being rejected the first time. I spent a lot more time preparing the second time, when I couldn’t afford to fail.
But I’ve broken down the skill into easily learnable steps so you don’t have to go through the same emotional rollercoaster. I’ve eliminated the uncertainty so you can focus on your hard work and know you’re going to learn it. I’ve taught this to many others and I know it works. Learn this and you’ll do magic in the interview room.
So buckle up, and check out Part 2 of this series. You’re gonna see how to never run out of structures again.