Summary of Case Interview secrets by Victor Cheng

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Case Interview secrets by Victor Cheng

Many professionals find the prospect of working at a consultancy very attractive. Not only is the job a dream come true in terms of career development, but there is also the salary and exciting opportunities that await to consider. So, if you land an interview at a prestigious consultancy, how do you ensure that you a successful candidate?

First of all, you need to know that an interview at a consultancy is not a straightforward interview. Yes, they will question your qualifications and previous experience but there is definitely more to it. You need to be prepared to solve business cases by answering both quantitative and qualitative questions. These are referred to as case interviews. Without a doubt, this can be scary if you are unprepared but this book summary will help you out. It will guide you through the types of questions you can expect and how to be fully prepared to nail your consultancy interview.

In this summary readers will discover:

  • How to prepare for quantitative questions
  • Proxy Power
  • How to act during your interview
  • How to answer qualitative questions

Key lesson one: How to prepare for quantitative questions

Quantitative questions in case interviews come in two forms. The first being straight up maths questions and the second being computational questions.

Looking at the maths questions first, you need to prepare your brain to calculate quickly and accurately under pressure. These questions usually involve some interpretation of data and calculations – both of which require a calm mind and quick response. The only way you can achieve both of these is if you practice, a lot. Even if you have a degree in mathematics, the questions in these case interviews can defeat you if you do not practice. Speed, accuracy and confidence can be your secret weapon. 

The good news is that it is possible to look up old interview questions in order for you to practice. If you dig hard, you might even find questions that particular firms have been known to ask in the past. Practising questions from particular firms does not mean that it is guaranteed that they will ask you one of those specific questions. What it does mean is that you will become more familiar with the types of questions they ask and your brain will become accustomed to the calculations it needs to make. You need to remember though to always check that you keep up to date with these questions, as with everything in the business world, they are constantly changing. 

Computational questions require you to make estimates after given a few facts about the problem. As much as they are estimates, you need to be as precise as possible in your calculations. The easiest approach to this is to break down the equations accordingly. You can work them out much faster this way and make your estimates more sound. In addition to breaking them down, you can also round off numbers to make them easier to calculate. Working with $100 million is better than $98.5 million and you have some leeway as an estimate is all that is required. 

The more you practice the more comfortable you will be with these calculations. You will figure out where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This, in turn, will let you know which you need to work on harder, calculations or estimates. Don’t be smug about it, you don’t want to walk into a case interview and fail your quantitative questions because you thought that you were good at math and did not need to practice.

Key lesson two: Proxy Power

The next type of questions you have to consider are questions regarding a product’s market size. In case interviews the answers to these types of questions matter less than your approach to answer them. So, how should you approach it? Well, you should attempt to identify the factors that will help you get to your answer. These are referred to as proxies.

For example, if your question regards the estimate of the daily sales of milkshakes at a local drive-thru, your proxies will be the factors that contribute to milkshake sales. This could be things like daily traffic through the drive-thru or the number of orders per car. But, you also have to be mindful of proxies at different levels. Like the daily traffic through the drive-thru may be influenced by the time of day, but even though you have more cars during peak hours, you are still limited by the number of milkshakes that you can make. So further proxies will take into account how many staff members are making milkshakes and the time taken to make one milkshake. Therefore, each proxy that you identify can have further proxies associated with them. The better you get at identifying these proxies, the better your estimate will be. 

This also requires quick calculation but, once again, the more practice you put in, the easier it will become. Proxies can become extremely complex but, they will definitely give your better estimates once you take everything into consideration. Now you can understand why during case interviews that they evaluate your approach to the question more so than your answer. If you are able to identify proxies, this means you are capable of seeing things from a much wider perspective and you understand how factors can have an influence on sales.

Key lesson three: How to answer qualitative questions

Qualitative questions can throw you off, especially if you have been putting all your practice time into quantitative calculations. The trick here is to use frameworks to answer these types of questions.

If, for example, the interviewer asks you to identify why a client’s business is losing money, you may consider using the profitability framework which will break profit down into revenue and cost. In doing so, you are able to get an idea of the business quantitatively. How? Well, you will be able to break down both revenue and costs into all the factors associated with them. This will enable you to determine if there is an issue and in which branch of the business the problem lies. But this simple identification of the problem is not where you should stop. You need to be a good consultant and dig deeper to figure out why. In this example, you may have identified high variable costs as a problem. To further figure why the variable costs are too high, you can use another framework. This time something like the business situation framework will help to analyze different segments of a business, the customers, product, company and competition. Once again, these have to be broken down into all the factors that influence them. Consider who the customers are that buy from the company, how the products are manufactured and packaged, distribution, organizational structure and what competitors are doing that the client is not. This will further identify in which segment the problem lies.

The information gathered by using frameworks like this will allow you to answer qualitative questions with ease and accuracy. Each time you apply a framework, you close in on your answer, but the fact that you can also do so with a bit of calculation means that you do so with data backing your answer and ultimately, your advice. 

Key lesson four: How to act during your interview 

Everyone has been schooled about confidence and body language during an interview and how important it can be, but case interviews throw an added spanner in the works. If you were not aware of why interviewers ask the questions they do and the manner in which it is done, you would think they were just plain strange. This is because interviewers can sometimes come off as aggressive in case interviews especially with their constant requests for estimations.

The simple fact is that the interviewers actually behave as clients would. Clients would question a consultant in that manner because they want definitive answers. So the best thing you can do is to act as if you already got the job – that is you should act like you are a consultant and the interviewer is your client. You need to present yourself in a professional manner as if you were already representing the company because that is what they want to see. They need to know that you handle yourself well and will be able to be a representative of the consultancy. Being able to calculate complex estimates is one thing, but your communication and interpersonal skills play a huge part in your case interview as well. Think about it, a client will never trust a consultant who lacks confidence and is nervous when delivering advice. 

So, in addition to training your brain for calculations, ask yourself what your idea of a successful consultant is. Once you have a clear picture, work your way towards being that person before you even have the interview. If you can prove that you can deliver estimates and advice with confidence, the interviewer is bound to be impressed by you.

The key takeaway from Case Interview Secrets is:

Job interviews at consultancies are not standard job interviews. You have to prepare for them differently. The simple truth is that is you want to work at a big consultancy, you have to be able to put in the work. Not only will you have to practice your math skills in order to answer quantitative questions but you will have to be prepared for qualitative questions as well. In addition, you will be assessed on your interpersonal skills when in the case interview. It is your ability to succeed in these three areas that will determine your success at your case interview. 

How can I implement the lessons learned in Case Interview Secrets:

Practice makes perfect. You need to look for any case interview questions which were previously used. This can be found online or by asking people who have attended these case interviews before. Ensure that you keep up to date with these questions and work on them until you are familiar with the calculations and the fastest ways in which you can attain them accurately. The more comfortable you become in this practice, the more your confidence will grow and you can walk into a case interview with little worry.

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