Want to learn quick problem solving? Casing is the way to go.
Like many of you reading this article, Johnny Bui and I have done our fair share of consulting case prep. We have read Case and Point by Marc Consantino, have kept an archive of cases in a folder on our desktop, and have a spreadsheet of case notes that we swear by. We know where you are coming from and we are here to help.
So, here is a little bit about Johnny and I, two consultants, who have recently entered into the field.
Johnny is a recent graduate from Babson College and a current Analyst in the consulting division at Kalypso, a professional services firm. Johnny’s other accolades include being a real estate agent in Boston, Massachusetts and a recently published book author. His goals outside of college now include becoming an expert in personal finance, getting into real estate investing, and competing on American Ninja Warrior.
My name is Ursula and I am also a recent Babson College graduate. I am currently an Associate Consultant in Strategy and Technology at Konrad Group in New York City. I am a passionate blogger and enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell, playing with my neighbor’s puppy Ruth, and singing in the shower.
Ok! Now, let’s get into the good stuff! Answering the most pressing consulting prep questions!
What is the most valuable lesson that you have learned from doing consulting case prep?
A consulting case isn’t a complete replication of what an actual client project looks like. The case is fixed, meaning there is a predetermined answer and a zone of acceptable answers for the candidate. The reason why I say it’s not a complete replication is because the answers you seek can be given to you immediately, and the interviewer wants to give them to you – you just have to ask the right questions. Because this isn’t like an actual project, I’ve learned to take advantage of the format of casing and it simply comes down to mastering the basics.
That’s the lesson: master the basics.
There are strategies that I’ve leveraged to get me as close as possible into that margin of error. For instance:
- Learn to take good notes, fast. Circle areas of the recap that raise red flags so you can then ask clarifying questions about it. (they’re there for a reason!)
- Always recap the case and ask if you missed anything.
- The sweet spot for clarifying questions are 3, depending on how much information they give you. Don’t ask questions if you don’t need to.
- A good question to ask if you can’t think of anything is always about the goal or timeline of the client
- Put together your structure and try to make the titles of your buckets as tailored to the case as possible.
- When stuck, always recap *out loud* what you have learned to this point in the case. More often than not, saying it out loud will reveal where the case is going and what you should do next.
- If you’re really proactive, keep a key insights section blocked off on your paper so you can record relevant information shared with you.
- Practice doing quick math (division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) and learn tricks! This will cut down time in your interview and impress the interviewer.
- At the end of the case you must deliver the recommendation, followed by risks and next steps in under a minute. You’ll typically hear the prompt say: “The CEO has just entered the room, what is your recommendation?” If you have been taking physical (or mental notes) throughout the case, this should be a breeze. But you must be concise, the CEO doesn’t have a lot of time!
These are more of the technical skills you need to master. Here are some soft skills:
- When the interviewer points out that you made a mistake, always acknowledge it. This is an opportunity to show your character.
- Always lead the case and offer suggestions as to what you think you should do next. Whether it be a candidate-led or interviewer-led case, it’s always better to demonstrate initiative.
- When given an exhibit, always ask for a moment before you dive head first into to interpreting it.
- Given a long math problem, always ask for a minute to solve the problem because the last thing you want to do is lose the interviewer in your calculations.
- Always check in with the interviewer to see if they’re following especially when you’re walking them through your thinking process.
- When asked to brainstorm, don’t give a laundry list. Structure your answer by categories/themes and then begin listing.
The consulting case is like a rubik’s cube – it’s essentially a puzzle but the answers lie within it. You start out with some relevant information which represents the specific color that you’re trying to get on that side. The rest of the case has to do with you getting as close to getting all of the colors on one side.
It may not necessarily be a lesson, but I definitely learned the power of being able to attack a problem and needing only a paper and pen to do so. There is something so incredible about relying on your own problem solving abilities in order to achieve something. Learning just that was enough to get me onboard in learning how to case. Johnny touches on many important learning points, so as to not duplicate, here are some additional…
- Learning how to ask good questions. When you are given so little time, you learn to prioritize what information is critical to drawing conclusions within the case. Be clear with your questions and make sure they they are exhaustive and not redundant.
- Learning how to think extremely generally and very specifically at the same time. Casing is all about learning what is important, what is relevant, and what is additional peripheral information. Your casing framework will help you in your discovery, but the wrong framework can lead you astray. Choose wisely!
- Being able to overcome nerves and anxiety in order to think clearly. Casing in front of a professional- or even a friend- can be very nerve racking! With enough practice and a little bit of courage, you can make it through! When the time comes for your interview, just remember that your brain is a muscle that has muscle memory too! If you get nervous, rely on your hard work and preparation to get you through it.
Why do you think case prep is valuable for future consultants to learn?
It’s important to learn how to apply business concepts and how they play a role in real scenarios. It’s equally important to learn to ask the right questions when you’re in the field solving them as a professional. We can’t ask every question, and through case prep, we learn to prioritize good vs better questions. Future consultants must also learn how to communicate their thought process to the interviewer. Clients won’t accept your recommendations just because you say so – your credibility is paramount to the project and future clients referrals.
In my work, I find that it’s important to look at problems holistically, then break them down, and, finally, tackle the most critical issues, which will hopefully have a trickle down effect in solving some of the smaller ones. This applies to every type of consulting- it’s essentially what consulting is! Casing allows you to adopt the mindset of always asking questions to search for the root of the problem which will lead to developing recommendations and solutions. It might be on a very small scale, but there is something to be said for someone’s ability to ace a case! Those skills apply in many different settings.
What is the best piece(s) of advice someone has given you around case prep?
- You’re droning on for too long
- Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment
- You weren’t walking me through your math
- Talk slower
There will be a moment when you realize that you are ready. You’ll just feel it. When starting out, I thought that this would never be the case, but trust the process. Your time will come! Someone admitting to me that failure is part of the process of casing and that going through casing exercises is just awkward were also two extremely valuable statements made to me by case prep alumni. Sometimes outlining the basics can be incredibly reassuring.