Thursday, October 14, 2010

Case Prep Learnings: notes and sheet layout

Obligatory "just my opinion" warning.

I've seen different levels of note taking during case prep: some folks take a lot of notes throughout the case and others choose not to take too many.  I think that going too far in either direction can lead to problems.
  1. Not taking a lot - If you get stuck, you don't have useful notes to review, so you may not remember what you've already learned from the interviewer. It's possible that you missed an important insight the first time around.
  2. Taking too many - If you get stuck, you have too much information to review making it harder to determine if you missed something. It's tough to go through a lot of notes carefully mid-case when you know the clock is ticking. Furthermore, you might be disengaging from the interviewer too much to take all of those notes.
The trick is to find the right balance of note taking and to lay it out in a way that makes it easier to review if necessary. I've been asked by several folks for advice on both, and although I have no idea how to find the right balance, I can at least describe the layout that worked well for me.

After trying different options, I settled on using a minimum of three sheets of paper (rarely needing more than that, though my writing is pretty small) in the layout below.

I divided my notes out across the sheets as follows.
  • A - The problem statement and any key pieces of information given during the case description, including the objective(s)
  • B - My framework for solving the case, generally grouped into 2-3 categories (buckets), such as Competition
  • C - The recommendations I would make at the end and a brief note on why for each one. As I worked through the case, if I felt that I had arrived at a recommendation, I would pause to write it out here so that I could refer back to it at the end for the concluding "elevator pitch"
  • D - Info that I received while asking questions under Category 1 in my framework
  • E - Info that I received while asking questions under Category 2 in my framework
  • F - Info that I received while asking questions under Category 3 in my framework. If I stumbled onto something that wasn't in my original framework, I just added another section below here for it
  • G - Scratch work during any calculations. Afterward, I transferred the final data over to either D, E, or F depending on time. At first, I did all of the scratch work on the same sheet as my notes, but then it would get too cluttered to look over
Of course, I don't think there is any one right way...just have to find what works best for you.

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