Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Common case prep pitfalls

Now that full-time consulting recruiting is underway, I've started doing case prep with classmates again. That got me to thinking about all of the case prep sessions I've been able to give and the issues I've seen people run into.  There are a few that show up frequently (and keep in mind, that this is based solely on my experience and opinion...unfortunately, I don't have any insider information).
  1. Not following the framework - I think the framework is a great way to set up a structured approach for tackling the case before you get too bogged down with all of the details of the case (and the time pressure). It may not be 100% right, but it at least gives you something to build upon as you learn more throughout the case; I don't think there's anything wrong with updating it as you go along.  Normally, the frameworks that people come up with sound great, but they don't always go back to the framework throughout the interview. This doesn't always impact the ability to solve the case, but it can lead to a "scatterbrained" approach. I think that demonstrating a good thought process is just as important, if not more so, than arriving at the packaged solution.
  2. Not explaining the thought process - This tends to come up when people are asking for data, where they'll either ask a very generic question that sounds like fishing for help (e.g. "What can you tell me about our competitors" versus something like "Have the numbers of competitors increased recently? Have they introduced any new products? Are they cutting prices?" etc..), or else they don't go the extra mile and explain why they want a specific piece of data (e.g. "Have competitors introduced any new products? It's possible that a new product has made our products uncompetitive or obsolete resulting in lower sales.")
  3. Narrating versus executing - This might be the result of over-explaining the thought process. Basically, the interviewee will outline their approach for investigating something (not to be confused with the overall framework; more along the lines of "Costs have been increasing recently. This could be a result of labor increases, such as an increase in wages due to union pressure, or a result of rising raw materials prices......etc...), walking through all of the possible explanations (hypotheses) and what their implications are, but then they don't follow up with the questions to prove or disprove them. This one pains me, because sometimes I'll hear someone nail the actual source of the problem during the outline, but then they don't ever return to it; it ends up lost in the excellent narration as a possibility.
Again, please take these items with a grain of salt.  I'm by no means an expert on this stuff; I just happen to play one on TV.

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