Case interview frameworks

A list of 10 most common frameworks & how to use them effectively

“Which framework to use?” is probably among the most common questions popping up in a candidate’s mind when confronting a case.

This definitive guide will not only answer that question by introducing a few common frameworks, but also tell you HOW to use those frameworks more effectively during case interviews, and what pitfalls you should be aware of.

Case interview frameworks – Overview

What are case interview frameworks?

Case interview frameworks are templates used to break down and solve business problems in case interviews. A framework can be off-the-shelf or highly customized for specific cases; it can also be tailored for certain functions/industries, or versatile enough for general problem-solving.

Common case interview frameworks include:

Profitability Framework
Business Situation Framework
McKinsey M&A Framework
4P and 7P Frameworks
Porter Five Forces Model
External vs Internal
Qualitative vs Quantitative
Cost vs Benefits
2×2 Matrix (e.g.: BCG Growth-Share Matrix)
SWOT Analysis

All of these frameworks will be discussed later in this article.

During a case interview, you use consulting frameworks to break down the problem into smaller pieces through an issue tree and test each branch to see if the root-cause is in there. If a branch indeed contains the root-cause, you break it down further. Rinse and repeat until the root-cause is identified.

The big part of problem solving is about breaking down the problem in almost every step of the case.

So in simple language, consulting frameworks provide templates and suggestions to break down problems and branches!

What should I keep in mind when using consulting frameworks?

Templates should be treated as guidelines, and not strict rules. The same applies to case interview frameworks.

In the past, case interviews were much more predictable, and frameworks were more applicable. However, nowadays, case interviews are more similar to real business problems, where frameworks need a lot of customizations (you’ll see this word repeated a lot in this article) to be useful.

In fact, the whole consulting industry exists on the basis that consultants can customize theory to real, difficult business situations and produce positive results; nobody pays hundreds of thousands of dollars for them to recite a textbook – any college freshman can do as much.

That’s why in my Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, I don’t teach candidates to use frameworks – instead, the focus in on the fundamentals of case interview (problem-solving and business intuition) as well as the tips and techniques for instant performance improvement.

How can I use consulting frameworks effectively?

Here’s a problem with case interview beginners – they tend to go straight for the frameworks, before even knowing the basic mechanisms and principles of case interviews.

If you are one of those beginners, you must first grasp the basics of case interviews – the fundamentals of case interview problem-solving, the issue tree, and the MECE principle. I have written extensive, separate guides on these topics, but for starters, I advice you to read this Case Interview 101 comprehensive guide. 

Case Interview 101 The Online Guidebook

An A-to-Z crashcourse on case interviews

Busting case interview framework myths

Myth 1: “The more frameworks I know, the better”

Before we proceed with the popular frameworks in consulting and case interviews, here are four huge myths about frameworks you should steer clear of.

Spend your time learning to draw customized frameworks/issue trees instead. Case interviews are getting progressively more realistic and less conforming to specific frameworks, so trying to memorize dozens of frameworks is of no use.

Additionally, you should attend to the qualitative side of things, to deeply absorb each framework and its use; skimming the surface will come back to bite you later.

Myth 2: “There must be a framework out there that fits this case”

Ready-made frameworks CANNOT cover all kinds of situations. Even regarding the ones covered, existing frameworks are often “okay-fit”, but not perfectly fit.

Just create a framework/issue tree yourself. Nobody deducts your points for not using a ready-made tool, they even give you points if you can customize it.

Myth 3: “The fancier the framework, the more impressed the interviewer”

You are definitely not wooing anyone by being fancy-schmancy here. Nobody cares about your shiny frame if it does not fit with the picture.

Consultants are very practical and result-oriented people; what impresses them are candidates who really know what they are talking about, and actually produce good results.

What’s worse is that you also run the risk of appearing superficial; it’s not difficult for consultants with years of experience in the field to fully expose your bluffing. If that happens you may as well say goodbye to your chance of getting hired.

Myth 4: “Knowledge of frameworks is irrelevant in interviewer-led cases”

The assumption underlying this myth is that in interviewer-led cases, the candidate is not the driver of the case, so he or she does not need to actively break down the problem.

This cannot be further from the truth. Many questions in interviewer-led cases are about frameworks/issue trees (“What factors would you consider to solve this problem?”).

Even with other question types you still need to structure answers like a mini-case. Appropriate knowledge of frameworks, as such, is still a MUST.

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Five common case interview frameworks

Profitability framework

Profitability is the most common problem type in case interviews – that means the Profitability Framework is the first one to master for every prospective consultant. You have to absolutely nail it every time, there’s no way around it.

In case interviews, the Profitability Framework is used to mathematically break down the problem, before switching to more qualitative frameworks to devise solutions.

Most of the time, the framework looks like this:

What’s so good about it?

Firstly, the Profitability Framework is a surefire way to draw a structured issue tree, as the framework is fundamentally MECE.
Secondly, this framework is grounded in a simple mathematical basis – there’s no confusing qualitative concept to get lost in; heck, “revenues minus costs equal profits” is common sense. That’s why the Profitability Framework may as well be the easiest framework ever devised by humankind (or consultant-kind).

Are there any shortcomings I should be aware of?

The Profitability Framework is generic; it may not reflect the nuances within the business enough to draw insightful conclusions. In businesses with wide price ranges, for example, just the total sales volume and average unit price do not tell you much.
To extract more insightful information, either drill down quantitatively by introducing revenue/cost components not expressed in the basic framework (e.g.: revenue by product), or combine it with a qualitative framework.

Business situation framework

This is an extremely versatile template you can use in nearly every case, so make sure to learn it well. It’s not even a “should”, but a “must”.

In my video, I referred to the Business Situation Framework by the more tell-tale “3C & P”, based on it being derived from the famous 3C Framework. These four letters stand for “Company, Customers, Competitors, Products” – areas that the framework analyzes to yield solutions.

What’s so good about it?

The one big advantage of the Business Situation Framework is its comprehensiveness – covering four crucial internal and external factors in business strategy.
This framework is quite flexible – you can use it as a template to draw customized issue trees for all kinds of cases. In our video, I demonstrated this by applying it to solve an HR problem.

Are there any shortcomings I should be aware of?

The very same comprehensiveness making the Business Situation Framework flexible, also makes it generic, hence the need for extensive modifications; in many cases (the one in our video, for example), not all four components are relevant.
It is not a beginner-friendly framework – it does not explicitly state which factors to consider under each main branch; newbies often end up in awkward situations, not knowing what to do next and thinking in a bottom-up manner.

How do you avoid that situation then? I’m inclined to say “practice”, but that much is obvious. A less obvious solution is to equip yourself with some “ninja tips” by learning how each C and P is usually segmented, although again I have to emphasize that it’s vital to maintain a flexible mindset.

McKinsey M&A framework

I absolutely love this one because it works in almost every single M&A case.

There isn’t an official name for this framework, but since it is used by McKinsey consultants when confronting an M&A issue, I’d just call it the “McKinsey M&A Framework”.

The framework assesses a proposed M&A on three dimensions: the stand-alone value of each involving companies (values, strengths, weaknesses, etc.); their synergy, i.e. will the two companies combined be greater than the sum of its parts; and other factors, such as feasibility, culture, legal issues, etc.