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Get stuck in case interview? What to do & How to avoid?

By Kim Tran November 9, 2016Case InterviewNo Comments

Get stuck in case interview? What to do & How to avoid?

By Kim Tran November 9, 2016Case InterviewNo Comments

Getting Stuck in Case Interview?

Here are Some Must-Know Tips & Tricks to Improve Your Performance

The worst feeling one can ever experience is to get stuck in the middle of a case interview.

We don’t know what to do, we don’t what to say. And even added to that, the stupid thought of us bombing the case keeps echoing in our heads!

Too bad, this does happen, and quite often for many of us.

How to avoid falling into that situation, though? What to do when you happen to be there?

Welcome to our next video of case interview tips & tricks! It’s happening right here right now!

Hi, my name is Kim Tran, a former McKinsey consultant and the founder of this platform.

Well, based on my experience coaching many candidates of various backgrounds and levels, there are three most popular spots where people get stuck in case interview. Let’s tackle each one at a time.

Situation #1

Getting stuck when needing to set up an issue tree or framework

Sometimes, it’s the first issue tree. But most of the times, candidates really struggle after having explored and exhausted the first issue tree and not knowing what to do next.

The textbook solution is to develop an issue-tree-drawing skill so good and robust that you can react and proceed in any situation. While one part of our Case Interview End-to-end secrets, the Business Intuition part, does focus on that long-term purpose, the solution most last-minute case interviewees do is to learn as many frameworks as possible. More frameworks, better chance of drawing good issue trees.

Like I said in the framework video, this is only partially true. Sometimes, learning a lot of frameworks without knowing what to do with them is dangerous. So how do we find the sweet spot here?

Well, there’s one thing that never gets mentioned as a conventional framework, but works like a framework and is very safe to use. It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it works most of the time. And at worst, it won’t hurt you to use it. That magical thing is: segment.

Whenever you feels like don’t know how to break things down, amid the vast universe of possible frameworks to apply out there, just go for segmentation.

Say things like: “At this point, I would like to break down the situation. One good way to do this is through segmentation. What’s the natural way to segment ABC in this industry?”

Situation #2

People get stuck when getting a piece of data

A lot of the times, that’s because we don’t intuitively perceive what a number or piece of data means in an unfamiliar industry. The quick tip here is to benchmark that number. A number can only have some meaning when put into perspectives.

Two very good benchmarks are: (a) history and (b) competitor.

  • Sales this year’s at $10 billion? What’s that in each of the last 5 years?
  • Profit margin is 12%? What’s that for competitors?
  • Customer index is 82 points? How does that compare to historical index and that of competitors?

Situation #3

Getting stuck in the middle of analyses

Of the three, this is probably the most difficult to deal with. So first of all, we have to understand, technically, why do people get stuck in the middle of the analysis?

Well, if you watched the video “Candidate-led case”, technically it’s impossible to get stuck like that. If you haven’t watch that video or you have not yet grasped that content super well, I strongly recommend going back and watching that video before continuing here. The link is right here.

Assuming you have got through the basic learning of case interviews, there are only 2 possible causes of getting stuck in middle of the analysis.

  • No.1 is obvious: There are parts of our analysis that are not MECE. Come back to the Movie Theater example. Suppose the question to solve is: there is an anonymous feedback that the sound was really bad from his/her seat. If we divide the whole theater into the back area and the left area, we may not find the exact bad-sounding seat and get stuck. On the other hand, if we divide the whole theater into left & right, or back & front, we almost never get stuck, except for one very special situation like in No.2 below.
  • No.2: The way we divided the problem somehow doesn’t isolate the root-cause. If you conduct case interviews, sometimes you will run into this. You notice the interviewee do a perfectly MECE analysis but it doesn’t lead to the root-cause or possible answer you have in mind.

Suppose all seats in the back have audio problems and the interviewee divides the theater into left and right areas. This structure doesn’t isolate the problem and the interviewee will find partial problems in all groups.

That’s the two ways you can get stuck in the middle of the analysis, now what should we do to avoid it?

(a), Always, always, make sure your analysis is perfectly MECE. Watch our video on MECE for much more details.

(b), Align with the interviewer as much as possible. Interviewers rarely deduct points when you ask questions. And even if they do, it’s much, much better to be on the side of asking too many questions (see also Questions to ask in consulting interview) than on the side of asking too few questions and ending up going into directions that don’t fit with the interviewer’s idea at all.

(c), Mentally “plan for the worst”. Even if you hope you never run into this situation, being mentally prepared for what to do and what to say will help. At least, you will stay calm, score some points and work your way out of the situation.

Ok, so those are some very helpful tips on not getting stuck. But we can never completely eliminate that possibility. Assuming you have done everything you can to avoid getting stuck and you still do, what’s the best course of action at the point?

  • Step 1: Calmly and confidently admit to the interviewer that you are stuck. Do it with STYLE! Everybody is stuck at some points, and in many cases, it’s not his/her faults. So acting like this is something very normal and you are still in good control of the situation is a good idea.
  • Step 2: Literally say the following scripts. You can develop your own wording a little bit to be more natural, but this is what I would say:

“My whole analysis seems to go into a dead-end, which means either part of my issue tree is not MECE or my method of breaking down doesn’t isolate the problem. Either way, I would like to take a timeout to take another look at it.”

Just by saying that, you get a plus point immediately.

  • Step 3: Now use your timeout to look into your analysis critically. If it’s not MECE, fix it. If it’s perfectly MECE, confidently says you need to break the problem down through another perspective, a.k.a re-structure the issue tree or framework.


This is a rather short video but I hope it adds some values to your prep. I really hope to include an example here to demonstrate all of these insights but it’s hard to do that without bringing a whole case.

More importantly, I hope you grasp these tips really well and along the process of practice, you will get stuck at some point … Well, it’s strange to hope you get stuck, but that’s really what I mean. I hope you practice SO hard and SO much that all of the worst case scenarios, all the worst mistakes will get out during the practice. At that point, remember to apply the insights I show you in this video. I promise that you will feel this much more profoundly, and much more helpful.

Well, comment below for any questions or suggestions. Have you got stuck before? How was it? What was the cause for it, what did you do and what would you do differently after seeing this video?

Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel, too. At Management Consulting Prep, we believe “Everybody can make it to consulting”. Are you a believer?