Management Consulting Prep

Case Interview Fundamental Getting stuck in Case Interview

One of the worst feelings is getting stuck in the middle of a case interview: We don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say. The important question is: what to do when you happen to be there?

In this article, I will address that question through some of the most common situations so you can ace the case confidently.

A quick glance

    1. Stuck when setting up Issue Tree / Framework
    2. Stuck when getting piece of data
    3. Stuck in the middle of analysis

Situation #1

Stuck when setting up an issue tree or framework

A. When it happens

  1. While drawing the first issue tree, OR
  2. After having explored all of the first branch with no further directions.

B. What to do

If you don’t know which framework to apply, use segmentation.

 “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?”

C. How to avoid

Develop an issue-tree-drawing skill (see our Case Interview End-to-end secrets).

Learn the building-block frameworks.

Improve your Business Intuition.

Situation #2

Stuck when getting a piece of data

A. When it happens

Upon receiving information from the interviewer without having perceived or understood that data.

B. What to do

To understand data in an unfamiliar industry, the quickest way is to use benchmark: historical – competitor.

Historical benchmark:Sales this year’s at $10 billion? What’s that in each of the last 5 years?”

Competitor benchmark: “Profit margin is 12%? What’s that for competitors?’

Combined benchmark: “Customer index is 82 points? How does that compare to historical index and that of competitors?”

C. How to avoid

Do practice on analyzing business data (See our Full-context Business Cases).

Train your consulting math skills.

Situation #3

Stuck in the middle of the analysis

A. When it happens

During the detailed analysis of the issue tree, when:

  • The problems appear in every branch.
  • No branch seems to contain the root-cause.

B. What to do

i. There are two conditions to check:

Are all branches of the issue tree completely MECE

“There is an anonymous feedback that the sound was really bad from his/her seat.”

Issue tree: the back area and the front area.

Problem: the disability area.

Have our ways of dividing the problem isolated the root-cause?

“There is an anonymous feedback that the sound was really bad from his/her seat.”

Issue tree: the back area and the front area.

Problem: the left area.

ii. Apply these course of actions:

Step 1: Calmly and confidently admit to the interviewer that you are stuck. Acting like this shows that you are still in good control of the situation.

Step 2: Use your timeout to look into your analysis critically. (check the two conditions above).

Step 3: Make necessary adjustments (e.g: re-structure the issue).

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.”

You can develop your own wording to be more natural.

C. How to avoid

Understand the logic flow of a “Candidate-led case”.

Practice drawing MECE issue trees.

Align yourself with the interviewer. (see our Case Interview Last Minute Preparation).

Mentally “plan for the worst”’.

Everybody sometimes gets stuck during a case interview, and it is normal. As always, “Prevention is better than cure”. The key word is: practice, Practice, PRACTICE.

Start your case interview training with us today! Review basic case interview concept or see real case interview example on our website!

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