Case in Point vagueness -- For those of you who've used it

I'm studying for case interviews and am using basically all the resources I've been able to get my hands on. One of them, of course, is CiP, which nearly everybody recommends.

I've got a question for people who used it successfully, though: The practice cases/dialogues Consentino lays out in CiP seem to be a bit blunt. I'm contrasting this to, say, Victor Cheng's discussions where he keeps drilling down and asking relevant questions about a certain topic to test a hypothesis (looking for data on different relevant segments, etc. etc. before jumping in), so that his final approach is data-driven.

Looking at Consentino's case dialogues (the first ones at least), there seems to be more, "What would you do in x?" ---> "Well, I know that such-and-such industry is characterized x and y-ways, so I'd [fill in the blank]." There's a lot more of a sense of "jumping in" without having actually looked for a solid foundation, data-wise.

There's a mismatch: If the cases are like Consentino's, then you'd apparently be wasting the interviewer's time by "drilling down" and getting data to back up your hunches. On the other hand, if the cases are more along the lines of Cheng's, you'd have only done part of the work by using Consentino's approach.

Having never actually done one of these for a real interview, I'm curious as to peoples' experience. I would bet that sometimes interviewers are just in a hurry/otherwise occupied and don't want to give you all sorts of data, so cases are more like those in CiP, over in a few minutes with just a bit of discussion --kind of like if you were casually discussing it with a friend--, where other times, you get the full-fledged handouts, charts, and other data and you really have to isolate problems.

What have successful interviewees found?

(If this has specifically been discussed elsewhere, sorry for the duplication and just point me in the right direction. )

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Comments (18)

Best Response
Oct 4, 2011 - 4:52pm

So at least for MBB, the style is more like CiP than Cheng. If there is data necessary to solve the problem, the interviewer should give you most of it. Rarely will you need to say, "please tell me the number of customers by segment by geography". The cases typically aren't that detailed. Also, remember what case interviews are designed to test: your ability to break down complex problems into constituent parts, solve each part, and then roll the whole thing back up into one solution. Simply asking for a bunch of data doesn't demonstrate those skills.

That said, I admit there is occasionally some awkwardness when determining if the interviewer wants you to "market size" something using your own assumptions (e.g., total number of pizzas sold per year in the U.S. could be estimated based on consumption per person per month, etc.) or whether he/she does have specific data he/she wants you to use.

Also, when answering parts of the case that do require data, you may be given too little or too much data. The objective here is to see whether you're simply good at math (can take inputs to generate an answer) or whether you're thoughtful enough to identify what factors are actually needed to solve the problem, then work to acquire those (either by asking for missing data or disregarding superfluous data).

One way CiP falls short, though, is in the fact that its cases typically contain a single problem (e.g., this company has falling profitability - what is wrong?). Real cases will typically have several sub-components. So maybe the over-arching question is falling profitability, but the sub-components you'll work through one by one (i.e., solve one at a time, then move onto the next one) might include a identifying revenue growth as an issue, then identifying specific initiatives for Business Unit #3; b identifying rising raw materials costs as an issue, then exploring opportunities to reduce them; c doing a random math problem related to the case; D answering the "you see the CEO in the hallway - summarize the case in 30 seconds" question. See what I mean? CiP has too many cases that are singular, whereas real case interviews have multiple sub-problems. Btw, you won't know what all these sub-components are in advance - the interviewer will typically introduce the next one once you've solved the current one.

Additionally, keep in mind that the questions you'll be asked more frequently do not have specific numerical answers, but rather are more theoretical (e.g., how can this company determine what is driving its revenue decline, and what initiatives could be launched to promote top line growth?). So you don't need numerical data, per se, to answer the question.

Bear in mind that this varies by firm. Bain uses lots of charts during the interview. You'll need to interpret data, ask for missing data where you don't see the information you need (this is different than blindly asking for data), etc. McK uses several very structured sub-components like I mentioned above. OW used a VERY open-ended methodology, where I had a lot of freedom to choose the direction of the case.

Final point: CiP is only useful for the first 5 minutes of a case. Granted, these are the most important minutes, because that is where you outline your initial framework and have the chance to make a good first impression on the interviewer. Your initial framework will likely dictate the ease through which you progress through the rest of the interview. So CiP is great for that. But it is not useful for actually helping you complete the final 80% of the case. That takes practice with real consultants.

Hope that helps.

Oct 4, 2011 - 5:40pm

DD, thank you very much for the awesome response; that sheds tons of light on my question and is really helpful.

Two followup questions, then: (1) if there IS data to be had, did you often find it by asking for it, or did it often come your way because the interviewer would offer it? The two case-prep methods suggest different approaches: One is to simply talk on the theoretical level until the interviewer interjects with some data (at least that's the illustration that CiP provides in the cases), and another is to go so far as to start the case off by (for a simplified example) saying, "The first area I'd like to look is revenues; do we have any data on that?"

I suppose the second approach isn't terrible, since if you ask anyway and they say "no" you just continue on and speak on a more theoretical-issue level, but I'm concerned about starting the case the right way.

(2) Do you have any suggestions for practicing the final 80% of the case, other than with real consultants? I've been reading through cases, practicing starting them, and posing hypothetical questions along the way, etc., but I'm wondering if there's something else I could do.

Thanks again

Oct 4, 2011 - 6:52pm
  1. NEVER say "the first area I'd like to look is revenues; do we have any data on that?". The reason is that this sounds like you're saying "Please tell me the answer." The data is never that complicated (how can it be in a 30-min interview when all you have is pencil and paper?); therefore, once you have the data, what you should do with it is typically obvious. As a result, the interviewer can't just "give you the data" or that will essentially give the answer away. Or, at least the part of the answer the interviewer cares most about.

They don't care THAT much if you can do math (if you have a high GPA, it is assumed you can); they care more that you can creatively identify the necessary components required to do the math. Does that make sense? It is better to be able to articulate the problem in words than solve it using numbers (as the latter is easier and it is assumed you can do it). Granted, you still have to solve the math, but that is the easy part...

If you find yourself in a situation where you do need to ask for data (this does happen in some cases), the data will be much more specific than "revenue data". Instead, use the context of the case + your creativity to ask something like "Revenue is the first area I'd like to explore. Specifically, I am interested in learning more about volume trends in the diabetes pharmaceuticals business unit. I would like to know the volume growth rate for this business unit over the last 3-5 years." This demonstrates that you a already have a hypothesis on the potential issue, and b can clearly articulate what data is necessary to test your hypothesis.

Of course, to ask this effectively, you must be able to develop a strong hypothesis. Hence my comments in my first response about most cases being more theoretical in nature. Before you would ever ask for the specific data from my example, you would have already identified this business unit as a potential cause for concern.

  1. Practicing with real consultants is by far the best way to practice cases. Granted, you can't do this very much (they are busy, you probably only know a few consultants, etc.). So other options are to (a) practice with professors who were consultants (not random professors - they don't know how cases work); (b) practice with other students interviewing for consulting; (c) do the practice cases on MBBs' websites.

Good luck

Oct 6, 2011 - 8:27pm

OP has listened to Victor's Cheng's "Look Over My Shoulder" way too many times. I stopped listening to it because it was making my responses way too cookie cutter/bland/boring. Creativity is key.

Everybody has a copy of Case in Point. It's the best seller at Harvard COOP. Over 40 copies on shelf, no joke.

I hope this isn't who I'm thinking it is.

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Oct 7, 2011 - 9:39am

Highly unlikely-- I barely post and I don't personally know anybody on this board. I've also never listened to LOMS. Was just curious if real-life cases go more the way of how they are described in CiP, which seems a lot more blunt, for lack of a better word, than how most other resources I've used suggest to go about discussing them, which seems to be more methodical.

But I hear you on creativity; that was my problem with insisting that every part of the case fit into a framework (it's hard to resist doing that, even though the first thing everyone tells you is "Forget the framework once you get going")

Oct 10, 2011 - 5:17am

I have found CiP to be very general, and a bit abstract. Chengs LOMS and videos give a much better sense of how things actually are at a case interview. He gives a couple of business frameworks where you work with, and they are 'adjustable', i.e. easy to adjust to the context of any case. CiP on the other hand is much less flexible, and harder to work with. I think Chengs material is much closer to how case interviews go in real life.

Furthermore, it is also recommendable to read Case Interview Success, which is also on Amazon. It works similar to Chengs material, but next to business cases, tackles how it is to be on a case interview, including in terms of best practice beaviour and attitude; that really gives you these 'extra' points. It is also a good idea to check out Evisors, and maybe do one expert interview. I found it very usefull, and it's the closest you get to doing a real-life interview, without the risk of not passing to a next round :0

I am in the last round now at BCG and Bain; so exciting times ahead! Good luck to all, hope this was a good contribution!

Oct 10, 2011 - 5:18am

Question on Case in Point Frameworks (Originally Posted: 09/16/2015)

In the "IVY framework" chapter in Case In Point, they have a sample notes drawn up for each of the 4 types it discusses. Do we draw up these notes as soon as we've summarized the question to the interviewer and asked for a minute? Or is it more like as we ask questions we write them down? Personally, I think writing out the structure of what I want to ask before delving into the clarifying questions makes more sense, but just wanted to double check - thanks!

Oct 10, 2011 - 5:21am

Case Practice Besides Case in Point (Originally Posted: 04/12/2012)

Are there any suggestions on how to prepare for case study interviews aside from Case in Point? Other resources, books, etc.

Thanks!

Oct 10, 2011 - 5:22am

CIP is probably the only "book" you need. I also used the free materials from caseinterview.com. These two things combined should be more than enough to understand how to approach cases.

In terms of practicing, there are literally dozens of casebooks out there. Just do a google search for a [business school name] casebook ("wharton casebook") and you'll find dozens out there that are great to practice live with a friend.

Oct 10, 2011 - 5:27am

I've recently discussed with my colleague BAs (from MBB; B to more precise :) which resources they have used, and which ones they found best. Frankly, all said Case Interview Secrets or Case Interview Success; I must agree that CIP is overrated. It seems to me that a few years ago there weren't that many good books on case interview preparation; and then CIP must have been the best one (over the horrible Wetfeet books).. nowadays however with Case Interview Secrets, case interview success, and how to get into the top consulting firms.. there are much better books available.

CIP is based on having too many frameworks for too many problems.. it just doesnt work like that.

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