Bain Written Case Interview Format and Prep

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Success Story:

Thanks so much for your advice and for the LOMS. I got an offer from Bain [Western Europe] today, so am really happy and want to thank you for all your hard work.

The written case study was a pack of info (financial reports, competitor data, customer information, press cuttings, management's statement) which was about 40 pages long, and there was a series of slides to fill in with certain information - such as reasons why profits are declining, etc.

There was quite a bit of math to be done as well.

It is extremely time pressured - but I don't think we were expected to finish the whole exercise - it is meant to be highly interactive, so you do some of the working as you go along and discuss the info in the pack.

I think the most useful preparation I did personally was really polishing my math skills - the interview demands a lot of 'off the cuff' calculations - percentages, long division, etc.

Another technique I used to prepare was reading articles in the FT, Economist, etc. - then summarising the three key points or 'takeaways' from the articles - to get really good at scanning info and pulling out the most important factors.

I think one of the main things they are testing is your ability to think on your feet, to be calm and not to panic in a high pressure situation, and to be concise and logical in your arguments and analysis.

My Comments:

Congratulations on your  job offer following your bain interview.  I'm glad my tips and LOMS were helpful in your case interview preparation.

Also, thanks for sharing details on the Bain written case interview format -- it is quite interesting.

It is simultaneously much more structured (and thus easier), in that you have fill in the blank slides to prepare.

At the same time, the information presented is in a more ambiguous form (not all information is needed to answer any one question), so in that respect it is harder.

What I find interesting about the math emphasis is that it very much does reflect the on-the-job experience. As consultants, we're always doing "off the cuff" or "back of the envelope" math in a few seconds to figure out if a particular idea is even worth spending more time pursuing.

It sounds like Bain has used this format to specifically test for this skill.

I also recommend practicing math as well - percentages (such as profit margins, market share), division, and multiplication of large numbers (X% market share x $Y billion market = what kind of sales?)

For the synthesis aspect of the case, this too reflects a skill commonly used on a daily basis in consulting. That is the ability to continually ask "What is most important here?"

In fact, I was just doing a client interview about an hour ago in which I was asking myself that exact question, and had formed a hypothesis that I will now be testing through other means.

Not only what is important, but what is most important.

That subtle distinction is a tough one for many people to grasp.

For example, as I write this, Borders is about to file for bankruptcy.  What was most important in the company's demise?  Knowing little about the company, I would say:

1) massive overhead fixed costs

2) cannibalization of sales from physical books to ebooks (just enough canibalization to eat away the profit margin, with sales no longer able to cover high fixed costs)

3) no ebook offering (to benefit from the cannibalization)

I got all of that out of a Wall Street Journal article -- though the article did not lay out the key issues as concisely as I did.  So this is a demonstration of the precise practice approach mentioned earlier, and is something I have suggested to others on prior occasions.

This is great way to practice synthesizing qualitative data -- such as data gleaned from a news magazine.

For more practice on this kind of synthesis based on quantitative data, see Look Over My Shoulder®, which has many hours of samples of synthesis being done at various levels of quality.

Also, LOMS is helpful for improving the logic in one's analysis and arguments -- whether it is conveyed verbally on in writing.

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