Why Is Victor Cheng So Damn Picky?

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Question:

I would like to do three things:

a) Express my appreciation and gratitude for your resources and help,

b) Describe the interview format I encountered at McKinsey to help prepare other applicants,

c) Ask you about your professional opinion on two competing offers (McKinsey vs. Google).

--
a) Thanking you

Thanks to your frameworks and the very detailed hints, tricks and feedback in the LOMS program, I was able to achieve a 100% success rate in my interviews with consulting companies (all based in Vienna, Austria).

Needless to say, all of the materials you provided were incredibly helpful in learning how to succeed in case interviews. What surprised me most, though, was the following:

When listening to your interviews, I felt Victor Cheng was a bit too picky and paying a little too much attention to minor details. In the end, most interviewers really weren't as "strict" and as picky as you.

However, because I had practiced cases with the "strict and picky" Victor Cheng, who paid so much attention to detail, I did so well.

And in my feedback sessions with the interviewers, I learned that it was exactly those little things (i.e. thinking out loud, quantitative vs. qualitative thinking, top-down approach when expressing recommendations, etc...) that madethe difference at the end of the day, and even made me get away with anxiety mistakes when calculating.

I want to thank you not only for making the extra effort to push your "students" to perfection, but also:

- for offering your website in exchange for supporting a good cause,

- for having taken the time to create the best case interview learning tool there is out there for a more than reasonable price, and

- for sending out daily e-mails with incredibly useful tips.

I don't know if you are aware of this, but you are making a big difference in a lot of students' lives.

Once more, from the bottom of my heart - and I assume I am speaking for many others as well.

THANK YOU, VICTOR!

[Note: the other two parts of this person's email are covered separately at the following links:

McKinsey Interview Format:  http://www.caseinterview.com/mckinsey-interview-format/

Google vs. Mckinsey Offers:  http://www.caseinterview.com/google-vs-mckinsey-offers/  ]

Once more, Victor, thank you very much for all your great help and time!

My Reply:

LOL, your three-point opening to your email has a very familiar ring to it. 🙂

Congratulations on your McKinsey offer and your 100% perfect record on case interviews.

I'm glad Look Over My Shoulder® and other case interview preparation resources were helpful in the process.

And thank you for your very generous words. I appreciate your appreciation.

I'm glad my being picky ultimately ended up being useful to you.  I thought I would take this opportunity to explain why I'm so picky about these things.

Like many things I do, I usually have a pretty good reason -- though I do sometimes forget to share the reasons.

In fact, would you be surprised to learn that have Three Reasons Why I'm so picky and why I think others should be too? 🙂

(If you don't get the "inside" joke, study my emails or videos more closely... it's a very important point.)

Reason #1:

Consulting is extremely competitive -- and it's the small stuff that differentiates you.

It is easy to forget that you are not just competing against an absolute standard of performance, but a relative one as well.

It's my perspective that anyone who makes it to final round (even if they don't get the offer) can very easily do the job.

In fact, most people who make it to second round (even if they don't progress to final round) can often do the job as well.

So the first reason for being picky is not because it is necessary to solve the case, but because it is helpful in convincing the interviewer to pick you instead of the other person.

If a small office wants to hire five people this year, and they are interviewing 15 in final round, do the math and you realize ten people aren't getting offers.

It's the little stuff that gets you into the "five group", even though all 15 could frankly do the job.

Reason #2:

The consulting firms really, really value these skills in their consultants.

In fact, it's the picky stuff they spend the first two years teaching you at McKinsey after you get the offer.

Every feedback session I had at McKinsey involved feedback on all kinds of picky stuff. What words to use, what order to use them in, how to lead a meeting, how to say something in a different way to a client, swap the second half of the sentence with the first half, etc.. the "picky" stuff I emphasize in the case interview is a subset of all the stuff that was drilled into my head at McKinsey as a working consultant.

What is interesting is in my feedback meetings, I can't remember a single piece of feedback I received on my analysis, computations or models. Not once did I ever have a manager, colleague or partner tell me to do my analysis differently.

It was always these picky things. So my conclusion is the consultant firms place extremely high value on these skills. And to further support this, I have... you guessed it... three sub-reasons.

a) If these skills were not valued, then they wouldn't spend your first two years drilling them into your head...

b) If they like the consultants to have these skills, it suggests they would value these same skills in candidates.

c) The reason this stuff is valued is because it works with clients... and the golden rule is: if something works with clients, then it is something interviewers will instinctively value in candidates (in large part because that person interviewing you just got done with a feedback meeting with a first year who is requiring coaching on all these picky things that you just demonstrated in the interview!)

Reason #3:

Okay, I don't really have a third reason... but I feel enormous pressure to come up with one even if I don't!  Good habits die hard.

On second thought, I just came up with a half-baked (ahem, I mean reasonable) third reason.

Many of the picky things I mentioned are communication-oriented. Part of the value in doing much of this is for your own benefit, not just to impress interviewers or to be client-friendly.

For example, when you are forced to state your logic out loud, it forces you to think more logically. If you know you must synthesize to close the case with three key support facts, because that's just what you do, then during the case you start thinking about if the current analysis is one of those three key points.

Your words reveal your thinking. How you think is revealed by your words. Be disciplined in one, and the other follows.

Closing

So to summarize, I am picky about certain aspect of cases for three simple reasons:

1) It's an easy way to achieve stand out in a very competitive field;

2) Consulting firms value these skills in their consultants, so it makes sense they would value it in their candidates;

3) The disciplined picky stuff helps you think more logically, avoid getting lost in your own work, and forces you to be more focused.

Since we are on the topic of being picky, I thought I would mention that the best place to see this pickiness in action is in the Look Over My Shoulder® program.

In it, there are recordings of me interviewing a dozen different candidates with several candidates given the same case. This allows you to see what a "bad," "good," and "great" answer to the same question sounds like.

One important attribute of LOMS is that rather than provide commentary on a candidate's performance at the end of the case (which I did do and you can hear for yourself), I went back through the recordings and edited into the recordings close to 150 specific commentary points as they happened in real time.

I am guessing this is where my reputation for being picky comes from, because I literally parse specific sentences, phrases, and choice of vocabulary.

If the conclusion was logically correct, but the choice of words could be interpreted in two different ways, I made the candidate re-do the close of the case over and over again until he or she got it exactly right.

And if they re-did a certain part of the case and got it 95% right, I still made them re-do it to get it 100% right. Why bother?

Because as the story above illustrates, often it is that last 5% difference that separates you from the person who got to final round but didn't get the offer. The margin for success in recruiting can sometimes be quite small.

It is for these exact same reasons that I strongly encourage LOMS members to listen to the program in a very specific way for best results:

1) First time through, hit the "pause" button a lot, and try to say out loud what you think the candidate should be saying.. then see if you were right.
It is very, very, very important to get used to the communication aspects of the case, and you do not master that aspect without actually saying the words out loud.

2) After the first time through, go through the program at least four more times (the subsequent times can be a little more passive, such as listening while driving around town, working out, etc...).

The key is to get so accustomed to the habits (a.k.a "picky stuff") that it is easier to just do the picky stuff than to forget it.

A few people go through the program as many as 20 times... and trust me, if you go through it that many times, the stuff becomes second nature to you.

I know I make these two recommendations to every LOMS member, and I also know a surprising number of people ignore this advice because it seems unnecessary or even silly. But what can I say, it is what works the best.

One negative comment I get about LOMS from time to time is that compared to Case Interview Secrets, there aren't any new concepts, and therefore LOMS shouldn't be considered all that useful.

And these comments would be correct if a case interview consisted of a test asking you to name all the steps of a case interview.

But, case interviews are not a conceptual knowledge test. They are an applied knowledge and skills test.

It is not important what you know (which is what Case Interview Secrets tells you), it is important what you are actually able to do (under stress, I might add).
That is the role of LOMS, preferably paired with live practice with a partner.

You will notice both in this success story and in the LOMS recordings that the key habits emphasized are subtle... seemingly not that important, but in aggregate they really are important.

It turns out the little stuff matters a lot. And it is hard to just give a PowerPoint and say, "Don't forget X, Y and Z..." guess what everyone does immediately after that PowerPoint?

That's right, they immediately go out and forget X, Y and Z!

Keep in mind, every person who I interviewed in LOMS was required to go through the Case Interview Secrets videos -- every last one.

For those who have LOMS, notice in the "bad" performance recordings the shockingly wide gap between knowledge and practice.  Every candidate had the exact same knowledge about case interviews, and yet actual case performance varied quite a bit.

That's because a real life case interview is a lot harder than just remembering what to do... you have to actually apply what you know to the specific situation you are presented with.

Oftentimes, the situation you are presented with has some aspect to it that you have never seen before.

Unless you have really mastered the "picky stuff," you are susceptible to being caught off guard by the unique aspects of a particular case, and end up spending all of your mental energy just trying to do the basics.

Meanwhile, someone who has mastered the "picky stuff" can just do those aspects of the case on complete auto-pilot while using their mind to solve the more unusual aspects of the case that really require you to think very critically about what to do next.

This is how people can be creative in a case... they have the basics on auto-pilot so they have time to think more creatively.

In addition, there are always unexpected surprises in a case. Some new twist or an interviewer challenging you on some part of the case, etc... if your brain is working at 110% just to do the basics, once you get something a little unexpected, you get totally thrown off and can't recover.

Conversely, if you have mastered the so-called "picky" stuff in a case by picking up on it via LOMS, then instead of working at 110% to just do the basics, your brain works at say 30%.

In this scenario, when you are presented with something unexpected, you still have 70% capacity to handle that unusual twist to the case... and you are far less likely to get overwhelmed in a situation like this.

And ultimately, that's one of the reasons why I'm so damn picky about these things. 🙂

To hear my pickiness first hand, I refer you to LOMS.

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