The Benefits of Case Interview Prep

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Email:

I just wanted to write you a brief note to thank you for all the useful tools you've provided me with in my search for a consulting career.

Thanks to you, I've recently accepted an offer at A.T. Kearney Europe, and I couldn't have done it without your help. I would specifically like to point to the simple and easy structure you laid out in your case frameworks as being extremely helpful.

After working through case material from other sources, your business situation framework stood out as one that was much easier to implement and remember during stressful case interviews.

In the end, I truly believe that the way you taught me to structure my problem solving was the determining factor in getting the offer.

I also utilized the LOMS program in my preparations, along with practicing live cases with friends.

Both were extremely helpful and it allowed me to utilize all the lessons learned in the LOMS program in real life situations.

Coming from a non-MBA background with no business experience, it became vital for my confidence to go through the LOMS program about 5-6 times, along with conducting around 40 live interviews, which was also something you encouraged.

Again, thank you for all the help and daily emails. I always took the time to read them throughout my interview process, and there was always something useful to pick up.

I also wanted to express my interest in the idea of a teleseminar. Especially coming from a non-MBA background I know you would have many valuable lessons to offer, as I would like to start preparing for my first work day, but I'm currently a little lost as to where to start in terms of what to read up on.

Any help would therefore be greatly appreciated.

 

My Reply:

Congratulations on your offer and thank you for your kind note. I am glad your preparation efforts have paid off.

For the benefit of others who will read this, I want to point out a few specific things you did that I think others could learn from.

Clearly you put in an enormous investment of time to prepare for these interviews.  Consulting is a very competitive field, with most firms receiving tens of thousands of applicants each year.

Regardless of one's natural intellect and career qualifications, I continue to be amazed by the number of emails I receive from people who put in only one or two days of preparation, got rejected and are surprised by the outcome.

To be fair, many of these people did not know about the consulting field and did not realize that preparation was necessary until a day or two before the interview.  This we can legitimately chalk about to unfortunate circumstances.

Others knew they needed to prepare, had ample time to prepare, but thought they would wait until they got the interview before doing so. The problem with this approach is you often only get 3 - 5 days notice between when you find out you have an interview and when you are expected to show up for it.

Unless you are brilliant, this is really hard to do. And I have met many people in this category who really are that brilliant. For the rest of us (myself included), it takes more time.

More commonly, someone very, very smart will prep for 3 - 5 days, and just barely pass the first round.  Then they realize that have a legitimate shot at the job, and focus really intently the next few weeks on preparation.  I have seen this happen quite a few times. But, I have also seen many where 2-3 days prep time just was not enough.

For this kind of candidate that was not burdened by unfortunate circumstances, had ample time to prepare, but chose not to prepare for a variety of reasons.

Now compare the likely performance of someone like this vs. you --- you spent the time to study my Case Interview Secrets videos (10+ hours), you went through Look Over My Shoulder® 5 - 6 times (60 hours), and you did 40 live practice interviews with a practice partner (40+ hours if someone gave you interviews, 80+ hours if you had to reciprocate and give them one too).

This is over and above the time you spent reading my emails (est. 10 hours).

So if you look at the total prep time you put in, I would guess it was somewhere between 120 hours on the low end and upwards of 160 hours on the high end.

Now if you are competing against someone with similar qualifications, and similar skills, consider the following: You put in 120 - 160 hours of preparation, and the person you compete against puts in five hours. Who is more likely to get the offer?

Common sense suggests all else being equal, the person who prepares 25 - 30 times more will have a major advantage.

This is not some super insider secret. It is just common sense. But common sense is rarely common practice.

I want to elaborate on this topic in a moment, but let me elaborate on something you mentioned. I believe that best practice is to use LOMS five times, and to start doing live practice interviews after going through LOMS one time.

It sounds like you followed this guidance from me, but I know a lot of people do not (or in some cases, do not know anyone who can practice live cases with them, so they "can not" follow this suggestion).

Let me elaborate further on why I make these recommendations.

Case Interview Secrets gives you the conceptual understanding of what you are supposed to be doing in a case. LOMS allows you to see these concepts in use in a real world setting. It allows you a role model to either emulate or to avoid.

So by following the best practice examples, you have something to emulate.

By studying the performance of candidates in LOMS who did not do well, you learn what to avoid doing.  This is very similar to why some of the pilots with the highest safety track record routinely study every airplane crash documentedin the world each month.  There is an entire magazine in the air transport field that reproduces the crash investigator's report for each crash.

A few of my friends are pilots, and they read this magazine religiously - every page, every month -- because their lives very much depend on knowing what to avoid doing.

One of the recurring themes in these crash investigations is that rarely does one mistake cause an airplane crash. Most often it is a series of mistakes -- three or four in a row -- that leads to the big crash.

(By the way, one of those is often distraction, one of the others is often unusual circumstances like unusual weather, and then one or two "pilot errors" that, given those circumstances, causes a crash, but given regular circumstances would not.)

LOMS plays a similar role (though clearly lives are not at stake, but perhaps livelihoods might be) and is the reason why I encourage both "failure" as much as "success" in terms of case interview examples.

The value of live practice is to get a chance to use what you've absorbed from LOMS under pressure and stress of a real world situation.  This is why pilots are required to fly a certain number of hours to get or maintain their qualifications.

The downside of practicing live interviews without LOMS is the lack of an efficient way to pick up role model behaviors. It is like having an untrained pilot just get in the plane and fly more often to practice -- without understanding what behaviors to emulate or avoid.

Now in case interviews, it is possible to just use live practice cases to prepare. And I do get emails from people who do just this.  All the success story emails I received from people before LOMS came out fit in this category.

Since I prepared this way myself, it is my perspective that it just takes a lot more practice cases (in particular from a very experienced interviewer) to figure out what you can pick up from LOMS in a more efficient way.

LOMS is by far the most useful if you are new to cases. It is less useful if you've already done 50 practice cases with friends who are all current or former consultants.

My recommendation is: if you are starting from scratch, try to use both approaches.

Now let me circle back to something I mentioned earlier about comparing the performance of a candidate who prepares for 120 - 160 hours vs. one that prepares for five hours.

Let me do so by sharing a story.

When I was at McKinsey, two things became very apparent to me about my colleagues.

1) It was impossible to be smarter than them.

2) It was impossible to work harder than them.

You could be as smart as them... you can work as hard as them... but it was just not possible to beat them in both.

Hence, the culture at McKinsey was very much that of being in a very high performing peer group -- kind of like the reason why top athletes love playing with other top athletes on the "All Star" team.

Now when you apply these two concepts to the interview process, here is what you will find.

In Round 1, it is possible that you are smarter than the other candidate. The quality of the Round 1 candidate pool has wider variability.

But, as you move from one round to the next, the average intellectual horsepower of the competing candidates increases.

So if you barely passed Round 1, it is unlikely you will pass Round 2 on your talent alone. The bar is moving and you will be surpassed by the bar, unless you out-prepare the competitors.

This leads me to my second point.

In Round 1, you certainly can out-work other candidates. A fair number of candidates have done little or no preparation work for the reasons stated previously.

But as you progress in rounds, a disproportionately high share of those who did not prepare get rejected, and the average prep time per candidate steadily increases from one round to the next.

This is my long way of saying that the "bar" or "standard of performance" continually rises from one round to the next.

Get used to it.

And in one of the topics I will cover in my teleseminar for new consultants, this moving performance standard continues until your first day at work, your third month at work, your first year at work, etc... (and pretty much never ends).

What I wanted to point out is your bias to prepare properly for the interview process will very much be equally useful on the job too.  Those who do well with clients spend more time preparing to do well with a new client.

The other useful trait I will mention is that I can very much tell you are very "coachable."  Being the opposite, "uncoachable," is sometimes a very big issue with very smart people -- some feel like they know everything and are unwilling to take suggestions.

I have clients in both categories. Those that are uncoachable do not last long with me. Those that are tend to lead their fields --- ending up in either the Inc 500 or having the fastest growth rate of any firm in their industry.

Being "uncoachable" is one of the leading reasons why some consultants never make it pass the first promotion.  It is not realistic to be perfect from Day 1.

The key is that those that are able to figure out their mistakes by getting feedback from others, and fixing those mistakes, improve their skills the fastest.

So the fact that you were able to take a little bit of guidance (from me) and run with it (all you) -- the latter being more important than the former -- indicates to me that you will likely do well on the job too.

So just keep that in mind and continue that practice as you head into and after your first day at work.

Additional tips for case interview preparation can be found here: http://www.caseinterview.com/case-interview-preparation

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