Cracked a Case But Got Rejected Anyways

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Question:

I received 2 interviews with a case in each and I cracked both.

Case 1 was a straight profits decline case and I found the cause and came up with recommendations to solve this in a structured logical MECE way.

Case 2 was regarding to move a plant to Latin America and I calculated correctly the reduction in costs and came with the conclusion to move the plant because of this reduction however I mentioned it's more than the financials, one needs to take into account some risk such as sovereign risk, reputation risk, etc.

I cracked the cases but felt the fit was not there with the people. I got rejected to my big surprise because they felt I should mention more risks, show more business sense.

Response:

Unfortunately, there isn't enough information provided to give an accurate sense of what you did wrong. I'll take some guesses here, but without knowing the specifics my guidance could be way off.

First, even though you think you cracked the case, based on the information you provided on Case #2 I don't think you did. You probably cracked A case, but you may not have cracked the RIGHT case.

In moving a factory, costs is but one component of such a decision. It seems you jumped right into the cost analysis and figured out the cost aspect. If this were a real consulting engagement and I were managing a case team, I'd only assign one consultant to look at costs--the others would be around other issues, some of which you mentioned.

Unless the interviewer specifically asked you about whether this was a good idea or not from a purely cost perspective, it is much safer to assume they're asking you whether this is a good idea or not holistically -- e.g., in the big picture.

I probably would have opened such with my standard business framework regarding customers, competitors, etc... understand the business overall, and then figure out the specific factory location decision. I would also anticipate that the interviewer might not want to start so general, and guide me to a specific cost analysis. It's hard to say without knowing more.

It's possible the "right answer" is the move of location would reduce product quality and the company's strategy is about superior quality to consumers... because perhaps there has been a major shift in market demand in that direction. So even if product costs would be less, this might be a bad move because of this major shift in demand.

BUT, if your case approach did not start off holistically, you might not have ever picked up on this key insight.

My general rule of thumb on case approaches is:

1) Start broad, big picture

2) Drill down to a specific, more narrowly focused area, based on a) data uncovered that clearly points in this direction, or b) the interviewer says to focus on one area in particular.

Remember, many case studies interview questions are generated from REAL client situations (usually client names not disclosed or disguised). The interviewer and his/her colleagues spent 2 - 6 months figure all this stuff out, so assuming you were not a total jerk or the fit was way, way off... my best guess is that you solved the wrong case.

Another interviewing technique is to simply ask the interviewer for guidance. I've used the following on a few occasions,

"It sounds like the client is contemplating relocating a factory due to concerns about production costs. I can think of one of two approaches for this. First, it would be useful to understand the business overall - its customers, competitive landscape, etc... to determine if such a move would make sense strategically. If that work has already been done, and it's purely just a cost savings analysis situation, we could analyze just the cost savings of such a move and assume everything else is not an issue. Do we have any information as to which direction might make more sense in this situation?"

If I was an interviewer and had someone say this to me, 1) I give credit to the person for thinking big picture, 2) if I really intended this as a cost analysis or industry demand curve / supply curve / industry capacity type case, I could guide the candidate in that direction and spend the interview mapping on demand curves, supply curves, or fixed/variable cost analyses, etc... 3) If I had a big picture case in mind, I would give the candidate credit for being responsive to the client's concerns about costs, but nudge the candidate in the direction of a strategic analysis.

Keep in mind. Often a client will be concerned about something, but in the course of our work we'll discover the client is concerned about the wrong thing. My rule of thumb is that anything that could happen in real life, on-the-job, is fair game in an interview.

So my best guess on case #2 is that you did not clearly understand or did not verify you understanding of the actual case question. Again, I could be wrong on this one since the information provided is so limited, but that would be my guess based on what has been communicated so far.

Follow Up Response From Candidate:

Thank you so much for the clarification and the many hints/tips. I think you are totally right, I cracked the wrong case and came across as focussing on a very small part of the problem (costs) despite mentioning risks.
Today I had a call with them and asked for additional feedback and then got basically the confirmation of what your view was on the issue. You were totally right. Because I didn't start broad I indeed missed some points, however I do think when an interviewer really likes you he will guide you /give hints to make you say/think about it or be forgivable on some points.
They advised me always to mention the big picture and question it and make a hypothesis and exaggerate it like a driving test. Nevertheless, I realise it's my own mistake and should have performed better.
(Readers -  See this email from another reader stuck on a real case question.)

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