From Case Interview Mistakes to Bain Offer

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Question:

I wanted to thank you for your excellent resources.

I interviewed with a number of top firms, and despite feeling well prepared, I wasn't invited to the next round.

After much soul searching I discovered your website and watched your videos and downloaded LOMS.

I think that these resources played a large part in me securing an offer at Bain.

The first key insight that I got from your resources was the importance of understanding how consultants (the interviewers) think.

I come from a non business/science background, and one of the biggest mistakes I made in my earlier interviews with other big firms was assuming that consultants approached a problem the same way as I did.

Your advice on how consultants think was excellent. For example, prior to using your resources, I was using frameworks but I wasn't drawing them clearly on the page and walking the interviewer through them.

Similarly, if something seemed obvious, I wouldn't explain how I came to - I wrongly assumed that this wasn't necessary, and was not an efficient use of time.

And although I was doing it in my head, I wouldn't synthesise or state my hypothesis out loud.

The second key insight that I gained from you was just how much case interview practice was needed. I had thought doing 7 or 8 'live' cases was good practice.

Watching your videos changed my view on this for the better!

By the time of the Bain final round I think I would have done around 50 'live' practice cases with a partner and read through many many more by myself.

I think assuming you are using good frameworks (such as yours) then continuous practice really does make a huge difference.

 

My Reply:

Congratulations on your offer from Bain. It is a wonderful company.

Thank you for sharing your success with me, and for being so specific in the mistakes you corrected in your preparation process.

The mistakes you made early in your interviewing process (but eventually corrected) are noteworthy for three reasons that I'd like to point out for the benefit of others.

First, they are very common mistakes.

Interviewers are not mind readers (nor are clients for that matter!) so it is important to explain everything you are doing and why you are doing it.  Saying it out loud is a minimum. Visually drawing what you are doing is even better.

Second, the mistakes you made early on were very subtle. The difference between having a hypothesis and having a hypothesis and saying it out loud is very small.

The problem is the impact of this very "small" mistake has a disproportionately large impact on the outcome of your interview.

Third, the mistakes you made were very "fixable."

It is not like you did not have a hypothesis at all. You had one, but you didn't realize you needed to share it with others -- and perhaps lacked some knowledge on how to best communicate what you were thinking.

These are all just habits -- good or bad.  Over a long recruiting season, I personally feel that the quality of one's habits is what determines both the quality and the consistency of one's performance in interviews.

Anyone can have a good interview. It is much harder to have many interviews, back-to-back and have them all be good. To pull the latter off, good habits are essential.

One more point I will elaborate on that is equally subtle is the role of synthesis.  I received a comment from another reader who got an offer from BCG.

In her comments, she indicated that the big discovery she made from listening to the LOMS interviews is the usefulness of synthesizing throughout the entire case, and not just at the end.

That is a very subtle point, but that habit reduces the likelihood of making other mistakes that can creep into the process when that habit is not in place.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, and as you experienced personally, the line between getting an offer and almost getting an offer is extremely thin.

On the margin, very small behavioral differences have a very big impact.

What I originally struggled with initially is figuring out how to teach these very subtle differences.

Early in your recruiting process you knew you needed to have a hypothesis (and you did). You also knew you needed to synthesize (and you did... but not out loud).

So clearly you knew what to do, but you were missing some of the nuanced details in mastering those specific facets of the interview.

I found it difficult to teach these subtle points. Rather than just teaching these points via a powerpoint slide, I opted to show these habits via real life demonstrations.

Hence the inspiration behind the Look Over My Shoulder® program.

As you know, Look Over My Shoulder® (LOMS) contains recordings of interviews with 13 different candidates -- with many candidates tackling the same case.

I did this deliberately so that listeners could hear the difference between a poor, okay, and excellent candidate performance.

The idea is that one could observe the subtle differences between the various levels of performance and internalize these good habits for use in one's own interviews.

When I did the original LOMS interviews, I actually interviewed around 20 candidates.  I carefully edited the recordings down to a set of interviews that I felt accurately convey real-life examples of the most common mistakes made by candidates.

My goal was to create a comprehensive catalog of the most common mistakes made in case interviews, demonstrate what they sound like in a real world setting (so you can learn to recognize them), and then immediately contrast that case performance with a best practice one -- also in a real world context.

My hope was the immediate contrast would bring out the differences in habits -- making it much easier for an aspiring consultant to finally "get it" and internalize the good habits for use in their own interviews.

It is one thing to know what to do, it is another thing entirely to actually be able to do it in a real world context and do it properly.

The mistakes I sought to catalog in LOMS were the same mistakes I saw in the candidates that I ended up rejecting when I was a case interviewer at McKinsey.

Also every mistake that you made in your early interviews -- the silent hypothesis, the silent synthesis, assuming something is obvious -- were all mistakes made by several of the candidates in LOMS.

In other words, your early mistakes were very much predictable mistakes.

This may come as a surprise to many, but in practice there are only so many ways to screw up a case interview.

When a candidate doesn't pass a case interview, 90% of the time it is for the same dozen or so reasons... extremely predictable.

The upside of this predictability is that these mistakes are often very easy to fix.

I mean the difference between synthesizing a case silently in your head versus out loud is not exactly a massive shift -- but it does make a difference in your perceived performance.

Finally, I am glad you pointed out how much you practiced. I think practice is very important because it allows you to integrate several habits simultaneously while under a slightly stressful situation.

If all you have to do is remember to synthesize out loud, that is not that difficult.

But if you have to remember to synthesize out loud (and fight the inclination to do it silently) while also remembering to draw your issue tree, while doing math with large numbers, while taking notes, while refining your hypothesis (which of course you need to do out loud), while learning about a new industry that you are unfamiliar with all at the same time, it is a lot harder.

The role of live practice is to pull together all the little things that in isolation are easy to do (once you are familiar with them and have some role models such as LOMS to benchmark yourself against) and force yourself to do all of them simultaneously.

This process may sound daunting, and in one's first few cases it is difficult.

But by your 50th case, many of the little things become automatic and routine. Suddenly you automatically synthesize out loud and it now feels awkward to synthesize silently.

You want to strive to have as many of the case interview skills to be automatic and routine. The reason for this is that every case is different.

So even with mastering all these little habits and handling the routine aspects of the case automatically, you will still have to think during each case -- figuring out what makes this case different than ones you've seen before.

If your brain power is being devoted to remembering to do little things (synthesize out loud, draw the issue tree diagram so the interviewer can see it, etc..) then it reduces the amount of brain power capacity available to critically think about the unique aspects of the case.

When you are distracted, you are more likely to make mistakes, miss something important in the case, or make a computation error.

So the idea is to automate the routine aspects of the case interview via practice, so you can use the majority of your mental capacity to work on the unique aspects of the case.

Thanks again for sharing your process (and frankly, your struggles).  I know many of my readers benefit from knowing both sides of the story.

I find it quite interesting that many of the success stories that have come in the last few days started with some degree of struggle and adversity that was ultimately overcome in the end.

It just goes to show that case interview masters are not born that way. They are made that way through an awful lot of preparation and practice.

Whether your practice on your own, using Look Over My Shoulder®, with a practice partner or some combination of the above, get as much practice as you can -- any way you can.

It makes a big difference.

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