The Perfect Hypothesis Opening Statement

What follows is a field report from a reader who just got a McKinsey offer, and my commentary on the perfect hypothesis opening statement.

Field Report:

I wanted to let you know that I received an offer from McKinsey as a non-MBA candidate. Thank you so much for all of your help throughout the process. There's no way I would have been as confident as I was in the final round interview, if I had not used your Look Over My Shoulder® Program.

I specifically remember answering a question by saying, "My hypothesis is that this is a costs problem, if revenues are rising while profits are dropping, so I want to look at X, Y, and Z.

"That being said, because I don't know the rate of the drop, this could still be a revenue problem, so I would also like to examine A, B, and C." (Asking for the rate itself would have been more efficient, but it wasn't an option in this context.)

This was the language that you recommended in Look Over My Shoulder®, and the interviewer cut me off and said, "perfect structure and excellent work on explaining your hypothesis."

That was the best 200 some dollars that I have ever spent, and I HIGHLY recommend that candidates download the audio files and listen to them over and over. I loaded them in my car, and listened to them almost every day for a month before the interview, and they became second nature.

One thing that I realized after getting an offer - you don't have to have a perfect performance to still pass. in fact, I would say that I did poorly in one of the cases, and made small math errors in each one.

Still, I think that my structure and ability to convince the interviewers that I was thinking in a problem-solving mindset was enough to overcome these mistakes.

If you could please add me to the mailing list of starting consultants, I would be very grateful.

My Commentary:

I sent a private email to congratulate this person on both the offer and the hard work that went into preparing for it.

For your benefit, let me highlight and expand on a few points he made in his email.

First, this candidate did a lot of preparation.  Assuming he spent an hour a day in the car, over 30 days, that's 30 hours of practice with just the Look Over My Shoulder® recordings alone.  This is in addition to any other preparation he might have done at home.

Most of the emails I get from people who got offers and used Look Over My Shoulder® to prepare went through the recordings on average five times... or 50 hours.

Seriously, I am not as smart as the people who are applying today (as some of you who have caught my math computation errors in prior emails can attest to).

So when I went through the interview process originally, I spent well over 100 hours preparing for case interviews -- spread out over an 18-month period (I got rejected the prior year by all the consulting firms for internships).

So the first key takeaway is that to "ace the case", no matter how smart you are, you still gotta prepare -- because everyone else that's applying is just as smart if not smarter.

The second point I'll mention is the importance of the hypothesis statement -- especially in final rounds and especially with partners.

You make a good hypothesis statement like the one above, and like the ones demonstrated in Look Over My Shoulder®, and you immediately signal to the interviewer that you know what you are doing.

If you observe the body language of the interviewer, you will immediately notice a shift in attitude.  If you could listen in on what the interviewer is thinking, the words you will most likely hear in her mind is... "How refreshing."

There really is a distinct McKinsey way of thinking such that when one McKinsey person sees this way of thinking in someone else (colleague, new hire, candidate), they instantly recognize.

And the remark made by the interviewer in saying, "perfect structure and excellent work on explaining your hypothesis" is reflective of the McKinsey interviewer recognizing someone of this caliber.

Because in general, most interviewers do not tell you in the middle of an interview that something you did was "perfect" or "excellent". That is an extremely strong statement to make, and reflective of what a good job this person did.

So what kind of person did the interviewer recognize?

The kind of person that can take a very ambiguous problem and just rip it apart into its core pieces, isolate the core issue, and do it remarkably efficiently (not to be confused with doing it in a rushed way, but rather doing it in a way that involves no unnecessary steps).

Finally, let me explain why McKinsey would hire someone who has excellent problem solving skills but perhaps made a mistake or two along the way -- just like I did in my first McKinsey final round in Los Angeles.

Because when you have strong analytical problem solving skills, the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that you can solve client problems day-in and day-out. Interviewers know this.

Keep in mind in most cases once you are a consultant, your clients will likely have 20 - 30 years more experience in their industry than you do. Yet they are still paying your employer $50k a month for your time.

Why is that?

Because the client may have more industry knowledge than you do, but the hope is you will have more analytical problem solving skills than they do -- and be able to find problems and opportunities that intuition alone will often miss.

Now let's look at the opposite scenario. So let's say a candidate doesn't use a strong hypothesis statement or perhaps didn't use even a weak hypothesis statement.

Instead, let's say the candidate got the right "answer" on a case, by asking questions in a very random, arbitrary fashion. And in the process of just guessing, the candidate accidentally stumbles on to the answer and just happened to get it right.

From an interviewer's point of view, the problem with this is it's not exactly a very repeatable process. So for that candidate who basically got lucky on that one particular case, how likely is it that they will be able to get the next 10 cases or next 30 client situations?

So let's pull all my points together into a single specific lesson.  As I explain in my video on "What Separates Candidates Who Get Offers from those who almost get offers," the difference between the two is not talent -- the difference is the consistency of their habits.

This is why the person above got a McKinsey offer despite making a few mistakes. It was very clear to the interviewer that he had extremely good, consistent and disciplined habits. That is what put him over the top.

Here's how this applies to you.

You too need to demonstrate good habits in your case interviews. And there are two ways to get good habits.

First, you can get familiar with and recognize the most common bad habits candidates very frequently make -- so you can avoid them yourself.

Second, you can emulate the habits of people who are using excellent habits by repeatedly listening to what they do and how they do it, and eventually you internalize it or make those skills "second nature" -- which frankly is the goal.

You can accomplish both via Look over My Shoulder® as the 13 interview recordings/transcripts on that program and my voice over commentary is really an archive of pretty much every good and bad habit you can possible have in a case interview -- with each point identified, explained and analyzed so you understand why something is right or wrong.

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2 comments… add one
  • Alex Sep 20, 2011, 7:24 pm

    How could the question still be a revenue problem if revenues are increasing and profits are decreasing? To me it seems like it must be a cost problem. The quote is below:

    “That being said, because I don’t know the rate of the drop, this could still be a revenue problem, so I would also like to examine A, B, and C.”

    Thanks!

  • Karine Sep 22, 2011, 12:22 pm

    Imagine the company is selling two different products A & B.
    By selling A it gets a high margin and for B a very low.
    Costs didn’t change. Revenues increased, but only because volume of sales increased.
    In fact, the company used to sell 70% of A and 30% of B, now it is the other way round. As the total sales have gone up, revenues have gone up, but not profits. It’s a product-mix problem.

    I guess this could be one possible answer. I hope it helps! 🙂

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