The Right Attitude for Case Interviews

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My success is really your success at case preparation. Here's how I prepared and what worked well for me.

Preparation:

- LOMS and McKinsey's Problem Solving Test for the case studies (four weeks).

Personally, I found the best case interviews [in LOMS] to be the most helpful.

I'd listen for a minute or two, press "pause," create my own issue tree, ask the questions out loud, then press "play" to see how close (or rather far off) I was from you.

Three or four days later, I would listen to them again. This time I just listened and practiced synthesizing.

- Solving the world's problems on the back of a cocktail napkin and math drills for the guesstimation questions (two weeks).

What worked:

- Giving it over to the Lord.

Trusting that He will be my protector and provider regardless of the outcome.

I can best equate this to your "consulting is not the end all, be all" message. Sure I wanted the job, but I wasn't going to force it. This understanding gave me confidence and peace during the interview process.

- Following the recipe.

When I met with the partner, he told me that good consultants (especially in the early years) are like chefs that stick to a recipe.

Your case prep is clearly a winning formula. If you ask clarifying questions, structure your thinking, be hypothesis-driven and synthesize, I'm supremely confident that anyone can get an offer.

- Doing my homework before I applied for the position.

There are a number of consulting firms out there, and they are not all the same. I applied to Accenture and Peppers & Rogers Group for two reasons: the customer relationship management service line and the culture.

Before interviewing, I was already convinced these companies were the right fit for me, my job was to convince them!

- Displaying good communications skills.

My first case interview was the weakest of the three cases. The interviewer mentioned that I was thinking at 10,000 feet vs. 30,000 feet, but then he followed up by saying that I have excellent communication skills.

Of course, it's the content that matters, but communication skills gave me an edge and ultimately the thumbs up.

- Being ambitious but humble.

This is just as true in life as it is in the interviewing process.

You have my deepest respect and gratitude. If you are ever in NY, I'd love to take you to dinner or coffee. It would be an honor.

Thanks again!

My Reply:

Congratulations on your success.

I am glad my case interview practice materials such as Look Over My Shoulder® were useful to you.

There are several things you've mentioned in your preparation process that I would like to emphasize for the benefit of others.

First is your attitude.  Consulting is definitely not the end all / be all. I know that I emphasize the importance of case interview preparation and practice. And through my own stories, you might pick up on the fact that I was pretty committed to working hard to get my offers.

But, it has occurred to me that some might misinterpret that work ethic as more than it is.

In particular, during the interview process I never spent much time thinking about "what if" I don't get a job or this particular job.

Friends of mine were really hit pretty hard by the pressure of it all (with all the pressure self-imposed) and it did negatively impact their interview performance.

So I really do believe the right attitude is to do everything in your power to prepare, and then allow whatever is meant to happen, to happen.

If you don't get any offers and you did everything possible to prepare, but it just wasn't good enough -- then consider the conclusion that you are not a good fit for consulting (and the flip side is you are probably a great fit for something else).

Also the more relaxed attitude allows you to perform at your best.

Numerous studies show that a small to moderate level of stress brings out the best in one's performance.

However, if you go over the moderate level to intense levels of stress, it degrades cognitive function, memory, mental speed, and numerous other things.

Worrying degrades performance, so do your best to not worry too much.

I know this seems like a contradiction, but let me explain why it is not.

Do worry about making sure you have good a preparation plan and are sticking to it. But once the interview starts, don't be emotionally wedded to the outcome.

Just enjoy the interview or see it as a change to meet someone smart, learn something new, etc...

Second, I also noticed how much homework you did on the firms you were considering.  This is a very smart thing to do that too few people spend time doing.

Getting to know the firms you are considering is smart for two reasons.

1) It comes through in the interview and impresses the interviewer.

2) Not every firm is appropriate for every person.

On the latter point, firms vary in the culture, mix of work, travel demands, and numerous other factors.

Early in the recruiting process, people are very concerned about having a good recruiting season.  Those that are a little more forward-looking are concerned about having a good career.

It is possible to recruit well, but not do well early in your career. The two are not the same.

Finally, I loved your comment about being "ambitious but humble." That's a very wise statement, and is even more true on-the-job than it is in the recruiting process itself.

FYI, the two most common "getting fired" mistakes new consultants make are:

1) carelessness in the technical work,

2) lack of humility with clients.

And the smarter one is, the less likely they are to make mistake #1, but the more likely they are to make mistake #2.

Also, thank you for the invite to coffee in New York City. I have added your invite to my travel file and hope to meet you the next time I am in NYC.

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