Why Did I Get Dinged?

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Question:

Thanks for all your help and guidance. I have seen your videos nearly 4 times now, and it was of great help for my case prep. However, I was dropped after Round 2 APD interviews. I have 2 questions that I would like you to shed some light on:

1.    The feedback I got from the interviewers after Round 2 was that "I did great overall, but its just that the bar was set too high and so I didn't make it. I'm a PhD candidate from a non-brand name school. What does this mean? I personally thought all my interviews went great - I was confident that I will get to the final round, but this outcome was devastating

2.    The interviewers also urged me to prepare and reapply next year - they said a lot of APDs get called when the re-apply. What is your experience about applying for a second time?

My Reply:

Let me try to interpret the feedback you received in Round 2. Basically, you didn't make any glaring mistakes but someone else did a better job on the cases.

I've found that CVs, resumes, and test scores are used extensively to determine if you get an interview. But once you get an interview, it is very much about how you perform on the case and your potential client handling skills.

So my best guess is your academic background was most likely not the deal breaker. It must have either been how your come across from a client management standpoint or case performance. The two most common reasons for a candidate to do well... but not well enough... are missing a subtle aspect of a case (that other candidates pick up on and analyzed) or to start off a case well in its structuring, but as you dive deep into one branch of the analysis missing something.

Frameworks are very useful early in a case to structure a problem. Most cases start off in a very linear fashion. As a case progresses, sometimes a new issue emerges that was not obvious at the outset of the case. And sometimes the issue does not happen to fit the framework used to start the case.

In this situation, you may actually need to deviate from the framework to really get at the heart of what is wrong with a client situation. This subtlety is something that some candidates miss.

So for example, one might start with a business situation framework and uncover something unusual going on with supply vs. demand. Rather than mechanically going through the rest of the business situation framework, in this particular example you would switch temporarily to a supply/demand framework to isolate the key issue... and then perhaps transition back to the business situation framework.

When I first started practicing how to do cases as an interviewee, I got really good at mechanically using the frameworks. After case interview 30 or 40, I found that I had internalized the frameworks to an extent where I was using them somewhat unconsciously and no longer doing it mechanically.

At that point in my skill development, I started doing something that I can only describe as being very fluid, creative in my problem solving process.. mixing and matching frameworks on the fly... sometimes inventing a framework on the spot for a case.

In short, I got good enough to recognize the limitations of a particular framework and was able to switch approaches in midstream.

I have no idea how I got to be good at this... it just sort of happened. And because I don't know how I did it, I don't know how to teach others to do the same. As a result, my videos did not really mention this more advanced topic as it's not especially actionable for you or others.

My suspicion is that APD candidates that re-interview in a subsequent year get better at the more subtle aspects of the case. In addition, my guess is these candidates also learn more about the business world during this time... which probably contributes a bit to being able to handle the more subtle aspects of a case.

The final possibility that comes to mind is that you flat out blew a case and didn't realize it. In general, most interviewers (of any type) are reluctant to be 100% candid with you. Call it a desire to avoid a confrontation or something along those lines.

So its possible you just made a mistake somewhere, didn't realize it, and other candidates didn't make the mistake.

Any case, hope this helps a little bit. If it's any consolation to you, I pretty much got offers from every consulting firm I applied to but one. The one I didn't get was BCG and I never made it past Round #1.

To this day, I still have no idea why. I too thought I got the case exactly right. But sometimes stuff just happens. Try to not get too discouraged and if you like this kind of work keep trying - other firms, other recruiting cycles, etc...

Also I originally thought I wanted to be an investment banker. I went to Wall Street "Summer Camp" where I was 12 year old to learn about Wall Street... but I could not get past round 1 at ANY investment bank. 100% "rejection" rate in the first round.

That was many years ago... and at the time I was disappointed, but in hindsight everything worked out for the best and it wasn't a big deal (though it definitely didn't feel like it at the time).

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