I received this email from a CaseInterview.com student that recently had a final round interview with BCG and got stuck on the questions in this round. What follows is this student’s story as well as my advice on how to regain confidence before their next case interview.

Student’s Story

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude and biggest thanks to all that you [do for] potential candidates. Thanks to your video as well as LOMS trainings, I was able to qualify into final rounds with BCG.

Yesterday I had the final round interview. Surprisingly, the last 2 interviews with partners were extremely difficult. I spent not more than 20 minutes solving all 5 cases during previous rounds, but during the final round the cases were out of the typical frameworks and I just lost. I could not solve them.

The first case was about mortgage banking and the case started with lots of prepared materials and slides. The interviewer asked, “Should we enter subprime credit segment,” and “what are the ways we can reduce the risk of getting payments late?” The trick was that bad debt was not an issue, rather the data was showing that the percentage of customers paying 3+ late was about 28% percent. I got stuck on finding the ways to reduce that risk. I could not even choose which framework to use. I tried Customer, Product, Competitors and Company. Could not get through… I remembered your words, “segment, segment, segment.” Did that as well, but again unsuccessful. I felt so bad, and I lost confidence in myself.

The second case was about reducing the cost of raw material. Again I could not solve.

Perhaps I was sooo anxious that my brain got stuck…

In feedback sessions from previous rounds, my interviewer mentioned that I got the highest scores for structuring and solving the case and told me that she is 80% confident that I will pass the finals. I am wondering now, how could I excel in all previous rounds, solve more than 20 cases, practice, practice, practice with LOMS and know all the frameworks and then fail… I have not got the answer yet, But I am 99% sure that I will be rejected by BCG

Previously I passed the 1st round with Bain, and could not get though to the final round because I did not segment. I learned from my mistake and was so successful with BCG interview questions. Passed up to 6 cases and then at the final… such a shame. 

In 2 weeks, I will have my interviews with McKinsey. That is my last chance. I do not know how to return to my previous confidence level. I am so afraid now that I lost any confidence that I can ever become a consultant. I could solve any case, but now do not know will I be able to solve even a single case…

My Reply:

Sounds like you’ve been having a rough time. I can tell you that given how far you’ve come so far, you’re more than capable of  working at any of the Top 3 firms.

The mistakes you’ve made along the way are fixable (more on that in a second) and not structural. If you have structural problems, you never would have made it past Round 1.

Also, you are very close to having all the pieces together. Even though you may feel like you’re missing the mark by 80%, you’re actually off by about 12%.

Now let’s talk about your BCG interview questions, and how to fix the last 12% or so.

For your bad debt case…

1) What was your hypothesis?

2) What factors did you need to test your hypothesis?

The mistake you made was you were trying to “force” a “standard” framework for a problem where the standard frameworks don’t work. What you needed to do instead is state a hypothesis and consider what is needed to test that hypothesis.  Often segmentation is involved in testing the hypothesis.

In structuring unusual problems that don’t neatly fit into a standard framework, the tools you need to re-master are:

  • the issue tree
  • using a MECE approach to structure your issue tree
  • never forgetting to have and then test a hypothesis

For example, instead of coming up with all the ways you can think of to reduce delinquency risk, you want to think of the categories of risks that contribute to late payments, and then you want to make sure your categories are MECE… and then you let your hypothesis help you prioritize where you focus.

My guess is you didn’t have a hypothesis… panicked a little and forgot to think about what you needed to test the hypothesis.

A framework is nothing more than a frequently used issue tree. But, it’s the issue tree approach that is actually the underlying skill you want to master.

That being said, the McKinsey interview is much more pre-structured than BCG and Bain… and is in many ways much easier.  Be sure to listen to Cases 6 – 8 in LOMS for the McKinsey format. The key things in McKinsey that differentiate candidates are the upfront structuring and the synthesis.

I suggest practicing your issue tree structuring.

Here are a couple of unusual cases to structure:

1) For dinner, should we eat Mexican Food or Indian Food?  (What is your hypothesis? What are the components of your issue tree? Is your issue tree somewhat MECE?)

2) Should you vacation in Hawaii or in New York City?

Finally, try to avoid thinking of McKinsey as your last chance. It’ll just make you nervous. If McKinsey doesn’t work out, you can always reapply later, there are other firms, there are many, many options.