Marc Cosentino

Question About Marc Cosentino's Case in Point:

I had a question for you about your 4 frameworks versus the 11 frameworks from Marc Cosentino's Case In Point. Cosentino specifically mentions that using a case question framework like the "4 C's" or "5 P's" is looked down upon by interviewers; however, your business situation framework is very similar to these.

But in my opinion, compared to your frameworks, Marc Cosentino's case questions frameworks seem less logical and a bit more haphazard.

Given that plenty of people have had success using your case system, I'm inclined not to believe Cosentino when he says that a "4C" or "5P" framework is not a good idea. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this.

My Reply:

I'm not familiar with details of Marc Cosentino's case interview frameworks, so I can't comment on them specifically. Last time I glanced at his book, I did remember thinking 1) there were way too many frameworks (around a dozen or so if I recall correctly), 2) I don't recall using any of the frameworks on the job when I was at McKinsey, and 3) I didn't use any of the frameworks when interviewed and got my 7 job offers from McKinsey, Bain, Monitor (since acquired by Deloitte), LEK, Oliver Wyman (formerly Mercer), and AT Kearney

First, there is more than one way to be right.

Second, which framework isn't that important as long as it's an appropriate one. The big mistake in using frameworks is picking one that is totally irrelevant and trying to force fit the framework when common sense says it doesn't apply. For example, one common framework that MBA students use (because it's taught in business schools) is Michael Porter's Five Forces framework. It's a very useful tool for understanding industry dynamics and competitive issues.

It would be completely wrong to use five forces if the data suggests the customers hate the product you're currently selling and fundamentally doesn't want what you're selling. Trying to force an industry analysis into a situation where the qualitative data suggest that understanding customers would be more useful is a mistake. The five forces framework is not on my list of case interview frameworks - as it's only relevant some of the time.

If I gave a case to an applicant where the five forces framework would make sense to use, but they didn't use it... but addresses many of the relevant issues anyways, I wouldn't hold it against them. They got credit for noticing what was important given the data available, whether they used an industry standard label like "five forces" was not particularly relevant to me (because I could always teach them the terminology, but can not teach someone to be inherently  analytical or logical)

Third, my business situation framework is very similar to the 4C's... thought I always forget what the 4th C is. In my opinion as someone who went through the interview process successfully, had a great career at McKinsey as a consultant, and interviewed McKinsey applicants, most cases and consulting engagements involve issues with customers, competitors, and the client/company. (which I think  are 3 of the 4 "C's").

The thing to keep in mind is that from an interviewer's standpoint, the case interview is really not that important. The candidates ability to actually DO the consulting work on the job IS important. And in just about every consulting project I had at McKinsey, someone on the team was doing research and analysis on the customers, competitors, and the client's internal operations, capabilities, and team. In my 3 years there, I very easily spent 2.5 of those years on one of those 3 topics.

I personally am not a huge fan of the 5 P's - Product, Price, Place, Promotion (I have no idea what the 5th P is in this case) - which is the marketing framework I assume you're referring to as I think it over-simplifies the decisions needed to come up with a marketing strategy or plan. I don't know how much of that is just my personal preference vs. a broader dislike amongst interviewers. I can say I never used the framework on the job at McKinsey, but definitely spent 90% of my time as a consultant on either customer, competitor, or client operational issues. So maybe, I might agree a little on this point.

Fourth, while I am not familiar with Marc Cosentio's many frameworks, the point of disagreement I will have is that I think it's too many frameworks. Of the 4 frameworks I use, I really only use 2 of them (business situation and profitability) about 80% of the time I'm using a standard framework at all. It is very hard to remember a lot of case study frameworks... let alone master all of them.

Of the thousands of emails I receive from aspiring consultants, many comment that trying to memorize a large number of frameworks is overwhelming. You can see some of the comments here in the success stories section of this website.

As a former McKinsey case interviewer, the problem I see with too many frameworks or being wedded to any framework at all is this. A case interview is first and foremost a test of critical thinking... NOT memorization. Candidates that are overly framework focused or trying to memorize too many frameworks, get so caught up in trying to remember the framework, they forget to think critically during the interview. This is definitely not good.

When I interviewed, I used the two primary frameworks I mentioned earlier in probably 50 out of the 61 case interviews I had. The other cases were either really unusual where no standard framework worked, or were only of the estimation question variety.

Fifth, it's important to realize that while a standard framework is helpful for starting a case interview, it is only useful as start. The purpose of the framework is to start off comprehensively, until you stumble upon (a really appropriate word) some piece of data that prompts to formulate a more specific hypothesis.. and then to ask for data to test that hypothesis. At this point, I will generally stop using the framework (at least for the time being), explore that particular hypothesis, and if time permits or data suggest I return to the original framework, I might do so.

For example, I might start with a profit and loss framework. I might find that revenues have fallen, specifically a decline in # units sold (as opposed to declines in price points) causing profits to fall with them. At this point, we need to figure out WHY unit sales have fallen.  The Profit = Revenue - Costs framework does not answer this question.

In this particular example, I would look at unit sales for the company vs. the industry to test the hypothesis that the decline in unit sales is a client specific problem vs. an industry-wide problem. Then I might transition to the business situation framework, and if the issue were a client specific one... I would probably start with the customer analysis part of the framework first and then the company analysis. If the data points to an industry-wide problem, I would use the same business situation framework but start with the customer analysis first, and the competitor analysis 2nd.

So in practice, frameworks are used in a very flexible and fluid way. And it is quite common to end a case interview very differently than how you initial thought to start it. Again, this reflect real life consulting as well. How I'd approach a real client situation could be very different than how I end an engagement 6 months later.

Finally, I will say that Marc Cosentio's coverage of estimation questions in his book Case in Point is excellent. I skimmed the book awhile ago and that section of the book jumped out as excellent. It was the main reason I did not cover this topic in the original video series since he did such a good job, I didn't think I could do a better one - so I didn't bother trying. If memory serves, I probably did disagree on the frameworks for the main case interview type questions and thought I'd contribute my perspective to the community at large. You can see the original case interview training videos here.

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