A question I am asked often is how to utilize all of the various frameworks and advice on frameworks out there on other case interview prep sites?

First off I will say I am not familiar with what all of the case interview prep sites out there teach specifically but I do know many advocate for the use of a lot of frameworks, which I tend to disagree with, as under pressure it is very hard to remember that many things.

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.

When I went through my 60+ case interviews as a candidate, I basically relied on three things: a) profitability framework, b) business situation framework, and c) the custom issue tree (basically making up your own framework).

Better to truly master three “frameworks” than to be half competent across 15 frameworks. That’s only my opinion. But 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.

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.

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 initially thought to start it. Again, this reflects 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.

Based on the many emails I receive, I find that a lot of people start the case interview preparation process using multiple case interview prep resources (including CaseInterview.com) but at some point find they are all a bit in conflict… and people tend to adopt the simpler approach I use.  (And there is a risk of selection bias here because the people who might have gone the other way would be unlikely to email me… so take it for what it’s worth).