What follows is an exchange of emails with a reader regarding synthesis is case interviews.

Reader Email 1 of 3:

Hi Victor, thanks to the LOMS program, I was able to learn just enough within a short time to pass my first ever case interview with McKinsey. I got the feedback from HR that overall I did very well, but need to practise more on synthesis in case interviews.

What I did was similar to the structure you mentioned in LOMS, but with a little bit more. As a background, this was a non-profit case, and the question was whether to expand Program B in the short term.

It was an interviewer-guided case, so I was led down a particular branch of analysis. Please look at my synthesis below and see if you notice any problems:

I recommend that the company expand Program B for the following reasons:

  1. Currently, Program A is losing money and cannot sustain by itself.
  2. Program B is highly profitable.

If we can expand the program by just x%, it can help the company to break even.

However, there is concern among the employees that expanding Program B is against the mission statement of helping Program A members. We should address it by:

  1. Educate the employees that B does not go against the mission statement but enhance A by providing the funding and in addition, bringing the program to a broader public.
  2. Encourage employees to enroll in B as well, and learn from the interaction with B members that the program brings impact to B, just as to A.

In summary, we should expand B in the short term.

I want to thank you again for the LOMS program and your email newsletters, I could not have passed the first case without your help.

My Reply #1:

Thanks for the feedback on Look Over My Shoulder®. Well over 100 hours were put into creating the program to be as useful as possible, so it is gratifying that you find it both useful and effective.

Also, nice job getting past Round 1, and it sounds like you have some more work to do on synthesis.

The problem I notice in your synthesis is it’s somewhat convoluted — it has way too many points — and it’s not clear what your main point is and why you feel that way.

An ideal synthesis, as stated in my free Case Interview Secrets workshop videos and as demonstrated in Look Over My Shoulder® many, many times is the following:

  1. Conclusion
  2. Reason 1
  3. Reason 2
  4. Reason 3

You can only have three reasons. Never more.

The conclusion is always first, always.

Now it is possible you didn’t discover enough insights in the main case to give the synthesis they were looking for. Or you did good enough on the main case, your synthesis reflected what you uncovered, but the interviewer wanted to give you another chance to come up with a few more insights in the event he/she didn’t give you enough time during the main case.

If you are interested, feel free to re-write your synthesis in the 3-step formula, and I can take another look at it.

Also, in terms of practice, there are lots of examples in LOMS of synthesis… particularly in the last candidate for each case. Also, for more on the synthesis formula, see the free Case Interview Secrets video on “closing a case” and review it a few more times.

Reader Email 2 of 3:

Hi Victor,

Thank you for your assessment. Below is my second attempt at synthesizing, please take another look when you get a chance. Thank you so much!

Based on the initial analysis, I recommend that the company expand Program B in the short term for the following reasons:

  1. Currently, Program A is losing money and cannot sustain by itself.
  2. Program B is highly profitable. If we can expand the program by just x%, the company can break even quickly.
  3. There are risks involved in expanding Program B, in particular, the reputation risk. But due to the short-term nature of the expansion, these risks can be minimized.

Given more time, we should evaluate options to turn around Program A and to unwind Program B.

My Reply #2:

Not sure what you mean by “unwind” (which I interpret as shutdown) and since I don’t know the actual case, I can’t tell if I agree with that portion of the conclusion.

But, that word aside, the rest was very good and possibly perfect. Nice job.

Does the new version still mean what you were thinking originally? What differences between the two approaches do you notice?

Reader Email 3 of 3:

Hi Victor,

The new version still reflects my original thinking, but more to-the-point. If I were the client, I would like the new version too.

To be honest, I am still a little unsure about the third point – risks can be minimized. During the interview, I solved the profit problem and identified the benefits and risks quickly but spent all of the remaining time (about half of the interview time) exploring ideas of how to manage one particular risk – reputation risk.

The objective of the case was to determine whether or not to expand Program B, I didn’t understand the intention of this in-depth “idea-generating” question.

Since we spent so much time on it, I thought it deserved a mention in the synthesis. Obviously, I was wrong, the synthesis should be conclusion driven and focus on the big picture. I’ll practise more for the next round.

My Reply #3:

I think your second attempt was much better. If there are remaining issues (and in real life in actual client work, there always are), conclude and then indicate which issues remain, much like you did in yours.

Your point on unwinding Program B was not supported by anything you said in your synthesis. You need to say, “after the short-term crisis has passed, it would be worth examining if Program B – the temporary solution – should be canceled…” or something like that.

A point like that is most appropriate to mention as an add on to the primary conclusion and three key supporting points, and not a replacement of that structure.

I used to use it all the time in client presentations and conversations at McKinsey, especially in the middle of a client engagement where we have some early conclusions, but still have more things left to analyze.

So the way you synthesized the case the second time was clean and well done. Repeat the process in future interviews and you will “ace the case” in that aspect.