How I Passed All My Consulting and Tech Case Interviews

Interviews were fast approaching and I knew I wasn’t on track. Nothing was working until I finally had three key insights. These insights led to a 100% hit rate at my consulting and tech interviews, which included BCG, Strategy&, AT Kearney, Amazon, Cognizant, and several boutique consultancies.

What I discovered is that the interview outcome, a response of “We’re excited to tell you…” or “We regret to inform you…”, depends on just a few key factors.

Despite this, students are inundated with advice – often contradictory – about what to do and what not to do. Entire books are written about mastering the 30 minute case! Why? Content equals money. If experts were to make the process as simple as possible, they would see their revenue drop. They want to give you more advice, not better advice. That’s not my incentive, so here’s the three key things you need to know.

1. Everything is Behavioral

I used to like the expression “the case is a behavioral and the behavioral is a case,” but I’ve realized over time that everything is a behavioral interview. Yes, you need to have organized thoughts. Yes, you need to solve the problem. Yes, you need to get the math right. But we know this already. Everyone who walks into the interview should get those things right! This does not differentiate you from other candidates.

To get there, many candidates practice into a coffee-induced comatose state and forget the big picture. The interview is about who you are. Can you work on a team with others? Can you be put in front of a client? Is the person interviewing you left curious and wanting to get to know you more, or left gasping for social air?

So, how does this translate into acing a case? Be normal. I don’t mean act stock standard and boring. Instead, be who you would be at work. Ask those tough questions, show curiosity, and don’t be afraid to say you haven’t encountered a problem like this before or to make a light joke (ok, maybe not if it’s McKinsey). Respect the interviewer like you would a manager, but show them you are a person. They don’t need you to know the decision tree of a case (there isn’t one) or to be an expert in the industry in question. They just want a break from the monotonous, banal garble that is most interviewees in a case. Show them who you are so they can see why they want to work with you instead of another candidate.

2. The Case is Real Life

The case wasn’t just picked lackadaisically from the interview tree by major consulting and tech firms. It exists because that’s what you will do on a daily basis at your job, albeit in a less condensed format and for 14 hours a day instead of 30 minutes. At these companies you will be put under both time pressure and pressure from being observed in action (by clients and bosses). You will need to deal with complex problems that lack immediately clear paths or answers. You will need to think critically and be able to articulate these thoughts in a clear, concise, and organized manner. Understanding this is what it takes to get #1 right.

3. You Have to Want It

Notice I didn’t include “banking” in the title of the article? That’s because I interviewed at one bank…and absolutely bombed. They asked me their stock price and how I would go about evaluating a target acquisition. They also talked about growth targets and how imperative it was to meet them. All I could think was “I don’t care.” And, they could tell.

Make sure consulting or tech is right for you. Do you enjoy casing (at least did you enjoy it before you reached your 50th case)? Do you like dealing with ambiguity, solving problems, and understanding the world? If yes, you’ve got three major benefits:

  1. Interview preparation won’t feel like an uphill battle
  2. The interviewers will be able to sense your interest and excitement and you will be more likely to get an offer
  3. You’ll actually be glad you got an offer once you hit the trenches!

Unfortunately, many people only realize what they truly want during the interview. Try not to be one of them!

Summary

I want to re-emphasize that you still need to use the right framework, understand industry dynamics, research your company, solve the problem, be structured, and get your math right; the fundamentals have to be there. However, don’t lose sight of the big picture! If you understand that the case is real life, that the job you are applying for will be an extended case, and that the interviewers want to see that your personality is right for the job, then you’re ahead of the rest. If you recognize this and also confirm that this is what you want and where you know you’ll thrive, then hello MBB and The Four.

Ian Glennon is a strategy consultant at BCG, but not sure how he got there. Having lived in the US, France, Australia, and Colombia, but also having U.S., U.K., and New Zealand citizenships, he’s also not quite sure where he’s from.

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How To Pitch A Disruptive Business Plan

One of the things I learned during my EMBA was how to break down, re-organize and clearly explain certain kinds of information; a skill which has proved useful when preparing and pitching my start-up based on my b-school business plan.

In late October, that got put to the test. I had the opportunity to pitch my start-up at an innovative business contest at a well-known business school in Frankfurt. My nascent company is called MedPayRx. It will use blockchain technology to create smart prescriptions for all legal prescription drugs and medical devices. This being Germany now, that includes medical cannabis.

In other words, we are planning to help mainstream a revolutionary medicine using a highly disruptive technology and business model.

In this post, I will share three insights from the pitching event that might be of interest to students, start-ups, and those in disruptive businesses.

Introduction To The Event

The Maintech Summit at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management (co-sponsored by Excon, a local start up instigator) is the first real academic-based “shark-tank” environment for disruptive start-ups in Frankfurt. The event is held on an impressive campus, and tackles disruption from all angles. Blocksource, the team who won this year’s competition (MedPayRx tied for second place), also pitched a blockchain-based business model – although focusing on a different market niche. Blockchain 2.0 is here!

If you are a disruptive tech start-up, the Maintech Summit is a must for next year. Frankfurt is a major European banking centre, and you can pitch in English!

But enough about the event; here are three lessons I learned.

1. Have a Story to Tell

The concept of medical cannabis covered under health insurance has just become law in Germany. But the law is new, and so there is still a stigma attached to this form of treatment. There is also still a great deal of uncertainty about blockchain. Not to mention its use in managing health records. And so, we had to address both.

The whole point of a start-up is to come up with a monetized solution to a pressing problem. MedPayRx aims to do this by solving privacy, supply chain and compliance issues created by the new regulations and an existing infrastructure which is literally paper-based and managed by fax. From a digitalization perspective, prescription management and insurance approvals is ripe for reform.

And on the issue of medical cannabis? The Bundestag voted unanimously for it to be covered by public health insurance in January and the law went into effect in March. Don’t like cannabis reform? Blame the German government!

When pitching, I usually get a laugh at that line. And I am pretty sure I did at the Maintech event. Although it is tough to know for sure because academic Germans don’t seem to laugh easily in such settings. Left to their own devices they do not clap either. They rap the desktops with their knuckles!  Clapping is an invention that is being introduced slowly in international business schools. That said, once the Germans warm to it, they do it enthusiastically and well.

No matter how hard they tried to conceal them, though, I did get a few grins. MedPayRx may not be the first cannabis-related business plan conceived or pitched at an accredited b-school since medical reform this year in Deutschland, but we are on the cutting edge of this trend!

2. Build a Strong Business Model

A successful business model for a start-up combines the trifecta of a desirable product, identifiable market need, and a capable team who can execute on the idea.

For MedPayRx, cannabis is part of our strategic market entry plan. It is a medical product suitable for a couple of niche markets whose time has come. The recent legal reforms give us a unique window of opportunity.

In addition, our team has already built a working proof of concept harnessing well defined technology.  The combination of these three factors established our cred, which helped win us a business school pitch opportunity, and secured us second place in the competition.

It is clear that blockchain business models will become a staple at business schools everywhere soon. It is also very likely that cannabis-themed business models will begin to percolate through business school competitions in every jurisdiction where reform has taken place.  But with lingering social stigma towards cannabis – even of the medical variety – how do you begin to be taken seriously? Short answer – build a strong business model.

3. Justify Your Product-Market Fit

MedPayRx’s smart prescriptions can be used for all prescription drugs and medical devices, including medical cannabis.  In light of recent reforms, our initial focus on cannabis makes our initiative timely and relevant.  However, the stigma against cannabis is still real.

Be ready to justify your product-market fit.  You can bring in science, market analysis, and common sense arguments to explain why you are focussing your product or service on the market you have chosen.  Why is now the right time for this solution?

Anticipate your audience’s fears, biases and objections, and the resistance will quickly disappear. By focusing your potential investors’ attention on your innovative solution to a specific social need you can control the conversation, helping to shift their questions from “should MedPayRx be doing this?” and “should I invest?” to “how should MedPayRx be doing this?” and “how should I invest?”

Marguerite Arnold is the founder of MedPayRx, a blockchain healthcare startup in Frankfurt. She is also an author, journalist and has just obtained her EMBA from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

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The Consulting Value Proposition

Why do organisations hire consultants?

If you are a junior consultant, knowing why your work is valuable is likely to make your job more meaningful.

If you are a partner, knowing why your work is valuable is likely to help you sell consulting projects and make money for yourself and for the firm.

Below we outline five (5) reasons why organisations engage consulting firms.

1. Expert Knowledge

Consultants can provide management with the expertise needed to address specific business problems. For example, a company that needs to update its computer systems might seek advice from IT consultants.

The benefit of bringing in specialist consultants is that they are likely to have experience solving similar problems and an understanding of industry best practice. Large consulting firms can draw on a breadth of experience and offer clients a broad range of expertise applicable to a wide range of business problems.

Areas of expertise that a consulting firm might provide include:

  1. Industry specific knowledge;
  2. Strategy;
  3. Marketing;
  4. Supply chain optimization;
  5. Distribution;
  6. Organisational change;
  7. Information technology;
  8. Tax structuring;
  9. Risk management;
  10. Human resources; and
  11. Turnarounds.

Expertise can form a crucial part of a consulting firm’s value proposition and can be something worth fighting over.

An example from 2014 occurred when McKinsey poached two partners from AlixPartners, one of the world’s best-known restructuring firms.

Restructuring is a niche service which requires specialized knowledge and industry experience. In an apparent attempt to stop McKinsey poaching key talent, AlixPartners sued its former employees (Eric Thompson, managing director of AlixPartners’ Hong Kong office, and Ivo Naumann, head of its Shanghai branch) on claims that they misappropriated trade secrets before they left the firm’s Asian operations.

Expert knowledge can be very valuable to consulting firms and their clients.

2. Independent Advice

Consultants can assist management by providing independent advice.

Consultants can provide more objective recommendations compared with full-time staff since they do not have a vested interest in the outcome. For example, consultants would be able to recommend cost saving measures such as layoffs, restructuring, offshoring, and outsourcing. Consultants can also recommend growth strategies like market development or product development, which may be good for the organisation overall but not in the interests of a particular manager, division or department.

3. Catalyst for Change

Consultants can assist management by supporting organisational change.

There are four reasons why consultants may be well placed to do this:

  1. Impetus for action: Consultants can provide research to support a particular plan of action, which can provide the stamp of approval that management needs to legitimize its plan and overcome internal opposition. A consulting report can also provide an impetus for action by clarifying the reasons that a proposed course of action makes sense.
  2. Convenient scapegoats: Related to the first reason, consultants can provide political cover to help management pursue a potentially risky or unpopular course of action. If employees are unhappy with layoffs, management can blame the consulting report. If shareholders are unhappy with performance, management can blame the consulting report. “Nobody ever got fired for hiring McKinsey.”
  3. Open communication: Consultants can facilitate open communication within a firm and enable good ideas to reach management. Since consultants do not have a fixed position within the organisational structure it is likely to be easier for them to collect information from employees at all levels.
  4. Employee engagement: Consultants often engage with staff at all levels within an organisation and, as a result, employees may feel more involved in the change process making them less likely to resist proposed changes.

4. Implementation

Consultants can assist management by implementing recommendations.

A firm may find this appealing because implementation may be a dedicated project unrelated to the firm’s ongoing operations.

Hiring outside consultants can help a firm overcome internal bureaucracy and inertia favouring the status quo. A firm may also lack the expertise or manpower needed to implement recommendations efficiently and effectively.

5. Cost Effective Solution

For some types of projects (e.g. software development) consultants may represent a cost-effective solution.

A firm may lack the competencies needed to complete the project in a timely or cost effective manner and it may not be feasible to hire and train full time staff.

Even if engaging outside consultants appears more expensive compared with employing full time staff, it may still make sense to hire outside consultants since (a) they can be dispensed with more easily after the project is complete, and (b) consultants may be able to complete the project more quickly, which could give the organisation a competitive advantage.

[For more information on the management consulting industry, please download our “Guide to Management Consulting“.]

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