Playing For Time In The Case Interview

Playing for Time

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If you get stuck during a case question then there are four (4) things you can do to regain momentum.

  1. If the interviewer has just given you some information then you can say something like “let me take a second to consider that information”. You can safely stay silent for up to 90 seconds or so while writing down and reviewing the key facts of the case. Although don’t take longer than you need.
  2. You can summarize where you are up to so far. Summarizing your position can help you pull your head above water and see the bigger picture. It will also buy you some time to think while you are talking.
  3. Consider the Three C’s Framework (customer, competition, company). Is there an obvious element of the case that you haven’t considered?
  4. Ask the interviewer for help. If you are truly stuck, then it is better to ask for help than to spin your wheels and create a prolonged and awkward silence.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

10 Tips For Nailing the Case Interview

10 tips for nailing the case interview

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ARE you preparing for consulting interviews?

In this post we provide 10 tips for nailing the case interview, written in stone.

1. Practice, practice, practice

When it comes to the case interview, preparation is crucial for three reasons:

  1. The interview process is extremely competitive. You are unlikely to succeed without a lot of practice;
  2. Case problems are indicative of the type of work that you will have to do as a consultant, and so your ability to answer case problems indicates your readiness to hit the ground running; and
  3. Your preparedness for the interview is an indicator of your passion for consulting. If you can’t be bothered to prepare, then you probably don’t want the job badly enough.

2. Take notes

You should take notes when the interviewer is giving you the facts of the case. Remember to bring graph paper and a pen to the interview so you can write things down.

3. Don’t make assumptions

Your interviewer will most likely leave information out when giving you the facts. You should not assume facts that have not been given to you.

4. Ask questions

Your interviewer expects you to ask questions in order to understand the situation and to clarify vague information. For example, if you don’t know the first thing about the automobile market, ask how much it costs to manufacture an engine. If you are asked to estimate the demand for hamburgers in Sydney, feel free to ask how many people live in Sydney and the surrounding areas. Your interviewer is likely to direct your line of questioning to a specific area, but you must be ready to control the conversation if the interviewer does not direct your reasoning.

5. Engage in active listening

Don’t ask a pre-prepared list of questions. Listen to the information that the interviewer provides and assess how it affects the problem. What is unclear and what do you still need to know? Make sure you respond to the information you receive and incorporate it into your analysis.

6. Maintain direct eye contact

Eye contact is important because it demonstrates confidence and authority. As a consultant you will meet with upper management and boards of directors regarding matters that you have been briefed on only hours before. The case interview is practice for the real thing.

7. Take your time

At the beginning of the interview, it’s okay to take anywhere up to 90 seconds to collect your thoughts. It is more important to give a well thought out and structured response than to respond immediately.

8. Clearly structure your answer

Structure your answer by setting out a framework for analysis. For example, “firstly I will consider X, secondly I will consider Y, and finally I will consider Z.”

A large part of a consultant’s job is to explain complex ideas clearly and succinctly. By structuring your answer, this will help you to structure your thoughts and may alert you to factors that you would have otherwise failed to consider. Providing a clear structure will impress your interviewers and help you to avoid giving them the impression that you are making it up as you go along.

9. Think out loud

The case question is an opportunity to show the interviewer how you think. As you analyse the elements of the case, be sure to talk out loud and explain your reasoning. This is the only way the interviewer can assess your performance.

10. Summarise your conclusions

You should be able to summarise your conclusions at any time, supported by the key findings that have been noting down or highlighting as you progress through the case.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Growth Strategies

Growth strategy begins with identifying the source of the problem – you will want to look at customers, products, the company and its competitors

Growth Strategy

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THE frequently used term business growth simply describes the process of improving some measure of an enterprise’s success, ranging from promotion, product development, new market entry or improving employee productivity.

How can we more closely define the objectives a company desires when it speaks of growth?

Addressing this type of case question is achievable, provided you can identify the root of the problem.

Below we look at a specific case scenario.

Our client is the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. They want to develop a growth strategy for the next five years. What would you advise them to look at, and what are your recommendations for growth?

Before we can begin discussing growth strategy, the direction of the case must be determined by asking vital questions regarding the current state of the museum.

  1. Competitors: How are other museums across the city performing? How are we growing relative to the industry?
  2. Customers: Who are our patrons? For example, they might be senior citizens and middle aged women. How is the mix changing over time, and what do they say about us?
  3. Product: Does our revenue come primarily from ticket sales or other sources? What distinguishes our offering from our competitors in regards to pricing, marketing, and curatorial development?
  4. Company: What is our cost structure? Do we have the financial backing to support higher growth?

Let’s assume Bostonians have decided to reduce spending on museums in favor of other leisure activities such as baseball games and musical performances. The stagnant growth our client is experiencing is caused by a decline in the industry overall.

My recommendation would be to increase revenue by attracting new audiences to the museum by investing in popular exhibitions supported by a major marketing campaign. Engaging local teenagers and university students through social media promotions would increase awareness of new museum programming. By appealing to a wider and younger audience, our client could attract visitors who previously were uninterested in the museum’s offerings, leading to more sustainable ticket sales over the next five years.

What recommendations would you provide the Museum of Fine Arts? Share your thoughts in the forum. The person who provides the best response in the next 48 hours will win a copy of Marc Consentino’s Case In Point (or another book from the Bookshelf).

The scenario above is adapted from Case In Point, a case interview preparation book written by Marc P. Consentino. Case scenario used in the book looked at the New York City Opera. Many firms use a version of this case.

For a more in-depth look at growth strategy, check out this case study by McKinsey that outlines the Three Horizons of Growth framework to develop a growth strategy for a major retailer.

Mergers & Acquisitions: Strategy

MERGERS have had a ubiquitous presence in the news recently as leaders in the airline, publishing, and telecommunications industries have taken steps to consolidate. Just this week, two of the largest advertising entities, Omnicom and Publicis, announced a $35.1 billion merger. In recent months, tech giants Google and Yahoo have acquired dozens of companies, most notably Waze and Tumblr respectively.

Despite the frequency of these deals, a large number of market studies have indicated that “50% to 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail to create incremental shareholder value”. As a result, consulting firms have an opportunity to provide valuable expertise at each step in the M&A process with the goal of preventing these failures.

One of the most vital components of a successful acquisition is the financial valuation: determining the value of the target and ensuring that your client avoids paying too much. However, determining whether the acquisition would be a good strategic fit is the first step.

Clarifying why your client wishes to undertake the acquisition is a good place to begin, both in a case interview and in a real-life consulting engagement. Potential rationale’s for pursuing an M&A deal include:

  1. Performance Improvement: restoring performance of the target company through revenue growth and cost cutting,
  2. Growth Potential: picking winning early stage companies and helping them develop,
  3. Market Access: increasing market access for the products of the acquirer or the target,
  4. Market Power: removing excess capacity from the industry,
  5. Capability Acquisition: acquiring new production capabilities, skills or technologies more quickly or at lower cost than would otherwise be possible,
  6. Synergies: achieving revenue synergies or cost synergies not available to the target or acquirer if acting alone,
  7. Business Transformation: using the merger as a catalyst to change the combined entity into an entirely new company, for example, with new strategic focus, organisational structure, key processes, etc. According to McKinsey, transformational mergers are rare “because the circumstances have to be just right, and the management team needs to execute the strategy well.”
  8. Bargain Price: buying the target at a price below the target’s fundamental value. The ‘bargain price’ rationale is also rare since the acquirer typically has to pay target shareholders a takeover premium in addition to the target’s current market price.

Regardless of the reasons concocted by management to justify action, the vast majority of acquisitions should never take place. Due to the high failure rate and inherent problems arising from the attempt to consolidate distinctly different organisational cultures, the most valuable advice a consultant can give might be to persuade senior management not to become seduced by the allure of a potential acquisition. In the long-term, managerial decisions should support the creation of shareholder value.

Next week I will introduce the various methods consultants use when conducting a financial valuation.

Merger and Acquisition Strategies adapted from Management Consulting: A Guide to the Profession, edited by Milan Kubr and published through the International Labour Office.