Negosentro.com | Should You Use Case Interview Frameworks? | We can see that case interviews are increasingly important if you want to land any number of top-flight jobs. The question then becomes how best to prepare for this incredibly difficult but crucial step in the selection process.
Especially in the management consulting domain, where case interviews have been around long enough for highly specialist resources to be available, this is where many candidates turn to case interview frameworks for guidance.
What are Case Interview Frameworks?
Case interview frameworks are effectively generic algorithms or sets of instructions which tell you how to go about solving the
Typically, those who sell them (there is almost invariably a commercial interest…) put forward around ten or twelve such frameworks, which are supposed to account between them for all the possible case studies you can be presented with.
The idea is that, when you are given your case study question, you simply work out which of your frameworks is the correct one to apply, work through the relevant steps and – hey presto – out pops a solution.
Famous examples of framework-based resources from the management consulting world include the book “Case in Point” and the material from Victor Cheng.
Do Frameworks Work?
In short, case interview frameworks do not work reliably. But let us explain…
A few readers will have already seen the main problem coming for frameworks – or at least sensed that something was fishy.
The idea that a small number of models can hope to accommodate the infinite variability of real-world problems rightly seems implausible. Can ten or twelve case interview frameworks really capture all possible case study scenarios you might be given in an interview?
In practice, the answer is no, and many candidates who have invested a great deal of time end up completely floored in an interview when they are presented with case studies which simply do not fit with the frameworks they have learnt.
It Gets Worse: Frameworks are Everywhere!
Think about it a little more. It’s not just you who will have access to frameworks in the interview. Chances are that every other candidate, as well as your interviewers themselves, will also be aware of precisely the same frameworks.
This has a couple of crucial implications:
- Interviewers want to test candidates to differentiate between them. To do so, they will give you cases for which they know frameworks don’t work.
- When you fail, and even if you succeed, you will do so in the same way as every other candidate, irritating your interviewers and ensuring you are not remembered as interesting even if your case study didn’t go well.
And Worse Still: Hard Case Studies are More Likely
Now, you might think – well, frameworks should hopefully work for the majority of potential case studies and they do make life easier, just following some instructions rather than thinking for yourself. Perhaps you should just gamble and assume you won’t get a hard case in your interview.
Well, this already falls foul of the point above, that interviewers are incentivised to give you cases they know won’t fit with the frameworks. However, even if we leave that possibility aside, there are still reasons to positively expect that you will not get a case that easily fits with a framework.
Note that it is some of the very best companies in the world that have been turning to case interviews and the very best firms in the management consulting world which pioneered their use.
These are businesses at the top of the food chain in their respective industries.
Do you think businesses at the top of their game are looking for staff to solve generic, easy problems? No – they want staff who are going to be capable of solving the most complex, novel problems and doing so faster than the competition.
Take management consulting in particular:
- Consulting firms exist precisely to deal with problems which other companies could not solve by themselves.
- Those companies are not going to go to the huge expense of bringing in McKinsey, BCG or Bain if they could have solved their problems in-house using publicly-available frameworks.
- Therefore, you should not expect the cases you get in interviews to be easily solved using frameworks or any other standard means.
So, the key takeaway from all this is that you really shouldn’t be taking the chance of putting all your faith in case interview frameworks!
How Should I Prepare for a Case Interview?
So, if you shouldn’t use frameworks to prepare for your case interviews, how should you do so?
This is a topic which needs a lot more discussion than we could hope to provide here – the point of this article was simply to save you from frameworks in the first place.
However, we can give you a few pointers to set you off on the right track. For more detailed information, there are some great resources available online.
Start From the Fundamentals
It might sound simple, but you need to make sure you have the basics in place before to make sure that you can actually take part in the interview at all. It’s all very well learning a lot of case cracking in principle, but you also need to be able to understand the question and do the calculations.
In short, you need:
- Theory: Do you understand the content of the case studies in your field? For standard business cases, this will mean grasping the fundamentals of accounting, finance, economics and perhaps things like marketing.
- Practice: Can you do the grunt work required? For most cases, this will mean making sure that your mental math and ability to quickly extract information from charts is as sharp as it can be. For tech roles, this might extend to coding etc.
Learn How to Logically Break Down Problems
Much of the analysis in a case study simply consists of working to logically break down the starting question or scenario until a solution becomes clear. Remember the old saying that “a question properly posed contains its own answer”.
You can consider all this as “learning how to think”. In particular:
- Think Critically: Questions will not be straightforward and might even be misleading. Throughout the whole case study, you need to make sure you aren’t jumping to conclusions or making unwarranted assumptions. Consider every possibility.
- Think Logically: You need to proceed with crisp clear reasoning. Consider one thing at a time and consider all options. Learn about the MECE rule in particular to help with this.
There is a tendency to think about communication separate from analysis, but this is certainly not true in case interviews. Since your case study is solved in conversation with the interviewer.
Your interviewer is trying to find out how you think and they can only do so if you tell them.
- Be Economical: Especially when you need to interviewer questions, only ask what is actually required. No redundant questions. Obviously avoid tangents and waffles as well.
- Be Top-Down: When you need to communicate a finding or a recommendation (the important bit!), start from the key takeaway and then work through the arguments and data that support it. This is the opposite to how academic communication is conducted, where you would work from an argument to a conclusion. Learn about the Pyramid Principle to help here.
Are My Frameworks Totally Useless?
If you have already dumped many hours into rote learning a load of frameworks, then don’t worry too much. Your time could certainly have been better spent, but it was not entirely wasted.
Frameworks are not optimal to actually solve cases. However, they are not wrong in themselves and in learning about them, you will have learnt some solid general business knowledge which you can leverage as you learn how to solve cases without frameworks.
Frameworks need to be treated in the same way idealised models are in any other area. They might be useful to learn about to help understand more complex cases, but they cannot be expected to capture the full intricacy of all possible scenarios by themselves.