How to Ace Consulting Case Interviews

ConsultingFactThe guest post below is by the staff at ConsultingFact.com, which was founded by Daniel Stefanac, a former McKinsey management consultant.  He went through the consulting recruiting process and landed a position at McKinsey, where he worked with strategy formation, mergers and acquisitions, corporate turnarounds, and cost reduction programs.

He wanted to help others pursue their careers in consulting, so he founded ConsultingFact.com.

How to Ace Consulting Case Interviews

The case interview is considered to be the most complicated part of the consulting recruitment process. While your personality and a sharp resume carried you through the first part of the interview, this part requires more technical and analytical skills.

There is more to the case interview than the right solution. In most cases, it’s your thought process that counts. Recruiters will ask a lot of questions along the way, not to confuse you but to better understand how you’re arriving at conclusions and possible options for the consulting case provided. Because of this, it is recommended to grasp the nature of the case well, instead of simply applying the normal “known” methods.

Consulting Frameworks

There are several tried and tested frameworks that an applicant can rely on during the case interview. Frameworks such as SWOT Analysis can be applied as a general framework to organize the details of the case. Some frameworks are limited to the type of case being presented, such as The Four Ps (best for marketing business cases).

Each consulting firm has its own set of preferred frameworks. BCG has the 2×2 matrix that they have developed, while McKinsey & Company has been known to be fond of using the Seven S.  It is best to research which set of frameworks your target firm uses and, only if possible, use them. This can also give you a clue on what type of consulting cases (due diligence, startups, and organization are the most common) the firm gives their applicants, as some frameworks are very limited.

Critical Thinking

During the case interview, consulting frameworks serve as a guide or checklist to point you in the right direction. You should never force a framework to suit the problem. Applicants should be flexible in applying what works and discarding methods that simply do not fit. This can be easily avoided by familiarizing oneself with the entire case before diving in to take it apart.

You should never force a framework to suit the problem.

Critical thinking is the product of accurate analytical skills. Be as thorough as possible in providing options. In a real life setting, the owner of a failing business is going to want as many options as possible to avoid downsizing or further losses.

The Importance of Communication

The recruiter plays an essential role in the case interview. Apart from presenting the details of the case, he or she is there to help you. As mentioned earlier, the interviewer will most likely ask you questions along the way. You should also be able to think out loud during the case, as this helps the individual know where you’re at in arriving at a solution.

In a professional setting, one cannot stay quiet for 30-45mins and suddenly provide a drastic, unfavorable solution. The client may become very skeptical, making the process very difficult to manage. Your solution maybe correct, but how you delivered it would be incredibly hard to swallow.  By explaining and guiding the client (or in this case, the interviewer) through the process, he or she will be able to understand why the option you provided is the most ideal.

Mock Interviews

Mock interviews are still considered to be the best way to prepare for a consulting case interview. This is a great way to apply your research, frameworks, and communication skills. It is likely that you will go through more than just one case, as some interviews go through as many as 6. Prepare for the grind and stay consistent. Recruiters want to make sure that you are able to deliver the same quality of service (should they hire you) throughout the process.

Mock interviews are still considered to be the best way to prepare for a consulting case interview.

Dealing with the Pressure

Most applicants have prepared well in advance for their case interview. So how come some are unable to do math problems under pressure? Failing to accurately come up with the answer isn’t always the culprit. Due to what’s at stake, some applicants miss key information, which will result in a wrong answer every time.

A way to keep a clear mind during the case interview is to slow down and verify the problem being presented to you by the interviewer. Once you get the confirmation that what you heard and understood is correct, proceed to find the correct answer or solution. This applies to other aspects of the case interview, where the problem being presented contains several supporting facts.

ConsultingFact.com offers a comprehensive guide for applicants who need help preparing for the case interview. There is also an online course available for individuals who need a complete solution for their consulting interview process. Other downloadable content includes free management consulting tutorials.

Dump the Clichéd Images

mindshare consulting

Dump the Cliched Images

Recently, I was one of thousands of people who received an email offer from a well-known software company to download hundreds of free stock photos that I could use anywhere I wanted.

Scanning this photo “collection,” I realized that I’d seen almost all of the images on scores of sites. The software company was using its extensive email list and a supply of worn-out images to contribute to the visual pollution on the web.

I’m sure you know the kind of images I’m talking about–shots of unnamed people shaking hands, meeting in a group, or standing in a perfect circle giving each other enthusiastic high fives. They’re everywhere.

Besides being about as interesting as a PBS pledge break, people have overused these stock images to the point that any emotional impact they ever had is history.

Sadly, these vacuous images have wormed their way onto more consulting web sites than I can count. Hasn’t anyone gotten the memo that we should put these clichéd images out of their misery and dump them from our web sites?

Besides being about as interesting as a PBS pledge break, people have overused these stock images to the point that any emotional impact they ever had is history.

Why You End Up with Stock Photos

Much of the tired imagery you see on web sites is the result of well meaning, but misguided web developers. They can code in their sleep, but don’t realize that their visual design skills aren’t that great.

Instead of helping you design a visual strategy for your business, they default to stock images of people in meetings, huddled around a computer screen, or talking on cell phones. This approach to visual design works for the developer, not you, because using stock images is fast, often free, and requires little or no thought.

What Generic Does for You

Using stock images that appear on (literally) thousands of sites can derail your marketing efforts.

using images on a web site

Who are these people?

First of all, they make your site look like it came from a generic template, stamped out by a low-cost web site development factory.

Your site visitors will move on quickly when they see little or nothing that compels them to stay. To a prospective client, nothing says “time to move on to the next site” like a ten-year-old image of a faux business meeting, attended by models.

Second, generic photos waste precious web real estate with images that most people either ignore or actively dislike.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a graphic designer to breathe life into your site. Here are a few ways to create a visual design that conveys something meaningful about your business, without resorting to stock images that just fill up space on your site.

Using stock images that appear on (literally) thousands of sites can derail your marketing efforts.

Begin with a Question

Before you design (or redesign) any page on your site, ask yourself this: What meaning and emotion do I want to convey with the content of the page? Do you want to evoke a sense of energy, engagement, and competence? Maybe you want people to conclude that you’re innovative, forward thinking, or creative.

Make a list of what you want to communicate to your site visitors and how you want them to feel. Then, consider what imagery could meet those objectives.

Here’s what I mean. The home page for this marketing consultancy uses a bold image to express their view of what it takes for clients to be successful; the rest of the site shows how they help clients achieve that success. Their imagery sends a loud and clear message.

If you really think about what you want people to feel or know when they visit your site, you’ll come up with plenty of ideas for high-impact imagery. And I guarantee that you won’t conclude that an image of a smiling, generic businessperson shaking hands with another smiling, generic businessperson says anything at all about your story.

What about Real People?

If you really think about what you want people to feel or know when they visit your site, you’ll come up with plenty of ideas for high-impact imagery.

Here’s a reality about your prospective clients. Once they believe you can help them, they want to know who you are, why you’re in business, and who’s on your team. They want to put faces to names. That helps build trust, familiarity, and often leads to contact.

So instead of using stock photos of unknown people, why not feature your own?

As an example, have a look at the healthcare consulting firm, Vynamic . Dan Calista (the firm’s founder) and his team tell a compelling story about why they’re in business. Plus, they put a human face on their business by featuring everyone on the Vynamic team on the site.

After looking through their site, you have a clear idea of what they do, why they do it, and who they are.

Make the Connection

mindshare consulting

Really?

I’m not saying that there’s never a place for stock images on your web site (or in other documents). But if an image doesn’t help clarify your message, it’s an unnecessary distraction.

Your firm’s web site should tell the story of your business. It’s way past time to rethink the use of generic images and find new visual elements to tell that story.

With a little effort, you can make your web site an attraction–not a distraction–for your prospective clients. You just have to sweat a few details.

Content Marketing Advice Every Consultant Should Ignore

Content marketing advice to ignore

Content Marketing Advice to Ignore

Every couple of months or so, I get one of those prepackaged email newsletters from my dentist.

You know–the kind you can buy already written and designed. All you have to do is slap your name on it, and send it out to an email list.

The dentist’s newsletter always contains cute cartoon images of healthy-looking teeth and generic stuff about oral hygiene. I get similar publications from a real estate agent and a chiropractor that also offer overly-simplified articles on topics that I learned about eons ago.

I get it: Busy professionals feel that they don’t have time to create tailored content, but they want to keep their names in front of people. Buying generic newsletter content may seem like a good solution.

But the resulting publications are remarkable only for the waste of time and money they represent.

Ignore This Advice

I’m not saying that consultants repackage and publish canned content to the extent that my dentist does. But I have seen consultants push generic content into the market in an effort to get “something out there.”

If you try to follow the content marketing dogma to “publish frequently,” you could end up flooding the market with content people don’t care about and have already seen many times before.

The strategy to publish frequently can work at cross-purposes with the ultimate goal of content marketing, which is to help attract new business.

The next time you hear the advice to publish frequently, ignore it.

The next time you hear the advice to publish frequently, ignore it.

You can make a bigger market impact with one well-written, relevant article than you can with a dozen so-so ones. If you are going to pursue content marketing, focus on quality, consistency, and market impact, not publication frequency.

Content Marketing Realities

Here’s an unfortunate truth about online content. Most prospective clients don’t trust it unless it comes from a professional association or industry group–that’s according to a study by the CMO Council.

The reason for this lack of trust is easy to understand. Lots of content is designed to market the services of the author, not offer value to the reader.

I’m sure you’ve seen the typical “thought leadership” pieces. They follow a familiar format, with a problem statement in the title, e.g., “How to Design an Employee Retention Program That Works.”

Then, readers are advised to tackle the problem in five generic steps: Create a strategy, design the tactics, implement the program, measure results, and revisit the strategy. You can find this formulaic approach in thousands of articles.

In many cases, the articles also contain a thinly disguised sales pitch, like a mini case study, that outlines a miraculously successful project the author’s firm completed. The articles close with the author’s bio, which promotes the service that addresses the issue outlined in the article. The text often reads more like a commercial than a thoughtful piece.

It’s no wonder that readers are turned off.

There is some good news, though: 87% of the people surveyed by the CMO Council said that online content “has either a major or moderate impact on vendor preference and selection.”

87% of the people surveyed by the CMO Council said that online content “has either a major or moderate impact on vendor preference and selection.

So, if you can develop content that prospective clients perceive as trustworthy and that engages their minds, you’ve got a fighting chance of getting the outcome you want.

Leave the Basics to Google

Here’s something that everyone knows, but lots of people still ignore.

The information on how to solve common problems is now a commodity. If you want to know the basics of leading a team, managing a project, or even fixing a leaky roof, Google has it–tons of it.

For consultants, there’s no marketing value in generating commodity-style content.

I’d rather see you produce zero content than publish generic information that’s been done over and over again. That type of content generates giant yawns, not trust or sales leads.

I know some people will say that there’s value in having basic content in the market, even if it’s not cutting-edge thinking. After all, the reasoning goes, if others have published the content, there’s probably a success story behind it.

That argument only works if you want to be like everyone else. Part of the reason that the consulting industry has become undifferentiated is the tireless copying of “best practices.”

And, if there’s one thing we know about undifferentiated industries, it’s that the basis of competition shifts to price because there’s no other way to draw a distinction between companies.

The same principle applies to content marketing. If you’re publishing the same content as others in your corner of the market, your efforts won’t pay off in the way you want. To your prospective clients, you’ll just be another consultant.

If you’re publishing the same content as others in your corner of the market, your efforts won’t pay off in the way you want. To your prospective clients, you’ll just be another consultant.

Instead of following the herd, think of other consultants’ content as a guide to help you decide what not to do.

Here’s what I mean. Instead of writing about the “10 Principles of Team Leadership,” try something more specific, such as “3 Ways to Lead a Team That’s Way Behind Schedule.” Or “How to Manage a Project That No One Wants to Do.”

Of course, it takes more time and effort to write a provocative article than it does to create a generic one. But, according to CMO Council research, your prospective clients want online content that offers breadth and depth of information, timely insights, and original thinking.

Attempting to publish too frequently puts stress on the creative process, and the potential market impact of the content suffers.

You want to be out there with your content on a consistent basis, but don’t be held captive by an overly aggressive publication schedule. Get your best ideas into the market when they’re ready to go, not when an arbitrary schedule says it’s time.

Resources to Build Your Consulting Business

Tools to build a consulting business

Tools to Build Your Business

The conventional wisdom says that you can “just hang out a shingle and call yourself a consultant.” It’d be nice if it were that easy.

To succeed in this information-intensive business, you’ll need a bunch of technologies, resources, and tools to support the great services you offer and deliver.

I’ve spent some time sorting out which tools work best for my business and those of my clients. To help you make choices for your own business, I offer this list of the tools and resources I use and recommend to others.

Read more.