[sbinews] Case Study (Whys and Hows) - From Mckinsey Website

  • From: rspai@xxxxxxxx
  • To: sbinews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 21:06:03 +0500

Dear Colleagues, 

In promotional exercises, case studies are now being used to select candidates 
for promotion. The write-up below gives insights into the hows, whys and 
how-tos of Case Studies. 

Regards, 
R.S.Pai
**************************************************************************

Case Study Tips  
(Mckinsey website) 

As part of the interview process, we will ask you to discuss a business 
problem. As you work through the business case with your interviewer, you will 
also become better informed about our firm and the kinds of problems we solve. 

Most candidates enjoy the cases and the business issues they raise. Your 
approach to the case and the insights you reach will give you an opportunity to 
demonstrate your problem solving abilities and help us get a sense of your 
potential. The following questions are addressed in this section: 


Why We Use Case Studies 

Your ability to deal creatively with complex or ambiguous problems in 
unfamiliar businesses, to structure your thinking, and to reach sensible 
conclusions with the available facts in a short time is a critical skill as a 
consultant. 

Since no particular background or set of qualifications necessarily prepares 
you to do this, we've come to rely upon the case study as an integral part of 
our interview process. The case study gives us an opportunity to see how you 
think about problems and whether you can reach a well-supported conclusion. 

How You Should Approach the Problem 

The cases you discuss in each of your interviews will be different. Generally, 
they are based on the interviewer's professional experiences and will usually 
describe situations with which you are not familiar. For example, your cases 
might focus on deciding how a company should react to a new competitor or 
determining what attributes a company should look for in seeking a 
joint-venture partner. 

In addressing the case, it is important that you take a logical, 
well-structured approach and reach a reasoned conclusion. At a minimum, you 
should be sure that you: 

Understand the underlying problem and the question. Ask for clarification on 
points that you feel are unclear.


Break the problem down into a logical structure. There may be several issues to 
be addressed in order to reach a conclusion.


Address the issues one at a time. Focus on the most important issues first. 
Your interviewer may not expect you to get through all of them in the allotted 
time.


Address important issues, not just ones you feel comfortable with. Candidates 
often focus too much on their own area of expertise rather than the important 
issues (for example, accountants focusing on the financial aspects of new 
product development without mentioning customers).


Test your emerging hypotheses. Keep coming back to check that you are 
addressing the question you were asked.


Request additional information. As you build an understanding of the problem, 
there may be more information that you need.


Reach a conclusion. Synthesize your thoughts concisely and develop a 
recommendation.

What We Are Looking For 

In most instances there is no right answer to the problem. It is critical that 
you demonstrate your ability to think in a structured way and that you reach a 
reasoned conclusion that is supported by the evidence. Listen carefully to the 
scenario; if you miss critical information, it can affect your ability to solve 
the problem. 

During the case study, we look for evidence of your ability on a number of 
dimensions — logical reasoning, creativity, quantitative skills, business 
judgment (not business knowledge), pragmatism, and an ability to structure 
problem solving. We also look for evidence of intellectual curiosity and 
enthusiasm for typical consulting issues. 

It is equally important for us to get a sense that you are comfortable with our 
working style — learning from the emerging facts and developing revised 
hypotheses as more information becomes available. You should be receptive to 
new information and use it to push your thinking forward. When you are asked a 
question, you should refer back to any relevant information that's already been 
discussed, rather than answering it in isolation. 

Case Study Tips

Listen to the problem. Make sure you are answering the question that you have 
been asked.


Begin by setting a structure. Think of four to five sub-questions that you need 
to answer before you can address the overall issue. 


Stay organized. Finish one key question and arrive at a point of view before 
you go on to the next.


Communicate your train of thought clearly. If you have considered some 
alternatives and rejected them, tell the interviewer what and why.


Step back periodically. Summarize what you have learned and what the 
implications appear to be.


Ask for additional information when you need it. But make sure that the 
interviewer knows why you need the information.


Watch for cues from the interviewer. 


Don’t fixate on "cracking the case." It is much more important to demonstrate a 
logical thought process than to arrive at the solution.


Use business judgment and common sense. 
Relax and enjoy the process — think of the interviewer as a teammate in a 
problem-solving process and the case as a real client problem that you need to 
explore and then solve. 

Some Common Mistakes 

Misunderstanding the question or answering the wrong question.

Proceeding in a haphazard fashion. For example, not identifying the major 
issues that need to be examined or jumping from one issue to another.

Asking a barrage of questions without explaining to the interviewer why you 
need the information.

Force-fitting familiar business frameworks to every case question, whether they 
are relevant or not, or misapplying a relevant business framework that you do 
not really understand, rather than simply using common sense.

Failing to synthesize a point of view even if you don’t have time to talk 
through all the key issues, be sure to synthesize a point of view based on 
where you ended up. 
 
 


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