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Case Interview 101: Communication (Video 4 of 8)


Hi! I’m Jenny Rae, the Managing Director
of Management Consulted, and today I’m doing the final deep dive as a part of
our case interview series on communication, one of the key traits that
you have to demonstrate in order to convince the interviewer that you are a
future consultant in the making. In particular today, I’m going to break it
down into four different ways that you can demonstrate communication very
specifically throughout the interview, and you can understand not only what to
do, but also more importantly, potentially what not to do. These come from insights
that we’ve seen across the board with a whole bunch of our candidates as we’re
training them for case interview excellence. So make sure that you pay
close attention. Without further ado, let’s talk about the first thing. When
you’re communicating it’s incredibly important that you provide concise and
well-spoken responses to each question. The person who is really good at this
kind of communication isn’t rambling. They’re focusing on just using words
directly and clearly to make sure that they’re identifying the key issues. This
type of person uses summaries. Sometimes, if they find themselves going a little
bit into a development process where they’re just working things out verbally,
they bring it all back together at the end in a summary that makes it look like
they planned it all along. And finally the type of person who uses
these concise words and summaries directly as they’re moving through the
process, is constantly talking but with focus. I often serve on panels when I’m travelling to different universities, and
as a moderator or a member of these panels, one of the most common questions
we get asked is, “what is the most important thing that you see from a
successful case interviewer?” And one of the things that is consistently mentioned
across all the panels is that a successful case interviewer is always
talking. They’re always walking me through the way that they’re thinking
about something, but that doesn’t mean that they’re rambling, that they’re
chattering on, or that they’re expounding on something to the point where I’m done
way before they are. So make sure that as you’re going through the process, you’re
keeping it straightforward and clear, and if you’re ever not doing that, that
you’re pulling it all back together in a summary. Some key mistakes that we see in
this area – I’ve already touched on a little bit here.
The first issue that we often see is that someone has taken time when they’re
going through the case interview practice process to answer each question
and they can’t think on their feet. What this leads to is a lot of rambling, a lot
of confusion, and a lot of just general nattering on without any focus. And
oftentimes they’ve just relied on their ability to collect their thoughts for a
minute in order to come out with something composed. You need to practice
being able to do this on the fly, and it does often take practice.
So make sure that you don’t practice by giving yourself time to digest every
problem, but you just start talking. The second thing that’s really important to
focus on is that you must ask clear questions. If you ask open-ended
questions, it’s gonna lead you down rabbit holes that you never want to be
down. You’ll waste time, and you’ll really lose the ability to focus on the most
important issues in the case. So don’t ask open-ended questions, ask clear
data-driven and focused questions as you’re moving through the case. And then
finally, make sure that you show clients empathy. This is kind of a funny one, but
a lot of times people get so excited to solve a problem that they’ll say guess
what – you the client are really falling behind in this one area, and it makes it
sounds like you as the consultant are excited about it. Now we know that as the
interviewer you’re probably just excited about having discovered the answer, but
it’s really important that after you discovered the answer you demonstrate
that you understand where the clients coming from, what their concerns are, and
how you can appropriately address those. A one part of communication here is just
really making sure that you’re talking in a way that the client will receive –
clear and concise statements and also with messages that they will make sure
that they understand. The second thing that’s critical for communication is
making sure that you work through difficulty with a positive attitude. A
lot of communication is just the type of attitude that someone conveys in an
interview – somebody who’s a can-do person can use a can-do attitude;
somebody who gets frustrated easily is a perfectionist, who doesn’t like it when
they make mistakes and beats themselves up over it. It’s not attractive in the
actual case interview process. So make sure that you have a can-do attitude
when you’re walking through the case interview process because that will go a
long way. Now I’m not talking about just fluffy, happy, can-do attitude, I’m talking about practical pedal-to-the-metal can-do attitude. I’m
not just talking about like I’m sure we can solve this case and then fluffing
along until later you’re not actually able to solve it. I’m talking about the
type of person who can take a moment, address the issue, make sure that they
address it appropriately, and then move on. So the type of person has a can-do
attitude is the type of person that I would have wanted to hire when I was
working at consulting firms, and that every consultant that’s had somebody
working for them currently or will have somebody working for them in the future
wants on their team. The next thing is that you want to make sure that you’re
demonstrating that you’re having fun when you’re walking through the case. If
you’re having fun in the case – again not gleeful, blissful fun, the client is
having a problem – but fun in terms of your invigorated by the challenge and
excited by the issues. Having fun in the case is a great sign that you’re gonna
really like the job as a consultant. So make sure that you don’t come across in
one of the following ways which are key mistakes you can make in this area. The
first is don’t come across as though you’re getting frustrated and showing it.
So it’s okay to get frustrated until you find that moment to regroup and kind of
nut down on the key issue that’s facing you with extra vigor, but getting
frustrated and throwing your toys or just flailing out and looking for a
whole bunch of potential issues is not a good way to go about it. So make sure
that you don’t get visibly frustrated inside the interview. The second is not
regrouping when necessary. A lot of times people will go through the case and
they’ll just get frustrated or come up with an issue and they will constantly
just continue to beep on it without ever stopping. The most critical moment in a
case might be when somebody says, you know what I think I’m really headed down
the wrong path here. I don’t think that there’s anything fruitful there. Let me
just quickly go back to my original structure and revisit where we’re going
to go. That moment might help us actually save the case from what could have been
a disastrous performance. And the final thing which should seem obvious, but you
would be amazed at how many people do it, is quitting. Do not quit in the cases.
Oftentimes if an interviewer, especially in later rounds is really turning up the
pressure that what that means is that you’re on to something, that they really
want to understand how you think about things. So if you throw your toys, you get
frustrated, you just keep pushing on issues and get more
more frustrated, and then ultimately you quit, you could have been on the track to
an offer but you’re throwing it all away. So make sure you don’t quit in the
process but that you just take a step back and reassess whenever you need to.
The third piece of communication that’s really critical is I am identifying as
the interviewer whether I would like to work with you and manage you as a
candidate. And the way that you communicate with me is going to really
show how appropriate you understand our relationship should be and what you’re
going to bring to the table. The ultimate question in the interview is would I want
to have this person on their first case on the job. In fact, in many final-round
interviews, this is the ultimate question that the interviewers have to answer.
They’re not trying to figure out how good you are at 16 different things.
They’re trying to just figure out the answer to this one question would I want
this person on my team tomorrow. And as a part of that, it’s really critical that
you’re communicating in a way that makes it seem like I’m going to understand
your process, I’m going to believe what you say, and I’m going to recognize that
you are a thinking and contributing individual on my team. The second way
that you can really show that you’re going to be the type of person who’s fun
to manage is making sure that you smile and relax when you’re in the
interview. Again you don’t want to smile in a way that looks like you’re super
happy that the client has a disasterous problem, but you want to smile in a way
that acknowledges that you see that the client has a problem, you’ve got the
solution, and all it’s gonna take is 20 minutes of the interviewer’s time to make
sure that you find it together. You should show again here that the case
invigorates you not that you’re beaten down by it or terrified by it. You should
show that you have the ability to really address the problem and break it down
and do so in a timely manner. Some key mistakes that we see in this
area – first is being too serious. If you are a great person and doing cases but
you are too serious and they wouldn’t want to have a beer with you after we’re
done with the case, this is a problem. So one of the key issues is making sure
that you’re the type of person who is taking everything at an appropriate
level of seriousness, but not with the gravity and the intensity that makes me
not want to be around you. The second is acting terrified. If you
act terrified, I will believe that you probably will not be able to solve my
problems for me. If you act terrified in front of a client, they will also think
the same thing. So I don’t want to see you act terrified. I want to see you
actually confident – that you’re gonna be able to work through this, break it down,
and solve the problem. And then finally, if you treat the interviewer with either
too much formality or too little formality. If you treat them like a buddy,
or if you treat them like Mr. CEO as somebody that’s not approachable and not
in a collaborative way, you probably won’t understand how a lot of the
firm’s work hand in hand with their clients in order to solve problems. So
make sure that as you’re working with them and as you’re communicating with
them you’re including them in your thought process, you’re asking them
direct and appropriate questions whenever needed, but you’re also taking a
lot of ownership so that you’re working hand in hand with the interviewer to
solve the problem. The fourth and final trait that is incredibly important when
it comes to communication is confidence. You can probably forego almost
everything else that I said – structure, problem-solving, and communication – if you
get this one thing right. If you can convey confidence, you’re not only going
to make it from the first to the second round, but you’re also going to land
the job. And confidence does spill over into other areas. If you’re confident,
you’re more easily able to structure. If you’re confident, you’re more easily able
to do the math and problem-solve inside the case. But confidence is the most
important trait that you can exhibit, especially in your communication style
when you’re walking through the case. Now ultimately everything comes down to this.
When you’re working with a client in real life for consulting, your ability to
tell them how embattled you believe that your solution is the right one for them,
and your ability to drive them to implement it, is a measure of your
success as a consultant. Here the same thing is true- can you walk me through
the problem? Can you solve it for me? And can you convince me as an interviewer
that this is the right solution for me? You also have to make sure as you’re
going through this that you’re confident enough to have the composure to ask the
right questions. We’ve already talked about asking too many questions or
asking general questions, but the right questions, well-timed, and very insightful
can be incredibly helpful in demonstrating confidence in the case. In fact,
the best consultants are the ones who can ask 3 to 5 questions of any
client and ultimately get directed toward what they think the answer is
going to be. So make sure that you are identifying these two traits. Now key
mistakes that we see in the realm of confidence and these come up all the
time. The first one we call it boiling the ocean. It’s when you’re not sure
where to focus and you try to do everything. Boiling the ocean is a key
problem in cases because you waste time, and you don’t focus on the key issues.
You’re not demonstrating confidence when you’re looking at everything. You’re
gonna have to pick and choose. So make sure that you’re developing as your
training for cases and understanding of what’s important to clients, what the key
issues are that consistently come up and how most accurately you can go through
solving them. The second thing is not knowing when to move on. A lot of people
really over invest in the first section of their case. They don’t know when to
identify that that section doesn’t really have a lot of fruitfulness to it
and they can move on. Look, in cases you can always go back if you miss something.
So make sure that you know when the appropriate timing is to move on to
other areas. It’s more than likely that what will happen is that you’ll discover
that the real nut of the case is actually later on and you weren’t
missing it but you were just pushing on an area that was not going to bear any
fruit. But it is really important to make sure that you understand that skill and
that you don’t fall into the trap of not moving on when it’s appropriate to do it.
And the final thing with confidence is not rising to the challenge when you’re
tested. If I question you, make sure that you come back at me with a thorough
explanation of how you were thinking, but also an appropriate reconsideration of
it. When I say rising to the challenge, I don’t mean like I said earlier defending
to the death, that’s not what I’m looking for. I don’t want you to back me into a
corner. I’m also not looking for you to just fall over and say, oh yeah I realize
I’m totally wrong, it wasn’t right at all, and have no idea what I’m doing. What you
want to do is some balance between the two where you say, “here, here’s what I was
thinking when I was going through the process this way. I realize now that
there’s some other ways that we could think about it.” Lay out those on the
table and then see where the interviewer wants to take it. It’ll show that you’re
confident in your approach, that you had a reasoning behind what you did, but also
that you’re flexible to move on. If you can pull all of this together making
sure that you’re clearly communicating, making sure that you’re
going back and correcting any issues that you’ve got when you’ve got them,
making sure that you’re very clearly walking somebody through your entire
thought process, and finally exhibiting confidence throughout the whole
interview – that you’ve got this on behalf of the client, you’re going to solve
their problem – you are going to become an excellent case interviewee.
As you’re walking through the process, make sure that as you’re practicing, you
are talking consistently, that you’re getting your thoughts out in the air, and
that you’re learning to balance what you’re thinking and what you’re speaking
as you go through the process. Because great communication as a consultant is a
learned skill, not necessarily something that you have to have naturally. So as
you’re going through the process, if you need more assistance we’ve got great
resources for you. The first is our Consulting Interview Bible. The second
are one-on-one prep sessions where you can test out your skills with us. And
finally, we’ve got tons of articles and great free content on the web at
managementconsulted.com.

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