Any prospective consultant will know that in order to join a consulting company, you need to pass the biggest test of your professional life — a case interview. Most candidates tend to rely on case interview frameworks to succeed. But that can potentially cost them their entire career.
Becoming a management consultant takes a lot of effort and commitment. It’s not the kind of job you get by simply waltzing in the office and dazzling the interviewer with your brilliance. And it’s also not the job that you get by memorizing a couple of rulesets. Which is precisely what frameworks are.
We’ll walk you through the story of case interview frameworks. We’ll go over why candidates learn them and if they’re useful at all.
By the end of this read, it will be clear to you whether you should use frameworks (and how much) or not.
What Does It Take to Become a Consultant?
As we’ve said, it takes a great deal of focus and effort to become a consultant. Sacrifices have to be made as well, especially in terms of how much of your free time you’re willing to dedicate to practice.
Being a consultant means possessing a strong analytical mind that scrutinizes even the tiniest of details. That’s how your interviewer is going to be as well. And they’ll be looking for that quality in you.
That means that throughout the entire hiring process, everything you do will be scanned to see if you’re consultant material.
The most well-known challenge is obviously the case interview itself. You’ll have to solve a hypothetical problem that a company’s facing while the clock’s ticking.
Even if your resume and cover letter are in top shape, and case-cracking abilities masterful, you still have to pass the fit interview. That’s when the interviewer will ask you a couple of questions about yourself, and the infamous “why consulting” question.
All of this is not meant to discourage you from becoming a consultant. On the contrary — the aim is to ensure you take every part of the process seriously so that you don’t fail.
There’s one more reason why we wanted to show you how difficult it is — to dissuade you from using ineffective strategies such as case interview frameworks. If you want to take a deeper dive into why relying solely on case interview frameworks can prove to be ineffective, you can check more info here.
The Definition of Case Interview Frameworks
Case interview frameworks are pre-made solutions to common business problems. They offer a way to structure a problem using a predetermined method. That method aims to handle all problems of the same sort, implying there’s some way to group business problems.
There are different frameworks for different kinds of problems that arise in the world of business. The most common ones include:
- Five C’s and Four P’s
- BCG Matrix
- Michael Porter’s “Five Forces”
- An Aristotelian Framework.
These are just some of the examples of commonly used frameworks. There are about a dozen of them that candidates like to study, memorize, and then use when the time comes.
Case interview frameworks assume that there’s an underlying pattern to common business problems. The main idea is to then apply a framework that best suits that particular pattern and solve it.
Here’s a simple example: If businesses are losing income, it usually implies there’s some problem in the revenue/cost structure. That’s what we’d call a pattern. And then, by applying a proper framework, you can take care of the problem. In this case, we’re talking about the profitability framework.
But in reality, it’s never really as simple as that.
The Problem with Case Interview Frameworks
Can you tell what the problem with the frameworks is?
You probably feel there’s something wrong here, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it. The issue is that case interview frameworks are trying to categorize problems according to “patterns” and “abstractions” rather than look at the root of the problem.
Frameworks try to stuff each problem into a preexisting structure that may or may not have anything to do with the actual problem.
In reality, the problems that businesses face are unique, unusual, and highly varied. Each company is a story for itself. Even if there are similarities, it doesn’t mean there’s a “pattern”.
That’s where candidates go terribly wrong during a case interview. Interviewers know what frameworks are and can easily recognize when candidates try to use them. It won’t bode well for you. On top of that, they’ll often give you a real problem that they worked on to see if you’ll try and squeeze it into some unrelated framework.
When you’re trying to jam a unique problem into a pre-made solution, you’re not really thinking analytically. All you’re doing is remembering the framework that’s the most similar to the case question.
Interviewers want to see you approach each problem as a one-of-a-kind issue — which it is. Ask yourself: Would there be a need for consultants if all you needed to do to solve a problem is to use the right framework?
Are Frameworks a Waste of Time?
Not entirely. They’re definitely not the right method to cracking case interviews, however.
But they’re a decent tool to teach you general business knowledge. And they’re an excellent source of examples.
Another thing you can learn from frameworks is how to structure a problem. At least when you’re still inexperienced.
The best and the only real alternative is to learn how to think like a consultant.
In other words, you need to get into the right mindset prior to your case interview. You can do that by practicing dozens, if not hundreds of mock case interviews.
That way, you’ll learn how to structure each problem you face. More importantly, you’ll be able to tailor solutions to specific problems, as if you were creating a custom framework.
It takes a lot of commitment on your end. But, without all the practice, you can’t really hope to succeed.
Case interview frameworks can serve as a decent starting point. They can provide you with more overall business knowledge, as well as teach you the basics of structuring problems.
But the more confident and experienced you become, the less useful the frameworks will get. The goal is to think like a consultant, not memorize one-size-fits-all solutions. That’s the kind of performance and initiative that will get the interviewers on your side.