The Case Interview. • Business Case Workshop
Agenda • Overview • What is a case interview? • Why are they used? • The Case Interview • Five skills • Types of cases • Frameworks • Business Case Interview Tips • Illustrative Case Study • Questions
What Is A Case Interview? • A Case Interview normally consists of a question that demonstrates how you think, rather than who you are and what you have accomplished • Example: How big do you think the US golf ball market is? • A Case Interview normally does not have one right answer
Why are they used? • Consulting firms normally use case interviews to assess: • Logical / analytical thought process • Communication skills • Creativity • General knowledge • Business insights • Performance under pressure • Problem solving with incomplete information
The Case Interview: Work The Plan • Communicate to the interviewer the issues you want to evaluate • Drill down • Ask questions that support or refine your framework • Check your progress • Wrap it up! • Based on the facts you have gathered, draw a conclusion that answers the interviewer’s question • Be prepared to “wrap it up” even if you run out of time
Types Of Cases • Brainteasers • Market Sizing • General Business • Falling Profits • New Product Introduction • Entering a New Market • Where to Locate a New Facility (“Site Selection”) • Mergers and Acquisitions
Brainteasers • Puzzles or questions that challenge a candidate’s ability to think creatively • Examples • Why are manhole covers round? • Why do fashions change every year or two? • The Approach • Be creative, and think (and talk) through why • Cover multiple reasons, but pick the most likely reason at the end
Brainteasers – Why are manhole covers round? • Possible Responses • Round manhole covers can be rolled down the street which is nice when they’re brought off the truck since they are so heavy • It is easier to drill a round hole than a square or triangular hole • A company had a patent on a certain style or type of round manhole during the period when most of the streets and sewers were being made • A properly sized round cover won’t slip into the manhole; a square cover might fit when it is laid flat but flip it on its diagonal side and it will drop through the hole
Market Sizing • Determine how big a particular problem is, or how many of x products are used • Examples • How many golf balls are made in the US each year? • How many cans of paint are needed to paint the Delta fleet? • The Approach • Walk through how you would figure it out, and ask the occasional question • Keep talking, and use round numbers
Market Sizing – How many new golf balls would be used in the US in a given year? Possible Approach: • Number of golfers in the US • 250 million people in the US, 20% of population plays golf • Number of balls they use per round • 2 to 3 balls per round • Number of rounds they play per year • Average of 10 rounds per year ~ 50 million people play golf in the US ~ 2 to 3 balls per round ~ 10 rounds per year ~ 1.25 billion golf balls
Frameworks • Help structure thought process and attack problems methodically • Many different methodologies, for example: • SWOT • Porter’s 5 Forces • 3 C’s • All valid approaches • Some more relevant than others, depending on the problem type • Many others exist • Don’t blindly follow a framework, use it to get you going and focused
SWOT analysis of Chelsea FC, 2000 • Strength • Skill, knowledge/experience • Organisational resource or competitive capability • Market advantage • Competitive assets • Weakness • Missing asset needed to compete Condition that places a firm at a disadvantage • Competitive liabilities or unproven abilities • Experienced players • Key real estate location • “Cultured” football methods shared across the squad • Midfield play • Little development opportunities for the youth teams • Old players more accident prone • Low scoring • Inexperienced manager Strengths Weaknesses • Attract further key international names • Umbrella branding (internationally recognised name) • Still backed by private investors • MUFC and Arsenal keep getting bigger • Leeds, Liverpool, back in contention for N° 3 spot Opportunities Threats • Opportunity: • External charactistics that provide potential competitive advantage or growth • Threats: • Factors that may undermine existing business model – HR, technology, new products, regulation, politics, demographics Frameworks - SWOT Example:Chelsea FC
New Entrants Threat of new entrants is low-to-moderate. While new brewers and wineries cannot stealmarket share from the billion dollar giants, they have had success creating sustainableregional brands. Buyers/ Customers Suppliers Industry Competitors Buyers/customers play a significant role in the alcoholic beverage sector, with 18 state controlled states effecting the way alcohol is marketed and distributed to consumers. Consumersare drinking more premium offerings ata smaller volume. Bargaining powerof suppliers is relatively moderate. Most winemakers grow their grapes. Distillers and brewers negotiate contracts in advance to protect themselves against increases in commodity prices. The alcoholic beverage industry is highly consolidated (wine is fairly concentrated).Top 3-5 players in beer and spirits control over 70% of their industry. Threat of substitutes is moderate. Spiritsand wine products are stealing share fromBeer as the health benefits and lower carbcounts play a big role in today’s market. Threat of Substitutes Frameworks - Five Forces Example:Alcoholic Beverage Industry Customers & Retailers/Government are the most influential forces in the industry
Frameworks - 3 C’s Example:Business Operations – Why has General Motors stopped making cars under the Oldsmobile brand name? Possible Approach: • Customers (Segments): Current customer base is old, and re-branding efforts to younger people haven’t worked. Older people don’t buy cars as often, fixed income, practical. Diminishing market segment, negative growth. • Competitors (Core Competencies): Japanese manufacturing and reliability have impacted marketshare, more innovative designs, GM Cadillac • Company (Changes): Follow the segment vs. brand focus, higher cost structure? (scale important), factors inhibiting new designs?, GM’s core competency? Product/image mismatch? What will happened to current Oldsmobile customers? • Final thoughts: Shrinking customer base makes unprofitable, and current Oldsmobile customer likely to switch to Buick, Pontiac
Case Interview Tips: Preparation • Practice! Grab a friend and practice some cases with him/her • Wet Feet Press and The Vault have good practice cases on their web sites • Career Services will probably have additional sample cases and workshops • Contact alumni in the Consulting field for “insider” tips • Bring a paper and pencil
Case Interview Tips: Execution • Relax. The interviewer wants you to succeed as much as you do • Maintain your composure. Pretend you are having a conversation rather than an interview • Consider external perspectives, customers and competitors • Don’t jump to an answer. Take your time and explain how you arrived at your answer • Ask questions, but if you need to make an assumption, state it and move on
Case Interview Tips: Things To Do When You Realize You Are In Trouble • When you get a question about which you are really uncertain, try to find an answer (or at least get partial credit) through the process of elimination. You might say: “Possible approaches to a problem like this would be to look at X, Y, and Z. However, for the following reasons, I don’t think those lines of inquiry will produce the ultimate solution.” • When you run out of ideas halfway through your answer, pause, take a breath, and say, “I’d like to take a minute to think this through.” Collect your thoughts, and write down a few notes if necessary before starting back into the case
Case Interview Tips: Things To Do When You Realize You Are In Trouble • If you feel your wheels starting to spin, say, “As I’m working through this, I know I’m starting to get into too much detail. I think the major issue for the client on this front is X. In addition, I know that we still need to talk about Y and Z, and I’d like to discuss those areas before time runs out.” • Tell the interviewer that you believe you misinterpreted the information and explain why you now think your response has missed the mark. Say that you think another approach would be a more productive path to the solution and state what that approach would be
Things Not To Do In A Case Interview • Panic or become emotional • Guess • Say “I have no idea” • Change the subject or lose focus • Make the problem more complicated • Jump to conclusions
Qualities Consulting Firms Look For • Self-starter • Analytical • Out-of-the-box thinker • Goal-oriented • Leader • Resourceful • Inquisitive • Hard worker • Team-oriented • Eager to learn • Energetic
Case Study Example Scripts The #3 athletic shoe manufacturer has hired your consulting firm to determine why its profits are declining while the profits of its two competitors are growing. • Scenario #1 • Candidate: Oh, that’s an easy one. Its profits are declining because no one is buying athletic shoes anymore. Everyone is wearing those big, bulky, retro sneakers. Athletic shoes as you and I know them are out. • Narrator: The candidate has jumped right into the fray, proposing explanations without even thinking through the problem. Moreover, he has revealed a dangerous misunderstanding of some important business relationships. Profits don’t necessarily relate to revenues, and even worse, he hasn’t listened to the question. The interviewer clearly explained that the profits of the two leading companies in the industry are growing. • Interviewer: Well, actually, why don’t we try to peel the onion here a little bit? Are profits declining because revenues are shrinking or because costs are increasing? What would you want to know in order to answer that question? • Narrator: Although the interviewer smells trouble, he gives the candidate a nudge in the right direction with the hope that he’s just nervous. • Candidate: Oh, costs! Then their costs are probably too high because they’re spending too much on advertising. Do they have Shaq on their commercials? It’s a waste of money. They should definitely cut back on their advertising spending. • Narrator: Again, a look-before-you-leap approach would have been much better. Instead, the candidate plunges right in, throwing out potential solutions without even thinking through the problem or the answer.
Case Study Example Scripts The #3 athletic shoe manufacturer has hired your consulting firm to determine why its profits are declining while the profits of its two competitors are growing. • Scenario #2 • Candidate: Well, the recent soar in the price of oil must have had an effect on the price of vulcanized rubber and plastic, thereby increasing the cost of production and eroding their profits. • Narrator: The candidate has jumped to a conclusion and appears to be substituting something he read this morning in the Wall Street Journal for thinking about the issue. • Interviewer: Well, actually, the costs of production have not increased. • Candidate: Huh, then it must be attributed to the decrease in consumer spending in the third quarter. People are not buying as many athletic shoes. • Interviewer: Wouldn’t that effect their competitors as well? • Candidate: Yeah, it probably would. Well, they could save money by moving their manufacturing facilities offshore, where there is cheaper labor. • Narrator: Rather than asking questions to narrow the field of possible solutions, the candidate is stabbing at answers. Although the candidate appears to have some knowledge, he/she doesn’t display a clear thought process and is complicating the issue. • Interviewer: That probably would save them money, but they are asking us why their profits are declining. • Narrator: What you know doesn’t always help you in a case interview. Concentrate on what knowledge the problem requires and where you can find it if you don’t already have it The answer is not as important as the method.
Case Study Example Scripts The #3 athletic shoe manufacturer has hired your consulting firm to determine why its profits are declining while the profits of its two competitors are growing. • Scenario #3 • Candidate: Can I have a moment to think through this? • Interviewer: Absolutely. • Candidate: If profits are down, that’s got to be a function of either revenues decreasing or costs increasing. Let’s focus on the cost side: are the client’s costs in line with those of its competitors? For example, are their manufacturing costs similar? Do they manufacture and assemble in low-cost offshore locations? What about selling and distribution costs? Is the client spending too much on a dedicated sales force when its competitors use independent reps? What about general and administrative expenses? Does the client have flashy office space or overpaid executives? • Narrator: This is much better! The candidate gets off to a good start by setting up the answer effectively. The “revenues – costs = profits” equation is simple, but it provides a clear way to proceed through the problem. It lets your interviewer know that you understand a basic business relationship and that you have a plan for rooting out the answer. In addition, the candidate is asking good questions – at least half the battle in consulting is knowing what questions to ask. • Interviewer: Those are all good questions. But the client’s costs all seem to be in line with those of its competitors. Costs don’t seem to be the problem. What would you look at next? • Candidate: If the cost side isn’t the problem, then I would look at revenues next. Are sales declining?
Case Study Example Scripts The #3 athletic shoe manufacturer has hired your consulting firm to determine why its profits are declining while the profits of its two competitors are growing. • Scenario #3 continued... • Narrator: The candidate takes the hint and moves on to revenues. • Interviewer: Actually, yes, revenue is down 6% from last year, and projections show another 5% dip for the coming year. How would you go about figuring out why? • Narrator: A pointed question from the candidate has brought forth more specific information that will help in the consideration of the case. The interviewer’s answer means that the candidate will have to dig deeper. • Candidate: I would try to break sales apart into its relevant components: are sales of certain shoe models declining disproportionately to others, for example? • Narrator: The candidate might have talked about the two pieces that make up sales: price and units. However, she chooses to break down the sales picture into different product categories, which is also fine. • Interviewer: Not really, most SKUs – shelf-keeping units equivalent to individual product styles – are actually declining at a similar rate. What would you look at next? • Narrator: Looks like another dead-end. But don’t get depressed – it just means that the recruiter has ruled out another possible explanation and narrowed the candidate’s focus a little further. We’re getting warmer. • Candidate: If it’s not a few laggard shoes designs driving the downturn for this company, and sales are just down overall, it looks more like people have just stopped buying their shoes, period. We need to figure out why. Who are their biggest customers? What’s their target demographic? Are they just not buying athletic shoes anymore?
Case Study Example Scripts The #3 athletic shoe manufacturer has hired your consulting firm to determine why its profits are declining while the profits of its two competitors are growing. • Scenario #3 continued... • Narrator: Having checked a variety of possibilities, the candidate makes a preliminary hypothesis and proposes some ways to check this insight. Even better, she proposes some next steps for the inquiry. • Interviewer: You’ve hit on the crux of the problem: the company isn’t sure who its customers are anymore. Formerly, its biggest customers were serious athletes interested in high performance shoes. But the company isn’t sure if that’s true anymore. That’s one of the biggest pieces of value we provided for the company – we told them who is buying athletic shoes. How would you go about getting that information? • Narrator: The interviewer reveals that the candidate has hit on a key piece of the puzzle. Without pausing for breath, the interviewer then checks the candidate’s ability to turn her insight into action and her common sense. • Candidate: Well frankly, I’d go to the mall! I’d stand outside Foot Locker and see who’s buying athletic shoes, check what brand they’re buying, and maybe even ask them why. By doing this, I’d be able to see that demographic group was buying the most athletic shoes and whether they were buying our client’s shoes or not. If not, I’d try to draw conclusions as to why not. In short, I’d try to segment the athletic shoes market, and figure out how to target the most attractive segments.
Case Study Example Scripts The #3 athletic shoe manufacturer has hired your consulting firm to determine why its profits are declining while the profits of its two competitors are growing. • Scenario #3 continued... • Narrator: The candidate uses a common sense approach here, which is really good. Not only is her idea practical, it would be easy to implement and it would be relatively cheap to do. She also shows that she fully understands what information she needs to collect. Not only would she observe customer behavior, and ask them why, she’d also analyze the findings and try to draw general implications from them. • Interviewer: Well, that’s exactly what we did – we went to the mall. And our field research showed that young adults in the 13- to 24-year old age group were buying 65% of all the athletic shoes in the market we looked at. That makes them the first priority market segment for our client. The next phase of this case is just beginning: we need to put together a plan to target this demographic group specifically. Do you have any ideas? • Narrator: Now the consultant is pushing into new territory, trying to see just how far this candidate can take the analysis. • Candidate: Well, it strikes me that the demographic you’ve described is less concerned with high performance (the company’s current focus, you said) and more concerned with the image of their shoes. Do they look cool? Would Michael Jordan wear them? That kind of thing. I would recommend putting together a marketing and advertising campaign to really pump up their image in the eyes of the young public. • Narrator: This comment is based more on the candidate’s intuition and creative thinking, but it shows that she fully grasps the nature of the problem. • Interviewer: That sounds on track with what we’re thinking about...
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