Case interview : McKinsey, Bain, BCG MBB Questions Analysis

Are you looking for a career in management consulting at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG? Do you have an upcoming case interview? Do you want to develop the consultant approach to problem-solving? Then this is the article that you’ve been waiting for that gives you a deep low down into the case interview questions of McKinsey, Bain, and BCG.

When it comes to case interviews, many candidates are confused and have the following questions:

  • How should a case be practiced to be useful in an interview?
  • There are so many different kinds of case interview questions. What is the interviewer actually looking for in a successful candidate?
  • How to develop your own framework so that you can succeed with it easily in the interview?
  • How many rounds of interviews take place in consulting interviews?
  • How many cases are there per round?
  • What is the difference in questions in 1st round, 2nd round, and partner round?

As we all know, aspiring management consultants must pass the case interview round to make it to consulting industry. I heard during my preparation days that if you haven’t practiced 50+ cases, don’t even think about getting an offer from a consulting company. If you are targeting MBB, apply only after you practice 100+ cases.

But the truth is, even if you have practiced 100+ cases, you might still end up without an offer in the end. Case interviews have a high elimination rate of 90-95%, so your odds of rejection are way higher than selection. There would be more candidates who are rejected than the ones who get accepted at consulting firms.

After coaching over 1000+ on case interviews and going through the feedback received, we found that the main reasons for the failure of most candidates in interviews are: 

1. Lack of experience with case interview

2. Too rigid with their interpretation and application of frameworks

If you are a case beginner, popular case framework models can look like a good way to solve the problems. However, if you apply a ready-made model during the interview, this is equivalent to telling the interviewer, let me show you my memory skills. This is a sure shot way to tank an interview and will definitely reduce your points.

Consulting firms don’t want candidates who are able to remember 15 frameworks on the fly. What they want are consultants who can really solve business problems with structured thinking. These problems might be difficult for candidates who are just beginning to solve cases. In reality, they reflect the daily routine of consultants and help the firm decide whether you’re the right one for them or not.

If you can’t grasp the logic behind interpreting the case prompt, no matter how much you practice, you can’t draw inferences by analogy. This isn’t the way consulting works.

  1. Steps involved in case interview at McKinsey, Bain & BCG

First of all, we need to understand the interview process of consulting companies. Almost all top-tier consulting companies follow the standardized interview process.

  1. Step 1: Online application
  2. Step 2: Pre-talk
  3. Step 3: The first round of interviews (usually interviewed by Associate or Engagement Manager)
  4. Step 4: The second round of interview (usually see Associate Principal or Partner)
  5. Step 5: Make an offer

The consulting interview process has basically 3-4 rounds: Pre-talk, First round, Second round, Third round(in some cases). Almost every round has an array of cases that you need to successfully crack.

The typical case interview process at Mckinsey, Bain, and BCG is as follows:

Case-interview-Process-Mcksiney-STEPVUE
Case-interview-Process-Mcksiney-STEPVUE

The duration, as well as the focus of the case, varies according to each interview round with every interview designed to test a particular skill set. For example, in the mini case round in pre-talk, the interviewer gives more attention to behavioral issues and logical thinking. During the full case rounds, the interviewer is interested in the assessment of business sense, structured thinking, and ability to withstand stress.

Round 1 case interview questions at MBB

Personal experience part:

Generally, in the first round consulting interview, the interviewer will explore the “problem solving” ability, your logical thinking, and business sensitivity by exploring the internships and projects you have undergone. Usually, you need to pay attention to the cases of these projects and learn to use the form of a story to express to the interviewer.

Case Interview:

The specific and simple types of cases will be explained later, but there is one point that needs to be explained in advance: in any case analysis, it is not advisable to fixate around a specific number. The answer is important, but what is important is “how to arrive at this answer”. Many case interview experts advise there is no right answer in a case. Don’t fall for this advice. There is a right answer to every case and there is a tolerance range around it. Also, there are many wrong answers to a case interview prompt which can result from following a wrong or misguided approach.

Round 2 case interview questions at MBB

Similar to the first round, in the second round of consulting interview, the interviewer’s hierarchy is higher and mostly around engagement manager level. In round 2, the case may become more “strategic”. At this time, the case is probably not a problem that requires specific calculations, but about a certain problem that a client is facing. The majority of discussion would be on the logic behind the overall strategy of an industry/ market/ company or the recent business direction they have pursued. This is where your strategic and business orientation is put to test in an interview.

So what are the simple case types that are often tested in the consulting industry?

What is the most basic problem-solving and splitting framework?

  1. The main types of case interview questions

Case interviews can vary in the level of difficulty depending on your preparation and the depth of the case. However, the fundamental question types are basically the same. In a simple consulting interview, there are six main categories of case topics:

  1. Market sizing/market size estimation
  2. Market entry
  3. M&A / Joint Venture Investment M&A
  4. Performance improvement
  5. Growth plan
  6. Brainstorming type

When faced with different types of cases, the specific solutions to the problem will be different and the approach would also vary with each case type.

We take two case types as examples to briefly look at how specific problems should be analyzed and solved in the consulting interview:

Pricing Strategy: 

The commodity pricing strategy is a classic question type that will be encountered with high probability in consulting interviews. The big question is what factors should be considered in the principle of commodity pricing and how to analyze such cases? How are the products priced? What decides the price of a product.

The starting point of analysis:

  1. Unique selling point: When the product homogeneity is very high, consumers will start to compare prices among available products. Finding a unique selling point (USP) for a product is the best way to effectively avoid price wars. What makes the company’s product unique, are there any differentiating features in the product?
  2. Added value: If companies can create added value for their products, whether in terms of time, convenience, money, etc., the customers may accept higher prices. 
  3. Understanding cost: Cost is the starting point for pricing. In every industry, there is a general proportionality factor between product cost and retail price. You must understand all costs such as raw materials, production, and distribution, and understand this proportionality factor when arriving at the final price.
  4. Split test: Though this is part of recommended solutions, companies often conduct pricing tests for real consumers. If you have an online sales channel, you can create two pages for the product, open at the same time, the content is exactly the same, but the retail price is different. After a period of time, you can compare and choose the right price.

Market Sizing Problems:

  • How many passengers does the Delhi Metro have in a day?
  • How many beer bottles are consumed in India each year?
  • What is the revenue of Starbucks in a day for their New Delhi outlet?

Problem-solving ideas:

1. Start with the target problem and decompose it into its component parts: One of the core tenets of consulting is to split a big problem into multiple small problems, so as to discover the real problem by staying MECE and 80/20.

2. Approach a problem from a supply perspective or a demand perspective: The market is composed of supply and demand sides, so the general market sizing problem has corresponding ideas from both ends of the analysis. The market can be estimated by the supply capacity/price/profit of the manufacturer, and through the number of people/group characteristics on the demand side to estimate the market. Segmentation techniques are extremely useful in such cases.

3. Further decomposition, reasonable hypothesis based on actual experience: Take Starbucks’ revenue estimation as an example: In a day, there will be a certain difference in the number of Starbucks customers in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. Suppose that 200 people buy every hour in the morning. Since it is the morning, these 200 people will buy a cup of coffee, and it is very likely that 100 of them will also buy a piece of cookie or cake; this can calculate the turnover between 8 am and 11 am.

Although the final result is based on hypothetical figures, it also requires you to have a general preliminary understanding of the target industry you are analyzing, and it is more than just irrelevant. But the specific number itself is not important, what matters is how you arrived at it.

  1. Framework thinking for case interviews at McKinsey, Bain & BCG

You will find that a case interview is an on-site interview that analyzes a business problem. It aims to examine the candidate’s problem-solving framework thinking and business acumen. 

The first thing a newcomer to a consulting firm does after joining is to cultivate the habit of structured problem-solving. McKinsey’s problem-solving logic roughly includes seven steps:

Mcksiney-7-step-problem-solving STEPVUE
Mcksiney-7-step-problem-solving @STEPVUE

Strategic planning often involves understanding industry trends, regulatory directions, international movements, market forecasts, user analysis, competitive product research, status quo diagnosis, implementation measures, financial planning, organizational capabilities, and so on.

The top consulting company’s magic tool for these complex projects is to dismantle the problem. This is popularly called “structuring“, which is an application of the “pyramid principle”, as well as various variants such as “problem tree” and “hypothesis tree”.

It is a proven fact that once you dismantle the big problem into sub-problems, it becomes easier to solve it. The skill is in being able to break down the problem correctly.

For example: Let’s say you’re planning to pursue MBA abroad next year. This is a big task, but we will break it down into smaller sub-tasks.

You need to get a GMAT/GRE score, get TOEFL/IELTS score, choose a school, prepare an application essay, plan your finances, and finally travel abroad.

This strategic disaggregation can be a specific problem, which can be solved through specific data and business knowledge.

There is no fixed model for disassembling problems in the consulting industry. The breaking down of problems includes an understanding of customer issues and is adjusted according to scenarios. Based on experience, I can say, consulting companies have many models and many cases. In fact, each project will refer to it instead of copying it blindly. When building a complete structure, we are already understanding and thinking “to solve this problem.”

Therefore, it is not difficult to understand that the consulting industry has high standards and requirements for candidates.

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Abhijeet Singh
Abhijeet is the Founder & CEO at STEPVUE. He is a heady mix of ambition, sarcasm, sports and something more. Ex: GAIL India Limited (Brand Marketing), RSM MBA and DTU
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