Problem Solving

Acing the Case Study Assessment

The Case Study of the consulting interview process may seem like the most daunting part for some. But there is thankfully lots of information out there to help you get an idea of things that could be asked. At the end of the day, you have to remember that these are the kinds of scenarios you will be dealing with every day as a consultant, so the true future consultants will be eager with enthusiasm for this stage of the process.

Often the questions will address a variety of areas. These usually include Market Sizing, Business Operations/Strategy and Logic but could include some brain teasers too to test out your financial and business sense.

The first place to check out is the consulting firm websites themselves. They want you to do well and many of the firms have lots of tips and guidance, practice questions and help to get you through.

McKinsey –  Four practice case studies to work from here

Oliver Wyman – two practice examples here

Accenture – has an excellent array of videos on youtube for general information about the work they do with plenty of interviews with current consultants. However, their interview prep section is surprisingly lacking. There are five short videos on the ‘Essential Skills’ consultants need here which are worth looking at to understand the competencies Accenture are looking for in their candidates

This document from Accenture explains how to do generally do well in interviews And the Interview webpage has a short list of points to heed

LEK – has a useful youtube channel. This video on the general case interview is helpful and the interview playlist has some further worked through examples.

Bain & Company Two practice cases and videos that go through questions with three answers – see if you can work out which is strongest.

Booz & Co Very short bullet points on what they’re looking for

OC&C Consultants One short case study example here in this pdf

A helpful video from a small consulting firm here, but a good helpful walk through of the case interview

Now watch this full half hour interview on how to crack the case study so you know what to expect when you’re the one sitting there!

Next, here are the top three Case Interview Gurus and their books and websites to check out…

1) ‘Case Interview Secrets: A Former McKinsey Interviewer Reveals How to get Multiple Job Offers in Consulting’ by Victor Cheng to go with his website which gives free advice upon subscription to a free newsletter. This book has won praise from its explanation of the rationale behind the case interview process. When you know what the interviewer is thinking it can really help your understanding of how you can make your answers better.

Victor Cheng also has a recorded presentation here

2) ‘Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation’ by Marc P. Cosentino is the book to go with his website The Wall Street Journal named it the MBA Bible so it is worth a read with 40 strategy cases and many other types of question too. Here you can watch a 2 hour workshop on case interview success on his website The website also offers some other useful resources including the following short pages on tips for acing the case interview a simple framework for working through the case interview and the ‘commandments’ to follow On the flip side, have you ever wondered what the Interviewers are thinking? Well this pdf is aimed at those who are actually setting the questions – but potential applicants can read this to understand what they are looking for in answers 

3) ‘Crack the Case System: Complete Case Interview Prep’ by David Ohrvall includes 150 integrated videos on the website You can see one free example practice case here:

And here are 10 more useful resources to check out and improve your case interview knowledge:

1) A HUGE document here from the business school at Emory University which goes through literally hundreds of questions. It starts with getting the consulting interview but then goes onto detailing all the aspects of an MBA ‘in a nutshell’. This includes case study scenarios (helpfully listing the firms from which they originate) and which could be useful to take a look at for practicing your case study technique. Definitely take a thorough look through this for practice questions.

2) A pdf guide from Ace the Case that goes through the entire case study process, including all the sections and worked through examples and comments on what the interviewer may ask and extend the discussion further. A definite must read!

3) An even more important document to read through! Written by the Columbia Business School it goes through the dialogue of case interviews to show how they progress and what interviewers may ask. Follow the work through examples and see if you would respond in the same way.

4) A good pdf guide from Yale on how case studies are structured and includes some clickable links for further info at the end.

5) This is a really useful tool for the case interview as if you know all the vocab they might throw at you in a question then the method of calculating it shouldn’t be so daunting. This website also offers three free sample interview questions for Business Problems, Market Sizing and Logic before you have to pay to access more material. Only $14.95 for the ebook too

6) Worried about those awkward silences in an interview? Targetjobs advises thinking aloud as a way of processing your thoughts – it’s certainly much more helpful for the interviewer than you sitting in silence!

7) A few useful tips on structuring your answer but note that the links are old and broken.

8) Not worked through examples though which is slightly less helpful. But plenty to work through to practice your technique

9) Loads of examples here but requires a $6.99 monthly subscription to read the whole articles

10) Buy 11 case studies for $49.99 from Wall Street Oasis .


Strategic thinking in a month – 30 top links

Strategy is probably one of the most important things a consultant has to learn on the job. Each firm is slightly different in their approach but the overall aim is the same – have a great strategy and the project will be great.

But getting a strategic mindset requires time and practice. Get ahead of the game and start to learn some strategic thinking before that interview. Read one of these articles/watch one of these videos each day and within a month you’ll go from novice to pro!

1) Firstly, let’s start with this good animated video on how to create a strategic business plan. Focuses on three questions to ask when creating the plan. Consultants often need to give this sort of advice to help the company realise it’s vision.

2) The British Council offers this little tutorial on what strategic thinking is. As a government organisation they are used to using strategic planning all the time so useful advice to heed.

3) The Harvard Business Review gives a rundown on different ways in which to expand your strategic thinking

4)  Wondering what the key skills are to train your brain to be strategic? Well here they are!

5) A really great forum post here about how to be a good strategic thinker. Includes a table outlining the differences between a strategic and non-strategic thinker and the Wootton and Horne 3 strategic activities

6) Aspiring to be a McKinsey consultant? This article explains the 7S Framework used by McKinsey to address problems.

7) McKinsey’s own detailed article here on thinking strategically is obviously a must read. It’s mainly a run down of how strategic thinking has developed over the years but all of this should be understood to gain a better understanding of how strategic thinking is developing.

8) Are you a strategic leader rather than a lackey? 6 habits of strategic leaders. Includes a video

9) A good article including a flow chart of a strategic planning model, explaining the role that strategic thinking plays in business.

10) Written by a consultant, this excellent list shows how projects work and the fact that ‘the soft skills are the hard skills’ a lot of the time.

11) A pdf version of an extensive powerpoint presentation on being a strategic thinker. A definite good thing to read through as includes useful flow charts and bullet point questions to show you how to think like a strategist.

12)  Rich Howarth, CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, gives an 10 minute presentation at a conference on how to develop your strategic thinking skills. He has worked with some of the largest companies in the US so he knows his stuff…!

13)  Here is an interview with Rich Howarth too!

14) This article succinctly explains why strategic management is needed – that’s where consultants come in!

15) Five characteristics of great strategic thinkers – make sure you fit this model!

16) A quick rundown of what a successful business plan should include

17) Harvard Business Review article explaining how to develop strategic thinkers within an organisation – again advice that a consultant would probably give on a project.

18) Another Harvard Business Review short article on how to strengthen those strategic thinking muscles!

19) CEOs often have trouble implementing their strategic plans, or making them clear to their team. Here is a list of nine improvement suggestions that a consultant would typically make.

20) Seeking to demystify the art of strategic thinking by explaining how to make a causal diagram and follow the logical progression of a project.

21) A short Forbes article on how to improve strategic thinking

22) This page goes through how to conduct SWOT analysis in order to understand where a business is at and to develop a business strategy from the results.

23) A good set of steps on putting strategic thought into action – transcript along with video.

24) A pdf on strategic thinking and a useful set of pitfalls to avoid

25) A really good set of five elements of strategic thinking that are essential to think about

26) There are a selection of articles on Strategic planning on and here is one on how to implement a strategy across a business

27) An excellent article from McKinsey again on how executives can think more strategically.

28) A really useful detailed tutorial here on how to develop strategic thinking. Includes plenty of models and diagrams to visually represent the thought process

29) An interesting list here of the blog writer’s top four strategy models. It is in reference to the book ‘The Decision Book: 50 models on strategic thinking’ by M. Krogerus and R. Tschappeler

30) Finally this is a short clip from the Capture Your Flag series on Youtube – an excellent channel which gives inspirational messages via interviews with people at the top of their professions. Here, consultant Audrey Parker says that being a listener rather than a talker is a much better strategy for being a consultant.


If you’re looking for a book to supplement this list, take a look at

– Thinking Strategically, the Pocket Mentor guide from the Harvard Business School Press (2010) – the HBS is always a good source of business info and developments

– Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics and Everyday Life by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff (1993) – voted into the Top Ten Financial Times Bestsellers list. It is more of a guide in how to beat rivals but businesses obviously have to understand these tenets to outdo their competitors

– The Boston Consulting Group on Strategy: Classic concepts and New Perspectives (2006) – BCG has been at the top of its game for 40 years and this new edition of their strategic techniques brings together new ideas, insights and lessons. It is set out in the form of articles that were published in the Harvard Business Review or for clients so can be quite dense and challenging but is meant to expand your knowledge.

– The McKinsey Mind: Understanding and Implementing the Problem-Solving Tools and Management Techniques of the World’s Top Strategic Consulting Firm by Ethan Raisel and Paul Friga (2001) – This book is part of a trilogy of books printed by McKinsey that outline the way in which consultants work within their company. With real-life examples of strategic thinking in action within a consulting company, this is a definite must read!

– Be Your Own Strategy Consultant: Demystifying Strategic Thinking by Tony Grundy and Laura Brown (2001) – recommended for MBA courses, aimed at company chiefs trying to use strategic thinking for their businesses without having to use outside management consultants…but as an aspiring consultant you can take all the tips for the advice you would give on your projects!

Building a CAGR calculator in Excel

We already know that Excel is an incredibly powerful and useful tool, even if perhaps it is pretty pesky to get the hang of! One useful consultancy function to build in Excel is a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) Calculator. This is the measure of growth on an investment over a period of time, a particularly useful thing to find out if the investment fluctuates over time.

Watch this short video tutorial from this MBA e-mentor programme to understand the basics of CAGR and how it is calculated

Websites such as Investopedia have their own inbuilt CAGR calculators that can give you the numbers you need if you have the necessary information to hand. But to calculate the numbers from large sets of data you have collated in Excel, it is important to build your own CAGR calculator.

The following 8 websites will give you all the CAGR understanding you need

1) The best video tutorial to show the CAGR function input for a very basic table is offered by Savoir-Faire…

2) The Udemy blog gives a good simply explained introduction to CAGR. Also offers info on the more flexible XIRR function to achieve similar results.

3) However, as this video warns, XIRR can produce some incorrect results. So watch this to ensure you are not using wrong data – it really is imperative that the numbers are correct!!

4)  Chart Recipes offers a good breakdown of how the CAGR calculation works and includes a downloadable pdf of the page and an Excel template with the charts used in the example so you can test it for yourself

5)  A simple sheet that gives the spreadsheet CAGR formula too

6) Now of course CAGR functions can be used for bigger sets of data than these small tables. This Youtube video shows how to input the CAGR function in VBA format

7) This blog post explains the VBA format for the CAGR function

8) This article includes how to calculate CAGR on a financial calculator as well as on Excel

Finally, as CAGR is an advanced Excel function, it may be worth signing up to Udemy’s ‘Microsoft Excel Advanced Functions and Formulas’ course here:  You get a free trial and lifetime access to the 58 tutorials when you buy the pack. You also get a certificate of completion which is useful to add to your CV.

Enterprise Mobility Apps – Accessing Big Data on the Cloud

enterprise mobility app

Consultants are always on the go and it often feels like every second counts. These days, ipads and smartphones are becoming more and more useful in enabling us to continue our work lives at any point of the day. This may be slightly frustrating, but it is no doubt useful.

Being able to access all the Big Data systems such as SAP software from your smartphone means that whilst travelling you can continue the work that you would do on the office systems.

Smartphones are already becoming more powerful and capable of performing tasks formerly reserved for the computer. A recent amusing poster on the tube in London showed the new Nokia Lumia 925 with the full Office suit entitled ‘Excel in Bed’

excel in bed

No doubt this is a major development in how consultancies are working and will continue to work in the future. SAP has started to develop enterprise apps in 2014 and some of the options include:

  • BusinessObjects
  • CRM Service Manager
  • Rounds Manager
  • Strategy Management
  • MMX 365
  • Push 365
  • Cart Approval
  • Infrastructure rapid-deployment

But there is still a long way to go as Charles McLellan reports here

Let’s see how far the developers can take these EM apps!


Choosing the right MBA for you – Top 10 websites

Consultancy companies often encourage their employees to undertake an MBA (Master of Business Administration) at some point during their career. For those who went into consulting as a fresh graduate, this is a chance to put some business academic perspective onto the work that you have been working on over the last few years of your training. Companies like to encourage MBAs as of course for those who return, they are more qualified and able to take on more senior positions and offer better advice to the clients. And for the student, there are the benefits of career progression, networking and higher salaries.

Thinking about taking one? Take a look at these websites for some advice… Huge range of information here, including lists of all places in the UK and abroad that offer the MBA. Read the real life story profiles, how to apply and the benefits of taking one A ranking of the top ten MBA schools in the UK A nine step guide to choosing your MBA The Financial Times offers a list of things to consider when thinking about an MBA An article as part of the Telegraph’s focus on MBAs in their education section. Plenty of points to consider in these articles Here is a website offering profiles of the top MBA institutions in America Ten points to consider when looking at MBA courses This Guardian article sheds light on the employability of people with MBAs – often as consultants! Article from The Economist with more points to look out for during the MBA search

Thanks to the internet it is even possible to study the MBA entirely online or through distance learning. This could be useful if you are still going to be working rather than taking time off to complete it. The FT ranking of online MBA courses can be found here


Understanding Volume and Price

‘Volume’ and ‘price’ are two of the most important things in any business. If there is too much volume bought or sold at too high or too low a price, the finances of the entire company can rocket or plummet. Consultants often offer advice on how to cut costs and therefore drive profits up as well as analyse sales and stocks to work out the most efficient ways of selling products.

So what does the consultant need to know? Read the next 10 links and you should get a swift idea…

1) An article giving advice for start up companies on ways of pricing their business models – different models work for different businesses remember!

2) Not sure how to develop a pricing strategy? Read this great detailed account of how to do it with examples. If you sign up to the website for free, you can even get further step by step guidance on pricing strategy

3) The first in a ten part blog series on strategic pricing.

4) The director of Quanta consulting explains here why volume and price are so important for a business

5) Price management is majorly important to gain profit – Harvard Business School explains why

6) When is it good to offer discounts? Harvard Business School again, with an interesting insight

7) Not sure how to calculate your pricing? Harvard offers this flash tool to help you work it out easily!

8) What happens when competitors raise or lower their prices? This  important article from the Harvard Business Review in 2000 explains ‘How to Fight a Price War’ and gives varying opinions on what the best action to take.

9) Academic article from Indiana University on the importance of pricing in business.

10) A short pharmaceutical study on volume and price in this sector of industry – includes a BCG growth share matrix.


Tips for Calculating Market Share – the BCG Matrix

Market Share is an important indicator of the strength of a business within its industry. This is an important calculation for consultants to use in order to help companies analyse and allocate their resources for maximum efficiency and profit.

In the 1970s the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) developed a new way to represent market share by plotting a scatter graph which ranked business units/products against their relative market share (i.e. growth rate). For simplicity, BCG named the different quadrants the following:

• Cash cows are businesses that have a high market share (and are therefore generating lots of cash) but low growth prospects (and therefore a low need for cash). They are often in mature industries that are about to fall into decline.

• Stars have high growth prospects and a high market share.

• Question marks have high growth prospects but a comparatively low market share (and have also been known as wild cats).

• Dogs, by deduction, are low on both growth prospects and market share.


This method therefore provides a graphic representation for an organisation to examine different businesses that it owns on the basis of their related market share. This is now known as the BCG Growth Share Matrix and the following articles go through how to make one… An article that explains what the quarants mean and how to fill out the matrix along with an assessment of the pros and cons of using this matrix. Another worked through example of the BCG matrix Short Business Daily article that goes through the quadrants thoroughly

So now it’s time to learn how to make the market share calculations and graphs in Excel  (which as we know by now, is a consultant’s best friend…!)

Read this screen shot tutorial

And then have look at this useful Youtube video:

And you’re good to go, you Market share expert you!

Tips for calculating Market size

Market Size is the measurement of the total volume of a given market. In simpler terms, it’s the general size of the market in which a business is placed in. Consultants use this calculation a lot when doing research for clients and creating forecast reports and it is often a question asked in case studies and interviews to see how your financial head for numbers and business sense works.

There are several ways to think about approaching such market sizing questions and practice of course makes perfect! So get reading the help sheets below, follow the worked through examples and have a go at the practice questions!

1) This is a pretty helpful document from the Harvard Business School on how to tackle case interview questions. Includes lots of flow charts to try and visually organise your strategic thinking when having a go at the problems. Consists of a lot of questions to help train your pattern of thought rather than worked through examples though. Can also be downloaded as a pdf for printing

2) A slide show style document going through some McKinsey case interview questions based on market size. Includes a list of some of the common mistakes which you should be aware to avoid!

3) Here is the Wetfeet guide to Market sizing questions in the case interview that you can download for free!

4) Using an example of how many baseballs fit inside a Boeing 747 often asked in the case study assessment, this shows how to calculate market size.

5) Explains the ‘4-step approach’ to these questions and some worked through examples.

6) Another post with 5 useful tips on market sizing

7) This blog has several useful posts on the consulting case interview but here is a useful 3 step market sizing post.

8) Loads of worked through market sizing questions here, though to read them all you need to fork out a subscription of $6.99 a month

9) A post on a forum asking for help on prepping for the market sizing questions has some answers from those who have been through the process with examples of what they were asked.

10) A more technical look at market sizing here offering a new way to calculate and analyse this data.

Here an LEK consultant goes through the market sizing question in the case study

Finally, here is a video on tips about measuring markets – aimed slightly at start-up companies but still a short useful set of info


Using a Logical Framework Approach

A ‘Logical Framework Approach’ is usually used in consultancy projects to give them coherence across the ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ aspects of the problem at hand. So what is ‘horizontal logic’? It’s kind of what it says in the title really, a logical progression across a horizontal platform. So this could be picking up on the horizontal progression of your slides, to the structure of your research in search of the answer to a particular question. And ‘vertical logic’ is following upwards across the hierarchy of priorities you are trying to address.

This can be put into a ‘Logical Framework Matrix’ or ‘LogFrame’ like the one below

strategic project management   logframe white

The cartoon gets it pretty right in terms of the simple idea of the LogFrame approach. Check out the full blog post here and see how strategic project management can work better if using this structure.

For more general uses of horizontal and vertical logic, take a look at the following websites… A simple slideshare presentation here on making good presentations that conform to horizontal and vertical logic. When presenting your research findings and solutions to the client, it is important to ensure that they are understanding what you are saying. The audience may be comprised of top CEOs and stakeholders, or might be a broad range of workers from across the company. Regardless, using horizontal logic in your presentations will ensure that the key points will be retained by the audience and taken away to reflect on.  For a more thorough guide through the Logical Framework Approach, check out this 34 slide document (which you can also download). Includes plenty of diagrams. A good step by step guide to ensuring you fulfil the LogFrame. This help sheet can also be downloaded in pdf format at the bottom of the page. A more complicated diagram but the article is succinct in explaining that the LogFrame stage is important in ensuring your whole team knows what they are trying to achieve. This is an overview of Chapter 16 in the book ‘The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management’ and explains the IF and THEN arrows well that are shown in the graphic above. Includes a basic table template to work from.

Terry Schmidt also explains this with a thorough example in the following Youtube tutorial: This is a pdf document created by the University of Wolverhampton showing how to create a Logical Framework Approach. Includes a summary of the pros and cons of using this for a project. This is an interesting document which may be useful to browse through – made by the Government of Serbia, it explains how the Logical Framework Approach can be used to answer governmental questions. It is meant as a user guide to the project management cycle even though the topics covered may be slightly out of the business consultant’s field.  Similarly to the document above, this is a based on NGOs using an LFA platform to ensure projects are carried out well and to prove to stakeholders and donors that objectives are being achieved. However, the report shows that there are aspects of the LFA framework that have drawbacks.


Top 10 Consultancy Resources Websites

As it says in the title, here are the Top Ten websites online for a plethora of consultancy resources. They vary in target audience and things offered, but this is a great headstart into what’s out there on the web and to then branch out from to find the specialist bit of information you’re looking for!

1)    This is probably the best website out there for all things management consultancing-y! From articles to help you decide if this career is right for you or to move from a firm into industry to what would definitely be useful for when you’ve got the job – templates for presentations and Excel models! And best of all, there is even an ‘agony uncle’ called Greybeard that you can post your recent crises to for some calming advice. Perfect!

2)    A nice easy to navigate website with blog posts from consulting experts on their own ‘Top Tips’ on everything from networking to preparing for an assessment or interview. The 30 example interview questions are certainly well worth a read and most importantly, all the resources on this site are FREE!

3)   This one definitely wins for most excellent pun! American based website with nice detailed profiles of some of the major consulting firms with plenty of links, articles of interest including ‘A Day in the life of a Management Consultant’, ‘Overview of the Recruiting Process’ and ‘Consulting Lingo Dictionary’ as well as some free ‘Consulting 101’ videos. But watch out – the CV editing and professional advice comes with hefty price tags…

4)   This website gives help for all aspects of the case study part of the consultancy interview process. Only three examples are given for free (strategy, estimation and logic) before you have to buy the book. Though it isn’t too expensive at $14.95

5)    Expert advice from a former McKinsey consultant – register for free access to 6 hours worth of case interview training videos! Yes that is quite a lot but this guy knows his stuff – he got through 60 out of 61 case interviews and got offers for 7 consulting jobs!

6)   Although this is the careers website for students at the University of Oxford, there are some good info sheets here on preparing for case studies and what the career path of a management consultant is as well as a list of some recommended books and articles at the bottom.

7)    This is the blog of L.E.K. so is mainly based on that firm. However, the blog posts are from various people of varying levels of experience in the firm and there are some good case interview videos.

8)   This is a monthly paper which can be read online to catch up with all the recent news in the world of consulting. Useful perhaps for a little added something in an interview…?

9)   Sign up to top-consultant and get a free weekly e-newsletter with latest news and most importantly – networking opportunities, seminars and new job posts!

10)    Finally, for those of you who have already qualified as a consultant, you may want to become a member of the Institute of Consulting. Membership starts at only £60 and is probably a good investment for the extra resources you can gain access to through the websites ‘Consulting Direct’ section and through the regular talks and seminars as well as qualifications you can earn. You even get a profile on the site so when clients are looking for consultants, you are fully accredited here. Learning doesn’t just stop after the initial 2 year training period remember!