The case interview recommendation is one the most nerve-wracking parts of the case interview for most candidates. That is, until one learns how to crack it! You just spent the last 20-45 minutes creating frameworks, doing mental math, and interpreting graphs. Now, the interviewer asks you to put all the pieces together…should our PE client buy company X, should a CPG manufacturer build a factory in X location?
Nearly all case interviews end with some form of “what should our client do next.” To ace this portion of the case, it is important to first take a step back and understand the purpose of the question – and then drill the case interview recommendation during your case interview prep.
The Importance of the Case Interview Recommendation
The case interview recommendation in a lot of ways mirrors what you can expect on a typical consulting engagement. Clients hire a consulting firm to solve a specific problem.
For example, imagine a client is looking for a path to profitability. The engagement is broken up into discrete pieces that associates own (these are often called workstreams). For this client, there could be workstreams on costs and revenue opportunities. For example, one may want to look at ways the client could improve its salesforce’s effectiveness to boost revenue.
At the end of the engagement, it is the consulting team’s job to put all the pieces together and develop an overall recommendation. This includes both synthesizing information from your own workstream to come up with a recommendation (along with tactical next steps) and, for top performing associates, synthesizing information across workstreams.
For this project, delivering a recommendation based on an analysis of qualitative and quantitative data is optimal. (e.g., modeling the productivity of each member of the salesforce, reviewing the effectiveness of the salesforce’s training, and interviewing top performers to understand best practices).
This is the skill that the case interview recommendation is looking to test. Can you pull together information from different pieces of analysis to answer the main question? Taking it a step further, the consulting firms are testing if they feel confident putting you in front of a client to share the emerging (and final) findings from a workstream (and eventually a project)!
The following are common mistakes made on the case interview recommendation. Avoid them by drilling these areas in your case interview prep!
Not tying the recommendation back to the overall case interview prompt
At the beginning of the case interview, the interviewer will give you an overall prompt. The prompt includes a specific target the “client” is looking to achieve. For example, a PE client may be looking to acquire firm X and double its money. If you get to the end of the case interview, and the PE client cannot double its money, it would be tough to say that the PE client can purchase Firm X with no qualms attached.
A better answer would be, “Given the financial projections from x, y, and z (this will be what you learned in the case!), our PE client would be making 1.75x their money which is below the 2x target. Given the financial projections right now, the current hypothesis is that the PE client should turn down the target. However, the target does focus on an area that fits within our PE client’s strategy and has a strong customer base. As a next step, we can evaluate the potential to improve the target’s performance. Namely in x (top case performers can link this to a weakness they identified in the case and give potential ideas for improvement.” For example, if the issue is costs, top performers can give ideas to reduce costs, like renegotiating contracts with suppliers.
Not giving a clear recommendation with next steps and risks
If the interviewer asks you what the client should do, it is important to give a clear answer that takes a side. Not giving an answer or saying that you don’t have enough information to make a conclusion is a big no-no! This is testing you for what life is like on the job. If a client asks you casually what the emerging views are for their company, it will be difficult to say you don’t know.
Still, you can still give a nuanced recommendation with the next steps and risks clearly called out. Think of the consulting interview recommendation as phase 1 of a project. You can still have a recommendation but have additional items you need to look at in phase 2.
For example, you can say something like, “My emerging hypothesis is for our PE client to buy Firm X for three main reasons.
First, the target firm focuses on personalized beauty products which is an interesting space given the large market size, high growth rate, and alignment with our client’s expertise.
Second, the target firm has strong client retention which speaks to the target firm’s value proposition.
Finally, based on the target’s financial projections, our client can make 2.25x its money, which is higher than its 2x target, and there are additional ways to improve the target’s financials. There are two main next steps I would like to take.
First, I would like to assess ways for the target to improve its profitability, which could provide assurance that we can hit our financial targets even in a downside scenario.
Second, I would like to quantify the main risks with buying the target, specifically leadership quality.”
Again, this comes in many flavors (and tips to improve are included below). The root of communication mistakes comes from not being structured enough and not enough synthesis – this often leads to “noodle” answers, which are like stream of consciousness answers. This will make it very difficult for your interviewer to follow the insights you have laid out throughout the case interview recommendation!
Case Interview Recommendation Tips:
Tips to ace the case interview recommendation include:
Synthesizing throughout the case
Typically, at the end of each question of the case interview, there will be a time for you to share your key conclusions (e.g., your interpretation from specific graphs). When sharing your conclusions, it is helpful to not only state what you found out from this question, but also tie in findings from the prior questions and link the findings back to the overall prompt. This is a favorite tip of ours to share with candidates – not only does it make you stand out throughout the case, but it also enables you to build the recommendations throughout the entire case interview (not just at the end!).
Driving to second level insights
When delivering the case interview recommendation, it is important to use specific, deeper insights that support the tenants of your recommendation. For more information on the second level insights that firms like McKinsey look for, see here.
It is important to use a top-down, structured communication approach in every piece of the case interview. This includes the case interview recommendation! For example, if you want to buy company X, you can start your recommendation by saying “the emerging hypothesis is to buy company X for three main reasons.” There are several helpful articles to learn communication tips and tricks, e.g.:
At the end of the day, practice makes perfect; work with our expert coaches to get quality reps and valuable feedback – click here for more information.
The case interview recommendation puts your synthesis skills to the test, mirroring what you will see in a real consulting engagement. To crack this portion of the case interview, it is important to give a nuanced answer supported by specific, deeper-level insights. The recommendation should also be delivered with clear, synthesized, top-down communication.
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