How to ace the BCG written case interview

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) uses written case interviews during their recruiting process in addition to the traditional face-to-face case interviews.

After all, the written case interview presents you with a slight variation of the classic case interview. Hence, preparing for the case interview also helps you with your performance with the written case and vice versa. Below we dive into the differences between both case formats, discuss how BCG expects you to perform, as well as provide actionable advice on how to solve written case interviews.

The BCG written case interview asks you to answer 3 to 4 questions about a challenging client situation that you receive in a fictitious partner email. You need to derive recommendations for each.

In the process, you are bombarded with a ~40-page slide deck, which contains far too much information, data, graphs, press articles to comprehend within the 2 hour preparation time. Rather, you have to work hypothesis-driven and link the questions to the provided information to quickly zero in on the relevant bits of data and then, conduct your analysis. Based on this analysis, you should draft a short consulting-style presentation, crafting your own storyline.

We teach you how to do this below. In the end, you have to present and defend your recommendations in front of one or more interviewers.

The questions you could expect to answer for the BCG partner are along the lines of the following:

  • “I think the client should enter the Chinese market first. Do you agree? What would make China attractive to them?”
  • “Which product category has the best chances of being successful and profitable in China?”
  • “What are the strengths of the client that allows for its products to be competitive in the Chinese market? How does the client compare to the local competitors?
Actual screenshot of a real BCG written case interview prompt (Source: BCG)

The quick facts

  • Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes in total (120 minutes to prepare, 40 minutes to present and debate)
  • Data: A partner email plus 40 slides packed with information on a specific client’s issue. The partner asks you a few specific questions that you need to answer
  • Output: Blank slides to develop your storyline and recommendations. Draft a consulting-style mini slide-deck
  • Format: You prepare 3-5 slides to present your recommendation and analysis/ supporting arguments based on the question in the email. You will get challenged by the interviewer to see how you would react in a real client situation
  • Math: The numerical problems are relatively straight forward; calculators are allowed. The trick is to figure out what you should actually calculate to reach new insights and draft sensible recommendations
  • Focus: All industries or functions are fair game
  • Target group: The written case interview is currently employed almost globally, for instance in North America, Asia, selected European countries, Russia, and many others. Make sure to contact HR or recruiting of your target office in advance to clarify whether or not you would be in the target group for the test
  • Twist: You are not allowed to write on the materials which makes it much harder to keep track of your thoughts or highlight specific information

How does BCG want you to tackle the written case interviews?

BCG recommends the following to tackle their interviews. Keep it in mind when you draft your recommendation!

  • Enjoy the challenge
  • Manage your time
  • Focus your efforts/ messages. Does this piece of information/ analysis support my conclusion?
  • Present conclusive answers to the questions outlined in the case description
  • Produce clear and concise output (3-5 slides)
  • Deliver the most important message in the slide title
  • Use text with bullets and sub-bullets wherever you present conclusions or qualitative analyses
  • Use graphs/ tables for quantitative analyses (unless you present 1-dimensional data)
  • DON’T panic under time pressure
  • DON’T give in to the temptation to read all the available material
  • DON’T postpone formulating your hypothesis until you’ve collected all important information
  • DON’T get lost in analyses unrelated to your question
  • DON’T prioritize output quantity over quality
  • DON’T oversimplify your message

How do I approach the BCG written case interview?

We have compiled a tested strategy to help you to effectively tackle this type of assessment. Below is our 6-step approach to written case interviews that focuses your efforts, makes sure you zero in on the crucial bits of the case, swiftly analyze and synthesize the available information, and provide a strong recommendation.

#1 Already have a plan when you go in for the written case 

Since time is usually limited, you should have a plan on how long you want to spend on each task of the assignment beforehand. For a typical 2 hour case take

  • 5 minutes for a quick scan of the documents
  • 5 minutes to plan your approach (i.e. what do you need to figure out, what information is important, what analyses would you have to do, what output documents do you have to draft)
  • 20 minutes to draft your output slides (doing this early helps you to focus your analytical efforts)
  • 70 minutes to conduct analyses and work through the case
  • 20 minutes to populate your slides with your findings and recommendations

#2 Focus – quickly separate crucial information from the noise

Written cases usually present you with an information overload that you need to sort out. First, figure out what information is crucial so you can conduct the necessary analyses to reach a recommendation. Write down what the actual question is that you need to solve for right away and constantly relate back when you work on the written case. That way you should be able to read with a certain objective in mind and improve your comprehension speed. Second, look up the relevant information, structure your analysis, and dive right in. Similar as to a case interview, take a hypothesis-driven approach to frame your structure and thoughts. Synthesize each bit of your analysis to draw proper conclusions.

You can practice this by looking at business school cases, such as

Additionally, try to increase your reading speed with apps such as Spreeder, Reedy, or Read Me!

#3 Graphs and charts – interpret and distill key insights from graphs and charts 

Written cases bombard you with charts, graphs, tables and other visual depictions of data that you should use to test your hypotheses. Learn how to quickly read and interpret them.

  • What are the key messages and insights?
  • How does the information of several charts/ tables, etc. relate to each other?
  • What information is relevant to the case?

In order to prepare these skills, go through The Economist, the Wall Street Journal or similar and use their graphs or tables to train your reading and interpretation skills. Alternatively, look at practice McKinsey Problem Solving Test or BCG potential test graphs. Time yourself while doing it, e.g. giving yourself 30 seconds before you are able to communicate what the graph is all about and what you would infer from it (what is the ‘so what’?).

#4 Math – quickly draft equations and conduct pen-and-paper math

Get into the habit of quickly setting up and simplifying calculations. Practice quick pen-and-paper math as well as estimations similar as you would do in a normal case interview. To prepare and practice, look into McKinsey PST, BCG potential test exercises as well as GMAT questions.

#5 Storyline – draft a compelling storyline and tell it with visually appealing outputs

Create a top-down storyline of your recommendations. State your primary recommendation, then use supporting arguments to strengthen your position.

In practice, you would have one key slide talking about your finding and recommendation, i.e. the what or how the client should solve the problem, Then, you would have several supporting slides, discussing arguments for your solution, i.e. the why your approach is the best. Lastly, put a slide talking about the next steps to hedge your bets or show possible risks (what else would you like to know to make your recommendation even stronger) and demonstrate that you think ahead.

As for the slide design, use an action title on each, then some visual aid like a graph (remember to have a graph title as well) and some supporting bullet points, or if not applicable, just bullet points.

  • The action title should convey the so-what of your analysis. You need to show the implication of what you present rather than a description of what you have found
  • The headings of each slide together should tell the full story. Everything below the heading are details to the story and should support your key message

#6 Presentation and defense – communicate and defend your recommendation top-down

If you have to present your findings at the end of the case, follow the top-down approach of your slide deck. Be confident and engaging when going through your recommendation and supporting arguments.

First present your headlines, e.g. “The client needs to cut cost by x% to break even within the next 5 years”; then move on to the details of the slide such as “Our manufacturing cost have increased by 25% over the last 3 years,..” This approach is very much like the recommendation you would give at the end of a normal case interview

Clarify when you are using hypotheses and assumptions that you were not able to fully verify.

Lastly, be open and ready to debate. The interviewers will definitely challenge your recommendation. It is important that you confidently stand your ground unless they make you aware of an obvious mistake on your part. In the latter case, demonstrate that you are coachable and save the situation by providing a plan of action on how to re-do the analysis to cross-check and improve your results.

If you want to test your ability to work on a written BCG case, click the following link that redirects you to a real example by BCG.

 

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