Why memorized frameworks don’t work

the image is the cover for an article on case interview frameworks

Memorizing frameworks for a case interview may seem like an effective strategy, but in reality, this practice is detrimental to your performance. McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and other top consulting firms want to see candidates come up with their own solutions and innovative approaches.

In this article, I want to show you why memorized frameworks like the ones from Case In Point or from Victor Cheng do not work and supplement these with plenty of examples to bring the point across. At the end, I want to introduce you to my Structuring Drills course as well as my Case Interview Preparation book, The 1%: Conquer Your Consulting Case Interview. Both resources are aimed at developing you into a world-class case interviewee.

Below are the top reasons why memorized frameworks and cookie-cutter approaches do not work.

Memorized case interview frameworks are trash

No points for problem-solving

First, case interviews are designed to test your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, not your ability to regurgitate memorized information. Frameworks are meant to be a guide, not a script. Using a memorized framework in an interview can make it obvious that you are not thinking critically about the problem at hand, which can make it difficult for you to impress the interviewer. Interviewers want to see insightful frameworks, which means that they need to be tailored, relevant, and concrete.

If you just use memorized buckets, you will score badly in terms of problem-solving. To see a real scoring sheet, go here.

Cases have become much more creative

Second, case interviews often involve unique and unpredictable scenarios. No two cases are exactly the same, so a memorized framework may not apply to the specific problem you are presented with. Attempting to force a framework onto an unrelated problem can make it clear that you lack flexibility and the ability to adapt to new situations.

For instance, let’s look at a real McKinsey case example from a couple of years ago.

You are working with an operator of a specific type of machines. They break down at different rates at different locations. What factors can you think of why that would happen?

Example of a McKinsey Case Interview Structure Questions

Which Victor Cheng framework or Cosentino ideas would you present here to the interviewer? There is not a single bucket that would work. Let us look at an example answer for this prompt.

Example Framework McKinsey Case Interview

Case Structuring Course and Drills

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Learn how to structure any case, regardless of the problem, industry, or context with our first-principles approach to problem deconstruction and brainstorming. We use our McKinsey interviewer experience to teach you how to structure cases like a real consultant.

Includes 25 lessons on structuring and brainstorming and 100 practice drills.

You limit your creativity

Third, using a memorized framework can limit your ability to think creatively. When you are focused on trying to fit the problem into a pre-existing framework, you may miss opportunities to come up with innovative solutions.

1% of candidates make it through the filter of MBB. You want to provide insights that the interviewer has not heard before and not be just like the other 99% that fail to impress.

You have no rationale

Fourth, case interviews also test your ability to communicate and present your thought process effectively. When you are relying on a memorized framework, you may not be able to explain the reasoning behind your solutions and ideas. This can make it difficult for the interviewer to understand your thought process and evaluate your problem-solving skills.

Interviewers want to understand why you think a certain way, not just what you think. Memorizing frameworks completely kills your ability to support and defend your choices.

In conclusion, memorized frameworks can be detrimental to your performance in a case interview. Instead, it’s better to focus on developing your problem-solving, critical thinking, flexibility, creativity, and communication skills. These are the skills that are truly valued in case interviews and in a business setting later on.

Let’s have a brief look at how you can become a better problem solver.

Learn how to use a first-principles approach to problem deconstruction

There are several ways to come up with and create meaningful, relevant, and targeted frameworks. Your approach usually depends on how familiar you are with the topic at hand. While you are never expected to have in-depth domain knowledge about an industry, function, or client, some high-level understanding helps with idea generation. I discuss in the preparation chapter how you can develop this understanding through:

  • practicing a diverse set of cases
  • regular reading of business publications and magazines
  • becoming familiar with basic business concepts and terminology.

At the core of your idea generation should be first principles thinking, which refers to the process of systematically deconstructing a problem or situation into its constituent parts in a MECE way. Only by following this approach can you identify where the issue in a case comes from and how big it is (the what), then dive deeper to understand the reason (the why) to eventually work on a solution (the how). First principles allow you to break a situation down into its core pieces, then put it back together. For instance:

“What do we need to build an aircraft?”

  • A factory (infrastructure)
  • Tools and equipment
  • Materials
  • Staff
  • Financial means
  • Know-how

From there, you go into second and third-order considerations; for instance, for staff:

  • What qualifications are needed?
    • Formal education and training
    • Work experience
  • How many people do we need?
    • # of people in total
    • # of people for different areas (e.g., engines vs. wings)
  • How can we hire them?
    • Supply of and demand for labor in the area
    • Job advertisement
  • How can we retain them?
    • Working conditions
    • Remuneration and benefits
    • Training

There are several ways you can employ this type of thinking for creating case interview frameworks. First, we look at the top level of your issue tree, the foundation of your problem-solving, then explore in more depth the branches, all with a first principles perspective in mind.

How we can help you with structuring your cases

I have seen memorized and cookie-cutter frameworks destroy many candidates’ performance and chances to get an offer for many years now. The only issue that is bigger than that is the typical candidate’s ability to handle case math (but that is for another time).

The image is the cover for the bestselling consulting case interview book by florian smeritschnig

To conquer that and many other things that I think are wrong with today’s standard literature on case interviews, I wrote The 1%: Conquer Your Consulting Case Interview. The book is available on Amazon and covers frameworks, case structuring, and brainstorming in great depth. It teaches you how to think and not to memorize faulty frameworks (among 340+ pages of other valuable case interview content).

Once you have understood how to tackle a case structure, you can practice with the Case Structuring Drills here on StrategyCase.com.

We have specialized in placing people from all walks of life with different backgrounds into top consulting firms both as generalist hires as well as specialized hires and experts. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we focus on teaching the best habits and strategies to ace every case interview, including idea generation, problem-solving, and brainstorming, all from a first-principles perspective.

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Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program to help you break into consulting.

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