Reader FAQ: Cracking case interviews, why we don’t outsource and the merits of a JD/MBA

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Today, we cover a series of questions about case interviews, review the merits relative to consulting for the JD/MBA, and explain some of our service philosophy (including why we don’t outsource).



Q:  Do you outsource your services? When I sign up for them, how do I know who I’ll be working with?

A: Great question, and you’re totally justified in asking. Why? There are a ton of scams out there with people promising great results and falling short.

That’s actually exactly why we don’t outsource our services. We write everything in-house, edit all of our resumes/cover letters in house, and serve all of our interview prep in house. Who are you most likely to work with? Almost exclusively, Jenny Rae runs our services side of the business – when she’s not blowing up the mobile payments landscape, she’s working directly with you on Skype interview prep sessions or behind the scenes, editing your actual docs.

Now, if you happen to respond to this email with a 5-slide argument for why, economically, we should outsource, we probably wouldn’t disagree. Some chap in Asia, working overnight, could do a mediocre job finessing the fine art of the English language to our Oxford standard – and we could spend 2X as much time editing his work. We could become a platform for totally inexperienced mock case interviewers to work with you on your premium sessions, and they might do an okay job.

But we run a thriving business here, and a significant part of our business (30%+ last year) came from referrals and repeat clients.  What does that tell us? You like what we’re offering, you come to us because you trust our brand, and we not only meet your expectations – we exceed them.

We’ve run the model – and long-term profitability is more important than per-item profitability now.  So, if you’re interested in our editing or interview prep services, say “hi” to Jenny Rae – she’s on the other side of the phone or email you’ll send, and will be for some time to come!


Q:  I’m curious about the cost/benefit analysis of a joint degree, specifically the JD/MBA.  Could you provide some insider advice about how consulting recruiters value the degree?  Does it provide immediate benefits through higher starting salaries, bonuses, etc; does it pay off in the long-run if you intend to make partner or join a client firm; or is it just a bad investment all together?

A:  It’s 100% true that JD/MBA students are rewarded more when you add the MBA to the JD instead of vice versa.  For a lawyer to have business training – especially from a top school – is invaluable for versatility, career options, and even compensation.

However, the majority of consulting firms (and definitely top firms) don’t base comp on degrees – they are based on levels, so a JD/MBA starting at the post-MBA role (an Associate at McKinsey, Consultant at Bain, etc.) get paid X (a non-negotiable base, somewhere around $140K now, refer to our 2012 salaries post for more info) with a performance bonus based on 3 buckets (2 of which are only really ever used, and are entirely based on performance, not degree).  The comp and career tracks are exactly the same for a JD, MBA, JD/MBA, Ph.D., etc.

It’s true – both JDs and MBAs from top schools are recruited by the consulting firms, and perhaps a JD/MBA will have a slightly (read, 5%) better chance of getting an interview offer if they are a top performer in a rigorous program – but it affects nothing else about the process.  You still have to do the same (great) on cases, still have to perform the same on the job, and get no added value (comp, acceleration, etc.) for your additional degree.

Here’s the bottom line – if you’re considering a JD/MBA to break into consulting, don’t waste 2 years of your life on the JD part of the MBA. Spend that time (and $100K+ less) becoming a killer case interviewer. If, in contrast, you want to be a practicing lawyer with an option for consulting later (or banking, Fortune 500 leadership, etc.), it’s a great option.

This is a series of questions on case interviews.

Q:  I have been doing self-practice on case studies. From your prior experiences, how do you know when you are ready and well equipped to handle case interview?

A: These are huge questions and tricky ones to answer without knowing your actual situation.

As a rule of thumb, I can recall only 1-2 clients who were ready for their interview after completing only 1 mock out loud – so if you’ve never done a live case with anyone, you can almost guarantee you’re not ready. Most of our successful clients complete ~30+ interviews, so again, if you’re not there, you probably haven’t broken the experience barrier. Finally, if you’re not practicing with an experienced case partner and/or are not consistently nailing the cases (completing them in <30 minutes with confidence), you probably haven’t practiced enough.

The best way to know if you’re ready is to do an actual mock case with someone who works for or worked for one of your prior firms.  You can set these up with friends, former interns, networking connections, or professionals like us!

Q:  I tend to make silly mistakes when rushing thru an analysis. Can you share some tips on preparation?

A:  After you’ve completed case practice, go back through and re-do the case without the pressure of time or communication.  Don’t do this in the first place – you need to practice under pressure – but understanding on the flip-side is really important.

This is a major distinguishing feature betweeen our A and C/D candidates. Everyone can practice the case the first time – but for your performance to actually improve, knowing what it would have taken to ace your last case will be the best preparation for incremental improvement on your next performance.

Q:  I would really appreciate advice on market sizing problems. Am I expected to memorize some statistic, e.g, population of the country, male-female ratio, no. of tourists? Would it be a deal breaker to seek these answers from recruiters?

A:  You need to be prepared for some of the basic numbers – otherwise, you risk looking like you live in a cave.  For example, the population of the country you live in, as well as that of China, India, and the U.S., are imperative to know. In addition, male-female ratios can be assumed to be 50/50% (you can acknowledge if you know there is a slight skew one way or another).

Other stats aren’t worth memorizing – you need to be prepared to make assumptions for them, and to back up your assumptions with good reasoning. If you do pull data out that you have memorized (let’s say you’re a walking, talking Jeopardy genius), you’ll still need to reference the source. If the data is very obscure, you can always confirm with the interviewer that they want you to make an assumption vs. just asking them for data. To do so, just say, “Do you have any data on X, or would you like me to make an assumption?”

Q:  How long do you recommended I spend on interview preparation before submitting my application/resume?

A:  I recommend that candidates without a strong business background practice at least 10 cases prior to submitting your resume.  Candidates with a strong business background should have practiced at least 5. I have some clients that do up to 60 cases!

Why get started before submitting your resume, you might ask?

First, it’s a great idea to understand first-hand what life on the job as a consultant might be like – it can help you personalize your cover letter, and can confirm that you’re really interested in the job.

It’s also helpful to assess where you are and how far you need to go – some firms turn around interviews in under 2 weeks, which doesn’t leave you much time to train if you’re totally unprepared. Think of it like a marathon – you should begin training months before your interview to establish a baseline of endurance and good habits. You can run the race with just a few short weeks of prep, but you risk major injury (or disqualification!)


Q:  Is it highly recommended that I include a formal (working attire) passport size photo of myself on my CV?  If I were to take a casual (not in working attire) but proper passport size photo, is this okay?

A:  If you are going to include a photo (only necessary for certain regions), it should be professional – not necessarily professionally taken, but at least in professional attire. What are you looking to convey? That you’re put together, mature, and capable of being left alone with a client without ruining the relationship. This is not Facebook, people – this is a multi-million dollar high stakes game, and if you want to be a player, dress like one.

Filed Under: management consulting