Take a look at the exhibit above. After taking a moment to digest it, can you state the key take-away? Good. We can talk more about interpreting exhibits in a case interview another time, but I wanted to give you a chance to practice!
You will have reasons to not be confident
Have you ever finished calculating the math portion of a case, but felt unsure that you did it correctly? Or have you needed to give a recommendation in the face of ambiguous facts?
Nearly every case interview will have some built-in attributes seeking to test your ability to stay confident and clear in the face of opposition. A case might have difficult math, a lack of clear information, or conflicting data points. Some interviewers purposefully design a case to lack any clear answer.
No matter the cause of your discomfort, do your best to continue to show confidence in your answers. In this post, I’ll try to convince you of the importance of staying confident, and how to avoid providing a false level of accuracy.
Stay confident anyway
Failing to demonstrate confidence can turn a right answer into a wrong one.
Consider a hypothetical: imagine the interviewer asks you to find the profitability of a package of golf balls. The package sells for $10, costs $2 to make, and has no fixed costs. Your client sold 100 packages.
Right answer with confidence
If you confidently talk through the calculation and tell the interview that your client earned $800, that will put you in good shape in the interview. Nail the rest of the interview, and you’ll walk away with an offer in hand.
Right answer without confidence
Now imagine that you tell the interview that your client earned $800, but with a heap of “umm”‘s, “not sure”‘s, “maybe”‘s, and “does that seem right to you?”‘s. You still did the math right, but so what? If you were talking to the client, would the client believe you with such a delivery?
I consider instances of getting the answer right but lacking confidence as a tragic self-defeat. It’s like you just finished making a delicious, complicated cake, and trip over yourself as you go to deliver it.
Wrong answer with confidence
Consider the possibility that you think the client earned $1,000. What happens if you say that with confidence? Well, you probably won’t get the job, but you might get lucky. If you started with a great framework and have been generally capable up to this point, the interviewer might help you out, or even not notice. Everyone gets tired, and at the end of a long day of work and interviews, there’s always the chance that someone gets lazy and mistakes your confidence for accuracy.
Wrong answer without confidence
The one benefit about answering incorrectly with a huge lack of confidence is that you don’t need to wonder whether you got the job, because you almost certainly did not.
Add accuracy to your confidence
Staying confident should be straightforward when it comes to calculations (either it’s right or wrong, and you should be confident that you’re right!) But candidates often try to avoid portraying a false level of accuracy by adding cues of a lack of confidence in the answer. How do you stay confident as well as accurate when a case or question has no clear-cut answer?
The answer lies in how you outline the contingencies.
To illustrate, consider a situation where an interviewer asks you to increase the profitability of a newspaper company. In the case, you have determined that the company should expand to new geographies. The newspaper company has settled on expanding to either Norway or Britain – but can’t expand into both at this time.
Your analysis shows that Norway will yield more profit in the long run, but require learning production and distribution skills not currently available in the firm. Britain has a lower profit potential in the long run, but will not require learning new skills, and will turn a profit more quickly.
At this stage in the case, what is your answer? Are you confident in it? Are you aware of other contingencies that could impact your decision? For example, what impact will each decision have on our competitors? How much can we trust the projections? Will learning new skills provide other benefits? Can we take out debt or do something to expand our resources to expand into both? Would we be better off convincing them to expand their service offerings in their current geography? etc.
The trick here is to first state a hypothesis clearly before second detailing the supporting evidence and then third identifying the contingencies in an organized fashion. In other words, confidently use the “synthesis model” I talk about in another post.
For example, you might start with “My current recommendation is to expand to Norway…” Next, provide the supporting evidence “…due to its higher long-run profit than Britain.” Then, identify the next thing you want to investigate to verify your hypothesis, such as “The next most important factor that could change my answer would be the likelihood of failure as our company tries to learn new skills and capabilities to serve Norway.” followed by a specific question that fits within your framework that will help you determine whether competitive factors should change your mind.
A poor (but common example) would be something to the effect of “It’s hard to tell at this point, but I think I might go with Norway. Although we’ll need to learn new skills, it’s supposed to be more profitable, even though Britain might be quicker. I’m not really sure though. Do we have any other information?”
You can see that this example has most of the elements of a right answer, while turning it into one that no client would trust.
In summary, don’t turn your right answers into wrong ones. Stay confident, stay structured, and continue to practice until it comes natural.
Keep seeking truth.
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