The consulting case interview can be a daunting task, especially when it involves an unfamiliar industry or business problem. To overcome uncertainty, many recruits begin their analysis by using off-the-shelf frameworks, like the 3 C’s, the 4 P’s, Porter’s 5 Forces, and so on.

If these mean nothing to you, don’t worry. They mean nothing to many business professionals, who have long forgotten their undergraduate business courses. In fact, we strongly encourage candidates to avoid regurgitating pre-made structures like those above, or any others you’ve been tempted to memorize. They are over-used, often irrelevant, and stifle the creativity that consulting firms look for when hiring new talent.

At CIC, we train our clients to build custom frameworks that fit the specific prompt at hand. This is possible by using logic and creativity rather than formulas. We may use one or several of the commonly taught structures above, but only to the extent that it helps to solve our immediate problem.

At the most basic level, there are three questions you should consider for any case interview:

  1. What is this client’s goal?
  2. How can the client efficiently maximize this goal?
  3. What might prevent the client from achieving their goal?

These questions will orient your mind to the specific challenge and industry at hand, thereby enabling you to break free from standard framework constraints.

Before we begin, be aware:

  • The framework is informed by the answers to our three questions, not built upon those answers
  • There is no “correct” framework, neither in structure nor in content
  • A “bad” framework is one that doesn’t allow you to systematically and holistically solve the case
  • Again, common frameworks can be useful if applied correctly

That being said, let’s see three examples of how to apply this approach:

  1. “Your client is a coal producer interested in cutting costs. Specifically, they’d like for you to analyze whether they should close one of their production facilities, and if so, which?”

If we were to take a common framework like the 3 C’s (Customer-Company-Competition), we would approach the problem in a roundabout, “boil the ocean” fashion. Instead, let’s apply a more targeted method.

  1. What is this client’s goal?
    • Reduce costs by eliminating a production facility
  2. How can the client efficiently maximize cost reductions?
    • Identify and close the costliest facility
  3. What might prevent success when cutting costs?
    • Cut fat, not muscle (i.e. if possible, avoid cuts that will negatively impact production / distribution / sales)
    • The coal industry is heavily regulated and unionized – this presents some cost-cutting limitations

Based on the ideas generated from this exercise, we can build a skeleton for our analysis structure.

  • Costs by Facility
  • Production by Facility
  • Considerations if the Recommendation is to Close a Facility
  • Alternative Solutions

The next step is to add a layer of detail to this skeleton. It is critical that you include secondary considerations, or sub-buckets, to demonstrate your business knowledge and better explain your thought process to the interviewer.

  • Costs by Facility
    • Raw Materials
    • Manufacturing
    • Distribution
    • Overhead
  • Production by Facility
    • What’s the capacity?
    • What’s the utilization?
    • Are there any pricing differences between facilities?
  • Considerations if the Recommendation is to Close a Facility
    • What is the plan to transition production?
    • How can the client navigate labor disputes and integration?
  • Alternative Solutions
    • Can facility and machinery improvements substantially reduce costs?
    • Can the client tweak their distribution network to cut on transport costs?

Granted, during the case interview you don’t have 15 minutes to draft a framework magnum opus. Therefore, your notes will be in shorthand, perhaps like this:

  1. “Your client is a private equity firm that is interested in entering the laundry detergent market by acquiring Soap Inc. Should they?”

Again, apply simple logic:

  1. What is the goal of a PE firm?
    • Selling portfolio companies for more money than was spent to purchase and build the companies
  2. What is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal?
    • Buying low-hanging fruit (i.e. undervalued companies in large, growing, and fragmented market segments)
    • Adding additional value by uncovering operational inefficiencies and cutting costs at the acquired company
  3. What might prevent the PE firm from achieving their goal?
    • Resource constraints in-house (e.g. industry expertise, finances)
    • Management shortcomings or conflict at the acquired company

We now have an idea of a basic structure to utilize:

  • The PE Firm
  • Laundry Detergent Market & Soap Inc.
  • Maximizing Value Post-Acquisition

Next, we add our sub-buckets for analysis:

  • The PE Firm
    • Does the PE firm have the expertise required to be successful in this new market? Or will it need to retain management at the Target?
    • Does the PE firm have the financial resources required for the acquisition and for supporting growth?
  • Laundry Detergent Market & Soap Inc.
    • For the industry overall, how large are the market segments and how fast are they growing?
    • What’s the competitive fragmentation within each segment?
    • What valuation multiples are typical for each segment?
    • What share does Soap Inc. own in each segment, and what have been its growth rates?
  • Maximizing Value Post-Acquisition
    • If it were acquired, which segment would be most attractive for Soap Inc.? Which should it avoid?
    • Can Soap Inc. be combined with another portfolio company to achieve synergies?
    • Can Soap Inc. be run more efficiently?

In shorthand, your framework might look something like this:

  1. “Your telecommunications client wants to double in size within the next 5 years. They’ve asked your firm to help.”

Start with our 3 questions:

  1. What is the goal of a telecom company seeking growth?
    • Building the user-base, reducing turnover, and/or increasing revenue per user
  2. What is the most efficient way to grow?
    • The easiest approach is to optimize organic growth efforts (e.g. capture more of current markets, sell more to current users)
    • More dramatic change might be sparked by attacking new markets (e.g. new geographies, new customer segments, new products / services)
  3. What might prevent a telecom company from successful, sustainable growth?
    • If prices aren’t competitive or service infrastructure isn’t strong enough to support the new demand, customers may switch to other providers

In this case, our structure might hinge on an initial assessment of our client’s current financial trajectory towards meeting their growth goal.

  • Current Financial Position
    • If off-track to meet goal of 2x growth, consider extreme options for large-scale growth
    • If on-track to meet goal of 2x growth, consider less drastic means for incremental growth

Skipping ahead to the final step, we might develop a decision-tree framework like the following:

By training with our team at Consulting Interview Coach, you’ll learn how to create and apply custom case frameworks during your consulting interview. Our sessions range from full mock case interviews to intensive framework-development sessions to case math drills, allowing you to target your specific development areas.

For more information, check-out our case interview prep offering or email us at!