Written by Strategy + Operations Sprint participant at The Commons, Aya Mimura.
I frequently get asked about how I was able to pivot from being a consultant at Accenture to working in Business Operations in the tech industry. My response is always the same: I used the skills and experience that I already had. This seems like a simple answer but I would like to share what this means in practice. One of the ways that I leveraged my skills and past experience is during the interview process. I took many of the lessons I learned from the consulting case interview preparation process and applied them to my Business Operations interviews for the tech industry.
A big component of my success was my case interview practice partners: Theodora T., Vivian L. & Andrea B.. Without their support, I would have never known what a good case interview looks like. I’m grateful to this day for the peer-to-peer learning and feedback. Many of the tips that I’ve learned were also from former colleagues from Accenture and peers in the industry as well. Would be amiss if I didn’t mention them!
The following are my key takeaways & tips distilled down from my own experience and the experiences of others:
Framework & Structure
Don't get married to your framework - use it as a baseline and build a slightly customized framework to the specific business situation
Frameworks are useful as a baseline but you need to be adaptable as well. Don't be too focused on them - after a certain point in the case - frameworks may no longer be helpful. They're more to help structure your thinking in the beginning as you investigate and identify the issues. Most business problems are pretty complex and usually require a combination of 2+ frameworks or customized frameworks.
Always start with broader ideas/concepts and then gradually get more granular
Always start with broader areas to explore, then go down to the next layer of specific components within the broader idea, analyze, then propose solutions.
Break everything down into unit economics
Every business can be broken down into # of customers x quantity sold. What this looks like is very different depending on the company. Fortunately, for tech companies, there's not as many business models that you have to know (unlike consulting interviews), so you don't have to study as much. How a B2B vertical SaaS company makes money is very different from how a marketplace company makes money. Ideally, you should focus on the operating model for the particular company that you're interviewing for. Also, for the larger companies, they may have different business lines so, focus on the operating model for the particular business line that you're interviewing for. Without this baseline understanding, it will be very difficult for you to do well in the interview.
Thinking creatively doesn't have to mean new ideas or concepts
For example, if they ask, how can we increase engagement on our platform? Just think about other products and what they do to engage you. Even if the product isn't super similar, the same concepts can still apply to the product that you're working on. Ideas that have been tested might even be better because there's evidence that they're effective.
Think aloud as much as humanly possible (Verbalize, Verbalize)
This one is underrated and is powerful when done effectively. This allows you to show your interviewer where your head is at and your thought process. Part of case interviews is for them to see how you think. When you think aloud, the interviewer can provide verbal/non-verbal cues as to whether you're on the right track as well. For example, if you calculate the profit margin or utilization by year and you notice that one year is significantly lower, MENTION THIS and say what you think may be happening and/or that you want to investigate.
Use your interviewer
This is another underrated tip as well. Your interviewer is actually there to help you. Try and utilize them because that demonstrates your ability to work with others! If you're confused, ASK QUESTIONS. This is what you would do in a real life scenario. Some companies use very specific terminology, it's okay to be confused or not understand. Also, your interviewer will give you verbal or non-verbal clues of whether you're on the right track and this will help you modify as you go.
When stuck, recap the problem, buy more time for yourself
If you're stuck, just say: "I'm going to take a moment and recap what we know so far. We know X, Y, Z". This gives you a chance to reorient yourself and buys you a bit more time to think of an idea.
Solutions & Recommendations
Support assertions with facts or data
If you want to make an assertion without facts or data, make sure to caveat by saying "I think... this is what may be happening". Don't make conclusions without data. Always ask for figures and push for them.
Contextualize the market or company specific information
A lot of people who get really good at case interviews get really good at solving the problem and doing the math. This is great and exactly what you need to do HOWEVER, they forget the broader context. It's easy to get stuck in this mindset that "This is a case interview. This is a hypothetical scenario". The reality is, especially if you're joining a BizOps team of a tech company, it's NOT a hypothetical scenario - this is the real day to day. So, implications of the market and company specific issues need to be considered. What does this actually mean? For example, your solution to the client's problem is to raise prices, however, if you're in a recession and inflation is high - that might not be a realistic solution. This will also most likely change the prioritization of solutions as well. Make sure to Google the latest news about the company, especially bad press or controversial news. This will impact what solutions are feasible or less attractive.
Think about the effort/timeline involved in the solution
Some solutions are more tangible and require less level of effort. For example, if your solution involves building a feature with a lot of technical effort - it might not be helpful in the context of solving the problem in a shorter timeline.
Don't lose track of the ultimate problem you're solving
Don't get too deep into your analysis and forget the original problem. This seems obvious but it is possible to get lost or bogged down by all of your analysis and information that you’re given.
If you get nervous, focus on the problem and not your feelings
It's normal to get anxious during live case interviews. It's a very high stress/high pressure situation. What helps me is I always go back to the problem I'm solving and focus on solving it. Try to think of it just as a problem rather than the fact that it's an important interview. Focus and concentration are everything!
I’m still learning and growing but I hope that my experience and knowledge can benefit someone else going through the process.
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Aya joined The Commons' June Strategy + Operations Sprint, but since she enrolled early, she was able to join the community in advance of kickoff. That meant she was able to capitalize on the powerful network and mentorship. In her own words: "I joined the community before my Sprint. With advice from mentors at The Commons, I ended up changing my job search strategy. This was immediately effective and I ended getting interviews with 6 companies during week 1 of the Sprint. My confidence and attitude has completely changed. You can gain value from the community even before the Sprint. The Sprint is only one component of the amazing benefit that you get via The Commons."