Case: We have a client who operates a national distribution network and produces different types of products for the home-home building, home improvements, etc. This client is trying to decide if it should go into doors, specifically wooden doors for homes. Tell us what you think the market size for wooden doors would be. Is it big enough to be attractive? Let’s talk through the logic of how you would evaluate whether or not our client should enter this market. Take your time before answering. According to one BCG interviewer, this is how the company prefers to start the firstround interviews. Begin this question by doing a 10- to 15-minute “estimation exercise,” which consists of questions such as:
–How many doors are there in the United States?
–What’s the market for wood doors in the United States?
After asking questions like these, you should be able to come up with a number-say, 500 million doors. You should even have a notepad and pen on you so that you can jot down ideas and keep track of your thoughts. For the next 20 to 25 minutes, you should talk about the issues that the company might be thinking about before entering the market, by asking questions such as:
–What is the competition like in the market?
–How will the manufacture of wooden doors affect the company’s labor costs?
Interviewees should always remember that “there are several ways of approaching the problem, and during the interview what the interviewers are most interested in is your logic flow, the types of questions you ask, and how you structure the questions. Asking questions that are wrong is tantamount to not asking them at all.” One recent interviewee notes, “BCG is looking for people who will think carefully before answering; this is very important in the case interview. Don’t say the first thing that comes to your mind, even if you’re certain about it. If you’re trying to choose between appearing to be slow and appearing to be a cocky idiot, choose the former.”
Case: Your client is the largest discount retailer in Canada, with 500 stores spread throughout the country. Let’s call it “CanadaCo.” For several years running, CanadaCo has surpassed the second largest Canadian retailer (300 stores) in both relative market share and profitability. The largest discount retailer in the United States, “USCo,” however, has just bought out CanadaCo’s competition and is planning to convert all 300 stores into USCo stores. The CEO of CanadaCo is quite perturbed by this turn of events, and asks you the following questions:
“Should I be worried? How should I react?” How would you advise the CEO?
This case interview is from BCG’s web site. Essentially, BCG is looking for you to ask many good questions of the interviewer: What is a discount retailer? Is the Canadian market comparable to the US market? Are USCo’s strengths transferable to Canada? What geographic markets do anadaCo’s competitor stores serve? Do the stores sell the same products? What is each company’s cost structure? And so forth, in a give and take with the interviewer. “They key is not getting the ‘right’ answer, but showing you can think in a structured fashion,” says an insider.
General: Walk me through the operations of a typical Starbucks. How might they increase their profitability?
An entire campus of applicants once received this question, insiders tell us.
Guesstimate: How many pay phones are there in Manhattan?
This guesstimate can be calculated in numerous ways, including estimating the number of Manhattan street corners and assuming one telephone per one or two intersections. Another method would be to estimate the number of blocks in Manhattan and assume one telephone per block. Don’t forget pay phones inside buildings! (You’d probably receive this question in conjunction with a case on, say, a new phone company that was thinking of entering the pay phone market.)
General: Do you think BCG should get out of Asia?
By confidently answering “yes” to this seeming piece of small talk, you’ll have just contradicted an important piece of BCG’s 21st century strategy. If you answer this way, better be able to back it up!
General: What have you found your most challenging class in school?
Remember: stress your leadership skills, analytical skills, and quantitative skills. This is your chance to prove you have them. Give an example of something you did well in a quantitative class.
General: I see you’ve been to law school. So what makes you want to consider a consulting career at BCG?
Not a trick question! Your interviewer probably has plenty of colleagues who are lawyers – they just want you to make a case for switching to consulting, and BCG in particular.