Below is a success story from a student who comes from a non-business background and recently received an LEK offer. She offers tips for successfully using LOMS and I include my response where I go into more detail on the best way to prepare for a consulting interview with LEK.

Success Story:

I’m very happy to say that with your help from your Look Over My Shoulder® program, and your daily emails, I was able to secure an offer from L.E.K Consulting.

Coming from a science background, I lacked business acumen, and had a lot of difficulty forming a structure around unstructured problems.

Through listening to the Look Over My Shoulder® program, I was able to listen to the recordings and find out what exactly I was doing wrong, and what I needed to do to improve my performance.

What I found excellent was that you provided recordings with differing levels of performance for the same case study; I was able to listen to a candidate who was around my level, learn from his/her mistakes, and then progress to find out what the better candidates were doing differently.

I honestly would not have been able to develop my interviewing skills so quickly without your Look Over My Shoulder® program, so again, thank you!

My Reply:

Congratulations on your offer and persistence in the process.

LEK is a great firm. When I got an offer from them originally, I had a chance to meet a lot of the people. I have had several friends work there over the years and of course many of my other readers have mentioned their LEK offers to me as well.

Thank you for your feedback on Look Over My Shoulder®.

For the benefit of others, I wanted to provide my comments on one of the things you mentioned about Look Over My Shoulder® that triggered a thought that I don’t think I have covered anywhere else.

It has to do with the phases of progress one makes in developing case interview skills.

There is a distinct way one becomes good at cases and I developed the Look Over My Shoulder® program in a very deliberate way with this progression in mind.

I realized I don’t think I ever explained the phases of what I call the “progression curve”.

Let me explain.

The first step of cases is getting familiar with the frameworks.  This is largely a mechanical exercise in just understanding what the heck a case is and how you’re supposed to approach it.

This part of the process is just memorization.

But, if this is all you do, you will not do well in real live interviews. In fact, this is one of the big complaints I hear from interviewers.

They complain that some candidates are only framework driven — as in all they know how to do is memorize a list of 12 questions associated with a framework and spit them back out. Instead the framework is only meant as a starting point to lead one to be hypothesis  and  analytically driven.

A case interview is a thinking test, not a memory test.

Interviewers complain when the candidates use a memorization approach. I guess it has gotten so bad, that in some countries McKinsey tells candidate to not use frameworks so much or to not use frameworks at all.

(Translated: Don’t use only frameworks.)

A framework while necessary, is not really the focus of doing well in a case.

The whole point of a case interview is to see how you think — hopefully in an analytical (logical), data-oriented (other than a hypothesis, your opinions don’t belong in a case) and structured (step-by-step, with a deliberate reason for tackling topics in the order you chose to tackle them).

As I said earlier, it is much more of an evaluation of your thought process, than your memorization skills.

Stage 1 of the progression curve of one’s skills is to just recognize what kind of case is being asked and then to match the right framework to the case.

And as some of you may have noticed, pretty much all of the candidates I interviewed in Look Over My Shoulder® were able to do that.  It was the next step in the process where you start seeing divergence in performance.

The next stage of the progression curve is to transition from purely memorizing a framework to using a framework as part of an information discovery process that leads to the creation of an informed hypothesis.

(In some cases, it is useful to start with the hypothesis and then use the framework for information discovery to then refine the hypothesis.)

You will notice many of the early examples for each case in Look Over My Shoulder®, the candidate was able to use the right framework, but ultimately had no hypothesis — and basically started wandering around the case with no rhyme or reason or coherence.  In particular you see this in the first candidate for Case #2.

(Note other candidates in the “did not pass case” category made other common mistakes, but for teaching sake let’s stick with the lack of hypothesis topic.)

Failure to use a hypothesis (and to do it correctly) is an extremely common mistake.

What I found interesting about this mistake is of the 20 or so people I interviewed, all of them had watched the 12 free introductory videos I made introducing the case interview process.

(These are the videos everyone gets when they become a registered member of )

If you recall from the videos, I emphasize over and over again that you must have a hypothesis.  And yet, a lot of people who knew intellectually they were supposed to have a hypothesis, when placed under real world interview conditions, just did not come up with one.

To be perfectly honest, I was quite disappointed by this.

This is the equivalent of a math teacher teaching his students 2 + 2 = 4, and on the test everyone answers 2+2 = 9.

Very frustrating.

I had assumed that since I was getting so many emails from around the world from people getting job offers using the free videos as their primary source of case interview knowledge, that the videos were complete, thorough, etc…

Yet, when I personally gave a case to some 20 people who had all seen the videos (though many had not really practiced up to that point, which you will see in a moment is significant piece of data), I realized that clearly the videos alone were not enough for someone to be successful.

From the Look Over My Shoulder® recordings, you will notice that after each interview, I gave each candidate feedback on how they did. And this is where things get very interesting (at least for me they did).

When I explained the mistake, every person knew exactly what I was talking about.

When I said, “You didn’t use a hypothesis and you should have,” not a single person said, “What’s a hypothesis?”.

Everyone who made this mistake was intellectually aware of what to do, but had difficulty actually doing it. (There are probably a dozen very common mistakes, and the pattern was the same – you made X mistake, and they all knew what X was.)

Either the person did it at the wrong time, used a hypothesis that was too broad, or used a hypothesis but didn’t tell the interviewer he was using a hypothesis, or stated a hypothesis but didn’t explain why they have the hypothesis, or they stated a hypothesis but didn’t outline the data they would need to test the hypothesis, or gave a hypothesis and 15 minutes later forgot all about it because they got bogged down in some detailed computation, and the list really just goes on and on and on.

Note that everyone understood the concept of a hypothesis but didn’t use it correctly in the interview.

This is when I realized they knew what to do but had not yet mastered the habit of actually doing it in a live interview — which tends to be much more ambiguous and confusing than reading a PowerPoint slide that says you need a hypothesis.

Then when I explained what they should have done instead, they all knew exactly what I was talking about because they had heard me say that on one of my videos or on one of my handouts — yet they still didn’t do it.

This is when I realized that my 12 videos did a good job of explaining the core concepts of cases (everyone knew exactly what I was talking about), but it reminded me that the case interview is not a knowledge recall test, it is a SKILL test.

And knowledge is different than skill. Knowledge is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient.

The other observation I made is that those who did the best in the cases I gave (most of whom ended up a few weeks later with Bain & McKinsey offers) were those who prepared the most.

There was a very high correlation between case performance and preparation time/effort.

When I exchange emails or speak to people after they get their offers, they all refer to a specific point in their preparation where the case interview skills became automatic for them.

The phrases they used were all variations:

1) It became “second nature.” 2) I was finally able to “internalize” the skills. 3) I was able to do certain parts of the case “automatically.”

In looking back on my own improvement up the case interviewing progression curve, I too had a similar realization. I don’t recall specifically when it happened, but I do remember the first few cases I found my eyes looking up and to the left.  (or it might have been to the right).

This is a biological habit that indicates you are trying to remember something from your memory. If I ask you what did you eat for dinner five nights ago, most will look up and to the left.

The answer to this question is not an analytical type of thinking, it is a memory recall kind of thinking.

In the first few cases, I was looking up and to the left all the time–trying to remember, okay what am I supposed to do next in the framework?

By the end of my interviewing process, it was automatic. Absolutely no memory recall necessary.  Someone says sales were $100M, I immediately without even thinking about it for one second ask, “What were sales for the past three years, and what were sales for the same time period for competitors?”

That was and frankly still is totally automatic behavior. (You’ll notice that I specifically describe this auto-pilot behavior on the last page of the case interview frameworks handout – in the section called tips).

Then I would automatically engage other auto-pilot behaviors… (By the way, the reason I ask those two auto-pilot questions above is to figure out if the problem is an industry-wide problem, or a company specific one.  And in the time, it takes to ask just two questions, you can figure that out.)

There is a half dozen other auto-pilot behaviors that once you practice enough, you just tend to do them automatically.

I found that in my early cases, 60% of my brain power was devoted to trying to recall what I was supposed to do next, and 40% of my brain power was actually thinking about the case itself and what makes this case different than the other ones I had seen.

By the end of my process, 5% of my brain power was devoted to memory recall, and 95% of my brain power was devoted to thinking about the specific case at hand…. Hmm… seems like a market entry case to me, but there is a Mergers & Acquisition twist to it.

Should I use the business situation framework? Or is this more of return on investment type calculation first, and then a business situation framework?  Do I actually need to calculate the math on this case or is it more of a conceptual case? Or is none of the above true, and do I really need to do a custom issue tree?

Hmm. what is my hypothesis here? Do I have enough to form you? If yes, maybe I’ll just start with the hypothesis and a custom tree. Hmm. I really don’t know anything yet, I think I need a business situation framework to start….

And then minutes later, I’ll say to myself, “Ah crap… it is a math case, not a conceptual case.  I need to drop the business situation framework, switch to the profitability framework with two adjustments for this specific case.”

“And now I know enough for a hypothesis, so let me state that, do a custom issue tree that is similar to profitability framework but instead of segmenting the usual way, let me segment by business unit since this company has three different business units….” and then I’ll say out loud to the interviewer, “Let me take a step back, given the information so far, my hypothesis is XYZ, and to test this specific hypothesis, I need to analyze the profit growth in each division of the client.”

That all those thoughts I have in my head which I’ve outlined above, I would do in about three seconds. Now that may seem terribly fast, but the big advantage is I’m able to devote 95% of my thinking power to thoughts like this.

Whereas I’m reasonable sure I was competing against very smart people who were only devoting 40% of their time to this kind of critical thinking. That’s because given their proficiency level, they were devoting 60% of their mentaltime to trying to remember the step-by-step process of what they are supposed to do next.

Even competing against someone who was two times smarter than me, I could outperform them because I wasn’t burdened by trying to remember which skills or technique, I was supposed to use next… all of that had become automatic for me.

You might recall a success story I received from someone who got a McKinsey offer for something like $80k/year whose parents currently make $25k/year. Her big message to others going through the process is you can’t control how naturally talented you are (e.g., what I’ve been calling brain power), but you can control how much you prepare.

And to take that message and translate it into the context of this discussion, preparation is what determines what % of your brain power is devoted to memory recall vs. critical thinking. You need as much of your brain power as possible devoted to critical thinking.

The final observation I’ll make is that the additional knowledge that those who did well had vs. those who did not wasn’t that much in terms of quantity.

It’s not like the people who aced the case knew what a hypothesis was (or the dozen or so core skills I’ve referred to in my various materials), and those who didn’t do well on my cases didn’t.

If we say the knowledge level of those who aced the case was at say 90% (after all, nobody is perfect and it’s not necessary to be perfect), and those who did not do well on the case (but understood all the mistakes they made), had say an 80% knowledge level.

What I find interesting is which skills are in that 10% difference.

The skill in that final 10% is the skill of knowing when to apply the other skills, and how to adapt those other skills to the specific situation in the case.

The reality is many cases are not exactly like the ones I demonstrate in my various materials. However, they are similar enough that it is possible to solve adapting the skills and tools I’ve taught elsewhere to solve, but also different enough that beginners can’t solve it – because it doesn’t match exactly what they’ve seen before.

And guess what, the cases you get in real life rarely match exactly what you’ve seen elsewhere. The key is in having the ability to recognize the similarity of the case at hand, match it to what you already know how to do, and to be able to be flexible in adapting what you already know to this specific case.

The ability to do this quickly is the skill that’s in the “10%” difference between those who do really well in cases vs. those who just do okay.

This is a skill that I think is actually very hard, if not impossible, to teach. It is a skill that is learned either through experience or inferred through observation — meaning it is something you notice only when seeing someone else do it differently than you would have done something.

It is the skill that I believe the writer of the email that kicked off this entire discussion was referring to when he said, “you provided recordings with differing levels of performance for the same case study; I was able to listen toa candidate who was around my level, learn from his/her mistakes, and then progress to find out what the better candidates were doing differently.” (Emphasis is mine.)

The candidates at more advanced levels of performance had a thought process that was more developed and advanced.

In fact, the people who have had the most success with Look Over My Shoulder® are the ones who critically listened to all the recordings of all the candidates five times before they were able to notice every little nuanced difference between the candidates and to internalize that thought process to the point where it was very much second nature.

You might recall the email from the other day from someone who aced a McKinsey final round about how to specifically phrase a hypothesis.

The person mentioned that he opened a case using the format I described in my free videos and demonstrated repeatedly in Look Over My Shoulder® (mainly from people who did it incorrectly and listening to how I re-enacted what the person should have done instead).

He did it with a McKinsey partner in final round, and the partner interrupts him and says, “That’s perfect. Lets just go ahead and proceed.” (He of course got an offer.)

I suspect given how much that person prepared, it probably did not even occur to him to open the case any other way. He had internalized the skills to the point of the skill being automatic.

One thing I’ve noticed is that some people are expecting the Look Over My Shoulder® program to help learn more in the primary 80%. That was not the intended purpose of the program. The program was designed to build proficiency in that incremental 10% around how and when to apply what you already know.

As you may know, I offer people who buy the Look Over My Shoulderprogram a 30-day refund period – just in case it is not a good fit for them. And I have had friends tell me that is a crazy thing to do because I’m just opening up myself to fraud, people ripping me off, etc…

And for a few days, I was planning to cancel the refund policy to avoid this potential outcome.  I ultimately changed my mind for a few reasons.

One of my personal business values is to make sure everyone gets a great value from any kind of relationship with me. And it is very much acceptable to me that substantially more people benefit from me, than from whom I directly benefit.

Some people think I let myself deliberately get taken advantage of in this way, but I find it has worked out very well for me in my life and my career — often in indirect and hard to predict ways.

It is one of the reasons I write my (mostly) daily emails. It is a way for me to be useful to a lot of people and its hard for me to imagine how that could possibly be a bad thing.

Let me tie this personal philosophy to the decision to keep the 30-day, no questions asked, refund policy.

It is very important to me that everyone has a good experience, and for the occasional situation where the Look Over My Shoulder® program did not end up being a good fit for any reason what-so-ever, I really did not want even a single person anywhere in the world to say the decision was a bad deal for them.

At worst, I want them to say, “The program was not a good fit for me, but I was able to get a refund fairly quickly, so I did not lose out anything on the transaction.”

And the real value for me in making this decision is frankly to protect my reputation. (Which many of you will realize after you start working in consulting — the only asset you have in consulting is your reputation.)

Now let me circle back to the topic of refunds.

Like any good consultant, I can’t help but analyze any number I see in a business. This includes the refund requests I’ve received on Look Over My Shoulder® which I have of course segmented and analyzed over time (would you expect anything else? :).

Most refund requests reasons fall into two primary segments (there’s the word segments again… hint.. hint…) or categories:

The first I think is a “legitimate” reason. The second I think is principally due to a “misunderstanding” reason.

For the first category, I do get some people who refund the program and say the program is very good, they wished they had it six months ago, but since they have practiced so much and their skills are so advanced, that it wasn’t that useful to them.

The person usually respectfully asks for a refund (for which it is always promptly given) and then goes on to say that they recommended the program to others — particularly those new to cases or have the basics down but haven’t really mastered cases like they have.

This is certainly a very reasonable reason for asking for a refund and frankly is why I decided to offer a pretty generous refund policy.

It is sometimes difficult for a candidate to accurately gauge if they are a mid-level or high-level performer. I certainly had no idea I was good at cases until I got seven offers.

Even then I didn’t realize I was that good, until I heard about how many offers my friends got (much fewer). It was only then I realized my performance was not typical.

It is certainly possible if your skills are very advanced, LOMS isn’t as useful anymore — and the refund policy covers that scenario.

You can get access to LOMS and if you discover your skills are beyond the program, you can get a refund – nothing financial lost on your end.

The other reason I notice on refund requests is, “I didn’t learn anything new.”  What I find interesting is how the information is phrased compared to the messages I get from the advanced candidates.

The advanced candidates say, “I’m already pretty advanced, I’ve done 15 – 20 practice cases with friends and have been at it for a year now, and I can see how the program would be useful to someone else… but that’s where I used to be six months ago, but now I’m past that phase.”

The other candidates phrase their response like this, “I’ve already heard of everything before. I’m already familiar with the frameworks, I already know I need a hypothesis, I already know I need to synthesize. There are no new concepts in the program.”

My policy is if someone requests a refund, my staff knows to just refund it, no questions asked.

That being said, let me make two remarks.

First, it is true there are no (or at least very few) new concepts in Look Over My Shoulder®.  Second, I think the remarks misunderstands how and why the program was deliberately designed to be useful in a different way.  And when I say misunderstand, I put the blame on myself for not clarifying this point earlier.

(By the way, here’s a tip when you start working in consulting… when a client misunderstands something you said, assume it is always your fault.)

A lot of ApD’s and people with PhDs in the sciences assume that because they got the logically correct answer right, said it, then they are not at fault if a client misunderstands what they say anyways.

If as a consultant you are logically and mathematically correct, but the client misunderstood what you said, you best assume you messed up the communications… and whatever you do don’t debate with the client to prove they are wrong.

This is not a dissertation defense, it is a client relationship business. Never forget that.  (If you have a PhD, take note of this… it is one of the biggest complaints about new APD consultants.)

This is my attempt to clarifying the role of Look Over My Shoulder®, it is a program designed to hone the skills, instincts and intuition that comprises the 10% edge that candidates who do well in cases have over those who just do okay.

There really are not any new concepts in the program. But what the program does do is put all those skills into context with actual examples.

LOMS is not designed to get you up the knowledge curve. It is design to get you up the experience curve.

Everybody knows that experience comes from learning from mistakes. This is very true.

But there is no law that says you cannot learn from other people’smistakes. After all it is far cheaper to learn from other people’s mistakes than your own.

As you can tell from the person who wrote in, before he got ahold of LOMS he had gotten rejected from two out of the four firms that he interviewed with.  I am certain as a smart person; he learned a lot from interviewing with the two firms that did not end up working out.

And I’m also certain that with sufficient time and number of interviews, he would have figured this case interview thing out eventually.  The question is: would he have figured out the process by the time he finished interviewing with firm #4, or would he need to interview with firm #10 until he got it right?

Clearly in his case, he realized he had only two chances left, decided to find a way to get up the experience curve faster (before his opportunities ran out) and in his case, he got a good outcome.

The other thing I’ll mention — I get a lot of emails from people who say, “Help… I got an interview in X days, and I only discovered your site Y days ago. I wish I had more time to prepare.”

There are many things I can do to help others get better at case interviews. However, the one thing nobody can do is to create more time.

This is the other reality of case interviews… often times you do not know with any level of precision how much time you have left to prepare.

From my own experience and from the many emails I receive, the typical time between when you find out you got the interview to the time you actually have to show up for the interview is typically 4 – 7 days. It is not a lot of time.

The two things you cannot control in this process are 1) your natural talent level, and 2) creating time where none exists.

Everything else is in your control — most notably when you choose to start preparing and how you choose to use that time.

Use that time wisely, because the worst reason in the world to get rejected is, “if only I had a little more time to prepare…”

My advice is to start preparing sooner, rather than later.

For more case interview preparation resources, review my free video series on Case Interview Secrets .