Difficult Situation Cases

by | March 10, 2009

A recent interviewee at a leading strategy consulting firm reported that of her four second round on-site interviews, two were with partners who did not give her a business case. Instead, they talked more about situations that the interviewee had been in where she had to confront difficult people or resolve a challenging organizational situation. As consulting firms strive to create less cutthroat working cultures, they are placing increased emphasis on fit and interpersonal skills. As a result, interviewers are asking questions where the case deals not with a business situation like falling revenues, but a challenging interpersonal situation. Examples of such situations are:
  • Confronting a co-worker whom seems to be not getting the work done on your project
  • Dealing with unethical behavior by a client
  • Coping with family emergencies while on the job

These are important situations and important questions. Most consulting candidates shoot from the hip on such questions and don't prepare for them, focusing on the usual cases instead. They run the risk of communicating unstructured, scattered answers. Why create this impression for your interviewer? We recommend you prepare for them in the way you would prepare for case interviews: think about how you would approach these problems in general, then practice.

How would you approach these situations in real life? Step outside of some actual incidents that happened to you and pretend to be coaching yourself on the steps you needed to take to get it resolved. How would you describe these steps as applicable to any situation? After a few minutes, you'll probably come up with something similar to the following:

  • Assess the situation
  • Determine what other information you'll need to draw a conclusion
  • Decide on the best course of action towards resolving the issue
  • Immediately move forward with the appropriate communication
  • If necessary, proceed with escalation to a higher or external authority

You might wonder if it is really necessary to create a "framework" for such questions. By that, you probably mean we shouldn't need frameworks to solve personal situations. Unfortunately, those are probably the ones where we need frameworks the most. In many ways these are harder problems to solve. And given how hard they are to solve, their solutions are probably even harder to communicate than those regarding profit and loss.

A final thought before we dive in: the case scenarios all reflect real situations that might occur during your first couple of years on the job. Our hope is that while you practice answering these questions, you also wind up preparing for how you will handle these situations when they come up in real life. Tackle these problems as you would the client issue: take a step back, assess the situation, come up with an approach, and give it your best shot.

Filed Under: Job Search


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