The Importance of a Strong Recommendation

Many case interview books pay little heed to stating your recommendation. I think this is a mistake. The recommendation is the last thing the interviewer will remember. A strong recommendation will erase some of the minor mistakes you might have made during the case and leave a positive impression as you finish up the interview. You want to wow the interviewer not only with your ideas, but with your presentation. Here a few key tips.

1. Ask for a few moments, to do your final analysis and lay out your recommendation. Many students assume you need to state it straight away. That is only true if the interviewer states that the CEO just walked in and wants your recommendation now.
2. Put your recommendation on a separate sheet of paper – it needs to be visual. When consultants are delivering their recommendation to a client they have a PowerPoint slide behind them. This separate sheet of paper should be your PowerPoint. Your visual recommendation should draw the interviewer from the back of her chair to leaning over the table. When she leans forward she’ll automatically feel like a client and not an interviewer. You want the interviewer to feel like a client at the end of the interview.
3. Lead with the recommendation, state a clear “yes” or “no.” Yes, they should enter the market or no, they shouldn’t buy that piece of machinery. Do not say, “I think.” Be definitive. If your recommendation is a “no” then you should come up with an alternative plan to help the company reach its goal. Regardless of your decision, state it with confidence. Do not hedge your recommendation, make a clear decision. Hedging your recommendation is the kiss of death.
4. State your recommendation: and then tell the interviewer why, with the reasons behind your decision.
5. State and prioritize risks based on impact, likelihood of occurrence, and the severity if it does happen. This can often be illustrated with mini pie charts. You will also want to state mitigating factors. There will be times when you won’t have time to draw the mini pie charts, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t state the likelihood of occurrence, severity and mitigating factors.
6. Lay out the next steps for the short-term and the long-term. Most students will only focus on the short-term. Long-term next steps allow you to be more creative, which will separate you from the rest of the candidates. Once you lay out the next steps simply add, “and we can help you with that.” This shows the interviewer that you understand how it all works, that consultants are always looking for more work, and that your recommendation is more likely to be successful if you are there to help implement it.
7. Offer recommendations that are implementable in a relatively short period of time (between 18 and 24 months unless otherwise stated), realistic, have reasonable budgets, and move the needle.
8. Sell your recommendation. You spent 30 minutes listening to the problem and coming up with a solution. If they don’t buy your recommendation, the chances of your moving on are a lot less.
9. Defend your recommendation. Be prepared for the interviewer to come back at you and say, “Let me tell you why you’re wrong.” It doesn’t matter which side you pick, they will take the other side. Now while the interviewer is giving you an earful, if you don’t buy it, simply say, “That is an interesting argument, but I don’t find it compelling enough. I think my recommendation is correct and these are the reasons.” That’s exactly what she wants you to do, defend your answer without getting defensive, and make a persuasive argument while keeping your confidence level high. However, if she comes back with an argument bringing up something that you didn’t consider, it’s okay to admit that you were wrong. There is no shame in admitting you are wrong. What she doesn’t want you to do is to change your answer because she told you you were wrong – or to defend an answer that you know is wrong because you don’t want to admit it.

Corporations hire consulting firms because consultants are objective, and if you are defending an answer that you know to be wrong, you are not objective.

In short, your recommendation needs to be precise, unique, and visual. It’s a final chance to stand out from the rest of the candidates and make a lasting impression. If you can make the interviewer feel like a client at the end, and were able to put to rest any concerns, then you’ve done more than 98 percent of the other candidates.

Be sure to read CASE IN POINT: Complete Case Interview Preparation 10th edition.
“The MBA Bible” The Wall Street Journal