Saturday, November 24, 2012

Always have your 30-second answer ready - the elevator pitch version of your latest hypothesis

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If you ever work with someone from McKinsey on a project, you're likely to be asked at some point for your hypothesis on the 30-second answer.  The question you're answering is whatever is at the heart of the project (e.g., how do we improve profitability?).

In this post, I'll explain...
  1. What is a 30-second answer?
  2. Why it's important to always have one up-do-date and handy
  3. Recommendations on how to structure it


The 30-second answer is based on the concept of the "elevator pitch", but instead of being prepared to briefly summarize yourself for interviews and networking or explaining your startup to potential investors, the goal of the 30-second answer is to concisely convey your latest hypothesis on the answer to the client problem being solved by your workstream or client engagement.


There are several reasons you should always have your 30-second answer constantly updated and top of mind.

You will be asked for it

Your McKinsey boss has a lot on their plate so this is one way for them to get a quick update on what's going on in the engagement and inform their own 30-second answer.  It's also not uncommon to run into a senior client who asks you how things are going or what you've learned and this is a good way to be sure you can provide a quick, current, thoughtful response and build credibility with the client.

Shows that you're on top of things

Having a good 30-second answer will give your McKinsey boss some comfort that you're managing your workstream effectively, especially if your response includes all of the latest analyses, knowledge, and problem solving, as well as proactive consideration of next steps

Reflects top-down thinking

You have to be able to synthesize in order to boil down everything going on in your workstream or engagement into a 30-second answer.  If you can do this well, it will convey your ability to apply the 80/20 rule and focus on the vital few, most relevant, highest impact issues.



Now that you've thought about your 30-second answer and made sure you understand the most recent information and analyses that support it, here are some recommendations on how to best present it.  For people applying for jobs at McKinsey or interviewing with a hiring manager who is a former consultant, this is also a good way to close your case interview.

1.  Lead with the answer

Not only does this align with a top-down storytelling approach, but it makes sure you communicate the answer if your time is cut short.  You never know when your McKinsey boss or senior client might have to attend to something else, so the sooner you get to the point, the better.

2.  Support with key points

Follow-up the answer with your most critical supporting facts.  Tick through the list quickly, highlighting a short list of topics and a synthesis of why each is important to the answer.  Provide enough information so that your audience gets the point and can ask for more detail if they want it.

3.  Offer relevant caveats

In many cases, your answer will still be a work in progress.  Like any good hypothesis, you should be constantly testing and refining it.  This might be a good opportunity to highlight issues that might cause the answer to change - an example would be pending data or analyses.

4.  Highlight next steps

Show that you are proactive and pre-empt questions or concerns by explaining what your plans to further support or refine your answer.  Examples would include actions being taken to address caveats or, if the answer is ready, your plan to syndicate it with the client.

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