Case-style Interviews

Case interviews have been popular with management consulting firms for years, and in recent years they've become more commonly used by employers in other industries. Those considering a career in consulting, finance, operations and supply chain, and others who've learned that cases are used in that industry should prepare to tackle a case interview along your job search path.

Many organizations use case interviews to test a candidate's communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills. They will want to see that you can listen well, respond quickly to issues, and summarize your results clearly. It also allows them to see how candidates respond to situations that they may face every day in their field. As a consultant, you may be asked to visit a city to meet with a new client about a business problem. How will you respond in that situation? Will you be able to ask good questions that will provide you with the information needed to resolve the issue? Can you listen well enough to the client to hear the true problem? Your success in a case interview will demonstrate your ability to take on such tasks in your work.

In a case interview, you will be given a business problem or scenario that generally falls into one of three types: the brainteaser; the guesstimate; or the business scenario. While most problems don't have one "right answer," it will be important for you to ask appropriate questions, analyze the situation accurately, and formulate a clear and concise response. Be creative in your thinking, but realistic in your assumptions.

Generally, you will get your case question verbally from the interviewer and will work on it alone. You may receive your case before the interview, allowing you time to prepare, or be asked to work on it in a group setting. If you are in a group interview, you may be judged on your ability to work on a team and your leadership skills.

According to Vault.com, the consulting industry looks for the following skills in a case interview:

  • Leadership
  • Analytical
  • Presentation
  • Energy
Types of Case Questions

There are three basic types of case questions that you may encounter in a case interview:

Brainteasers are riddles or puzzles that will showcase your ability to think logically. Some brainteaser cases may be timed. Remember to stay calm and think creatively when faced with this type of problem. Examples: "If we call oranges 'orange' why don't we call bananas 'yellows' or apples 'reds?'" or "Why are manhole covers round?"

Business Scenario questions may be based on real or hypothetical situations. They may test your common sense and your ability to ask appropriate questions to ascertain relevant information. Always make sure that you know the specific problem to be addressed and take into account general business issues, such as market share and competition. Examples: "A small airline company based out of Cleveland wants to add a new route between Cleveland and New York. The CEO wants your advice on whether they should go forward with service to the new destination." According to Vault.com, there are generally eight types of business scenario cases:

  • Falling Profits
  • Introducing a New Product
  • Entering a New Market
  • Entering a New Geographic Market
  • Selecting a Location to Site a New Facility
  • Handling Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Preparing a Competitive Response
  • Responding to Change in Government/Regulatory Environment

Guesstimates require you to answer "how many? or "how much" of something. Remember that your goal is to reduce the huge problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Rough calculations are accepted, as long as they are realistic, and you don't need to get the exact answer (although you should be close). Examples: "How many CD's were sold in the United States last year?" Or, "How much money is spent each year on hair gel in Ohio?"

Preparing for a Case Interview

In preparing for your case interview, make sure you are familiar with the three basic types of questions you may be asked. Many students have found it helpful to form a group and do case studies together, many of which can be found online or in books. Through consistent practice with your peers, you will become more confident in your interviewing and presentation skills. You will also want to make sure that you remember how to do some basic math calculations, such as averages and percentages, without using a calculator. As with any interview, arrive on time, which means about 10 minutes early. You may want to bring with you something to write with, paper, a watch to keep track of time, and a calculator, which you might not be able to use, but will be very helpful if you can.

During the Case Interview

One of the most important things you can do in a case interview is to listen to the question being asked so that you know you are addressing the right issue. Take notes when the interviewer is telling you the case and summarize the highlights for your interviewer. You will also ask clarifying questions about the case, such as company type, market share, competition, long term and short term goals. Be sure to break down the problem into manageable parts and prioritize them. Think about the issues before speaking. As you are responding to the case, write down or chart your answer. This will help you recall some assumptions you made along the way and keep your response organized and logical. It will also show the interviewer that you are making logical assumptions that can be supported by calculations.

Keep an eye on the clock to be sure to cover the case fully and remember to summarize your response at the end. The interviewer may provide you with some feedback at the end of your case - be sure to listen. If you feel like you made a huge mistake in responding to the case, don't panic. Ask the interviewer for feedback and ideas on how the case could have been answered better.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CASE INTERVIEWING

Books - Listed alphabetically by title

  • Ace Your Case: The WetFeet Insider Guide to Consulting Interviews - An introduction to the case interview, with explanations of the most common question types and how to answer them. Detailed examples of good and bad answers. Each books contains different sample cases.
  • Case in Point9: Complete Case Interview Preparation, by Marc P. Cosentino - Focuses on the skills you will need to handle a case interview confidently. Includes recently asked case questions and Ivy case drills.
  • Case Interview Secrets: A Former McKinsey Interviewer Reveals How to Get Multiple Job Offers in Consulting, by Victor Cheng - Step-by-step instructions on how to dominate the case interview, considered by many to be the most complex, most difficult, and most intimidating corporate job interview in the world.
  • Crack the Case System: How to Conquer Your Case Interviews, by David Ohrvall
  • Vault Guide to the Case Interview, 8th edition - Frameworks for constructing and handling case questions, plus practice questions. Vault has an entire series of guides dedicated to the field of consulting and the case interview.

Case Interview Prep Websites - While each of these sites sells services, all have high quality resources. Portions are available at no cost, and all of these have additional resources available for sale.

Consulting Company Websites - Listed alphabetically; many contain not only solid interview advice but sample cases.