What is a Case Interview?
A case interview is a unique type of job interview technique used predominantly by management consulting firms (and increasingly investment banks and tech companies) to better screen candidates, by assessing their analytical skills in a pressured real-time environment. The case interview question is generally either a business problem, estimating exercise, arithmetic or logic problem designed to make you think on your toes, use reason and common sense. Consulting firms want to see that you can analyze information, structure an answer and perform basic calculations with large numbers under pressure. The majority of cases don’t have a specific answer that you are expected to give; instead, the interviewer is looking for you to demonstrate a thought process that is both analytical and creative.
Categories of Case Questions:
Business case. A scenario to gauge the general business knowledge of candidates and how they can logically apply this knowledge. It could focus on different areas such as: profit/loss, organizational structure, pricing or growth strategy, and marketing.
Example 1: “An airline finds that, while its revenues are high, the company is still operating at a loss. What is going on?”
Example 2: "What would customers be willing to pay if Facebook shifted to a subscription model?"
Example 3: "Our client is thinking of acquiring a company that makes a certain type of medical device; what do they need to consider in making their decision?"
Market-sizing. Estimation questions that require the use of logical deduction and general statistical information to estimate some number or size.
Example 1: "How many airplanes leave from Boston's Logan Airport on Monday?"
Example 2: "How many lightbulbs are there in Manhattan?"
Example 3: "Are there more iPhones in operation in the U.S. or in China?"
Quantitative Questions and Brain Teasers: These serve to see how well you think on your feet and gauge creativity and problem-solving skills.
Example 1: "What is the sum of all numbers between 0-100?"
Example 2: "How much does the Starbucks in Times Square bring in, in annual revenue?"
Example 3: "Why are manhole covers round?"
Case Interview Tips
- Before jumping into an answer, ask the interviewer a number of questions to gather vital information about the case. Your interviewer will answer you with pieces of information to help you formulate new questions and, ultimately, your case recommendations. (At the same time, avoid tiring your interviewer and recognize when you have asked enough questions. If
your interviewer starts repeating himself or herself or says something like, “You should be able to give me an answer,” stop asking questions.)
- One interviewee cautions: “Consulting firms are looking for people who will think carefully before answering; this is very important in the case interview. Don’t say the first thing that comes to your mind, even if you’re certain about it. If you’re trying to choose between appearing to be slow and appearing to be a cocky idiot, choose the former.”
- Ask about best practices in the industry. Find out what other companies in this industry do when facing similar issues.
- Avoid making assumptions without checking them with the interviewer, or at the very least, state that you are making an assumption. If your case concerns a major vehicle manufacturer, you might mistakenly assume the client is General Motors, Ford or Toyota, when it is actually John Deere.
- After gathering all the information you think you need, start formulating your recommendations. If you like using standard frameworks, remember to use the appropriate one. Run the framework through your mind to ensure you are not forgetting a vital area of analysis. For instance, the Porter’s Five Forces model might help you analyze a market situation and identify all of the areas of potential threat. Based on the model, you can recommend the company’s market strategy.
- If you are unfamiliar with frameworks, state so and proceed as logically as you are able. Voice your analysis – why and how you come to your questions and conclusions is also important.
- After giving your recommendations, consider pointing out possible flaws and assumptions in your thinking. If it’s clear you really didn’t do well on the case, you might try explaining how you would have approached it differently given the chance.
- Speak and reason aloud during your case interview. Your thought process is more important than your ultimate conclusions; your interviewer must hear your reasoning and the logical steps you are taking to reach your conclusions.
- Always bring paper and a reliable pen with you to any consulting interview. You might want to take notes during the case interview (and for any guesstimates or quantitative brainteasers your interviewer might throw at you). Asking your interviewer for paper and a pen during the interview gives the impression that you are disorganized and unprepared.
- Everyone gets stuck in a case interview at some point. One tactic is to simply admit you are stuck and try thinking out loud through the problem again. “I don’t seem to be getting anywhere with this line of thinking, so I’m going to back up and think through things from the beginning.” You can also just ask your interviewer for help: “I have a lot of good information in front of me, but I seem to be running into a dead end here. Maybe you could help me talk through the problem.” These alternatives are both a lot better than staying silent; after all, this is exactly what would happen if you were working on a real project together and you needed help.
- No matter what, never show any signs of being flustered in a case interview. Remember to breathe! Your composure before your client (or lack thereof) is a key factor of your evaluation.
from Vault Career Guide to Consulting
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
- Case In Point: Case Interview Preparation, 10th Edition, (Marc P. Cosentino, 2010)
- Case Interview Secrets (Victor Cheng, 2012)
- Sample Business Frameworks to address Case Study questions
- CaseInterview.com - Sign up for free access to case interview training videos, newsletters, and strategies for success from Victor Cheng, author of Case Interview Secrets.
- MConsulting Prep - Started by a former McKinsey consultant, this website has videos and coaching strategies for interview preparation.
- Case Interview 101 - A great introduction video to Consulting Case Study Interviews from MConsulting Prep
- Deloitte Case Interview Prep