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Mastering case interviews


According to Wikipedia, case interviews are “a job interview in which the applicant is presented with a challenging business scenario that he/she must investigate and propose a solution to. Case interviews are designed to test the candidate’s analytical skills and “soft” skills within a realistic business context.”

But what does that mean for you? And what do case interviews really entail?

What are case interviews

Case Interviews are most common in consulting firms. You will interact with an interviewer to analyse and solve case studies of business problem. This will often be a problem that they have experienced in the past, or even a problem they are working on at that moment. You may be asked to figure out market size or profitability, or recommend action plans to solve low profitability.

They may last anywhere from 30-60 minutes. You may partake in one case interview, or a few. You may be on your own, or in a group interview. All of this will depend on the type of position you are applying for.

 How you will be evaluated

After you have been given information about a case, you will be expected to ask logical questions that help you further understand the case. The information you receive will on purpose be generally ambiguous. You will need to probe insightfully into relevant areas, gather information, and arrive at a solution or recommendation.

You will be evaluated on your communication and presentation skills, business and commercial awareness, and your analytical thinking. The most important item looked at is not the answer you give, but rather the thinking you used at arrive at the answer.

Any recruiter or hiring manager conducting case interviews will try push you to your limits by presenting you with unconventional situations, forcing you to think on your feet. How you perform and present yourself under pressure will be analysed.

They may last anywhere from 30-60 minutes. You may partake in one case interview, or a few. You may be on your own, or in a group interview. All of this will depend on the type of position you are applying for.

Get prepared

You need to invest a lot of time into preparation for case interviews – they are not easy. You will need to practise market sizing and mental math. It is not uncommon for candidates to practise 40 hours a week for 6 weeks prior to interviewing. You know yourself better than anyone else, put in the time you know you need to be prepared.

You never know what questions you will be asked during case interviews. But you can get prepared and hone your skills. Start by reading as many business-cases as possible. The more familiar you are with a variety of different case frameworks, the less risk of you being surprised with a question that stumps you.

Spend time on mock case interviews. Work with friends, coworkers, or even a professional coach if you are looking for truly realistic practise as well as feedback. Search the top consulting firms for guidance on how they structure their own case interviews. Try looking at Deloitte, McKinsey & Company, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Boston Consulting Group for examples.

Putting your best foot forward

1. Take notes throughout the case exercise. Make sure your notes are easy to read and structured in such a way that they make sense to you.

2. Make sure you understand the case question, as well as their business model, and what your objective in the case is. If you don’t know what your objective is, you will not be able to work towards the result they are looking for.

3. Ask insightful probing questions to clarify relevant areas of the case. Talk through your thought process as you ask your questions. The interviewer will be interested in how you connect the dots, but they don’t want to have to explain every nuanced detail.

4. Ask your interviewer if you are unsure about any possible limitations. Don’t ask unnecessary questions that will raise doubts about your ability to work under pressure.

5. Use sufficient information to form a hypothesis – don’t start guessing straight away with incomplete information.

6. Structure your analysis into a clear logical story so that you can explain your thinking and assumptions to your interviewer. Making wild unsubstantiated guesses will severely limit your chances of landing the role. Use the data you have collected to structure your case.

7. Don’t panic! Think of your interviewer as a client that you are talking though a business problem with. Pretending that this is a business conversation instead of an interview will help you calm your nerves.

8. Know your numbers. Know how to divide percentages, your multiplication in scientific notation, and what fractions are percentage terms. Be able to write out your formulas and thought process as your doing maths. That way, if you hit a stumbling block and ask a question your interviewer will know what direction you have been working in, and help you get back on track more easily.

9. Understand that sometimes there is no clear, or standard, answer. Often one case can be answered in several ways, all of which may be correct. Remember that it isn’t getting the correct answer that is most important, but your thinking and how you arrived at that answer.

Case interviews in a group environment

Should your new role require you to work closely in a team environment, there is a high likelihood that you will be taking part in a group case interview.

You will be placed in a group with several others, and given briefing materials on a business problem. You will be asked to discuss and agree on a solution or course of action. The interviewers will be silent observers around the exterior of the room.

In this situation, your analytical thinking will be just as important as your communication and interactions with the rest of your group. Any candidates completely   dominating the conversation, or bullying the group towards a solution, are likely to be “red flagged” by the interviewers. While this is true, it will be important for you to share your analysis and data with the rest of the team. Don’t let concern of being “red flagged” stop you from being an active participant in the discussion.

Final thoughts

The process for case interviews is a difficult one. What you learn though the cases you solve will assist you in your career as you encounter “real-life” situation. You will be surprised what you can learn. It will give also give you a chance to see how your mind works when you have to think on your feet.

As we recruit for technical positions, we understand that a “one size fits all” interview mentality is unrealistic. When hiring for consulting positions, case interviews can ensure a proper placement. Be it telephone interviews, video interviews, panel interviews, behavioural interviews, or case interviews – we have you covered!

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