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Case Interviews: the hardest part of the consulting recruiting process

What is a case interview and how should you prepare for it?

A case interview is a 30-minute simulation of a typical business project that consultants may have worked on. Cases provide a real example of an on-job experience and the assumption is that if a candidate is successfully able to tackle a case interview, they are more likely to be a successful management consultant. Unfortunately, several outstanding candidates with top grades and co-curriculars fail case interviews in the recruiting process.

Why is that? One reason is that several candidates memorize standard frameworks hoping to recall each framework during case interviews. Frameworks, though useful for a rudimentary layout of case problems, must be tweaked and customized for different cases. You can become proficient in case structuring but only with the necessary practice.

While good candidates use standard frameworks to systematically solve the problems in consulting case interviews, outstanding candidates also see the big picture and adapt the frameworks specific to the business case. To become an outstanding candidate:

  1. Learn different types of business cases
  2. Learn to differentiate the various case types
  3. Understand the process of breaking down complex cases into simpler components
  4. Learn to apply problem solving skills in appropriate frameworks (issue trees)
  5. Practice, practice, practice!

This BootCamp will provide you with the basic tools you need for an effective case solving process and familiarize you with most different types of cases (find an overview of different case types here). Once you’ve got the hang of it, solve as many cases as you can and remember:

  • NOT to memorize the cases you solve during your preparation!
  • NOT to blindly apply standard frameworks especially where they do not fit!

For a more detailed look at how to ‘crack’ cases please visit our best practice approach.

These case studies are the main and usually the longest part of consulting interviews. During the 20 to 40-minute case interview, you will be confronted with a business problem that is often drawn from one of the interviewer’s real-life engagements. Below is a schematic showing a typical process for a consulting interview after resume screening.

The four steps of a case interview: 1. Introduction/Small Talk, 2. Personal Fit Interview, 3. Case Study, 4. Candidate Questions

Many companies peer-review and standardize their consulting business cases prior to a real case interview to ensure that the case is neither too hard nor too easy. The companies also ensure to test a variety of skills during case interviews.

Unlike the case books you may know from your university or case reports in business journals, the initial information you will get is very limited. You won’t be able to solve the case using only this initial information, also known as the opening of the case. Typical openings are:

  • Company ABC is a watch manufacturer who is recently experiencing profit problems and a decline in market share, what should they do?
  • Company XY is an automotive company who is thinking about entering the Chinese market in 2014, should they go east?
  • Company Z is a private equity company who contemplates merging with company A. Does it make sense?

After the opening of a case, you should take a couple of minutes to structure your thoughts and come up with a customized framework (more on this later).

Visit our employer profiles or homepages of the companies that you would like to work with for further information about consulting cases

Have a look at many prestigious employers in our career section. You will find priceless insights about their respective application process. If you are interested in applying to MBB consulting firms: below you can also find links to their respective descriptions of consulting case studies. Also remember to check out the career websites of other companies you want to apply to.

While acing case interviews is indispensable, the "personal fit interview" is equally important. Visit the personal fit part of the BootCamp for more information on this part of the recruiting process.

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