How to Stay Confident in Case Interviews
As an aspiring management consultant, you have devoted countless hours to preparing for case interviews. You are well-versed in the process, have honed your analytical skills, and have engaged in extensive practice. You have completed over 50 cases, documented detailed responses to fit questions, and sought guidance from the top coaches at PrepLounge. Everything is in place and ready for the big day.
However, when the interview arrives, it is natural to experience nervousness & anxiety, and there may be 100 different ways that could cause you to lose confidence. While it may be impossible to prevent these feelings entirely, it is crucial to prepare for overcoming anxiety, conquering nervousness, and recovering from the unexpected loss of confidence.
This article will guide you through valuable insights and strategies to help you navigate these challenges. You will realize that there is no simple trick that you can switch on and off. You will realize that these strategies are spread across your entire preparation and cover areas you wouldn’t have thought were necessary. Each strategy helps add that extra 1% to your chances, and over time those 1% will build up and lead to your successful selection.
Understanding why is the first step towards overcoming the problem. Like I said above, there can 100 different ways to lose confidence to nervousness and anxiety and can vary from person to person. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- The chances are low: consulting interviews generally don’t have a high success rate. The competition is too stiff, and companies like MBB don’t make it any easier by being weirdly picky. Thinking about the probabilities can create significant pressure to perform and play tricks with your mind.
- The stakes are high: candidates are generally aware of the significantly beneficial opportunities at consulting firms and of the personal & professional growth that comes with the job. This can create significant pressure to perform well during the interview.
- The process is hard: preparing for case interviews is not easy. For most people, it takes them far out of their comfort zone. Very few people can stay at the moment and be fully aware of their preparation efforts. This takes a big toll on your mind, and the complexity of these interviews can be intimidating and cause candidates to question their abilities.
- The pressure is huge: consulting attracts highly accomplished individuals, and candidates might compare themselves to their peers or other candidates in the process who might appear to be doing “better”. This comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy or anxiety about not measuring up and play havoc with your confidence.
- The unknown is feared: this is one of the biggest reasons for pre-interview jitters. Candidates can be unsure about what to expect in the interview. What if the case is completely “out of syllabus”? What if the fit questions are not what they have prepared for? What if the interviewer keeps throwing random questions at them? The list of the “what-ifs” is endless. This uncertainty can contribute to nervousness a lot.
- The time is short: case interviews are generally a power packed and pocket-sized version of life as a consultant. Typical MBB interviews last for 45 minutes. With a good 15–20 minutes being spent on fit questions, that leaves about 20 minutes for the case. And that is not a lot of time. A lot of candidates feel the fear of not being able to cope up with the speed required, and often dread not having enough time to think through many things they would have otherwise done in practice.
- Speedbumps in the interview: many candidates start feeling pressure the moment they encounter an issue in the interview – the interviewer asked them a few counter-questions, the calculations start getting complicated, the case turns out to be very different from their expectations, the interviewer shows signs of moodiness or appears tough & borderline rude, or any other moment that might indicate some failure. This can pile pressure on the candidate’s mind and set the snowball rolling.
While a small amount of nervousness is always healthy and productive, an excessive amount can lead to diminished performance and reduced chances of success. The interview is more than just the sum of its individual parts – the case, the fit, and so on. The interview is an overall experience that is sometimes impacted by the tiniest of things. Maintaining confidence is one of the biggest tickets to success because the job of consulting pivots on the confidence of the consultant. Let us look at some proven techniques to maintain your confidence in consulting interviews.
2.1 Prepare Well and Trust the Process
There is no shortcut to success except hard-work and consistency. The harder you will work, the luckier you will get in the interview process. Ensure that your foundations are solid, and your process is true. Without thorough preparation, you are going to constantly find yourself lacking in confidence during the interview.
- Be thorough in your case preparation. Focus on a combination of quantity and quality. Instead of setting targets like 100+ cases or focusing on some specific types of cases – ensure that you cover a good spread of cases. Cover multiple sectors, and multiple case types. Don’t pre-judge a case before solving it – take it at face-value and give it the proper respect. Don’t unnecessarily rush or flip through cases like a story – solve them properly. In the beginning, when you are building your foundations – focus on getting your thoughts right, instead of trying to mimic what you might have read in a book or seen in a video online. The best framework is one that makes sense to you. Remember, there are no rules and curriculum in case interview preparation – only common sense and the spirit of solving problems.
- The most ignored part and often a main reason of rejection is the fit answers. Do remember that preparing your fit answers is not only going to help you in the case interview – but will also help you overall. Fit answers transcend across other interviews as well – meaning you can prepare one super-set of answers and cover non-consulting interviews as well. Drafting fit answers will also help boost your confidence. As you draft them, you will spend time reflecting on past successes and failures. You will realize that you have done quite a few cool things in the past and that the upcoming interview is but a step on the ladder.
- Whether it is cases or fit answers – you must practice, and practice well. When it comes to cases, practicing with other candidates will ensure that you face a wide array of interviewer personalities. This will help you shrug off many of those pre-interview jitters around the fear of the unknown. Practicing your fit answers is also extremely important. The more you practice the answers – the more fluent you become in them and the better they start sounding. Practicing for fit at the last moment before the interview is only going to create more pressure and burden on your mind. Practicing them along with your cases gradually over the course of 6–8 weeks is going to result in much better retention and amazing delivery – and hence a lot more confidence.
- Guidance and coaching: All the practice in the world is not going to be effective unless it is in the right direction. Interview preparation and especially case interview preparation is a highly personalized thing. Without the right personalized guidance, candidates have a very high risk of developing ineffective or even incorrect practices & habits. Seeking guidance from a coaches and mentors is going to help you keep your preparation channeled in the right direction. Accept feedback and guidance with open arms – often we are not able to see something ourselves and may enter denial if we are pointed out. Sharing your concerns with others can help you gain valuable insights and perspectives to help you feel more confident.
- Trust the process: If you create a structure preparation plan and execute it systematically – you are bound to be going in the right direction. Trying to rush your prep and trying to cut corners is not going to help one bit. You cannot expect to become a casing master in 2 weeks. You cannot expect to master your fit questions without practicing them 100 times day-in and day-out. No point in blaming the interviewer asking a fit question that you were not fully prepared for. No point in blaming the interviewer for a stress interview if you did not prepare for how to handle it. No point in expecting a selection if your interview skills are not sound. No point in expecting a selection if you haven’t wholehearted accepted all the feedback from your coach and implemented it religiously.
2.2 Believe and Adopt a Winning Mindset
Throughout the millennia, one of the singular secrets of winners has been to believe and adopt a winning mindset. Believing in your selection is the first step towards selection.
- Visualize and manifest: Visualizing your success will help you in training your subconscious to succeed. Visualize yourself performing well during the interview. Visualize yourself encountering difficult questions in the interview and coming out of them with ease. Visualize yourself facing a very stressful interview and being able to establish a positive rapport. Visualize yourself facing a very unknown and unorthodox case and being able to cope up with it. Visualize yourself in a situation where you feel pressured and low on confidence during the interview – then visualize yourself getting out of it through your own grit. Most candidates only do the first half of this exercise – they visualize only the poor performance aspect, and they worry about it. They don’t visualize coming out of the rut on the other side and getting their mojo back in the interview. You need to establish all these neural connections in your mind. Someone might say none of it is real and trying to imagine what has not happened will not do any good. However, think about this – if you have already visualized coming out of a difficult interview with grace – your mind will acknowledge it as a familiar situation if it happens in the actual interview – and your mind would be prepared for a way out of it. Simply thinking about being successful in the interview is the hidden secret sauce to feeling more prepared and confident.
- Overcome self-doubt: A corollary to the visualization trick is about overcoming the feeling of lack and boost your confidence. Positive self-talk and affirmations can be powerful tools for managing anxiety. Replace negative thoughts with positive statements like, "I am well-prepared," "I have the skills and knowledge to succeed," or "I am confident in my abilities." Overcome self-doubt by reminding yourself of past accomplishments and acknowledging the progress you've made. Recognize your strengths and be proud of your achievements. Remind yourself of your skills, accomplishments, and qualifications that make you a strong candidate for the position. By building self-belief, you'll be better equipped to tackle the challenges that case interviews present. Coupling that with the right visualization is the winning combo.
- Learn and grow: Always remember that learning is the best way to grow, and a growth mindset is essential for success in case interviews. Most candidates shut the door on their growth by not being willing to learn. Criticism and feedback from case partners and coaches should be viewed as as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as threats. Learn from each case interview experience, regardless of the outcome, and strive to improve consistently. Reflect on your performance, identify areas for improvement, and incorporate lessons learned into your preparation for future interviews. Most importantly, be open to the premise that there is always going to be something you can improve upon. Recognize that no one is perfect and that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process. Embrace your imperfections and use them as opportunities for growth.
2.3 Perform to Your Best
The strategies discussed earlier are crucial for preparation, but they must be effectively executed during the interview. Consider the following aspects for your interview performance and incorporate them into your practice sessions:
- Active listening: Effective communication is key to leaving a lasting impression during case interviews. Many candidates fail to pay careful attention to the interviewer’s words. Sometimes the candidates start speaking without even properly understanding the interviewer’s question. Active listening and speaking with clarity are super crucial to achieve effective communication. Focus on the interviewer's words and questions, ensuring you understand their concerns before responding. Be present in the moment and ask for clarification if needed.
- Speak with confidence: Just like visualizing your success can lead to actual success, displaying confidence can snowball into actual confidence. Try to develop your voice of confidence by reviewing videos of your own practice sessions. Non-verbal cues, such as eye contact, posture, and hand gestures, can reinforce your self-assurance and command attention. Make an effort to maintain good eye contact, stand or sit up straight, and use gestures to emphasize your points. These subtle signals can convey confidence and demonstrate your engagement with the interviewer.
- Speak with structure: Maintaining structure is vital throughout the interview. Candidates often drift into unstructured answers or side discussions that don’t do them any good. Often, candidates start speaking a millisecond after the interviewer finishes, and then stutter their way through a haphazardly put answer. Structure is crucial to effective communication. Using the pyramid approach in responding to even basic questions can be instrumental in conveying a strong suit of structure. This approach helps you break down complex problems into simpler components, making your thought process easy to follow. Achieving this level of expertise requires a lot of practice of speaking in structure, which can be incorporated into daily life during preparation.
- Control interview pace: Panic and loss of confidence can occur when candidates feel pressured by the interviewer's pace. Just 2-3 rapid-paced questions by the interviewer can throw a candidate’s flow off-balance. Understand that this is a test of conditions you will face in real life as a consultant. You will have to keep up with the torrent of questions from the client and the partners. It won’t do you any good if you speak before you think. Note that even if the interviewer “expected” a quick answer, it doesn’t matter if that answer is not good. Controlling the pace is crucial to your performance, as it helps with understanding questions, thinking of answers, and composing yourself before responding. One of the best ways to rectify this is to practice the art of taking pauses before answering. Taking a 5-second pause before answering can do wonders to the answer’s quality. 5-seconds is not long – it’s the time it takes to take a deep breath. Some of the best orators, artists, celebrities, politicians, and company executives employ this technique to appear more confident in front of the press and interviewers – sometimes holding-up the interview for as long as 30 seconds while coming up with an answer. Controlling the pace of the interview is very crucial to your performance. Those 5-10 extra seconds of pause that you take before answering the question can serve multiple purposes – it helps you understand the question better, it allows you time to think of the answer, it helps in letting your mind settle down a bit, it helps in allowing you to compose yourself before you start answering, and a lot more.
- One of the hallmarks of a good consultant is being adaptable and coachable. A lot of candidates make the mistake of being too flexible or too rigid in their approach. Sometimes they will readily agree to the interviewer’s course corrections and take a hit on their confidence, or sometimes they will be too rigid on their approach and hurt their chances of doing better. You need to find the fine line of adaptability between those two. Be assertive in presenting your ideas, but also be open to feedback and willing to adjust your approach when necessary. Your ability to adapt to new information will showcase your flexibility and problem-solving skills. This constant push & pull will play wonders in maintaining a constant level of confidence during the interview.
2.4 Self-Care and Balance for Success
Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is crucial during the interview preparation process. Establishing a healthy work-life balance can help you maintain motivation and focus.
- Sleep well: Ensure you get enough sleep, as it plays a vital role in your ability to think critically, problem-solve, and manage stress. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and establish a consistent sleep schedule to optimize your rest. Avoid the lure of working late nights and waking up late mornings as that kills a lot of energy.
- Correct your daily routine: Our mind is a creature of habit. If you train the mind to solve cases at 1AM in the night and wake up at 11AM every morning – it is going to learn to do so. And if your interview is at 11AM, then you can be sure that your mind is not going to be at peak performance and your confidence is going to suffer.
- Create the right body routine: Engage in regular physical activity to promote mental clarity, reduce stress, and boost your energy levels. Exercise can also enhance your self-confidence and provide a healthy outlet for stress relief.
- Take breaks: Set aside time for hobbies, social activities, and relaxation to recharge and relieve stress. Taking breaks can also improve your productivity and creativity, helping you better tackle case interview challenges.
- Create a pre-interview routine: Establish a routine that helps you feel calm and focused before the interview, such as listening to calming music, exercising, or reciting positive affirmations. Avoid doing last minute revisions or last-minute case sessions as that can spike anxiety levels. If you have followed your preparation plan well enough – you wouldn’t need to reach out for your notebook at the last moment as such.
- Maintain a balance: The most important thing you can do in your prep is to maintain a good balance. Too much intensive preparation can burn you out and create a negative impact on your performance. Don’t set unrealistic and impractical targets. Don’t set yourself to do 100 cases in 1 month – it is going to be too tiring for your mind. Don’t expect yourself to write all your fit answers in 2 days – it is not going to lead to the best answers. Don’t expect to practice 5 cases a day – it is going to be too much to process. You need time to process everything. You need time to set the right focus on everything. Be patient, keep your balance, and trust the process.
2.5 Embrace the Nerves and Stay Calm
At the end of the day – you must acknowledge that nervousness and dips in confidence are part and parcel of the journey. Even the best athletes feel nervous before taking a big shot. Even a seasoned politician will feel nervous before starting their big speech. Even the most experienced coach will feel slightly tense before beginning a new coaching session. The most important thing to note is to acknowledge the nerves and embrace the fear. You won’t know the outcome of the interview until you have given it. You won’t know whether you’ll be able to solve the case until you have solved it. And you wouldn’t know if any of the tips in this article would have worked until you have wholehearted tried you best to work on them.
Another thing to remember is that rejection is an inevitable part of the job search process, but it doesn't have to define your journey. When it comes to case interviews – understand that statistically you have a higher probability of getting rejected than selected. But so does everyone else. The only way you can increase the odds is by ensuring that you stay positive and stay on the right track of your preparation. If you are getting rejected a lot – take a step back and seek guidance. Treat each rejection as an opportunity to learn and grow. Analyze the feedback you receive, identify areas for improvement, and adjust your approach accordingly. Be open to constructive criticism, as it can provide valuable insights into your performance and reveal areas where you can enhance your skills.
Finally, understand that this is all but one stage of your career path. Maintaining a long-term perspective on your career journey is essential. Setbacks in case interviews are only temporary and do not define who you really are. There have been numerous examples of candidates who were trying hard for a consulting job and were facing a lot of rejection – only to later realize that they were a much better fit for a different job. Always keep in mind that consulting is not the only job around – the total number of management consultants in the world probably do not even make up 0.01% of the total world population.
As you prepare for your case interviews, remember that confidence, communication, and a positive mindset are just as crucial as your analytical skills. By focusing on these aspects, you'll be better equipped to handle the challenges of the interview process. Resilience and self-care are essential for long-term success, so don't forget to prioritize your well-being as you work toward your goal of joining a top-tier management consulting firm. Keep pushing forward, and you'll soon see the fruits of your hard work.
4. About the Author
MBB | BCG Dubai | 6+ years consulting | Expert in finding areas of improvement
- Professional Experience: BCG Dubai and Opera Solutions
- Languages: English
- Location: United Arab Emirates
Agrim is an expert interview coach and a former Project Leader at BCG Dubai. He is a specialist in Structuring / Market Sizing / Unorthodox Cases / CV Prep / PEI and Fit. Agrim helped a lot of candidates to land offers from McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and various other general & specialised consulting firms. He is also an expert on Middle East recruiting (Dubai / Saudi Arabia / Qatar / Abu Dhabi and others). Agrim provides 100% personalised coaching to help candidates in their interview preparation.
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