Dos and Don'ts in a Case Interview
Case interviews are the critical step of the consulting recruiting process. They are designed to evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, and communication skills. Case interviews require candidates to apply fundamental business concepts to a simulated business situation and provide a recommendation based on their analysis. As such, candidates need to be well-prepared for this type of interview. In order to ace your next case interview, it’s important to understand what you need to do and what you should avoid. Doing this will help you stand out from the competition and give you a better chance at getting the job.
When preparing for a case interview, there are several things that candidates should do in order to increase their chances of success.
Demonstrate Knowledge of the Firm: candidates should have researched the company they are interviewing with as well as the industry they are entering. This is critical to showing the interviewer that they are serious about working at the company and committed to succeeding in the industry.
Ask Questions: candidates should come prepared with questions for the interviewer. This shows that the candidate is engaged and eager to learn more about the company and the position they are interviewing for.
Listen: it is important for candidates to listen actively during the case interview. They should pay attention to the details provided by the interviewer and focus on understanding the problem being presented. Asking clarifying questions can help ensure that the candidate has all the necessary information to develop a solution.
Incorporate advice: when the interviewer questions your approach or aims to nudge you in a certain direction, make sure you actually incorporate their feedback! Interviewers are not always trying to trick you. Oftentimes they will raise a query simply to help you notice a mistake you have made on your own.
Use a structured approach: use a structured approach to solve the case. This could include breaking down the problem into smaller parts, identifying the root cause of the problem, or developing a framework to analyze the situation.
Communicate your thought process: communicate your thought process as you work through the case. This will help the interviewer understand how you are approaching the problem and identify any potential issues with your approach.
Be creative: use your creativity to develop innovative solutions to the problem. This will help you stand out from other candidates and demonstrate your ability to think outside the box.
Take good notes: taking notes during the case interview is critical for organizing thoughts and recording important details. Ideally, have a solid process in place, including a case template sheet to optimally organize your notes.
Be a real person: when answering questions, it is important to remember that a case is like a real life project, so being natural and conversational will help you come across as more personable and professional. Remember that you are not just being tested on solving the problem, but also on how you come across. Fundamentally, the interviewer is trying to see whether they can put you in front of the client.
Be clear and concise: being concise and clear in your answers will help keep the interviewer engaged in what you are saying. Less can often be more. Be objective-driven in your answers, in that fact, everything you are saying during the case interview should be clearly about solving the problem/objective.
When preparing for a case interview, there are also several things that candidates should avoid doing in order to ensure success.
Do not “lose the plot”: it is important for candidates to stay on topic during the case interview and not go off on tangents or provide irrelevant information. Candidates should also avoid giving canned, generic responses or rushing through their answers.
Do not get visibly stuck: if you are having trouble solving the problem or understanding the details provided by the interviewer, do not make this obvious. The worst thing you can do when stuck, is to show that panic on your face. Staying quiet for 20 seconds does no one any good. Instead, you can always ask for a moment to gather your thoughts. Alternatively, you can recap what has been done before and what you understand of the situation before then asking questions that will drive you towards an answer.
Do not charge ahead: candidates should make sure that they ask questions during the case interview in order to gain more insight into the problem and develop a better solution. Oftentimes you will be given partial information or information that requires clarification of assumptions. Do not assume and do not calculate numbers for the sake of calculating. Think.
Don’t be scared: everyone is nervous during case interviews, and it’s normal for you to be. However, being scared is “pointless”. Try to embrace the nervousness and recognize that it is fine and normal. Practice controlling the fear during mock interviews with real consultants and case coaches. In particular, make sure to practice interviewing with tough interviewers. You need to be ready to face a real life case interview with both helpful and unhelpful interviewers.
Do not talk through all math: a common misconception is that candidates should talk through all of their math steps. Candidates should indeed lay out their overall math approach to case problems. However, they should not then proceed to explain out every math step in detail. Additionally, talking through more simple calculations can waste precious time and distract from solving more complex problems.
Do not be afraid to ask questions: if something isn't clear, or you need more information, it is ok to ask for clarification. Remember, real consultants ask questions all the time on their projects. Being a consultant means asking objective-driven, calculated questions that help you solve the problem for the client.
Don’t guess: neither a case nor a project is about randomly guessing what information exists. Consultants drive towards answers by understanding, at a higher level, the information they need to solve the problem. Likewise, in a case, do not ask for specific and narrow data and information. Rather, figure out the “umbrella” of information you want. Ask precise, yet broad/high-level questions so that you can cover many bases and possible data points with fewer questions.
Don’t be a robot: candidates need to pass the airport test. That is, the interviewer needs to feel that they could work with the candidates and put them in front of the client. Take time to make eye contact, smile, use natural body language, and generally connect with your interviewer.
Don’t forget to say thank you: it’s important to show that you care and are truly interested in the position. If you can, follow up after the case interview and send a “Thank You” email.
By keeping in mind these key tips, you can increase your chances of performing well on interview day. While these tips may seem overwhelming, remember that the more you practice, the more you will naturally start to incorporate them in your case interviews.
Remember as well that a case interview is ultimately assessing you as a consultant. When in doubt, think “what would a consultant need to demonstrate”. If all else fails, remember and try to embody this single sentence summary for an optimal candidate: Someone who can approach a complicated problem and both think and communicate in a structured way in the right context and objective of the problem, while being personable, adaptable, and coachable, so that, ultimately, the interviewer can see themselves working with this individual and putting them in front of a client.
4. About the Author
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep
- Professional Experience: Boston Consulting Group, Appian Corporation
- Languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
- Location: USA
Ian started his career at Appian, an IT Consultancy, where he realized what a great company they were (great people, interesting work, and personal growth prospects). He signed on the dotted line and, 4 years later, he had been promoted twice, moved to Australia, and learned a plethora of valuable skills (client and project management, leadership, database design, IT architecture, coding, etc.). This experience built the foundation for who he is today, both professionally and personally. Ian joined PrepLounge as more of a "side hustle". He read a lot about personal finance, and it has also been drilled into him to have diversified income streams. However, what started as a 1 or 2 session a week gig turned into something far more - it turned out that he gets immense joy and satisfaction from teaching! Now, he focuses a lot more on what he loves to do - contracting/consulting has now ironically become the "side hustle"!