Management consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG, popularized the usage of case studies (case interview). Their approach to interviews helped them reel in the best talent in the market. With a proven track record, case interviews have been adopted across different sectors.
The adoption of case interviews has been particularly rapid across tech companies like Google and Facebook and in Finance firms like Capital One. Thus, to get a top-end job across many key industries, you are likely going to have to undergo a case interview. This means you are going to have to be ready to solve interview studies.
We’ll review the basics you need to ace such interviews. But before that, here’s what case interviews are and why big companies in different industries have adopted them.
What Constitutes a Case Interview?
A case interview is a real industry problem that you need to solve in a short time. Usually, the hypothetical problems are based on past projects the interviewer has handled. But instead of working on the project for months, you have between 20 and 40 minutes to offer a solution. When you think about the timelines, it sounds unfair, right? How do they expect you to come up with a solution that took them months to derive?
Well, it’s a good thing that interviewers are not after the correct answer but how you handle yourself during the interview and how you approach the problem.
During the interview, you’ll receive a question, which is the problem statement. The question can be short like, ‘company X is experiencing reduced profits. How can you help them bounce back?’
Or it can be long with loads of details.
Once the question is posed, take the reins. Drive the discussion towards finding a solution. This means investigating why the client has a problem and recommending a solution to fix the problem. To avoid getting flustered, follow the below steps when tackling the case study;
- Ask questions to gain more information on the problem
- Pause and think it through. Come up with an approach to use to draw a conclusion
- Take the interviewer through your approach
- Synthesize the problem and offer a recommendation
Why Case Interviews are at the Core of Consulting Firm Interviews
The goal of a case interview is to determine how you process and approach complex problems and situations.
If you can break down the problem into sizable chunks, come up with actionable and justifiable recommendations, you win.
Remember, the stress is always on the approach you take and not the correct answer. Here’s why. As a consultant, you’ll be handling CEOs, albeit not directly. CEOs are responsible for driving the company to greater heights of success. To do this, they need to make bold and seemingly risky moves. But with so much at stake and a board to report to, they cannot get into things blind. That’s where you come in. You access the problem, review the facts and offer justifiable recommendations that they can then present to their bosses.
A case study will immerse you in the daily life of a consultant and expose your ability to provide clients with the above value. The skills tested include:
- Logical reasoning
- Your ability to synthesize
- How good you are with numbers
If you are weak in any of the above, don’t fret. You can always develop the skill set and complete the interview successfully.
How to Prepare for Case Interviews
You’ve got your work cut out for you. Fortunately, it’s not an impossible task. If you work smart, you’ll ace the interview. Below is how to get ready for the interview.:
1. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Preparing for a case interview is not sprint; it’s a marathon. So, you cannot burn the midnight oil on the night before the interview and expect great results. Since you’ll need to learn and unlearn some things, take a couple of weeks or months.
As you prepare, pace yourself. Make sure you are soaking up information at a steady rate. Also, don’t have to follow a curriculum. As long as you learn something every day you are good.
2. Develop Reliable and Fast Math Skills
Almost all case interviews require calculations. Therefore, learning how to accurately and quickly complete computations will increase your chances of success.
Getting a grasp on basic mental math will go a long way. Learn some techniques to improve your calculation speed, including how to apply a growth rate over a couple of years.
During the interview, work with whole numbers and voice your calculations for the interviewer to follow along. It’s easier to avoid and notice mistakes when you do this.
3. Develop an Approach to Solve Cases
As you prepare, you’ll most likely tackle some practice case interviews. This is great, but do not make the mistake of memorizing frameworks. Instead, learn how to think like a consultant since, after all, that’s the test.
Develop a consistent approach to use in any case thrown at you. This will make the process more manageable and easier for the interviewer to follow.
4. Get a Practice Partner
Practising case interviews on your own is not enough. You need a partner to complete the simulation and practice communication. Remember, your goal is to over-communicate to the interviewing panel. Though what you might be communicating might sound basic to you, it might not be to the client. As such, learn how to voice your framework clearly and concisely.
5. Ace the fit Questions
Many people focus all their efforts on case interviews and forget fit questions. During preparation, dedicate a quarter of your time to coming up with the best replies to common fit questions including;
- Why do you want to work with us?
- What does your perfect working day look like?
- Describe your ideal management situation.
Now that you know what a case interview is, the role it plays in interviews and how to prepare, take action. Set a timetable to follow and look for a study partner to complete the simulations with. Remember, it’s not about the answer but your approach.