How To Ace Case InterviewsBy Tang Kai Long • 6 min read
You are competing with literally thousands of applicants for a handful of available management consulting positions.
If you’re going for your first case interview, you’re probably flooded with questions.
What should I do?
What mistakes should I avoid?
What exactly are they looking out for?
And if you’re not, you are probably looking for advice or trying to understand what went wrong during your previous interview.
These insider tips and common mistakes shared by actual consultants themselves will help you increase your chances of landing a job in consulting.
Start answering the question with questions
Don’t rush into answering the question right after you were briefed on the case. Don’t be afraid of silence – take your time to pause and think carefully.
Are there areas you need more information on?
Are there areas that aren’t clear for you?
Ask. Asking the right questions demonstrates that you seek to have a good grasp of the problem before jumping into things – which is a trait that consulting firms look out for. Understanding the problem is half the battle won.
There are cases where interviewers drop obvious hints about where the case is headed when you ask the right questions.
Once you’re on the right track, you can focus on tackling the issue without fearing that you may be out of point. You make sure you don’t waste time going down the wrong path.
Apply the framework, don’t just regurgitate it
You’ve memorised 14 different frameworks – all of them down to the tiniest details. And you want to show your interviewer that you know these frameworks at the tip of your fingers.
Your interviewer isn’t here to see if you’ve got a good understanding of the framework, or whether you’ve memorised all the details to regurgitate it.
What’s important is whether you can solve the business case. If a framework is helpful for you to analyse and breakdown the problem, then your interviewer would want to see how you apply it to the problem. Always contextualise it to the problem.
For example, in a profitability case interview question, anybody can regurgitate the profitability framework. But you need to analyse: What are the fixed costs and variable costs in the context of the company in question? How is the firm’s revenue impacted from new industry entrants? How do you use these information to make a sound recommendation?
Articulate your thought process
“If we were to venture into the A.I. Robot industry, would it be a profitable business?”
They are never looking for a yes/no answer.
Show them how you think.
The answer can be both yes and no, depending on your justification. Bring them through your thought process and impress them with your ability to analyse the problem, breakdown the considerations, and how you eventually land at your recommendation.
“Write this down: Mental sums are very important!”
One of the consultants we spoke to literally told us to write this tip down because it is critical and can be make-or-break.
The interviewer expects you to be able to do mental calculations quickly and accurately. When you are solving the business case during the interviews, the calculations you make from your problem analysis and resulting numbers you use to justify your recommendations need to be correct.
You are usually given a paper and pen during the interview. Use them to help you scribble numbers down, or do your math.
Consulting firms look out for strong mental math during the interviews because consultants spend a lot of their time working with numbers.
Don’t they use Excel to do the quantitative analysis?
I’m sure they use calculators on the job?
Yes, but consulting math is important because you may be required to do quick mental calculations during client meetings or run back-of-the-envelope calculations (i.e. estimations) during team meetings.
Also, having strong mental math allows you to detect when there are errors in the numbers you’re working with in your Excel.
Think a few steps ahead
Most case interviews usually have a few sub-parts to it.
The initial hypothetical business problem presented sets the context. As the conversation between you and your interviewer progresses, your interviewer will ask you more questions that build on your response or the initial context. Your interviewer may also introduce more information to deepen the business problem.
There are many parts to a case, and with each part of the case they are looking to test your core skill sets. They will start with a conceptual question, which will lead into an analytical question, followed by a test of your chart reading and synthesis skills. Finally, they want to see if you’re creative with your approaches.
How it would look like:
Part 1 (conceptual): What could be the challenges in developing vaccines for AIDS?
Part 2 (market sizing): What is the potential market value of a vaccine?
Part 3 (synthesising): Look at this chart on vaccine production and share your insights to it.
Part 4 (creativity): Do you have any ideas on how we can speed up vaccine development?
This process is quite linear, and because of that you can try to anticipate where the case is going. This will keep you from straying off point, and the scheme of your answer would also be more coherent.
Being too stressed out
It’s a high stakes interview, and if you stress yourself out you don’t get to think as clearly as you otherwise would be able to. You easily forget details, or you trip over your math. Or you lose the direction where the interviewer may be trying to skew you towards.
Memorising case interview model answers
There is no point memorising questions or model answers. In fact, it could backfire if your thinking becomes too rigid. Or you’ve practiced a certain way of answering a question which has become rooted in you, such that you end up forcing a framework into a situation where it just doesn’t fit.
Not having a personal brand / a story to tell
This is a big thing that many people may not pay attention to. Consulting firms looks out for a lot of diversity – especially with your personality, preferences, and experiences.
Without those, you are but one of the thousands of applicants who have great analytical skills and frameworks available at your fingertips. They don’t need another robot in their company.
What you should do: It is important to highlight who you are, and have a story that makes you special. More importantly, you need to figure that out before you enter the interview, so you can sell yourself in a coherent way.
Of course, mastering case interviews as a standalone wouldn’t suffice – there’re a lot more technicalities to be explored that we didn’t cover in this article.
Instead, we urge you to hear it from consultants and ex-consultants – people who have done it before.
Because deciding on a career requires a lot more than mastery of the hard skills.
Find them all in “The Ultimate Starter Guide To Management Consulting”, where we share insider secrets and answers to all the questions you will have about consulting.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
We share more career wisdom with our tribe
Click here to join over 20,000+ career-minded professionals on our career newsletter.
We'll also welcome you with an email series of our best resources.