In previous posts, I’ve discussed interviews, resumes, and the general recruiting process. Today, I want to touch upon one of the most important but often overlooked aspects of the interview process – the case interview.
What are case interviews?
A critical component of the interview process. Case studies are descriptions of real or hypothetical business problems. Candidates are expected to understand, analyze, and recommend solutions to these problems.
Why do consulting firms use case interviews?
Because doing well in cases requires the same skills that consultants use:
- Understanding of basic business concepts (eg, revenues and costs, suppliers and customers, market structure, etc)
- Analytical, structured-thinking
- Business-oriented creativity and insight
- Communication and presentation
A case study mirrors the work that consultants do day-to-day.
What should I do to prepare myself for case interviews?
- Practice as much as possible - with friends, colleagues, contacts within consulting firms. Even practice in front of a mirror to assess your communication style, body language, etc.
- Review case study-specific resources – from the Vault Guides to Cosentino’s Case in Point. Don’t go overboard (in particular, Cosentino’s guide is helpful but not a must-have).
- Review general business problems – get your hands on as many case studies as possible. Most consulting firms post a few online, such as McKinsey here. The more exposure you have, the more familiar each question will seem. Even when you’re reading the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, etc. – put yourself into the CEO’s shoes at every opportunity.
Further reading: 2 smartest case study techniques
I’m not that good at case interviews. Can I get an offer by conquering the “fit questions” and my resume?
No. Your performance on case studies accounts for at least 50% (and usually more) of your “score” in determining offers. It is the most underprepared area for candidates, but something the best applicants excel at. If you want an offer, you’ll practice, practice, practice.
I’ve heard that some companies/interviewers don’t ask standard case questions. Instead, they ask questions like “How many golf balls would fit into a 747?” or “How would you rescue the auto industry today?”
That will happen, particularly in later rounds and with more senior interviewers. They may not be prepared to run you through a standard case, or they may want to see how you handle the unexpected. One question I faced (not at McKinsey but another firm) was the following:
Can you explain why Starbucks actively promotes the construction of locations that are so close to each other that they cannibalize sales?
If this happens, don’t panic. The interviewer is still looking for the same things – how crisp and logical is your thinking; how well do you communicate those thoughts; and how much do you understand of the basic business underpinnings.
Further reading: 10 steps to solving any sizing question
I give you tons more info on case interviews, sizing questions, and fit/experiential interview questions in The Consulting Bible. With 300+ power-packed pages – including 16 case studies with exhibits – you’ll jump ahead of your competition with this top global resource on consulting interviews.