Advanced Case Tactics: Interviewer vs. Interviewee-Led Case Interviews

Last month, we reviewed the nuances of case interview anatomy, emphasizing how interviewer- and interviewee-led interviews have similar case anatomy.

If you’re new to the world of management consulting, or if you haven’t been around it for very long, you’ve probably noticed you have a lot to learn. Fit interviews, case interviews, frameworks, and 80/20: there are a whole heap of words that don’t mean much to a lot of people outside of our world.

But for those of you who have your eyes on this particular prize, today we’re going to be demystifying something that’s going to be pivotal once you reach interview stage.

In this article, we’re going to explore interviewer- and Interviewee-led interviews in depth: which firms prefer which, and their similarities and differences.

Interviewee-Led Interview Definition

In this scenario, you are in charge of developing the structure and then leading your interviewer through the structure you have created. Arguably harder, you build the house you live in, so your upfront structure has to be spot on.

Interviewer-Led Interview Definition

In this scenario, the interviewer has a specific set of questions that they want you to address. Even if you start with your own dazzling structure, the interviewer may disregard it as they walk you through a predetermined line of questions they have in mind for you.

Similarities Between Interviewee & Interviewer Case Interviews

The Openings

Whichever type of interview you find yourself faced with, the opening is going to be exactly the same. You will be given the background and it will be your responsibility to recap, walk through clarifying questions, and prepare to present your game plan.

Remember, you will ALWAYS be leading this section (both case types leave you to succeed or fail here, so make sure you are prepared to do so.

Anatomy – All cases, if done effectively, will have the same anatomy. You will open the case up with the same 5 pieces of the anatomy, as discussed in our earlier article, up to the game plan.

In the guts of the case, you will go back and forth between the quantitative questions and creative questions. As you do this, you’ll be solving the case with a dance that goes back and forth between numbers and interpretation. Who leads here will be different, but you’ll do both types of questions in both interviewer- and interviewee-led cases.

After this, the case closing is the same no matter which type of interview you are in, but some firms (such as McKinsey) won’t offer you a prompt to close the case, so you should be closing each question with next steps.

The traits you identify – All firms, repeat, ALL FIRMS want to see structure, problem solving and clear communication. It used to be that the 3 top firms (McKinsey, Bain and BCG) would be looking for different skill sets and styles from their interviewees. However, in recent times, its become a lot more common for people to get offers from more than one of the top firms because best practices have converged.

Differences Between Interviewee & Interviewer Case Interviews

Whose structure you use – In interviewee-led cases, you are responsible for using your structure to lead and solve the case. Firms that use interviewee-led cases are looking for you to not only be able to deal with the information they give you, but also to see that you can lead a case in the same way an actual consultant would. 

Ownership of outcome – Again, interviewee-led is the more demanding of the two case types in terms of content, because you must demonstrate a greater level of ownership of the concepts, a clearer sense of confidence, and the ability to ask the right questions.

In these cases, you can expect the interviewer to be an almost passive bystander as you take them by the hand and lead them through your (impressive) structure. The interviewer here acts like they are the client.

Concept mastery – Should you find yourself in an interviewer-led case, don’t suddenly start thinking you’re on easy street. In these instances, you will be expected to dive deeply into subject matter that you would not be able to cover if you were leading the case.

Quantitative rigor – Because interviewer-led cases follow more of a script, they are also used to present more complex data within the case itself. You’ll find the hardest math in a McKinsey case – less time focused on finding the data you need, and more time spent crunching actual numbers.

Upward management – Before, we said that for interviewee-led cases, the interviewer acts like a client. Not so for interviewer-led cases. These cases feel more like you giving a proposal as to what you would like to do, but then are being told what to do by the interviewer. It’s an odd role-play – and one that is more like that of an interaction with a manager, not a client.

It’s not that you got it wrong, it’s just that they (like a manager) already know which direction they want things to move and they’re going to keep things going that way. In an interviewee-led case, in contrast, you’re expected to be more collaborative with the interviewer.

If you start getting really good at case interviews, you’ll find that the direction you want to go will more frequently be exactly the same as the direction the interviewer was going to take you.

Where To Expect What:

Interviewee Led:

  • Bain
  • BCG
  • LEK
  • Monitor/Deloitte
  • PwC
  • Strategy& (sometimes interviewer-led)

Interviewer Led:

  • McKinsey
  • Accenture
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Capital One

A Slight Curveball:

It would be a little bit too simple if there weren’t a few exceptions to the general rule. If you’re getting interviewed at BCG and you feel like you’re in an interviewer-led case, don’t be surprised. Not only should you know at which firm each type of interview might occur, but also when each type may occur.

  • Screening Interview – If you’re an experienced hire, or if you’re applying to work outside of your core region, you’ll often be have a preliminary interview, usually by phone. In this round, it can be either type of interview and the question you’re presented with will be much simpler than in later rounds. Market sizing questions are an easy go-to on the phone.
  • Round 1 – Almost always conducted in person and more frequently interviewer-led. These are common for on campus recruiting where 60+ people may be being interviewed. As such, they use this round to weed out the people who can’t solve cases by making sure everyone gets cases that are comparable in terms of difficulty.
  • Round 2 – In this type of interview, you’ll do a deep dive into specific areas. They know you can do cases, so now they just want to know how deep your understanding is – but they want you to direct. This is often where interviewee-led cases make an appearance. They want to know where it is you’ll take them, so they can get a good read on you. This interview is the thing between you and that job offer – don’t sit back and wait for them to lead you, but at the same time, don’t be too forceful when they’re trying to have more of a conversation with you.

Whichever firm it is you’re interviewing for, make sure you prepare both types of interview.

If you have more questions about interviews, book a session with us here, or get a copy of our book “The Consulting Interview Bible” here.

Filed Under: case studies