Case Interview Preparation

Imagine yourself working at a top management consultancy firm. You will most probably be working with extremely talented people, solving problems for large multinationals, dealing with senior managers and traveling to meet clients all over the world. Understandably, as consultancy is very versatile, many business graduates choose consultancy as a field to start their careers.

How to Land a Job in a Top Consulting Firm

The consultancy industry is ever growing. In 1997, US companies spent more than US$12 Billion for consulting services. More than a decade later, in 2008, 200,000 consultants generated $100 billion in rendering business management advice.

Management consulting is one of the most challenging industries to break into. In order to land a job you will have to go through a series of tests designed to measure not just your technical and fundamental competencies, but also your ability to manage pressure. Then, there are the series of interviews. One of these interviews is a case job interview, which is one of the final steps into the consulting recruitment process. It is also the interview most students find very challenging.

The case interview is designed to place you in situations that allow the company to assess whether you are an ideal fit for their organization. It is meant to assess whether you are still able to perform well under stress.

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know on how to begin preparing for such case interviews. Don't worry, you'll do great.

The Case Interview In Detail

The case job interview is used in industries where strategic analysis is a required skill. This includes, amongst others, management consulting and investment banking. Among the most recognizable names in the management consulting field we find McKinsey and Co., Bain and Co., Oliver Wyman, Boston Consulting Group and A.T. Kearney. These companies are known to use case interviews. 

By definition, a case job interview is the process of evaluating the ability of a candidate to analyze a situation, identify its contextual meaning, breakdown the key business issues and present a system to resolve the problem. Case job interviewers generally focus on assesing the following skills:

- Quantitative analysis
- Communication skills
- Ability to listen
- Problem solving skills
- Professional decorum
- Articulation of ideas
- Business acumen
- Updated insights on the industry
- Performance under pressure
- Interpersonal skills

The commonly made assumption by most first-time case job interviewees is to assume the interviewer expects a correct answer to the problem. In truth, during a case job interview, the case presented does not require a correct answer. The purpose is to assess your approach in resolving the matter. 

The Interviewer Focuses On

- Whether the candidate is able to process the information
- How the candidate is interacting with the interviewer
- Whether the candidate is able to relate the preceding question to the context
- Whether the candidate appears rushed throughout his answers
And lastly, whether the candidate is able to remain composed throughout the prolonged proceedings.

The McKinsey PST features quantitative analysis, data interpretation and logical reasoning which is used by the company to select candidates for the first round interview. Your academic achievements may spark some interest by McKinsey, but unless you pass the initial impression, your journey will end before the first real nterview.

If you do get an invitation for a case job interview, the first thing you absolutely must do is get rid of your nerves and anxieties. Instead of thinking of the potential losses from failure, think about what you will gain by passing the interview. Instead of questioning why you got the call, give yourself credit for getting this far! Consulting companies are strategic in every way, including how they screen candidates. Not many people are invited to a case job interview so instead try and savor the experience.

What Else Should You Do?

- Exude confidence; maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
- Listen carefully to each question.
- Be patient; if you are unsure of your response take the time to compose your thoughts.
- Don't hesitate to seek clarification if you are unsure of the question.
- Engage with the interviewer; encourage a discussion and exchange of ideas
- Reference your answers through proven frameworks of analysis that are relevant to the question. These include frameworks such as SWOT Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces, the Four P’s of Marketing and Value-Chain Analysis among others.
- Focus your answers only on the key issues of the subject matter.
- Be creative with your approach. Referencing theories are great but interviewers are more interested in your understanding and application of these frameworks

The Format Of A Case Job Interview

The format of a case job interview is usually divided into six segments each presided by a distinct interviewer and lasting approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Interpersonal

McKinsey, for example frames this segment as the Personal Experience Interview or PEI. The purpose is to get to know you better; how you think, your goals and aspirations and your approach to building relationships. The interviewer can throw you off at any time with references from your resume or a Math question. Companies are looking for candidates with leadership material: the ability to make decisions, foster teamwork, accept accountability and foresee change to implement adjustments in strategy. They want a candidate who can remain calm and composed during periods of pressure and turbulence.

Why Consulting?

It is perhaps the most basic question during the interview, yet most candidates falter when asked “Why do you want to be a consultant?” Once you are asked this question, you must immediately take command by looking the interviewer straight in the eye and provide straight-forward answers that flow naturally and do not appear contrived. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. The interviewer wants to assess your frame of mind and have an idea of where you are coming from. Whether your reasons are to “become part of a prestigious company”, “build a long established career”, “help other developing companies” or “money”, be honest and share these openly. Case job interviewers are seasoned enough to know if you are stating answers you feel they want to hear but not what you believe are true.

Small case study

The interviewer will then present you with a small case study; usually a small business problem for you to resolve. The case study will not be complex and merely serves as a precursor or “warm up” to the more complex case study in the second session.

Your questions to the company

Next, the interviewer will give the floor to you to ask questions to the company. This part of the interview is crucial because it shows your commitment and interest in becoming part of the organization. The interviewer will take note whether you took the time to conduct research on the company, the industry and even the interviewer himself. Keep in mind that the interviewer has probably done due diligence or research on you.

The Big Question

Once you’ve presented your questions to the company now comes the big question: “Why should we hire you?” While there is no correct answer, it is advisable not to go through a litany of your academic achievements. The best approach would be to simply frame an answer that corresponds to your answers to #2: “Why Consulting?” At this point, consistency is the key.

The Main Case Study

This is the main event of the interview. The segment challenges the capabilities of every candidate. The purpose of the main case study is to test your ability to analyze, evaluate and dissect data, information and frameworks to arrive at a systematic approach to resolving an identified problem. This is where the interviewer determines whether you can think on your feet and how you react when tasked with the responsibility to address and resolve a significant issue. The key here is to successfully merge your technical and fundamental competencies with the ideal behavioral profile.  The main case study will confirm, once and for all, why the company needs to hire you!

In Conclusion

Passing the case job interview will always be a daunting task, regardless of your preparation. It will put you in situations you have never been in before, where the outcome will not be a final grade on a report card but a contract to a rewarding career as a consultant.

In certain respects, passing the case job interview is a matter of survival. When in an unfamiliar setting, you will often rely on your wits and composure to get you through. Such will be the case during a case job interview where in the end the road to survival will largely depend on how you are able to master and overcome pressure.

Good luck! We know you have it in you!