Candidates who are attempting to launch a career in management consulting, applying for positions with firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Deloitte, wait on tenterhooks for that invitation to interview. Did you know that a lot of management consulting position interviews include a case study component? Adequately preparing for these case study interviews is a key step in the recruitment process.
Are you ready for case study interview season? Serious management consulting candidates need to prep with care for case interviews, ideally working with a partner or other consulting field expert. This intro and overview of the case interview process from the experts at The MBA Exchange can help you nail your management consulting case interview. We’ve got all the examples, samples, explainers and tips you need to answer case interview questions with confidence and land your target management consulting position.
What is a case interview?
Case study interviews provide recruiters from consulting companies with a window into your analytical problem-solving capabilities, skills that are key for any management consulting career. It’s difficult to show your ability to work on dynamic issues without a “live test,” so to speak. That’s what case study questions are for!
The form of case interviews can vary. You might face a stand-alone interview with a partner, or case study questions may be part of an interview that also includes more traditional interview questions designed to gauge “fit.” Case interview questions can vary dramatically from applicant to applicant, so it’s not worth much of your time to try to guess or anticipate them.
Case study questions ask you to come up with practical solutions to real-world business problems, grounding your answer in hard data, logical reasoning and effective communication. Case interviews are less about demonstrating correct knowledge, or your ability to hit to a “right” answer, than showing off your ability to reason on the fly.
How long is a case interview? Case study interviews usually last about 45 minutes. Some companies may send you the case question and some data 24 hours in advance for you to study. Others will present the case at the start of the interview. You will be expected to ask questions to elicit more information during the interview, and use that information to resolve the problem with specific recommendations.
What is a quantitative case interview?
Quantitative case interviews focus on your mathematical and logical problem-solving capabilities, a must for our data-driven reality. Often, quantitative case interviews form a core element of the management consulting recruitment process. If you plan to apply for positions with firms like McKinsey, Bain or BCG, you should be prepared for quantitative case study questions and answers. You might also encounter quantitative case study interview questions in interviews for positions in general management, marketing or even engineering.
During a quantitative case interview, you should expect to grapple with and solve the unexpected. Business calls for constant tackling of new and often ambiguous problems. You need to show that you can pull off that move in your future career as a consultant, handling unfamiliar challenges with incomplete information and successfully devising a logical, defensible framework for a course of action.
Showing off impressive mathematical dexterity can win you additional points in quantitative case interviews. Computers give correct answers, but if you can do math by hand, even just a quick back-of-the-envelope analysis as needed to test that you are on the right path, you demonstrate your ability to manipulate numbers manually
You’re also tested during a quantitative case interview on your ability to use logical, objectively-presented arguments backed by numbers to persuade team members and leaders to your point of view. Math isn’t just a numbers game – in a quantitative case interview for a management consulting position, it can also be a communication challenge!
How to answer case interview questions
When responding to a case study interview question, think logically and keep your thought process linear. Rather than a “correct” answer, the interviewer is seeking to elicit a demonstration of how you think and communicate. You want to answer case study interview questions in such a way as to fully display skills including:
- Problem-solving abilities – what approach you take to start addressing the question presented in the case study
- Analytical and creative thinking
- Presentation of qualitative and/or quantitative data or evidence and logic to support your analysis and recommendations
- Ability to ask insightful questions as well as answer follow-up questions
In your case interview answer, confidently summarize the problem that was posed and your hypothetical solution. Three points of convincing support should shore up your suggested solution, giving you a solid tripod of elegant evidentiary reasoning.
What are the steps to follow during a case interview?
As your interviewer presents the case, listen with care and take high-value notes, staying on the lookout for any subtle cues or other guidance that you might need in order to successfully propose your solution. Ask as many questions as you need to fully understand the case, but be aware that your questions will be “on the record,” and you want them to sound both articulate and thoughtful, as a result.
As you develop your analysis, keep steps clear. It can be helpful to paraphrase the situation and the key issues/problems/opportunities. For example, “Company X is losing market share despite a growing market for its products. The CEO must decide whether to reduce price to increase demand, differentiate the offerings to justify a higher price, or seek a merger partner to add scale and reduce manufacturing cost.”
Make simplifying assumptions as necessary. You can use paper and pencil to do your calculations, and you can share any simple illustrations, like a 2×2 matrix, that illustrates your problem-solving process as you develop your potential solution and test your answer to make sure it is achievable. Be sure to look at disconfirming evidence to ensure your solution is robust!
How to prepare for a consulting case interview
You don’t need to panic when it comes to case interview preparation. You can’t control when you’ll be invited to consulting interviews with companies like BCG and McKinsey, or who you’ll interview with when the time comes. You can’t even control what the subject matter of the case will be. But you can control your ability to perform well during the case with your prep for case interviews.
Welcome these open-ended opportunities to demonstrate your understanding of, and comfort with, analytical problem-solving. Solving cases is a skill that can be learned and developed. Just as you would have better chances of scoring well on the SAT, GRE or GMAT by studying the format of the test, doing practice tests and developing a strategic approach, you can improve your case-solving skills during your consulting case prep.
At a minimum, you should prepare yourself for success by committing to practicing your case interview techniques for several weeks before your interview. Doing 50–70 mock cases is common for management consulting interview prep. Volume alone won’t be enough. You need to practice in the right ways if you want to perform well enough in your case study interview to achieve your management consulting career goals. Here’s what you need to know.
How to study for a case interview alone
Candidates who are serious about pursuing a career in consulting should set aside a significant portion of their time to practice their case interviewing skills. Did you know that the best practice case interview questions actually often come from business news articles in major publications like the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times? Find an article about a company that is facing a difficult business decision, and describe for yourself what and how you would address it as the CEO. There you go, that’s case interview prep!
Case study prep with partners
The truth is, if you really want to nail the case interview portion of your consulting candidacy, it’s time to get some practice partners. Join a club, or start one at your local library if you have to, in order to ensure that you are practicing the right skills when you prep for case interviews. It’s also a good idea to look for some guidance and support from people familiar with the industry as you build your business case prep plan.
Strategic preparation for consulting case interviews
A strategic approach to preparing for case interviews involves:
- Working through cases out loud with an expert coach
- Receiving constructive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses
- Developing a plan on how to improve your case interview skills
- Building skills and confidence in the case interview process
With these steps, you can step into case interview or qualitative case interview situations with confidence and mental clarity, providing instant evidence of how competently you can handle the challenges of a top-tier management consulting career at your consulting interviews and impressing potential employers when it matters most. Contact The MBA Exchange for more information on management consulting career support.