Guidelines for Case Interviews, Part One of Two

Consulting companies will soon send out their invitations for applicants to interview. Most companies will include a case component in their interviews. Adequately preparing for these interviews is a key step in the recruitment process.

What are top consulting companies really looking for?

Consulting companies use case interviews in their recruitment process. The case discussion could be a stand-alone interview with a partner or part of an interview that includes more traditional “fit” interview questions. Case interviews are not a cause for panic or concern: you should welcome them as an open-ended opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of, and comfort with, analytical problem-solving. Rather than a “correct” answer, the interviewer is seeking to understand how you think and communicate.

The case study is not meant to test your domain knowledge or your ability to get to a “right” answer. Instead, what companies will look for is:

  1. Problem-solving abilities – what approach you take to start addressing the question presented in the case study.
  2. Analytical and creative thinking.
  3. Presentation of qualitative and/or quantitative data or evidence and logic to support your analysis and recommendations.
  4. Communication skills.
  5. Ability to ask insightful questions as well as answer follow-up questions.

What is the focus and format of the case interview?

Case 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.

The case interview questions can vary dramatically, so don’t try to guess or anticipate them.

Case Interview Examples at Top-Tier Management Consulting Companies

“You are a product manager at a well-established ride-sharing company operating in a highly competitive market. Recently, you read an article in the “Weekend Journal” section of the Wall Street Journal that examines how senior citizens engage with the digital economy. The article describes how a team of researchers from a reputable US university conducted focus groups with senior citizens who frequently use ride-sharing apps because they are no longer able to drive. One of the findings was that seniors are frustrated by how quickly their cars arrived – often in under 5 minutes – after the ride was booked. With this information in mind, describe what recommendations you would make to your ride-sharing company (if any).”

“The Weston Group is a Canadian retailer that is facing limited growth. The CEO has proposed creating a new tablet, the ‘Hudl’, that will be affordable and target the 75% market in Canada that does not have tablets. Do you think that this is an innovative idea? Should Weston Group pursue this venture?”

“Assume you have taken over Nokia as CEO. Following the major sale to Microsoft, what steps would you take to ensure the company’s profitability and future survival?”

“Last year the GDP rose in Germany by 2.6%; in the rest of the Euro Zone, it grew by less than 1%. This year The Economist expects Germany’s GDP to slow to a growth rate of 2.4%, and the rest of the Euro Zone to grow by 1.2%. Why is Germany’s GDP growth greater than the rest of the Euro Zone’s? Give specific examples. Is Germany’s higher GDP rate due to good luck or strategy and planning?”

The best “practice” questions come from reading business news from 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. Then, describe for yourself what and how you would address it as the CEO.

Practice. Practice. Practice.
Candidates who are serious about pursuing a career in consulting should set aside a significant portion of their time to practicing their case interviewing skills. You should join a club, or form one, to get practice partners. In order to ensure that you are practicing the right skills, look for some guidance and support from people familiar with the industry.

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