When applying for a job at a top-tier consulting firm, you want to maximize your chances for success by working hard on the variables you can control. You can’t control when you’ll be invited to interview, who you’ll interview with, or what the subject matter of the case will be. But you can control your ability to perform well during the case.
Cases are designed to test your logic, problem-solving, and communication skills. You may think they are testing your innate ability to solve problems, but 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 taking a class to teach you best practices, you can improve your case-solving skills.
At a minimum, you should prepare yourself for success by committing to practicing your case techniques for several weeks before your interview. Doing 50–70 cases is common. However, it is just as important to practice the right way.
What thought process should I follow?
The key to success in case interviews is to think logically and follow a linear thought process:
- Listen very carefully and take notes on the case as presented by your interviewer. Pay attention to subtle cues and guidance that could help you justify your proposed solution.
- Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something significant. Your questions will be “on the record” so be articulate and thoughtful. Pose a “framing” question to elicit more information than you were given upfront. For instance, if you are given a case about a venture capital firm considering an investment in a startup, you can ask: “Does this VC have other portfolio companies in the same industry and therefore might be planning a roll-up of multiple companies?”
- Paraphrase the situation and the key issues/problems/opportunities. For instance, “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.”
- Walk through the steps of your analysis clearly. 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.
- Develop your potential solution and test your answer to make sure it is achievable. For example, are your sales projections reasonable given the size of the total market and current growth rates? Are there additional criteria that need to be checked to reach success? For example, does the company have an adequate supply chain to sustain its projected growth? Look for disconfirming evidence to ensure your solution is robust.
- Confidently summarize the problem that was posed and your hypothetical solution, identifying three convincing support points for your solution. For instance, if you think Company X should seek a merger partner, your support would be: the market is already price sensitive, there is excessive supply available, and other companies with more efficient factories are also feeling pain.”
Practice. Practice. Practice.
The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel and the better you will do on interview day. In addition to the guidance provided above, top management consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, and BCG feature valuable suggestions and sample case interviews that you can use to prepare. 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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PS We posted Part One of this blog series. Be sure to check it out, if you haven’t already!