What Is a Case Interview?
Getting Down to Brass Tacks – Case Questions
How to Answer Case Interview Questions
Firms use case interviews to evaluate analytical ability and problem-solving skills. Your interviewer is more interested in your overall approach to the problem than the final outcome.
Your future employer is trying to see if you can analyze complex problems critically and break them down in a logical manner. Do you take all critical aspects into account? Do you avoid jumping to conclusions? Do you ask insightful questions? Do you have strong critical thinking skills?
If you arrive at the “right” answer or close to it, you get a gold star. However, it’s not always possible to get the “right” answer — either because there are multiple correct responses or critical information is not provided.
You can ace the case interview without getting the answer correct as long as you show that your thinking and problem solving processes are sound.
Your process will highlight your strengths in key competencies: numerical and verbal reasoning, communication and presentation, listening and observation, and understanding of business models and concepts.
Here are some high-level guidelines for answering case interview questions effectively (also see below for resources to help you dig deeper into your case interview preparation):
- Listen carefully. Pay attention to the question, including specific word choice, and make sure you understand what the interviewer is really asking for. Take notes so you’ll be able to refer back to provided data points.
- Ask clarifying questions. Make sure that you understand the purpose of the case. For example, in our giftware case question above, you’re dealing with a typical “increasing market share” problem. You should also ask for additional information and/or direction if needed. By asking smart questions, you show off your critical thinking skills and also engage your interviewer in the process.
- Outline your approach. After you’ve considered the case and asked any clarifying questions, explain to your interviewer how you plan to structure your response. This shows purpose and framework.
- Think out loud (but take your time). Tell the interviewer the factors you are considering and strategies you plan to use. If you decide to reject an option, explain a valid reason. However, don’t feel the need to express every thought that you have. Pause to consider before sharing a particular thought process with your interviewer. You don’t want to blurt out something that will make you look foolish.
- Stay focused. It can be very tempting to get bogged down in detail and possibilities. Keep the original question in mind and don’t allow yourself to wander too far from the main objective.
- Pay attention to feedback. Many interviewers will provide feedback — verbally or via body language or facial expression. Be observant and you’ll be able to see clues that you’re on track or way off base. If you get stuck, ask for input or validation of your understanding.
- Show off your quantitative skills. Take advantage of opportunities to calculate estimates or otherwise demonstrate your comfort with running numbers.
- Wrap up and summarize. When you’ve worked through the problem, take time to end crisply and confidently with a summary of your approach and key findings.
Preparing for a Case Interview
Practice, Practice, PracticeReading up is a good start, but you should also spend time on mock case interviews. You can practice with a friend or colleague. This will be most effective if your practice partner is briefed on the basics of case interviewing so that the role play is realistic. You can also work with a professional coach if you want truly realistic practice and feedback. At Skillful Communications, we have helped many clients prepare for their case interviews and land jobs at top consulting firms.
More Case Interview ResourcesHere are some additional resources to help you understand and prepare for the case interview:
1. Consulting Firm Web SitesMost of the top consulting firms provide guidance on case interviews online.
- McKinsey & Company: Approaching the Case
- Deloitte Case Interview Tips
- Boston Consulting Group Practice Cases
2. Helpful Books
- Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng
- Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc P. Cosentino