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How To Do A Case Interview

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Different Types Of Case Interviews

Case Interview 101 – A great introduction to Consulting Case Study Interviews

Case interviews can be broadly candidate-led or interviewer-led, while some may have a few features of both types. In a candidate-led interview, the candidate structures the problem, creates the framework, notes the findings, and proposes solutions. This is the most suitable interview type for candidates applying for senior positions, as the methodology is given prominence over the quality of the solution suggested.

When the interviewer leads the interview, he/she controls specific parts of the problem. The focus is not on finding answers to the bigger problem but in solving each sub-question. Business intuition is required to do well in this type of interviews.

In a candidate-led interview, you need to define the problem clearly, identify possible root causes of the problem, hypothesize to identify the most probable root-cause using the data available, and suggest a solution.

In an interviewer-led interview, you need to tackle each question from the interviewer. The best approach is to take each question as a mini-case and categorize it under the following types:

Case Type
How do you know the refrigerator light goes off when you close the door?

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, its 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 :

Case Interview Math: Example

After youve presented a solid, clear plan, you can ask for the information youll need to solve the problem.

Here, a chart offers additional information about some of San Zemblas key education metrics in comparison to other countries in South America.

Describe your observations out loud as you begin to make sense of the chart. Do you notice any meaningful trends? Remember, suggest calculations youd like to perform before performing them. Remember you can ask the interviewer questions to help clarify the data if need be.

Your goal in comparing San Zembla in neighboring countries is to decide how to improve educational outcomes. It would make sense to assess whether any of the included categories of data correlate with/predict the average standardized test score.

Intuition might tell you that having a lower number of students per teacher, or else a greater amount of money spent per student, might correlate with average standardized test score. However, the data doesnt support this. Developed economies have similar class sizes but better test scores. Likewise, variations in spending within regions dont seem to dictate a particular effect in test cores.

Changing budgets and class sizes are two rather obvious strategies to improve educational outcomes, so its very helpful to know that those solutions may not make a difference in this context. But we still need to drill down further if we want to find out what kinds of changes would actually have an impact on outcomes .

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The 5x Case Studies I Recommend If You Are More Advanced In Your Preparation

1.Stern: The pricing games

This case study asks you to help your client assess different business models. I liked this case because the range of issues to tackle is quite broad.

2.Wharton 2017: Engineer attrition at SLS Oil & Gas Services

I liked this case study because the case prompt is uncommon: your client has been facing a very high attrition rate among its population of Engineers. As a result, its very unlikely that your solution fits a well-known framework, and youll have to demonstrate your problem-solving skills by developing a specific solution.

3.Wharton 2017: Pharma Company Goes International, Outsources Benefits, Integrates New Technology

This case is about a client considering outsourcing a part of their activity. Even though I dont know if this type of case study is very common, I had many case studies like this when I passed my interviews a few years ago. And I always found them difficult!

4.Insead: Gas retail case

The question asked in the problem statement is very broad, which makes this case difficult. So, only good candidates will be able to have a structured case discussion here.

5.Darden: Fire Proof

This is a market entry case. Try to solve it by developing a structure as MECE as possible.

Identify The Type Of Problem Posed To You

Case Study Interview Preparation Tips

Jobseekers may find that there are common themes that appear when covering the type of business problems found in case study interviews. Eight of the most common exercises explore these questions:

  • Maths eg: How many more units do we need to sell to double the profit?
  • eg: How big is the market size within the US for smart wearable devices?
  • Framework/Issue tree – eg: Identify the factors you would consider in addressing the problem.
  • Data-chart insights eg: What story do the numbers tell about the operations of this business?
  • Value proposition eg: What factors do customers look for in choosing a mobile phone carrier?
  • Business valuation eg: Just how much is this company worth today, and would it change if acquired by our competitor?
  • Hypothesis eg: What are some possible reasons that explain this trend?
  • Brain teaser eg: How many tennis balls can you fit in an area that is twice the size of a football field?

There is not a single approach that solves all business problems. By identifying the type of problem youre encountering, youll be able to quickly determine the most appropriate method to apply.

For example, you might discover that a maths problem will rely on the knowledge of specific formulas and expressions, while a hypothesis question calls for a closer look at the root causes behind an issue.

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Using Frameworks To Structure Consulting Cases

Thirty years ago, people started to use frameworks to structure cases, as was popularized by the book Case in Point. Another book, Case Interview Secret, went further by suggesting that most consulting cases could be solved using a single one-size-fits-all framework.

Unfortunately, candidates who depend on these books today are being led down the wrong path. Top consulting firms are increasingly using unusual case questions that do not simply fit neatly into a generic framework. A candidate needs to demonstrate to an interviewer that they are capable of strongly structuring a case, as opposed to just relying on a framework.

Although frameworks should not be memorized and applied as is, knowing them can be a good starting point and source of inspiration when crafting bespoke consulting case study structures.

It All Starts With The Problem

Before getting into anything fancy, the first step is to define and be really clear about the problem.

This sounds easy but can be quite tricky. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Whats the objective?
  • Whats the timeline required?
  • Any quantified or well-described goals?
  • For example, one client can state a problem as: I lost my car key. In normal contexts, this is a perfectly simple and straight-forward problem. But a consultant tackling this would go ask clarification questions to achieve even more details:

  • Objective: the client in fact just needs to be able to use the car.
  • Timeline: this is an urgent need. He is happy only if we can help him within the next hour.
  • Specificity: help the client put his car into normal operation like before he lost the key.
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    Support Conclusions With Data Analysis

    Make sure you focus on data that is relevant and important to answer the case problem. This will demonstrate to your interviewer that you dont blindly note down everything. Thus, before analyzing anything, it would make sense to paraphrase in your head and write only relevant information. Make sure to take notes in a structured fashion. This will ensure that you will remember the relevant case information and have quick access to it even during a stressful interview. To summarize, before noting down and sharing the information with the interviewer, analyze it and determine its relevance.

    Finally, you should have a rough sheet only for doing calculations. After finishing your calculations make sure you transfer the result to the corresponding part of the structure on the other sheet.

    Case Interview Example The Typical Flow

    How to stand out in your case study interview

    In a simplified way, a typical case would go through these phrases :

    Case question -> Recap -> Clarification -> Timeout -> Propose issue tree -> Analyze issue tree -> Identify root-causes -> Solutions -> Closing pitch

    Phase

    May I take a time-out to come up with solutions?

    Interviewer:

    Good job finding the root-cause and coming up with those solutions. If you have 30 seconds right NOW to speak with the companys CEO, what would you tell him?

    Closing Pitch

    You:

    Mr. CEO, thank you for working with us on this interesting business problem. After rigorous analyses, we have concluded that the rising in raw material cost is causing overall profit to plummet. Here are three solutions: No.1 No.2 No.3

    Wed be extremely happy to continue to work with you to implement those solutions!

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    How To Prepare For Case Interviews

    Case Interview preparation is a long and tough process. In an ocean of books, videos, programs, how do we navigate to maximize learning? Most materials floating around are quite good, at least in terms of substance. But the timing and the organization of them can be confusing.

    • Too much theory in the beginning can burn brain power very quickly.
    • Tackling cases without basics can develop bad habits, which eventually cost more time to unlearn.
    • Practicing complicated cases in the beginning can destroy morale drastically.

    So a good study plan is constantly switching between 3 activities: reading theory, watching examples, and practicing, with cases increasing difficulty level. Its so crucial to start with super easy cases, be patient, and stay on that level until you are ready to move up. There are so many skills, habits, and scripts to develop and these take time.

    The quickest way to do just about everything is Step by Step

    Even for candidates with cases coming up urgently, I still strongly recommend spending the most valuable time practicing cases that match your level. After all, cases are just the context. What you will be evaluated on is your approach, your skills, your techniques, etc.

    So, this is a sample study plan you can adopt for yourselves:

    What Are The Types Of Case Interview Formats

    There are a few different formats for a case interview. The format of your case interview will depend on the firm that you are interviewing with, and the specific round. Keep in mind that regardless of format, the same thinking process applies to all interview types.

    The interviewer is looking for the answer to this one question: Do you have the skills to be a good management consultant?

    Interviewer-Led

    An interviewer-led case interview features a highly-structured format where the interviewer controls the focus, tempo, and sequence of the problem-solving process. This format typically consists of five distinct phases.

    Heres an example of the typical interviewer-led format.

  • The interviewer would first ask, Why is profitability in Company X falling? What would be your approach to solve this issue?
  • Regardless of how Question 1 is answered, the interviewer would ask you to estimate the market size of the industry.
  • Then, you would be asked to do some quantitative analysis on a particular area, e.g. the effect that raising prices would have on sales .
  • After that, you would be asked to list some broad suggestions of ways to increase revenue .
  • Last you would summarize your conclusion.
  • While the same problem-solving, analytical, and leadership skills are tested across all case interview formats, the primary difference between this format and the others is that you must be prepared for a sudden change of style. You have to be able to transition from one question to another.

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    Where And Why Case Interviews Are Used

    From the clients brief, through the analyses, all the way to the recommendation, case interviews simulate the job itself. MBB firms use the case interview as its a statistically-proven predictor of how well a candidate will do on the job.

    Top consulting firms, however, did not invent the case interview. They only adapted it from the concept of the Case Study Teaching Method, which was invented at Harvard Law School in the late 19th century. When they were created, top management consultancies mirrored their organizations on law firms, creating many parallels between law and consulting.

    Today, case interviews are used, as well, by employers outside of management consulting including spaces such as tech, financial services, or nonprofits, particularly for the recruitment of employees involved in shaping strategic initiatives. The following employers are known to use case interviewing:

    This trend is expected to continue as the ranks of management consultant alumni grow and their methods spread to the industries they join.

    Summarize Your Case Interview Conclusion In A Persuasive Manner

    Case Interview Tips: Take Your Casing from Good to Great

    Once youre confident you have enough information to understand the case and what needs to be done to solve the clients business problem, youll conclude the interview with a logical summary outlining the problem, key conclusions youve reached, and providing a persuasive recommendation on how youd help the client resolve it.

    Below, well go into more depth on how to address each of these 4 points in a case.

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    How To Solve A Case Study In 10 Steps

    Step 1: Listen actively and take notes. Write down every piece of information, especially numerical data.

    Step 2: Restate the question. Pause, paraphrase, and make sure you understand the problem statement by confirming with the interviewer.

    Step 3: Clarify the objectives and identify the problem. Ask specific questions and double-check on objectives. Make sure you completely understand the problem.

    Step 4: Write out your structure. Ask your interviewer for a minute to prepare your structure and organize your notes. Identify your case type and use an issue tree to customize your structure. The branches of your issue tree should be MECE.

    Step 5: State your hypothesis. Now that you have set up the issue tree, your task is to test each branch to see if it is the root cause of the problem. Where to begin? A hypothesis based on an educated guess helps here.

    Step 6: Think out loud. Sharing your thoughts allows the interviewer to interact. Refine or rebuild your hypothesis as you find out more.

    Step 7: Gather more data in order to test your hypothesis. Proactively ask for relevant data and always segment it . Try to evaluate whether trends have been company-specific or industry-wide.

    Step 9: Choose a recommendation and use the Pyramid Principle to structure your conclusion. Ask for a minute to gather your thoughts and then state your recommendation. You need to deliver a one minute, top-down, concise, structured, clear, and fact-based summary of your findings.

    What To Expect In Your First Round Interviews With Consulting Firms

    First round consulting interviews are usually held on-campus with more junior consultantsanalysts, associates or engagement managersconducting the interviews. Candidates are selected for first round interviews based on their resume and cover letter.

    If you attend a non-target school where the firm does not recruit on campus, your first interview may be a single phone call before you have your official first round. This may also be the case if youre applying as an experienced hire .

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    Frameworks To Know About

    Profitability framework

    The profitability framework is the most basic framework in business analysis. It simply breaks down profits into its basic revenue and cost components and is commonly used to identify the root cause of profitability issues.

    • Revenue can simply be broken down in the Number of units sold by the business times the Price per unit.
    • Costs can be broken down in Variable and Fixed costs. And Variable costs can then in turn be broken down in the Number of units produced and the Cost per unit.

    The is commonly used to make decisions on whether a company should enter a new market or not. For instance, you could use it to decide if Starbucks should enter the Chinese market. Or if Nike should enter the sports broadcasting business.

    3Cs framework

    The 3Cs framework is also commonly used to put together strategies for companies. As you will notice below, a lot of its components overlap with the Porter√Ęs 5 forces.

    Merger and acquisition framework

    Finally, the merger and acquisition framework is used when companies are looking to acquire or merge with competitors. These situations are not very frequent in a CEO’s life but highly stressful which helps understand why consultants are often asked to support such initiatives.

    Asking Your Own Questions

    Case Interview – How to Open Any Case, Perfectly

    At the end of the interview, you will likely be asked if you have any questions. Candidates will generally fail to prepare for this section and might simply brush aside the request. However, these questions are agreat opportunity to demonstrate intellectual capacity and build rapport with your interviewer. Ideally, your questions should be quite specific, demonstrating good knowledge of the specific company and/or role you are applying for.

    These final questions can also be a good way to demonstrate your commitment to the current firm in particular by asking very specific questions about it – demonstrating both your interest and diligence in research.

    In our cover letter guide, we explain how to generate this kind of specific content and much of what we say there can be readily applied to asking questions of your interviewer. For instance, we note that one of the best ways to come up with specific remarks that genuinely ring true is to network with current or former staff from the firm to which you are applying.

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