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I have never done a case study interview before, I was wondering if you had any tips?

October 3, 2012

Tim, I’ve got an interview on Friday of this week. I am excited! They have mentioned that there will be two interviews – behavioral and case study. As I have never done a case study interview before, I was wondering if you had any tips. Overall I am excited about the next phase of this process. Thanks for all of your help!

Tim’s reply:

Well, that’s great news so far. As with any interview, I would come prepared, and ready for anything.

In both behavioral and case study interviews, the ‘trick’ to acing it, is to simply respond as you normally would. Where people go wrong, is trying to determine WHAT THE INTERVIEWER WANTS TO HEAR, and give that to them, instead of answering as they normally would. Not a good idea.

In a case study interview, it’s no different than the case study method that you learned in taking your PMAC Supply Chain courses. (In fact, Professor Mike Leenders from UWO, who was pivotal in establishing with PMAC Supply Chain education in Canada , literally wrote the book on the Case Study Method, whilst at Harvard.)

A case interview or case method interview involves questions in which you will be asked to solve a hypothetical industry-related problem. These problems will be similar to ones the organization may encounter during their regular course of business. The interviewer is not necessarily seeking a “correct” answer to the problem, but wants to evaluate your problem solving and analytical reasoning skills. Be prepared to justify your answer and walk the interviewer through your solution on a step-by-step basis. You may have to ask questions of the interviewer if you feel you do not have adequate information to arrive at a valid solution.

A good case interview should be simply an enjoyable and thoughtful discussion of business issues and problem-solving techniques. The interviewer is not looking for a “right answer” or asking you to spit back memorized business terms, current events or well-known frameworks. Rather, the interviewer hopes to see a good dose of problem-solving skills, creativity and common sense. A good interview will be fun and full of energy!

Components of the case interview

The following components are typical of a case interview. Keep in mind however, that yours may differ:

The interviewer describes a business problem to you. Do not jump to a response. Instead, gather as much information as possible so you understand the true problem.

Your questions
You are expected to analyze the problem and ask questions in the areas that you think are important.

In-depth exploration of a branch
If you asked a question that is in an area the interviewer wants to explore, the interviewer may answer your question and then ask a follow-up question that will explore this area in more depth.

Analysis and conclusion
Usually, a specific area of the mock client’s business is critical to the solution of the problem: The interviewer will either drive you to this area or let you know you’ve reached it by asking follow-up questions. Always state your assumptions when presenting an opinion.

You may be asked to summarize your conclusion as if you were recommending it to a client to test your communication skills.

A case interview process outlined above requires candidates to approach the problem as a “hypothesis driven” exercise. Such an exercise typically goes through the following process:

– Collecting background information
– Forming the rough cut hypothesis
– Collecting further information to prove/disprove the hypotheses.
– If necessary, collecting even more information.
– Finalizing the insights, drawing the conclusions and formulating recommendations.

Case interviews rarely get to the last stages of this process. Instead they either tend to be general and focus on the early stages of collecting background information and forming rough cut hypotheses, or be specific and focus on collecting information to test and refine the hypotheses.

Case Guidelines

The following guidelines or elements should be followed when answering a case interview question.

Listen to the Question
Listening is the most important skill a consultant has. The case isn’t about you or the consultant; its about the client. What are they really asking for? Pay particular attention to the last sentence one word can change the entire case.

Take Notes
Taking notes during the case interview allows you to check back with the facts of the case. As someone once said, “The palest ink is stronger than the best memory.” If you blank out, all the information is right in front of you.

Summarize the Question
After you are given the question, take a moment to summarize the highlights out loud:
– It shows the interviewer that you listened
– It allows you to hear the information again
– It keeps you from answering the wrong question
– It fills the otherwise awkward pause when you’re trying to think of something intelligent to say

Verify the Objective(s)
Professional consultants always ask their clients to verify their objective(s). Even if the objectives seem obvious, there could be an additional underlying objective. When the objective seems apparent, phrase the questions differently: “One objective is to increase sales. Are there any other objectives I should know about?”

Ask Clarifying Questions
You ask questions for three main reasons:
– To get additional information that will help you identify and label the question
– To demonstrate to the interviewer that you are not shy about asking probing questions under difficult circumstances (something you’ll be doing on a regular basis as a consultant)
– To turn the question into a conversation. Nothing turns an interviewer off quicker than a five-minute monologue.

Organize Your Answer
Identify and label your case, then lay out your structure. This is the hardest part of a case and the most crucial. It drives your case and is often the major reason behind whether you get called back.

Hold that Thought for “One Alligator”
The interviewer wants you to think out loud, but think before you speak. If you make a statement that is way off-base in an interview, the interviewer will wonder if he can trust you in front of a client.

Manage Your Time
Your answer should be as linear as possible. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Answer from a macro level and move the answer forward. Stay focused on the original question.

By the Numbers
If possible, try to work numbers into your answer. Demonstrate that you think quantitatively and that you are comfortable with numbers.

Be Coachable
Listen to the interviewers feedback. Are they trying to guide you back on track? Pay attention to body language. Are you boring them or is are they enthralled?

Be Creative and Brainstorm
Consulting firms like liberal arts candidates with intellectual curiosity who can “think outside the box” and offer up a new and interesting perspective.

Exude Enthusiasm and a Positive Attitude
Recruiters want people who are excited by problem solving and can carry that enthusiasm throughout the entire interview.

Bring Closure and Summarize
Create a sense of closure by summarizing the case. Review your findings, restate your suggestions, and make recommendations.

Where Can I find Sample Case Interview Questions?

Mercer Management Consulting has several interactive case studies on their website:

McKinsey & Company Online Case Study:

Capital One Online Case Study with suggestions on the questions and factors to consider during a case interview:

Additional Information on Case Interviews
Boston Consulting Group:

Good luck, and remember to relax. Sure ‘study’ the above and be prepared, but the best thing is not to get too upset about things, but show that you can logically think you’re way around things, develop an appropriate solution(s), and present your findings intelligently.