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Case Interviews

Consulting firms have come to rely on the infamous case interview to screen candidates and select only the very best from the pack.  Even the best-credentialed candidate can have significant difficulty landing a consulting position if he or she is inadequately prepared for case interviews.  Advance preparation and practice is therefore the key to success.  Learn the tricks of framing your response to a case question, and become comfortable tackling any case that comes your way.

Learn about current interview practices of individual firms! 

>Bain & Company
>The Boston Consulting Group
>Mercer Management Consulting
>McKinsey & Company


Selections from Management Consulting: A Complete Guide to the Industry - 2nd Edition (Biswas & Twitchell, John Wiley & Sons), Chapter 6: Mastering the Case Interview.

"You have worked hard to secure an interview. You have diligently researched the firm's background, spoken with their consultants, polished your resume, and written a winning cover letter. Now, the only obstacles between you and an offer are the infamous rounds of case interviews..."

What is a case interview?
"A traditional interview includes three parts: an initial greeting, a discussion of the candidate's resume, and a final question-and-answer session.  What, then, is a case interview?  It is an expanded version of the traditional interview, which is uniquely characterized by its inclusion of a fourth part: a case question.  Case questions can ask you to discuss almost anything, from estimating the number of gas stations in the United States, to measuring the impact of El Nino on the world price of grapes..."

What are some examples of case questions?
"Case questions are infinitely variable.  They can be based on any industry, company, or organization, and may be either reality based or entirely fictional.  Although most deal with business situations, some cases may have to do with everyday life activities (e.g. "Why do the hands on a clock turn clockwise?")  Although cases vary greatly from requiring intensive quantitative analysis to demanding purely abstract thinking, most case questions can be grouped into 10 broad types..."

What is the purpose of a case question?
"The case question is intended to test a candidate's ability to think and act like a consultant in an intense face to face situation.  By simulating a client-consultant interaction, interviewers are able to observe firsthand how a candidate would manage a discussion with a client.  Case questions are intentionally abstract, usually obscure and puzzling, and often technical.  They are designed to test your ability to think creatively, make sense out of ambiguity, handle abstraction, and systematically derive an answer when an answer seems next to impossible..."


Do I need to practice cases?
"Your preparation cannot wait until the last minute.  You should begin to practice immediately, and continue to do so throughout the entire application process.
Most candidates who fail the case interview do so because of inadequate preparation.  They simply read through a list of sample case questions and think about how they would answer them.  But when they are faced with the pressure of a face-to-face case interview, these candidates suddenly realize how inadequately prepared they are.  Passive preparation is not enough; preparing for case interviews requires an active investment of time into practice..."

What is a case framework and why will it help me answer case questions?
"Before you jump into the discussion of a case, you should outline your intended path of analysis.  Not only will this help you structure your thinking, it will also give your interviewer a road map for following the logic of your discussion.  Consultants refer to this analytical outline as a "framework:" an intellectual tool that directs an analysis toward the critical issues of a case in a logical manner.  Frameworks, such as Porter's Five Forces or BCG's Growth-Share Matrix, are frequently used in business strategy classes.  Others, such as the 4-P's (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) and the 3-C's (Company, Competitors, Customers), are frequently used in marketing classes... When selecting a framework you may want to look beyond the traditional and develop your own.  Use your imagination to develop a framework that suits the unique needs of a case..."

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