One of the key steps in the consulting recruitment process – particularly when it comes to management consulting roles – is the case study interview.
Consulting is all about solving problems for (often high-profile) clients, so employers want to know up front that you have excellent problem solving skills and that you can communicate solutions effectively.
If you’re in a business program, you probably already know all about case studies.
Here, we’re going back to the basics for students who are interested in a consulting career but don’t have the advantage of in-class case study experience.
We also have some crucial tips for tackling a case interview.
What is a case interview?
In a case interview, you’re given a common business problem and asked to analyze the situation, identify key issues, and discuss how you would address the problem. These interviews average about one hour in length but can even be as short as 15 or 20 minutes; the interviewer will indicate how much time you have.
In many cases, there may not be a “right” or “wrong” answer – what the interviewer really wants to know is:
- how you think about problems
- how you reach solutions
They’re looking for creativity and the ability to challenge assumptions. They want to know that you’re naturally intellectually curious, that you can look at complex problems from different angles, and that you can reach a logical conclusion that is well supported.
How to prepare for a case interview
Whether you encounter case studies in class or not, it’s a good idea to prepare for your interview in two ways:
Practice on different types of cases
Long term: Get hands-on business experience through volunteer work, internships and co-ops, and participate in activities such as case competitions. Many business schools and competition clubs hold local case competitions and give the best students the opportunity to represent their school at larger provincial, national and even international competitions.
Short term: There are plenty of books, websites, videos and other resources out there that will help you study different types of cases. Many firms even post practice case studies on their websites so you’ll know what to expect. Your career centre may also have resources or workshops to help you prepare for case interviews.
Whether you participate in the competitions or not, case competition websites often feature past cases and winning presentations. For example, McGill Management International Case Competition, Copenhagen Business School Case Competition and CaseIT MIS Case Competition.
Research the employer, its business and its clients
No matter how many practice case studies you complete, you’ll be dead in the water if you don’t have critical knowledge about the firm, the clients it typically deals with, and how risk averse it is.
Check out employers’ company profiles on TalentEgg and study their websites carefully – many firms have detailed information many pages deep that you might miss on first glance.
How to handle yourself during the interview
Unlike the practice case studies you work on independently, the real case interview will be presented to you and evaluated by the interviewer. You’ll have the opportunity to ask them questions and they might ask you questions too when you present your solution.
- Don’t rush – take the time you need to fully understand the case and the question you must answer.
- Don’t assume anything – ask for additional information if you really need it.
- Don’t be afraid of silence – it’s a good idea to take a moment to organize your thoughts before you begin speaking.
- Don’t just provide a solution – tell the interviewer which alternatives you may have rejected and how you arrived at your conclusion.
- Insert your business knowledge and judgment where you can, but don’t become a walking, talking business textbook.
Have you ever taken part in a case study interview? Share your experiences and best practices in the comments below.
Visit the Consulting Career Guide to learn more about careers in consulting, and find student and entry level consulting jobs from top employers.
Special thank you to Erin Miller for generously providing many of these tips.