You got into business school - congrats! After taking a moment to celebrate, you'll want to start thinking about recruiting for the industry that you are interested in fairly early on. If you’re interested in becoming a consultant, that’s great! Consulting allows you to explore a number of different industries while gaining important problem-solving, project management, and client-facing skills that you’ll need regardless of what future career moves you may make. Often times, case interviews are a very daunting and nebulous thing that people whisper about when they speak about consulting.
Here are some FAQs regarding case interviews that may be helpful to you whether you are starting the recruiting process or just considering a potential consulting track in your MBA.
What is a case interview?A case interview is the technical component of a consulting interview process that is graded in tandem with your behavioral interviews. Firms will often give you anywhere between 2-4 case interviews involving some sort of hypothetical business problem that they want you to solve. Perhaps a company is looking to enter a new market and wants to know if it’s a good idea. Or maybe a firm has had declining profits over the past five years and they want you to figure out why. In any situation, the goal is to use structured, logical thinking and clear communication to work through the problem with your interviewer.
How is a case interview structured?Case interviews often have 4 main parts: the initial framework, data/chart analysis, a brainstorming phase, and the final recommendation. Let’s break down each of the parts below:
- Framework: An interviewer will start by giving you the prompt and having you ask any clarifying questions that come up. Afterwards, they will give you ~2 minutes to create what’s called a framework. This framework should contain your structured thought process for how you will go about solving the problem. Frameworks typically contain about 2-4 buckets that you will go further into detail with. For example, consider the case question, “How do I decide which business school to apply to?” Here, your three big buckets could be finances, compatibility with career goals, and community. With “finances,” you'll want to consider the tuition and scholarships for different schools. With “compatibility with career goals,” you'll want to think about the industries, companies, and academic focuses each school is best at and how that relates to your own career aspirations. And with “community,” you'll want to break down the values, culture, and social events that each school boasts to see if you would enjoy them. If you consider all the aspects listed above when applying to schools, you’ll likely be able to create a great list of schools that are a match specifically for you (aka you can crack/solve the case!).
- Data/Chart Analysis: Data-based thinking is your bread and butter as a consultant. The interviewer will almost always provide you with numbers, data, or a chart that apply to the business problem you are solving. From here, your job is to understand what is going on with the chart/data and provide insights on how these trends/patterns relate to the larger problem at hand. You will likely have to do some math here, so get your paper and pencil ready!
- Brainstorm: At this point, you’ve got your framework and have come up with some insights on how you could solve the problem from the data that was provided. Often, the interviewer will give you a chance to be creative by asking you a quick brainstorming question: “Based on what you know, what are some ways the company can generate revenue?” Take 30 seconds to jot down some ideas, stating the obvious first (increase sales, decrease costs, etc.) and then try and be creative with some of your answers!
- Recommendation: After 40 minutes, this is a chance for you to sum up your final recommendation based on the knowledge you’ve gained from the entire interview. Try to keep your response to ~1 minute. Remember to name some risks of your recommendation, as well as some next steps for the client to think about as they are implementing your solution!
What are interviewers looking for in a case interview?Interviewers want to know that you can do the problem-solving work that consultants do on the daily. They want to see how you structure your logic and that you can comfortably navigate through the business problems that clients bring to them on a regular basis. In addition, they are looking for your business intuition (your understanding of synergies, profit, cash flows, etc.). As a bonus, they want to see how you would communicate if they were to put you in front of a client!
How do I practice casing?There’s no one right way to approach casing since everyone has strengths and weaknesses in different parts of the case. However, here are three tips that I found helpful during my case interview process:
- Find a buddy: there’s no reason you should suffer through this by yourself. Find a friend and give each other mock cases on a weekly basis so that you can hold each other accountable.
- Work smarter, not harder: you do not have to run a full 45 minute case every time you want to practice. If you know you struggle with a certain part of the case, find drills online to zone in on your math, frameworks, or brainstorming.
- Keep a case log: it’s hard to remember all of the advice and feedback that people give you while casing. It’s incredibly useful to keep a record in a notebook or online of all the cases you’ve practiced as well as what you’ve learned and what you want to work on for next time.
How many mock cases should I do?It depends. Remember that just doing a large quantity of mock cases is not enough to make you great at casing. You have to make sure to take time in between each mock case to reflect on what you did well and what you can improve on. My personal recommendation is do however many cases it takes until you are no longer terrified of casing, whether that’s 15 or 50 cases! Case interviews can be incredibly anxiety-inducing, and often interviewees mess up simply because of how nervous they are. So practice mock cases until you can get your nerves under control, stop making silly mistakes, and appear cool, calm, and collected in front of your interviewer. You’re gonna do great - I know you've got this!
What if I make a mistake during the case?Mistakes are okay and will not immediately make or break your case interview. It’s best to gut check yourself throughout the interview so that you can catch any of your mistakes before your interviewer does. If your interviewer does happen to point out any errors in your work, just calmly take their feedback into account, adjust your work, and continue on with the case. Interviewers are also looking to see if you are coachable and able to roll with the punches - a small mistake during the interview is a perfect opportunity to show them your ability to get back up and nail the rest of the case.