How to stand out during management consulting case interviews

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The case interview is an interactive word problem based on a real consulting situation. This will typically take 20-30 minutes and will happen after a behavioral interview. In this blog post, we will discuss the purpose of the interview, types of case interviews, the structure of case interviews, and how to stand out

The Purpose of the Case Interview

The interviewer is assessing you along several dimensions that are important for a good consultant: 

Quality of analysis:

Do you employ a relevant framework to organize your thoughts and structure your analysis of the case question? Are you comfortable with simple math?

Poise and composure:

Are you comfortable with ambiguity and confident under stress? Is it enjoyable to talk with you about the case problem?

Business judgement:

Can you differentiate important information from extraneous information? Can you distill a complex, ambiguous problem down to a clear, actionable recommendation? 

Communication skills:

Are you comfortable explaining your analysis in front of a client? Are you expressive and easy to understand? 

Case Types and Key Differences

There are broadly three types of cases: candidate-led, interviewer-led, and written cases. While there are differences, the evaluation criteria are similar, assessing analytical ability, poise, business sense, and communication. 

Candidate-led:

The expectation is that the candidate suggests a hypothesis to the case question and drives the case. This emphasizes the candidate’s ability to identify the “So What” components of a case. 

Interviewer-led:

The interviewer drives the case, asking specific main questions with follow-up questions as necessary. The interview is more structured in the order and questions asked. Each question can be thought of as a mini-case, requiring structuring and an understanding of how that question relates to the main, initial question. 

Written case:

Typically there is a time period for the candidate to prepare alone. There may be 30-50 slides given as background, and the candidate is instructed to pick a handful and prepare to walk through recommendations with the interviewer. This can either take the form of a discussion or a presentation. 

Typical Structure of a Case Interview

Case stem (1-2 minutes) – The interviewer reads a case stem. The stem sets up the situation and provides facts about the case. It is vital to take notes during this portion.

Clarify the problem (1-2 minutes) – Take advantage of clarifying parts of the stem that you might not have understood, ask questions if you don’t understand parts of the industry mentioned. This time should not be used to repeat the stem verbatim.

Framework/Structure Approach (<2 minutes to structure, 1-2 min for explanation) – Write out your structure and walk your interviewer through the structure. End by highlighting the most important part of your structure and asking for the data needed to solve the problem. 

Gather, Analyze Data, and Brainstorm (10-20 minutes) – This is the most interesting and interactive part of the case interview. You’ll need to use your structured framework to explain why you want specific data and how that data will help you solve the overall case question. 

Recommend Solution (2-3 minutes) – You’ll summarize your recommendation for the interviewer as if you were presenting the firm’s recommendation to a client. Make this clear, specific, and ‘answer first’. 

How to stand out in a case interview

While there are many elements to what makes the difference between a ‘great’ case interview and a ‘good’ case interview, there are three main factors that help a candidate to stand out. 

Structure

Make sure you reflect on whether your points are MECE (Mutual Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive). Arguments and points should always be logically organized and correctively prioritized. 

Communication

A great candidate is always giving a clear roadmap for where they are going. The candidate is also able to have their written notes serve as an effective communication tool.

Checking the ‘So What?’

Strong candidates are always thinking back to how something relates to the main question. It’s important to also think through what are the second order implications (risks and opportunities) to a recommendation and whether a recommendation is realistically practical and easily implemented. 

Brent is an MBA Candidate at MIT Sloan. Previously, he spent five years working at Wellington Management in Boston and earned his BS in Business Administration from Boston University. He has successfully passed all three levels of the CFA.

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