Consultancy firms recruiting new talent have often used case interviews, but many top firms have adopted this style of candidate selection across various business sectors.
Companies as diverse as Google and Capital One use the case interview in their selection process, and you are going to have to prepare if you want to get past the first hurdle.
Before we dive into the details of how to prepare, we’ll start with a quick introduction to case interviews for those who are unfamiliar with the format. Of course, we can’t be exhaustive in such a small space so, for a much more comprehensive overview, see the great introduction to case interviews by MyConsultingCoach.
Case Interviews: The Basics
Traditional job interviews focussed on you, your education, and your work experience. The interview panel used this information, and probably some probing questions to get to know you. If they liked you and your expertise fitted their needs, you might get a job offer.
A case interview takes a different tack and is more of a test than an interview.
- The interview panel will give you a problem to solve, often with charts, reports, and other data for you to use.
- As you progress through the interview, the interviewer will be asking questions and giving you additional information in response to your questions.
- The case study could be abstract, such as a Fermi Problem, but it will be based on a real-life issue more often than not.
- Getting the right answer is not necessarily the most critical aspect of a case interview. The interviewer will be looking for critical thinking and the ability to work through a problem logically.
- How you communicate your answers could be just as important as the answer itself.
Tips For Case Interview Success
The type of case study you’ll face at your interview is dependant on the role you are applying for and the specific industry. Many books have been written on the subject, and there is a myriad of guides on how to prepare. Finding a book that is relevant to the role or industry you are interviewing for will be beneficial.
Google is most definitely your friend here and will help you quickly find specific guidance.
To get you started, we have a few top tips for sending you in the right direction.
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Regardless of your years of industry experience, the MBA from a recognized University, and utter confidence in yourself, thorough preparation is the key to success.
For a typical interview, a few hours the night before researching the company and role on offer can be sufficient, although we don’t advise this method! But this won’t cut it in a case study interview.
Imagine preparing to give a speech on a topic you know inside out. The information is in your head, but working on your speech presentation is fundamental to excelling. It’s the same with case studies, except you may not understand the topic thoroughly, and will need to prepare that as well.
Depending on your circumstances, expect to need 40-50 hours of prep time as a minimum before the case study interview. If you need to research the subject and role as well, you could need far longer than that.
Get the Fundamentals Right
Expect a lot of mathematical information to be presented during the case study, including various graphs, and large amounts of data. Practicing your mental math skills will prove beneficial during the interview.
Being able to pick out the critical items from a large set of data will be important, so brush up on your accounting, finance, and economic skills.
Probably the most crucial skill is being able to break a more substantial problem down into smaller tasks. This not only helps you to solve the task but also demonstrates your ability to the interviewer.
Practice As Much As Possible
We can not emphasize this enough, but practice makes perfect. Take the example of a professional musician. They learned the theory many years ago, but giving a virtuoso performance requires non-stop practice.
While practicing by yourself will be useful, sourcing some case interview examples and asking a friend to help will significantly improve the practice’s value. If possible, use a professional coach to take you through practice interviews.
The case study interview is a means to an end. As we mentioned earlier, getting the right answer is not necessarily the aim. The interviewer wants to see how you tackle a complex problem and how you explain the process of finding a solution.
If you cannot communicate your thoughts clearly, you’ll find the interview difficult, and the interviewer will not see the best of you. Again, practicing with another person will significantly improve your communication skills.
A couple of bonus tips for things you should keep in mind
Generic and framework solutions are not what the interviewer is looking for here. Often, the case study you are given during the interview will be based on a recent client project. In most instances, the clients only came to the company for help, because they had tried the standard methods and couldn’t solve the problem.
Learning standard frameworks and generic answers won’t work with all problems, so you need to work from first principles and demonstrate your skills.
Fit Questions are Just as Important
Although we’ve talked in-depth about the need to prepare for the case study, don’t neglect the more familiar type of interview questions. Up to half of the interview will use the “fit” style questions, such as “tell us a little about your work experience,” and “why do you want to work for the xxx company.”
Preparing for these standard questions is equally as important as the case study prep. Failing to do so will make the effort you put into the case study practice a waste of time.
Succeeding in case study interviews is about hard work. Putting in the effort to research and practice until you can solve problems in your sleep!
The tips we’ve covered here are just the starting point, and we cannot emphasize enough the need to start early and practice as much as you can.