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Ace The Case is a highly effective tool in preparing yourself to meet your potential future employer. The diversity of the cases gives you enough scope and depth into the methods needed for almost every interview and will, together with training of numerical skills help you utilise your potential to the full.
R. Lundsgard

A case interview is a unique type of job interview technique used predominantly by management consulting firms (and increasngly investment banks and tech companies) to better screen candidates, by assessing their analytical skills in a pressured real-time environment. The case interview question is generally either a business problem, estimating exercise, arithmetic or logic problem designed to make you think on your toes, use reason and common sense. Consulting firms want to see that you can analyse information, structure an answer and perform basic calculations with large numbers, whilst under pressure. The pressure being that you are in a job interview at a top global firm most likely seeking a role you’ve worked very hard towards.

The objective of the case interview is not to get it right. In fact, there is often no right answer. Instead it’s designed for you to demonstrate your ability to solve complex problems and to show the interviewer how you think. The interviewer wants to see you as a colleague with whom he or she would want to work with in an engagement team. Case interviews are generally very interactive as you ask questions, seek clarification, and bounce ideas off your interviewer.

The case interview is usually one-on-one and you would be given a pen and paper, or perhaps a marker and whiteboard, where you can brainstorm, perform calculations, and structure your answer. Some consulting firms will even take your hand written notes after the interview has concluded to help them further assess and discuss the performance of each candidate with their colleagues.

After some light conversation and “getting to know you” type questions, the interviewer will pose the case question. You may want to start taking notes because a lot of information will be coming your way. Clarify all of the details to ensure you have a common understanding and are on the right track before diving in and trying to answer the case. The interviewer will then step back to watch you think it over but is there to answer any questions, give additional information when needed and guide you through the problem.

You can expect to be interviewed by one to three different people on any one day with around 30 minutes to an hour assigned for each interview. A case question itself can last anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes of that time depending on its difficulty and the specific round of interview that your are in, or entry level to the firm.

Although you may feel tense, nervous and anxious during a case interview, the important thing is to relax, be confident, and have fun with it.

Answering Case Interview Questions

When answering case interview questions, the most important thing above all else is to demonstrate to the interviewer your intellect and ability to solve problems. Essentially, that is what a management consultant does. They help solve complex business problems that their clients cannot easily solve themselves.

There is a real chance that during a case interview you will not end up generating a final answer nor will it be anywhere near correct, however don’t be concerned if this happens to you. Case interviews can sometimes end up being an exploration of issues, with the interviewer guiding you down one of many possible paths, allowing you to formulate a solution to a problem, give recommendations, or simply ‘ball park’ an estimate.

With this in mind don’t rush your analysis, as you may overlook important elements to the problem and develop too narrow a focus. That said, work at a steady pace to ensure you can at least give some semblance of a final answer if required by the interviewer.

Interact with the interviewer and ask lots of questions to gauge the scope of the problem or fill in missing pieces to the puzzle. Certain details of the case and critical information will often be intentionally withheld to see if you can determine by yourself what extra information or data would be useful to help solve the problem. This will help demonstrate how inquisitive and thorough you are in your analytical style.

Don’t be afraid to be creative because management consulting requires a large element of ‘thinking outside the box’, i.e. coming up with innovative ideas. Be enthusiastic, confident, and comfortable and always let your personality come through. You may get way off track in a case interview and think that there is no way you will make it to the next round, however your personality, attitude and enthusiasm can often be what gets you over the line.
An important point we'd like to make, is that of bringing structure to your problem solving when analysing and answering case interview questions. Using a simple step-by-step problem solving method as shown below may help:

  1. Understand and summarise the case question
  2. Determine and clarify the case question objective
  3. Pull together existing information, ask for and gather more information
  4. Analyse this information
  5. Group similar issues together and layout a structure
  6. Perform calculations or design solutions for issues
  7. Formulate and present answer/s
Common business frameworks and other strategic problem solving methods such as Porters 5 forces, the BCG Matrix, SWOT Analysis, Revenue and Cost modelling, Business Life Cycle Analysis, Process Analysis, Mind Mapping, Key Issues Grouping or Problem Decomposition, and Reverse Engineering are often useful tools and can also be great ways of bringing structure to your thoughts, provided you use the right one for the problem. Never try to force a framework or methodology onto a problem. Only use one if there is a natural fit to the case question. Structure your solution in any way you can, keeping in mind what feels appropriate given the nature of the question. Within our Ace The Case guide some of these methods and frameworks are used and briefly discussed in relation to specific case questions, however feel free to research some of them further by yourself or with a classmate, colleague or friend.

The last point that should be made in relation to answering case interview questions is in regards to the appearance of your key strengths. Consulting firms hire from a variety of backgrounds and university degrees including engineering, science, law, business, finance, accounting, economics, management, business administration and commerce. They take anyone who shows the right attitude and intellect for the job, knowing that they will then be able to upskill and train you. Management consulting firms look for the most intelligent individuals who are also ‘all-rounders’ with competencies and interests in a range of disciplines. It’s therefore important, that if you are a business or commerce oriented individual, you must be sure to demonstrate creativity, problem solving skills, and a level of thinking outside of the traditional number crunching financial analyst, economist or accountant mindset. Conversely someone like a scientist or engineer needs to demonstrate a minimum level of business acumen with at least some knowledge or interest in the financial drivers of the commercial world.

Play to your strengths but do not show the interviewer that you are one dimensional and only strong in solving problems from one particular approach, or based on one educational style. In saying all of this, number and math skills are a must, so make sure you can add, subtract, multiply, and divide large numbers in your head or on paper without the use of a calculator!

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