CONSULTING: Intro to Case Interview

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The case interview is an analysis of a business question. This is a very interactive process in the sense that the interviewer presents you with a business problem and asks you for your opinion on how to solve it. Interviewers are not necessarily looking for an answer, but more a thought process that is both analytical (use of data and real life concepts) and creative (“out of the box thinking”). In general, there are three types of case interviews.

Business Case: You are presented with a business scenario and asked to analyze it. In most interviews, the case is presented orally, but may be supplemented with handouts or slides. Sometimes, this will also be a group case in which you are asked to collaborate with 5-6 other people.

Guesstimates: These cases ask you to make educated guesses on questions/situations that at times may not even seem relevant. For example, “Approximately how many watermelons do you think are sold each year in the US?” These questions test your ability on making rough calculations.

Brainteasers: These questions are meant to test analytical skills, creative skills, and ability to cope under pressure.

What are interviewers looking for?

Leadership Skills: Demeanor throughout a case interview is a good determinant of your leadership abilities. In many positions you may be asked to work in a team or direct others. Employers want to see that you have the ability to stand strong during pressuring times. Be confident in your interview, ask strong questions, and take charge.

Analytical Skills: While determining a solution, don’t lose sight of quantifiable data. Derive a viable solution through breaking down data and formulating a pattern.

Presentation Skills: Interviewers are looking to see how well you can present your findings in front of potential clients. They’ll be watching closely to see if you stumble over your words, use fillers such as “um” and “like”. If you find yourself lost, take a deep breath and pause. It’s better to pause than to ramble.

Energy: Qualifications are useless unless you are energetic and passionate. Interviewers are looking for a firm handshake, bright eyes, a warm smile, and zest.

Attention to Detail: Displaying this trait is best noticed through how you logically approach the case by picking up on facts and themes. You also want to be prepared. If possible, take notes.

Quantitative Skills: You’ll eventually be dealing with number and interviewers are looking for your ability to manage and manipulate these numbers. This is where many guesstimate questions appear.

Flexibility: This is an important characteristic of any employee. Your flexibility is tested when an employer might introduce a new piece of information in the middle of the case. They will analyze how you rework your solution and analysis according to the new information.

Maturity: Employees will be of all age ranges. The interviewer is testing your ability to interact with those that might be a few years to decades older than you. Avoid childish stories or anecdotes about your old fraternity days.

Intelligence: Simply put, your interviewer wants someone who is quick to learn and pick up facts and ideas. The case interview shows your employee how receptive you are to the above mentioned factors and how in depth you can go with you own analysis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but avoid asking elementary questions repeatedly.

Which type of case to expect

Most undergrads will be faced with guestimates and brainteasers and open ended questions as employers aware of the student’s limited professional experience. Whatever case you are faced with, be sure to back up your answer with logic and data.

Strategy

Tips for answering business cases successfully

  1. Take Notes: If presented orally, you should take notes so you can refer back to data.
  2. Make no Assumptions: Don’t make assumptions as you are being placed in the shoes of someone in your desired position. Ask as many relevant questions as you need to obtain an accurate picture of the scenario. You are not expected to know everything about a case presented for example the industry being described. The interviewer may not divulge all information, but it never hurts to ask logical questions. You are also taking charge of the case, displaying your confidence.
  3. Listen to the answers: In many cases, people get so nervous they forget to listen to what they are being told. Don’t make a mental list of questions in your head while the interviewer is giving you information as you will be sure to miss some key points.
  4. Make eye contact: Maintaining eye contact is a sign of confidence and authority. Eventually if placed in the position, you may have to present your findings in front of a large audience. Case interviewers want to see that you have the ability to present and take charge.
  5. Take your time: It’s ok to request a minute to collect your thought and take in information. However, don’t sit silent for 10 minutes as most case interviews (especially those for undergrads) are usually 15 minutes.
  6. Discuss your approach: Don’t keep your logic a secret as this is what interviewers are looking to see. This allows you to keep your thinking straight and demonstrate your ability to conceptualize complex ideas. While many are not comfortable with thinking out loud, this is an important part of the case interview. Employers want to hear how you formulate your thoughts. It’s also a good insight into your problem solving thought process. Try practicing at home to minimize fillers.
  7. Summarize Your Conclusion: Don’t lose sight of the main idea. While you may make great points throughout the case, you want to summarize in the end so clarify your points and recap details of your analysis. This also keeps things fresh in the mind of the employer.
  8. Remember your objective: Always remember what you were asked. People tend to stray as they come up with more and more ideas. Don’t forget what you were asked. There is nothing worse than creating a great solution to a problem you were not presented
  9. Don’t get nervous: Sometimes interviewers may interrupt your analysis with a conflicting point. There are two reasons for this: 1. They want to see how you defend your point. 2. You are blatantly wrong on a point and they are correcting your assumption (refer back to tip #2). In any case, don’t get nervous. Remember, case interviewers are looking for those that work well under pressure.

What about group interviews?

When encountered with this scenario, employers are looking to see how you work with others. It’s also a great situation to assess your leadership skills. Listen to everyone’s point and don’t bully other candidates. While you want to be proactive, you don’t want to come off as too dominating.

How to Think Through the Case

  • Weigh the pros and cons. This allows you to uncover the tradeoffs you’re going to have to make in your analysis.
  • Break down a complex case into simpler parts.
  • Interpret the numbers you are given. If presented with quantifiable data, incorporate it into your analysis.
  • Fill in the blanks. While questions are encouraged, the interviewer will intentionally leave out information for the purpose of seeing how well you interpret data. It is up to you to fill in these blanks with educated conclusions.

Types of Business Cases

These are some typical kinds of business cases. Candidates may be presented with a combination.

  1. Falling Profit Case: This type of case asks you to explore the possible reasons for a company’s dip in profits. This case tests your analytical skills and other business concepts such as industry knowledge and understanding of financial statements.
  2. New Product Introduction: You may be asked to recommend a strategy for introducing a new product to the market. This tests your knowledge on brand management, supply chain, industry knowledge, communication channels.
  3. Entering a new market/Entering a new geographic market: Similar to the new product introduction case, these case types call on your ability to draw on industry knowledge, and market dynamics.
  4. Site Selection: You must analyze the decision to locate a plant at a new facility. This calls on your understanding of global markets, regulatory environments, import/export environment, and labor restrictions.
  5. Mergers & Acquisitions: You must determine whether or not a merger/acquisition is viable.

Preparation

Before attending your interview, make sure to brush up on some business concepts that will prove useful. Some things to know include:

  • Financial Statements: Income statement, balance sheet, cash flow, and statements of retained earnings
  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Net present value
  • Capital asset pricing model
  • Porter’s Five Forces
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Product Life Cycle Curve
  • The 4P’s
  • 2 x 2 Matrix
  • BCG Matrix

Most interviews will be very familiar with these concepts as they are common practice. Use them sparingly as you don’t want to treat the interview like a classroom.

~Catherine B.

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