Case Interview Tips
February 14, 2006 4:57 AM   Subscribe

Case Interview Tips. I'm applying to several business analyst/consulting jobs that require a case interview as part of the screening process. I've never done one of these and I'd like to hear your experiences with them.

Have you given a case interview? What tactics do you use to make it hard on the candidate? What specific qualities do you look for in the candidate?

Have you been in the hot seat? What did you do that was good? What did you do that wasn't so good? What are some general tactics to use during the interview? During preparation for it? Was it an oral or written interview?

Do you have anything else to add that I might have forgotten to ask?
posted by sciurus to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am a consultant, and I have both given and administered several case interviews in my life. The best preparation I've ever seen is the book "Case in Point" by Marc Cosentino. I have a dog-eared copy myself. Great advice on how to go through a case interview, and enough practice cases to keep you busy for a while. I usually carry a copy in my briefcase when I go to an interview, and it's the last thing I look at before I walk into the room. Amazon has it.

Good luck.
posted by kevinmeyers at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2006

Best answer: I believe that the careers section of the BCG website has one or two virtual case interviews that you can use as practice. For the most part, the interviewer isnt trying to trick you, or intimidate you, or be pointlessly hard on you. They are trying to give you an open-ended situation to respond to, and see how you use the information at hand to come to conclusions.

It is usually the case that not all of the information you would need is initially placed in front of you, so you are usually allowed to ask questions, or suggest an avenue of approach with qualifications.

As you respond, they will give you more information that may or may not support your original conclusions.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 7:01 AM on February 14, 2006

Best answer: I have been on both sides of the table of case interviews. There are a number of ways to make cases hard. Reading a few books and practice with a skilled interviewer is critical to being ready for some of these, but others simply require that deploy assets you've already got.

You can increase the degree of general exertise (business, accounting, finance, economic) required to answer the case correctly.

You can increase the degree of narrow expertise (consulting jargon, standard McK/B/BCG frameworks, Five Forces) required to answer the case correctly.

You can make the case quantitatively more difficult, by increasing the number of variables to be handled, or the size or complexity of the calcuations to be performed.

You can increase the value of listening comprehension, by making it critical to a high-point solution that the candidate hear, and immediately recognizing the importance of, a single case factor you provide.

You can increase the "stakes" of the initial questioning process -- where the candidate ask questions to get the data required to work the case. Some cases can't be solved unless you ask for exactly the right data.

You can increase the importance of a single insight -- in other words, unless a candidate perceives a certain specific (set of) things about the case, he simply can't get many points.

You can increase the stress level of the interview by coming across as skeptical, dismissive, stingy with information, etc.
posted by MattD at 8:04 AM on February 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Good luck! I've been through what seems like a million of these over the past few years. I'll second the recommendation for Case In Point, it was very helpful. I also liked the Vault books, as they lay out a lot of the frameworks that are helpful in some of the "typical" case interviews and give good example cases. Some of the consulting firms (BCG, Bain, I think even Accenture) have sample cases on their websites, too.

A few frameworks that I'd recommend knowing:
1. The profit equation, and the breakdown of it
2. Competitive Analysis -- the C's and P's
3. Porter's 5 Forces
4. Market Sizing numbers (know that there are X number of people in the US, X number of families, etc.). Market sizing questions have become very rare, but I was asked recently to figure out the number of taxi cabs in Manhattan on a Wednesday afternoon, so you never know.

Make sure to bring a pen and paper and to WRITE THINGS DOWN. And take your time to think things through, oh, and talk your way through questions as well. Part of the reason they are giving you a case interview is to check out your thought processes and if you don't tell them how you are getting to your conclusions, they will not know this.

Also, if you google case interview prep or something like that, you'll also likely find some of the MBA Consulting Club case materials, which are usually also very helpful.
posted by echo0720 at 8:35 AM on February 14, 2006

Best answer: Having been on both sides of the interview table for case interviews, one of the most important things is to make sure the interviewer knows what you are thinking (even if the thinking might be wrong).

State up front how you are planning on analyzing/solving the problem. Explicitly discuss any assumptions that you are making, and why you think they are justified. The biggest mistake I have seen candidates make is that they make poor assumptions. If they state them up front, I will help them course correct, but if they just barrel down the wrong path, it's up to them to recognize their mistake.
posted by gregchttm at 8:54 AM on February 14, 2006

Best answer: I second gregchttm's advice. When I've interviewed candidates, I'm far more interested in how you've gotten to an answer than the answer itself. An analogy could be something along the lines of, "in the case interview I want to see how well the processor works, not necessarily see the content of the hard drive." Along these lines, don't get flustered if your answers get challenged -- it is likely because they want to know how you got there, rather than pointing out that your response was "wrong" (though your answer might indeed be incorrect!).

It also can't hurt to pick up a few HBR case studies to dig into and get the feel for the way real-live companies have dealt or are dealing with other business issues.

Good luck! Where are you applying, if I might be so presumptuous to ask?
posted by lazywhinerkid at 10:01 AM on February 14, 2006

Best answer:
posted by sciurus at 5:00 AM on February 15, 2006

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