So you have decided to apply for a consulting position at a company and we all already know what they have in store for you. A good old case interview. Often described as intimidating and tough, if you prepare yourself wisely and show good communication skills, logical thinking, and confidently demonstrate your knowledge and experience, you have a good chance of making a big leap in your consulting career.
A traditional job interview will usually focus on you, your abilities, previous experience in work, your education, etc. If the interviewer thinks you qualify in those areas, they will usually follow it up with a job offer.
With a case interview, things are somewhat different. Previously mentioned things are shoved aside, and you are given the opportunity on the spot to show your problem-solving skills and the way you think them through. There will usually be four to six case interviews, split into two rounds, each interview lasting approximately an hour. If you want a deeper understanding of this, you can learn more by visiting the My Consulting Coach website.
You will be given a problem to solve, usually with additional reports, charts, useful data, and the like. The problem in the case interview will in most cases be based on a real-life issue. The interviewer will be keeping a watchful eye on your approach to the problem, and will often ask additional questions based on your progress or give you additional information at your request.
Structuring your answer
In a case, there is never a single correct answer. There are usually multiple good solutions to the problem, so just reaching one is not enough. It’s the way you get to it. The interviewer will want to see your thought process, the way you organize all this collected data and structure it into a coherent pattern.
And don’t forget, pay attention to how you communicate your answer, as that is something that leaves an impression as well.
Since this will be one of the bigger tests in your career, practice as much as you can. Not just the math in your head, but the way you present it, the way you talk about it, and the impression you give away while doing so.
Feel free to include the interviewer into your task, ask additional questions. They will like it if you show genuine interest in the problem and try to get to the bottom of it, not just leave the impression that you’re there only to pass the interview.
Follow their subtle guidelines and signs if they give out any, as they might try to lead you onto a different path every once in a while should they think you’re stuck in a particular area too much.
As much as all companies will do their best never to repeat the same test problem, we can narrow the types of problems down to several categories. These include:
Developing a new product
Starting a new business
Entering a new market
Acquiring a new company
In some cases, a problem might refer to responding to competitor’s actions or turning a company around, but those do not tend to find themselves in case of interviews too often.
Use this to your advantage as you plan ahead for the interview. There is no fixed structure that can be used at any time for a specific case and you will always need to adapt to the problem at hand, however working through a couple of versions for every category can obviously give you a nice head start.
You can not know for certain what industry your problem will refer to, but keeping up with recent developments and news in economics, trade, and other relevant industries is a must-do. The better acquainted you are with the industry, the more precise your follow-up questions will be.
Our humble recommendation would be to read The Economist weekly, as it is an excellent way to keep up with major trends in most industries all over the world.
Also, make sure to freshen up on your accounting and finance skills as you will need to be able to pick out important and most relevant items form a large amount of data you will be given.
Numbers in your head
While preparing in all other aspects, we can not leave out a very important segment – math. The more you practice your numbers and mathematical operations, the bigger chance you give yourself for a smooth problem breakdown while calculating those profits, growth, or whatever comes up in front of you.
While doing your math, write out all your formulas and equations, as well as your thought process. Take it step by step as it will give you a chance of taking a step back if you move in the wrong direction. Do not be too hasty to rush into a solution and always take your time with quant questions.
As a preparation, practice with numbers whenever you are able to. Play with percentages, practice taking 5%, 15%, 25% of a number, work on your decimals, make it your everyday activity and you will be well-off when your interview quant question comes.
Practice, practice, and more practice
Read through examples of cases, work on your weak spots, keep up with the industry, but never forget one thing – practice the interview itself. If you can get a friend to help you out with that – perfect, you can cross-examine each other. You would be actually surprised how helpful it can be sitting on the other side of the interviewer’s desk.
However, even if you do not have help, do not think that working on your speech and articulation just inside your head is enough. Speak out loud, imagine that you are at the interview right there and then and do your best to act that way. The more you practice, the smoother it will go on your actual case interview day.
To Sum it Up
Case interviews are not easy and they are not by any chance something you should take lightly. But with the right preparation and a positive attitude, you can give yourself a good chance of impressing your interview panel and getting that job you’ve been dreaming of for a while.
If you are chasing a job in consulting, chances are that you find this area of expertise enjoyable, so do not let that escape your mind too often.
Once you get the hang of these cases and problem-solving, you will likely find it growing on you and who knows, by the time the case interview comes – you might actually be solely ecstatic rather than nervous. Nothing will beat the feeling of leaving that interview room on a high note.
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