Below you will find a list of 10 rapid fire case interview tips. This ten case interview tips provide a general overview of some key concepts and important advice to help you prepare for consulting case interview process.
1) Know different types of cases that can come up in a case interview
You need to know different types of cases that can come up in a case interview. The information provided below is most applicable for general business cases, which are the most common and toughest to solve. To solve brain teasers and logic questions you will need to apply a different approach.
2) Know the definitions of the common techniques
Every single candidate we coached misunderstands at least one of the key concepts or techniques, and applies it incorrectly. If you do not know concept’s definition, how can you use it? Some examples of the key concepts are listed below.
MECE – means mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. It means you have listed every single option available and each option is independent of the other. That means you can isolate one option and test it without impacting the other options.
Decision tree – A decision tree takes an issue, decision or question and logically breaks it down into sub-questions. When you do this correctly, it looks like a tree lying on its side with the top on the left and the base on the right.
80/20 – It means focusing your time and effort on that part of the problem or solution which will generate the majority of the answer. Usually 20% of the issues impact 80% of the desired outcome. It means ignoring, or dedicating less time, to problems which are real but have a smaller or negligible impact.
Hypothesis – This is one that is widely focused upon and used. It has become a cliché but is widely used incorrectly. A hypothesis is not the problem. A hypothesis is also not the reason. It is both: it is a statement containing both.
For example: The store lost out on peak summer shopping times because the trucking strike meant that merchandise was delivered too late to be unpacked. Can you see the reason (also called observable phenomenon) and the problem?
3) Know how to apply key concepts during a case interview
Just about everyone gets this wrong. They do not know how key concepts fit together or when and how to use them during a case interview. They all fit together and should not be used in isolation.
Below you will find a few points to showcase how a few key concepts can be applied during a case interview, and how they fit together:
• In every case, the first thing you need to do is confirm the problem statement you are solving. This may sound obvious, but about 50% of candidates do not do this and fail the case since they solve the incorrect problem.
• Next, develop the framework you will apply. Irrespective of the framework you choose, you will need to build the framework using a decision tree and by applying the rules of MECE. If this is not clear to you, look at our video guides. Or read our book which explains this in excessive detail using a live example.
• As you build the framework out using the decision tree, see which branch will have the largest impact on the problem. That branch is the one you analyze first and in greatest detail. That is how you apply the 80/20 principle.
4) Never ever blurt out answers during the case interview
McKinsey, Bain, BCG or any of the other top consulting firms do not want people who have the answers. You can never have all the answers. They want people who can solve a problem even if they know nothing about the sector.
So never blurt out the answer. If you do, you will fail. Always follow the methodical steps we teach you to take to develop the correct answer.
The final answer is not important. How you developed the answer, and the reasoning and logic you applied, are critical. How you engaged the interviewer to extract the information is also vital.
5) Do not mismanage your interviewer during the case interview
In the case interview, your interviewers are judging everything you do. Do not ignore them, do not make them uncomfortable and do not leave them in the dark. As you develop the case solution, make sure you explain why you are doing what you do and ask for additional details and confirmation of the steps you are taking.
Work with them. Have a conversation with them and make it entertaining.
6) Specific case interview tips for solving cases
When solving the case, it is worth doing the following:
• Do not ever revert to things you know about the industry or what you have seen on TV. Work only with the data provided. Use common sense.
• Explain what you are doing as you build the framework.
• Explain why you built the framework.
• If you do not understand a phrase or information point provided to you, ask for an explnanation.
• As you build each branch of the framework, ask the interviewer if there are parts missing or if she can divulge additional information. Do not make this robotic. Do not become stuck if she provides no additional information. Just move on.
• Seek confirmation as you move further along the analyses. Does the interviewer agree with your prioritization? Also use additional information to test how this information changes your answer or thinking.
• Ensure everything you do is clearly sketched on a sheet of paper, in clear writing so that you can explain it.
• Don’t say you are applying the 80/20 rule or any other concept. Just do it.
• As you move ahead in each step of your analyses, do a sanity check:
• Does this make sense?
• Does the interviewer understands what you are doing? Does she agree?
• Is this analysis a priority?
• Are you solving the overall case problem?
• At the end make sure you have explained how you have solved the case problem.
7) You do not need to apply sector or industry specific skills when solving cases
If you are reading up about different sectors, stop right there! You have not understood the management consulting approach to case problem solving.
The problem solving approach is specifically designed to solve cases of which you have little or no prior knowledge. You should better spend your time understanding this approach and practicing for your case interviews.
8) Not all cases have obvious frameworks
Sometimes, you get lucky and the case problem requires you to improve revenue, cut costs or increase profits. Then the framework is easy. You simply break-down the income statement.
But what happens if you need to improve productivity? This is slightly harder. What about fixing an organizational structure? This is much tougher.
Therefore, do not memorize frameworks. It is better to learn how to define the problem statement and solve the case from first principles.
9) Do not quit and do not rush
This is a big one. Candidates often get stuck and throw their hands up in resignation. How you respond under pressure is just as important as your problem solving and analytical abilities.
If you make a mistake, it’s fine to start over or ask for a blank piece of paper. Work in pencil and accept that you will make mistakes. Do not rush and do not give up.
10) Convey yourself as a professional
Do not mumble. Do not make self-deprecating comments. Do not tell the interviewer how tough the case interview was and that you are not sure if you made it. This is not high-school. There are no cliques for drama-queens at management consulting firms.
Be polished and professional. If you get rejected at Bain, leave with dignity and learn from your mistakes. Do not complain or try to find faults with the interviewers and process. Move on. Learn. You still have a shot at McKinsey and the BCG.
Preparing for the case interview process is tough, but not at all impossible. Make sure you are prepared before you go in.
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Image from Trey Ratcliff under cc.