The case interview is an important part of the application process of many top tier companies. Especially in consulting and investment banking it is a common practice to go through before getting an offer as applicant. The case interview is an example of a real business problem based on the interviewer’s past work experiences. During the interview, the applicant is required to solve the case by analyzing the business problem and by coming up with suitable and pragmatic recommendations for the imaginary client. The case interview is therefore effectively a role play in which the applicant assumes the role as consultant. During the case interview the following attributes will be monitored:
- Structure and logic: the approach you take to solve a problem
- Analytics: your usage and synthesis of data and ability to perform calculations
- Soft skills: your communicative and persuasion skills (both verbally as non-verbally) in conveying your ideas
- Business sense: how well your knowledge is on business-related topics
- Thought leadership: can you come up with creative and innovative ideas and suggestions
Structure and logic
As a consultant, it is your job to help clients cope with the complexity of their strategic issues. Keep in mind that they probably know more about the industry they are in than you do. Most added value for you as a consultant therefore comes from the approach you take to solve the problem. It is your job to subdivide the bigger problem into smaller ones and structure them in such a way that they make sense to the client. A profitability problem can for example be divided by looking at the revenues on one side and costs on the other. Consequently, costs can be divided into fixed cost and variable cost. Bringing structure and logic into a complex case is one of the most essential criteria interviewers look at when assessing your capabilities.
Due to the ever-increasing technological advancements, we are able to collect and store a lot of data from business operations: customer feedback, cash flows, employee illness rates, performance measures, peak times et cetera. However, this large pile of data is useless unless we are able to analyse it and draw meaningful conclusions based on it. Again, as a consultant it is your job to request the necessary data in order to solve the issues your client is facing. Furthermore, you need to be able to ‘read’ the data and synthesize the elements in such a way that clear conclusions can be drawn on what exactly causes the problem and what can be changed to solve it. This also means that you sometimes need to make calculations yourself during the interview. An often used method to test you on your calculation skills, is that an interviewer asks you to determine the size of the market. These type of questions are called ‘guesstimates’.
Communication skills are essential as consultant. You will not only need to communicate well with your clients, but also with your team members. Both verbal and non-verbal communication skills will be monitored during the interview. Don’t underestimate this part, because understanding the business problem and explaining this to somebody else are two completely different skills. Listen very well to what is being asked in an interview and answer the questions calmly. Have an open body posture and maintain eye contact in order to appear confident. In addition, you will need to be persuasive when conveying your ideas and solutions to the client.
This attribute might seem obvious. However, since more and more students with backgrounds in mathematics, physics or econometrics apply for consulting, this trait is often underdeveloped. Can you for example come up with five quick reasons why a strategic alliance might be more favourable than an acquisition? What are the advantages and disadvantages of vertical integration? And is it easier to enter a fragmented industry or a consolidated industry? If you cannot answer these questions promptly, you might want to improve your business sense. It helps to read about real life business cases in for example the Financial Times and ask yourself why CEOs make certain business decisions.
In the end, advisory services are all about the advice you give to your clients. Especially in strategy it is important that these advices are sustainable for the long term and that competitors cannot simply copy the recommended strategic moves. It helps when you are able to think out-of-the-box in order to come up with creative and innovative ideas and suggestions. Although it is hard to train this aspect, it might be a vital component during a case interview.
Case interview topics and structure
Even though there are a wide variety of case interview topics, four general case interview scenarios can be distinguished:
Each of these scenarios have a different aim and should therefore be approached in a different manner. Sometimes cases might be combined such as a pricing case question in a market entry case or a profitability problem in a M&A case interview. However, since each of these problems follow a different structure, they are explained in more depth in separate articles. Luckily there is some sequence of steps that can be followed regardless of the case scenario.
- Summarize the case question
- Verify the objective(s)
- Ask clarifying questions and define context
- Develop and communicate a framework (based on the case scenario)
- Formulate clear hypotheses and indicate possible analyses
- Gather data and synthesize results
- Quantify your analyses and make assumptions explicit
- Be creative when formulating solutions
- Be persuasive in communicating recommendations
Figure 1: Case Interview Structure
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