Working for one of the top consulting companies is a dream come true. McKinsey, Bain, BCG (MBB) — they’re the industry leaders, and getting a consulting job there is the best thing you can do for your career. But before you get to join the ranks of such prestigious companies, you’ll have to ace your case interview.
There’s no avoiding it. The great US giants, MBB, are not the only companies that put the candidates to the test during a case interview. The Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, EY, and KPMG) also challenge their candidates’ ability to reason and solve problems.
No matter where you are or how much experience you’ve got, consulting companies are going to present you with a case interview. So let’s dive into the subject of what those interviews are and how to best prepare for one.
Definition of a Case Interview
Case interviews are hypothetical business situations that test your reasoning and analytical capabilities to see if you’re a management consultant material.
They do that by presenting you with a real-life business problem that you need to solve. However, the problems presented to you are usually quite ambiguous and difficult to answer correctly.
But that’s not all that matters. You see, case interviews aren’t exactly about getting the answers right. If you’re at least in the ballpark of what the most optimal solution is, you’ll pass the test. And if you get it right, you’re bound to impress your interviewer.
However, the interviewer will also be paying attention to how you think about the problem, how inquisitive you are, and how well you work under pressure. So, yes, the aim is to come to the right conclusion, but your path to it also matters greatly.
Your analytical skills, quick thinking, attitude, and passion can land you a job even if you don’t quite wrap up the case as you should have.
We’ll explain everything you need to know about the case interviews. In the end, if you feel like you still need extra help, you can get more advice here.
How Does the Case Interview Process Look Like?
First of all, it’s important to say that while management consulting companies are the ones primarily conducting case interviews, other industries are slowly adopting them into their application processes as well. Investment banking and tech interviews are also increasingly using similar strategies to test prospective employees.
As you’d expect, the interview begins with some light conversation and a couple of questions about yourself. That usually takes 15-30 minutes After getting to know you, the interviewer will pose the case question. For this part of the interview, you have about 20-40 minutes on average depending on the difficulty of the question and your previous experience.
Be prepared to take notes. Most companies allow you to get a piece of paper out and write down all the important details. In fact, it’s crucial you do so since there’s going to be quite a lot of information coming your way.
Don’t shy away from asking any questions that you need. Get all the details and clarifications you need from the interviewer. They will want to know more about your thought process and logical thinking anyway. You’re certainly going to need more context and understand the business model before you can answer.
After the case interview, you’ll have a couple of minutes to ask the interviewer any questions you may have about the job. In the end, the whole process lasts for about an hour.
Expect to repeat the process a couple of times before becoming a consultant in one of the top consulting companies.
There are usually two rounds of interviews, each consisting of a couple of one-hour interviews.
In the second round, the pressure on you is going to be significantly higher. Your interviewers will be senior consultants who will put quite a bit of psychological pressure on you.
Preparing for a Case Interview
We’ll explain to you the steps you need to take in order to prepare for your case interview. Some of them depend on how experienced you are and whether you’ve had an interview like this before.
Frameworks and Theory
If you’ve never had a case interview before, you’ll need to spend far more time studying basics. In practice, that means memorizing pre-established frameworks.
Frameworks are ready-made solutions to specific kinds of problems. Some of the more common ones include Porter’s 5 Forces, the BCG Matrix, revenue and cost modeling, and the profitability framework.
Such frameworks can help you at first, but the goal of a case interview is not to test your memory. Don’t rely on premade frameworks to do the work for you. Interviewers will like to see how you think and how analytical your mind is. They won’t be impressed by you jamming all unique and unusual business situations into one of the frameworks.
They are a good place to start, but the goal is to get you to start thinking like a consultant. That way, you’ll be able to come up with your frameworks in no time.
Practice, Practice, and More Practice
You need to start cracking case interviews even before you apply for a position at a consulting company.
At first, practicing various cases on your own will suffice, but sooner or later, you’ll need a partner. The reason for that is you want as much feedback as you can get. And if you’re able to do so with multiple people, all the better.
Different people will be able to provide you with different levels of feedback. Suffice it to say that finding an expert partner is the best thing you can do for your interview prep. There are services online that offer to match their clients with experts with a background in MBB-level companies. Their feedback will be the most valuable.
Of course, you should play the role of the interviewer yourself during one of those training sessions. It will give you a unique perspective of what the real interviewers come to expect of the candidates.
Brush up on Math
Besides testing your logic and analytical thinking, a case interview will also put your math skills to the test.
For that reason, you’ll need to revise maths, learn calculation shortcuts, and just try and keep your mind agile with constant practice. You’ll need to work with some big numbers under a lot of pressure, so you better be ready.
To Sum Up
A case interview will put your reasoning and critical thinking to the test. It will also put you under a lot of pressure, given a short time window to reach a conclusion.
The best you can do to prepare is practice constantly with a partner, possibly an experienced one. Train your mind to structure problems and break them down into smaller fragments, and no case will be impossible to crack.