Are you a non-business major preparing for case interviews? If you’re wondering how much business knowledge you actually need for case interviews or what the best way is to prepare given your lack of business knowledge, we have you covered!
Rest assured that plenty of non-business majors and people with zero business background pass their case interviews and land consulting job offers, even at top-tier firms.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Understanding the case interview for non-business majors
- Leveraging your non-business background in case interviews
- Addressing your lack of business knowledge
- How to succeed in case interviews as a non-business major
- Recommended Case Interview Resources for Non-Business Majors
If you’re looking for a step-by-step shortcut to learn case interviews quickly, enroll in our case interview course. These insider strategies from a former Bain interviewer helped 30,000+ land consulting offers while saving hundreds of hours of prep time.
Understanding the Case Interview for Non-Business Majors
Case interviews may seem complicated and daunting, especially if you’re a non-business major.
However, don’t worry because we’ll explain in simple terms: what is a case interview, why companies use case interviews, and how much business knowledge you actually need for them.
What is a case interview?
A case interview is a type of job interview used primarily in management consulting and sometimes in other industries to assess a candidate's problem-solving and analytical skills.
During a case interview, the candidate is presented with a hypothetical business scenario or problem that the interviewer has designed.
The candidate is then expected to analyze the situation, ask relevant questions, and provide a structured and logical solution or recommendation.
The structure of a case interview can vary, but it usually involves the following steps:
- Problem Statement: The interviewer presents the candidate with a business problem or scenario. This could involve market entry strategies, cost optimization, product launch decisions, etc.
- Clarification: The candidate should ask clarifying questions to better understand the problem and its context. This also helps in identifying relevant information and potential areas to explore.
- Framework: Candidates often use frameworks, structured approaches, to break down complex problems into manageable components.
- Hypothesis: Based on the initial information, the candidate might form a hypothesis or initial approach to tackling the problem.
- Quantitative Analysis: The candidate may be provided with additional data or information related to the scenario. Analyzing this data is crucial for making informed decisions.
- Qualitative Discussion: The interviewer may engage in a discussion to assess business acumen and intuition related to the problem statement
- Conclusion: The candidate presents their solution or recommendation, outlining the reasoning behind it and addressing any potential concerns.
Case interviews are challenging because they require both analytical skills and the ability to communicate those skills effectively.
Candidates are often judged not only on their final solution but also on how they arrived at it, their thought process, and their ability to adapt to new information or unexpected twists in the scenario.
Why do companies use case interviews?
Companies use case interviews for several reasons:
1. Assess Problem-Solving Skills: Case interviews are an effective way to evaluate a candidate's ability to analyze complex problems, think critically, and develop logical solutions.
2. Assess Structured Thinking: Companies look for candidates who can break down complex problems into manageable parts using structured frameworks.
3. Assess Client-Facing Skills: In consulting and client-facing roles, employees need to convey ideas and recommendations clearly to clients. Case interviews assess a candidate's communication skills, including their ability to explain complex concepts in a concise and understandable manner.
4. Predict On-The-Job Success: Case interviews simulate real-world scenarios that candidates might encounter in their roles. This helps companies gauge how well candidates can apply their skills to practical situations they might face on the job.
5. Assess Cultural Fit: Case interviews often involve interactions with interviewers. This provides the company with insights into how well a candidate might fit into the company's culture and how they handle interpersonal interactions.
How much business knowledge do case interviews require?
The amount of business knowledge you need for case interviews can vary depending on the level of the role you're applying for and the industry or sector you're interested in.
However, it's important to note that while some level of business knowledge is beneficial, case interviews are primarily designed to test your problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills rather than your depth of business expertise.
Here's a general guideline on the level of business knowledge you might need:
Foundational Business Concepts: You should have a basic understanding of fundamental business concepts such as profit and loss, revenue, costs, market dynamics, supply and demand, competition, and business operations.
Supply Chain Concepts: You should have a basic understanding of all of the elements in a supply chain, including suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
Industry Awareness: Familiarize yourself with the industry or sector relevant to the role you're applying for. Understand key trends, challenges, and dynamics that could impact business decisions.
Business Models: Have a grasp of common business models, like B2B (business-to-business), B2C (business-to-consumer), subscription models, e-commerce, etc.
Financial Literacy: While you don't need to be a financial expert, having a basic understanding of financial statements (income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement) and financial ratios can be helpful.
Strategy Concepts: Be aware of strategic concepts such as differentiation, cost leadership, value chain analysis, and competitive advantage.
Reading and Interpreting Data: You should be able to read and interpret basic data, charts, and graphs related to business performance.
This may sound like a lot, but don’t worry because we’ll give you an overview on many of these topics later on in the article.
It's important to note that interviewers don't expect you to have deep industry-specific knowledge, especially for entry-level positions.
Instead, they want to see how well you can think critically, analyze information, and communicate your thought process.
As you prepare for case interviews, focus on developing strong problem-solving skills, practicing with mock cases, and honing your ability to communicate your ideas clearly.
While having some business knowledge is helpful, the emphasis is on your ability to apply your skills to unfamiliar scenarios and demonstrate your capacity to come up with well-structured solutions.
Leveraging Your Non-Business Background in Case Interviews
Having a non-business background can actually be an asset during case interviews, as it brings a unique perspective and a diverse set of skills to the table.
Here’s a list of transferable skills you probably already have that you can transfer from your major or background to case interview success:
1. Analytical Thinking: Many non-business majors require strong analytical skills. Whether you've conducted scientific research, solved engineering problems, or analyzed data in your field, emphasize your ability to dissect complex issues and draw meaningful insights.
2. Problem Decomposition: Non-business majors often deal with intricate problems that need to be broken down into manageable parts. Discuss how you've tackled multifaceted challenges by dividing them into smaller components, a skill highly valued in consulting.
3. Data Interpretation: If your academic background involves data analysis, showcase your proficiency in interpreting data sets, drawing conclusions, and making data-driven decisions. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with quantitative cases.
4. Research Acumen: Non-business fields frequently involve research projects. Highlight your ability to gather relevant information, synthesize findings, and apply research methodologies to solve problems.
5. Complex Systems Understanding: If your studies involved understanding complex systems (e.g., biological systems, environmental processes), relate this to your capacity to comprehend intricate business ecosystems and propose effective strategies.
6. Attention to Detail: Fields like science and technology often require meticulous attention to detail. Explain how this skill enables you to identify nuances and uncover critical insights in case scenarios.
7. Project Management: If you've managed projects or handled tight deadlines during your studies, draw parallels to the time-sensitive nature of consulting engagements and your ability to manage multiple tasks effectively.
8. Adaptability: Many non-business majors need to adapt to changing circumstances, evolving research, or new discoveries. Showcase your adaptability and how you thrive in dynamic environments, which mirrors the fast-paced nature of consulting.
9. Interdisciplinary Approach: Your non-business background likely involves interdisciplinary thinking. Highlight how your diverse knowledge enables you to approach problems from different angles, facilitating creative solutions.
10. Communication Skills: Non-business majors often need to explain complex concepts to audiences with varying levels of expertise. Showcase your ability to communicate effectively, a key competency in consulting.
11. Ethical and Moral Reasoning: Some non-business fields require ethical considerations. Discuss your experience navigating ethical dilemmas and how this can contribute to responsible decision-making in consulting.
12. Innovation: Non-business majors often drive innovation in their fields. Describe how your innovative thinking can bring fresh perspectives to consulting challenges.
13. Cultural Awareness: Non-business fields often intersect with diverse cultures and backgrounds. Explain how this has honed your cultural sensitivity, which is valuable when working with clients from various industries and regions.
Incorporating these transferable skills into your case interview responses demonstrates your suitability for consulting roles, regardless of your academic background.
Connect your experiences to the core competencies sought in consulting, and showcase how your non-business expertise uniquely positions you as a strong candidate who can contribute fresh insights and well-rounded problem-solving skills.
Addressing Your Lack of Business Knowledge
Below, we provide a basic overview of the essential business concepts you should know. Beyond these concepts, we’ve also provided ways to build a strong business foundation.
Essential Business Knowledge You Should Know
Foundational Business Concepts
- Profit: The financial gain obtained when total revenue exceeds total costs
- Revenue: The total income generated from sales of goods or services
- Costs: The expenses incurred in producing goods or services, including both fixed and variable costs
- Fragmented market: A market with many competitors, each having a small share of the overall market
- Concentrated market: A market dominated by a small number of large firms with significant market shares
- Supply: The quantity of a product or service that producers are willing to offer in the market
- Demand: The quantity of a product or service that consumers are willing and able to buy at a given price
- Competition: The rivalry between companies striving for customers' attention, often leading to improved products and services
Supply Chain Concepts
- Supplier: A business or entity that provides goods or materials to other companies for use in their products or services
- Manufacturer: A company that transforms raw materials or components into finished products for sale
- Distributor: An intermediary that purchases goods from manufacturers and sells them to retailers or other businesses
- Retailer: A business that sells products directly to consumers for their personal use
- Vertically Integrated: A company that controls multiple stages of the supply chain, from production to distribution, often aiming to streamline efficiency and control costs
- B2B (business-to-business): The exchange of products or services between businesses rather than between businesses and individual consumers
- B2C (business-to-consumer): The sale of products or services directly to individual consumers
- Subscription models: A business strategy where customers pay a recurring fee at regular intervals in exchange for continuous access to products or services
- Freemium: A business model where basic services or products are offered for free, with the option to upgrade to a premium version that offers additional features or functionality for a fee
- E-commerce: The buying and selling of goods or services over the internet, often involving online stores, digital transactions, and electronic payments
- Income statement: A financial report that presents a company's revenues, expenses, and profits over a specific period
- Balance sheet: A snapshot of a company's financial position at a given moment, showing its assets, liabilities, and equity
- Cash flow statement: A financial statement that tracks the flow of cash into and out of a company over a specific period
- Financial ratios: Quantitative metrics used to assess a company's financial performance and health, often by comparing different aspects of its financial data
- Differentiation: A strategy where a company creates unique and distinct products or services that stand out in the market
- Cost leadership: A strategy where a company aims to become the low-cost producer in its industry by focusing on operational efficiency and cost minimization
- Value chain analysis: The examination of a company's internal activities, from sourcing raw materials to delivering the final product, to identify opportunities for efficiency and value creation
- Competitive advantage: A unique attribute or strategy that sets a company apart from its competitors and enables it to outperform them in the market
How to Develop Business Acumen
There are several ways that you can build a foundational business knowledge and develop sharp business acumen:
- Business News and Magazines: Start reading business news regularly to stay updated on industry trends and concepts. Publications like The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Forbes provide valuable insights.
- Educational YouTube Channels and Podcasts: Watch YouTube channels and listen to podcasts that explain business concepts in an engaging way
- Participate in Business Competitions: Many universities organize business case competitions. Participate in these events to gain hands-on experience and learn from your peers.
- Start Small Projects: Undertake small projects that require you to apply business concepts. For instance, create a simple business plan, analyze a local market, or develop a marketing strategy for a fictional product
- Internships and Volunteering: Look for internships or volunteer opportunities in business-related roles. Practical experience can deepen your understanding of business operations.
- Utilize University Resources: If you're still in university, take advantage of business-related workshops, seminars, and courses offered by your institution.
All of these different methods can take quite a lot of time.
If you’re looking for the fastest and most efficient way to learn foundational business knowledge, enroll in our comprehensive case interview course.
It covers all 80+ essential business concepts and principles you will need in your case interview in a clear and easy to understand way for non-business majors.
How to Succeed in Case Interviews as a Non-Business Major
There are seven steps you can take to ensure that you succeed in your case interviews as a non-business major.
1. Understand the case interview format
Understanding the case interview format is paramount. As a non-business major, you might not be familiar with the terminology or approach, so take the time to research and comprehend what case interviews entail.
Learn about the different types of cases (market entry, profitability, etc.), the role-play aspect, and the emphasis on problem-solving. Being well-prepared and comfortable with the format will boost your confidence and allow you to focus on showcasing your skills.
2. Build a solid foundation in business concepts
While you don't need an exhaustive business knowledge, building a foundation in key business concepts is essential.
Familiarize yourself with terms like revenue, profit, costs, and market analysis. A basic grasp of financial statements, market dynamics, and business models will help you engage intelligently with case scenarios, even if you're not from a business background.
3. Learn how to structure frameworks
Frameworks are structured approaches to dissect complex problems.
Learn popular frameworks like Porter's Five Forces, SWOT analysis, and the 4Ps of marketing. Adapt and apply these frameworks to case scenarios to demonstrate your structured thinking and problem-solving abilities.
For a complete guide on how to create tailored and unique frameworks for each case, check out our article on case interview frameworks.
4. Develop problem solving skills
Your academic background likely involved problem-solving. Apply these skills to business scenarios by breaking down intricate issues into manageable components.
Highlight how your analytical thinking, attention to detail, and systematic approach can unravel complex business challenges, showcasing your adaptability to unfamiliar contexts.
5. Practice data interpretation
As a non-business major, data interpretation might be part of your skill set. Practice translating this skill to business contexts. Work on reading charts, graphs, and financial statements to extract meaningful insights.
This skill is essential for drawing conclusions and making informed recommendations during case interviews.
6. Improve communication skills
Strong communication is crucial in consulting. As a non-business major, your ability to explain your thought process clearly is a powerful asset. Practice expressing complex ideas in a straightforward manner.
Focus on articulating your approach, assumptions, and solutions logically and concisely.
7. Practice mock case interviews
Practice is key. Engage in mock case interviews to simulate the real experience. Seek out resources and practice cases online.
This will help you refine your approach, adapt to different scenarios, and receive feedback on your performance. As you practice, you'll become more comfortable with the format and better equipped to handle unexpected twists.
For practice, check out our article on 23 MBA consulting casebooks with 700+ free practice cases.
Recommended Case Interview Resources for Non-Business Majors
Here are the resources we recommend to learn the most robust, effective case interview strategies in the least time-consuming way:
- Comprehensive Case Interview Course (our #1 recommendation): The only resource you need. Whether you have no business background, rusty math skills, or are short on time, this step-by-step course will transform you into a top 1% caser that lands multiple consulting offers.
- Hacking the Case Interview Book (available on Amazon): Perfect for beginners that are short on time. Transform yourself from a stressed-out case interview newbie to a confident intermediate in under a week. Some readers finish this book in a day and can already tackle tough cases.
- The Ultimate Case Interview Workbook (available on Amazon): Perfect for intermediates struggling with frameworks, case math, or generating business insights. No need to find a case partner – these drills, practice problems, and full-length cases can all be done by yourself.
- Case Interview Coaching: Personalized, one-on-one coaching with former consulting interviewers
- Behavioral & Fit Interview Course: Be prepared for 98% of behavioral and fit questions in just a few hours. We'll teach you exactly how to draft answers that will impress your interviewer
- Resume Review & Editing: Transform your resume into one that will get you multiple interviews