IBM Case Interview: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re interviewing for a consulting role at IBM, particularly for the IBM Global Business Services group, expect to be given a case interview or case study interview during your interview process.


IBM consulting interviews consist of case interviews and behavioral or fit interview questions. There are typically two rounds of interviews that candidates must nail before receiving an IBM consulting job offer. The interview process may vary depending on your tenure and the office that you are interviewing for.

  • First round: One 30-minute phone screen with a recruiter. The focus of the interview will be on resume questions and behavioral or fit interview questions.


  • Second round: Three 30- to 45-minute interviews. Two of these interviews will be focused on behavioral or fit interview questions and one will be focused on a case interview.


If you have an upcoming interview with IBM consulting or IBM Global Business Services, we have you covered. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The 7 steps to solve any IBM consulting case interview


  • IBM case interview examples


  • IBM case interview tips


  • The 10 most common behavioral or fit interview questions


  • Recommended IBM case interview prep resources


The 7 Steps to Solve Any IBM Consulting Case Interview


Acing your case interviews or case study interviews is the single most important factor that determines whether or not you will receive a consulting job offer from IBM.


A case interview is a special type of interview that nearly every single consulting firm uses. IBM case interviews simulate the consulting job by placing you in a hypothetical business situation in which you are asked to solve a business problem.


IBM case interviews, also known as case study interviews, are all candidate-led. You will be in the driver’s seat of the case interview and will be expected to ask the right questions, probe for data, and propose each next step to solve the case.


Follow these seven steps to solve any IBM consulting or IBM Global Business Services case interview.


1. Understand the case background information


The case interview will start with the interviewer explaining the case background information. Make sure that you are taking notes while the interviewer is speaking. You’ll want to focus specifically on understanding the context, the company, and the objective of the case.


The most important part of the case interview is to make sure you understand the business issue and objective of the case. Addressing the wrong business problem is the quickest way to fail a case interview.


2. Ask clarifying questions


Once the interviewer has finished giving you the case information, you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions. 


While you can ask any question that you want, try to prioritize asking questions that help you better understand the situation and problem. You want to avoid asking questions that are too specific or not relevant to understanding the case situation. 


Most candidates ask between one to three questions. You’ll be able to ask more questions later in the case interview if you need to.


3. Summarize the information and verify the objective


Once you have finished asking your immediate questions, summarize all of the major case information and verify that you understand the objective correctly.


In this step, many candidates make the mistake of stating every fact of the case verbatim. Instead, you should summarize the case concisely and clearly in your own words. This demonstrates that you can synthesize information effectively.


4. Develop a framework


The next step is to structure a framework to help guide you through the case.


A case interview framework is a tool that helps you structure and break down a complex problem into simpler, smaller components. Think of a framework as brainstorming different ideas and organizing them into different categories.


To develop a framework, ask yourself what are the three to four major questions that you need to answer in order to make a confident recommendation?


Many candidates make the mistake of using memorized frameworks and applying them to their case interviews. Interviewers can tell when you are using a memorized framework because not all of the elements of the framework will be relevant to the case.


Using a memorized framework reflects poorly on your capabilities because it shows that you cannot think critically for yourself. Therefore, practice creating unique and tailored frameworks for each case that you get.


To learn more on how to create outstanding frameworks, check out our comprehensive case interview framework guide.


When creating your framework, it is acceptable to ask the interviewer for a few minutes of silence to collect your thoughts. Afterwards, present your framework to the interviewer.


5. Kick off the case


Once you have finished presenting your framework, the interviewer may agree with your approach or may provide some feedback or suggestions. Afterwards, it is time to start solving the case.


How the case investigation will start depends on whether your case is a candidate-led or interviewer-led case. Most cases are candidate-led.


Candidate-led case: In this type of case, you will be expected to drive the direction of the case. You will be suggesting what areas to explore, what analyses to do, and what the next step should be. So, pick an area of your framework to start analyzing. There is no right or wrong area to pick as long as it is relevant to solving the case.


Interviewer-led case: In this type of case, the interviewer will be leading the direction of the case. They will be asking you specific questions that you will answer. After each question, they’ll direct you to the next question. For interviewer-led cases, the interviewer will typically kick off the case by asking you a question after you finish presenting your framework.


6. Answer quantitative and qualitative questions


The majority of the interview will be spent answering a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions.


Quantitative questions may have you estimate the size of a particular market, perform some calculations to determine profitability, or interpret various charts and graphs.


When solving quantitative problems, make sure that you walk the interviewer through your approach before you begin doing any math. When performing calculations, make sure to talk through your steps out loud so that it is easy for the interviewer to follow your work.


Qualitative questions may ask you to brainstorm potential ideas or ask for your judgment on an open-ended business question. When answering these questions, try to structure your answer as much as possible.


After answering each question, make sure that you take your answer and connect it back to the overall case objective. How does your answer help you solve the case? How does your answer impact your potential recommendation?


7. Deliver a recommendation


At the end of the case, the interviewer will ask you to prepare an overall recommendation. It is acceptable to ask the interviewer for a minute to look through your notes before you give your recommendation.


Based on the quantitative and qualitative questions you have answered, what recommendation do they collectively support?


Structure your recommendation in the following way:

  • State your recommendation


  • Provide the two to three reasons that support your recommendation


  • Propose next steps that you would take if you had more time


After you deliver your recommendation, the interviewer will conclude the case interview. If the case interview was based on a real life project, the interviewer may explain what actually happened in the case.


Don’t worry if your recommendation does not match what actually happened during the project. For case interviews, you are not assessed on your answer, but on your process.


IBM Consulting Case Interview Examples


Below, we’ve compiled case interviews that IBM Global Business Services has given to candidates in previous interviews. These cases should give you a good idea of the types of business problems you may be asked to solve on your interview day.


Example #1: Increasing profitability of a networking equipment company


Your client is an American technology company that develops, manufactures and sells high speed networking hardware and telecommunications equipment. The CEO is not satisfied with the company’s current profitability and wants you to help them determine how to improve this.


Example #2: Acquiring a kitchen appliance manufacturer


An American manufacturer of kitchen appliances and kitchen supplies has a strong brand and has historically spent significant advertising and marketing dollars to maintain their brand. Growth has been steady, driven by product line extensions and key acquisitions of specialty item producers.


A private equity firm is considering purchasing this company. What factors would you look into to develop a recommendation on whether this acquisition should be made?


Example #3: Opening new IT service centers


Our client is a multinational software company that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations. The company has four geographic regions: North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Europe.


Recently, management wants to expand the IT services department by 200% over the next 3-5 years. They are looking to open up new service centers all over the world. How would you decide where to set up these new service centers?


Example #4: Cutting costs of road construction


A large civil engineering and road construction company has vast experiences in all types of road construction and specializes in highways and local roads paving. They have recently won a contract through a bidding process for constructing a state highway road. The price awarded at the time of bidding was $600 million.


The client realized that their total cost of the project is forecasted to be $650 million. Your consulting team has been hired to help the client make the project profitable. Where can they cut costs?


Example #5: Divestiture of personal computer division


A large manufacturer of computer hardware, software, and infrastructure services is considering selling off their personal computer division to a competitor. Should our client divest their personal computer division?


Example #6: Growing market leadership position


Your client is a large manufacturer of hard drives and data storage devices. Last year, the company had over $10 billion in revenue. While your client enjoyed rapid growth over the past few years, management is concerned about the company’s ability to maintain its market leadership position in a highly competitive market.


What should your client do to continue to grow and maintain its leading market position?


Example #7: Brand turnaround strategy


A large multinational diversified foods and consumer products company operates in over 80 countries around the world. You have been brought in as a consultant because this company has experienced stagnant market share over the past few years.


The client is losing its innovative reputation since they have been frequently adding product line extensions rather than adding new products. What are the drivers of this trend? What would you do to turn around this trend?


Example #8: Electronic home security business market entry


Our client is a multinational telecommunications company that is the largest provider of mobile telephony and fixed telephony in the United States. Recently, management of this company has become interested in diversifying into other business areas outside of telecommunications.


They are considering entering the market for electronic home security systems, such as perimeter security systems or intrusion detection systems for residential and commercial properties. Should they enter this market?


IBM Consulting Case Interview Tips


Below are six of our best tips for preparing for an IBM consulting or IBM Global Business Services case interview.


Tip #1: Start preparing early


Mastering case interviews takes time. Many of the skills and techniques needed to solve case interviews can’t be learned in just a day or in a week. Ideally, start preparing for your case interviews at least a month or two in advance to give yourself enough time to learn and practice.


Tip #2: Practice with a case partner


Practicing case interviews with a partner is the best way to simulate a real case interview. There are many aspects of case interviews that you won’t be able to work on if you are doing mock cases by yourself. Casing with a partner lets you practice your communication, presentation, and collaboration skills.


Tip #3: Keep a list of feedback from each case


You should keep a journal or log of all of the different pieces of feedback you get from your case interview partner during practice. This way, you’ll be able to identify trends and prioritize what improvement areas to focus on. For example, if you consistently receive feedback in each practice case that you need to structure your answers, that should be your top area to focus on.


Tip #4: Focus on improving one thing at a time


After doing some practice case interviews, you’ll likely have a long list of feedback and improvement areas. Try to focus on improving one thing at a time. Before each practice case, decide on the one thing that you really want to focus on and nail. This will be much more effective than trying to improve everything at once.


Tip #5: Use a hypothesis-driven approach


During the case interview, you should have a hypothesis of what the answer to the case is. A hypothesis is simply an educated guess based on the knowledge that you have. As you analyze data and gather more information, make sure to be constantly changing and refining your hypothesis.


There are two benefits to using a hypothesis to drive the direction of the case. One, it ensures that you are focusing on relevant areas that will help you solve or answer the case. Two, by the time the interviewer asks you for a recommendation, you will already have a refined hypothesis on what the answer or solution to the case should be.


Tip #6: Be 80/20


You have limited time during a case interview to solve the case. Therefore, you won’t be able to cover all of the different areas in your framework and get answers to every single question that you have. Therefore, focus on the most important issues and use the 80/20 principle.


The 80/20 principle states that 80% of the outcome comes from 20% of your effort. During a case interview, focus on the most important questions or areas that will have the biggest impact or effect on developing your answer or recommendation.


The 10 Most Common Behavioral or Fit Interview Questions


In addition to case interviews, you will likely be asked a few behavioral or fit interview questions. There are ten questions that are most commonly asked.


1. Why are you interested in working at IBM consulting or IBM Global Business Services?


How to answer: Have at least three reasons why you’re interested in working at IBM. You could mention the exciting opportunities to work with high-end technology clients such as Apple, Amazon, or Microsoft. You can also talk about IBM’s expertise in cognitive data analytics, cloud technology, and mobile app development. Finally, you can speak to IBM’s mentorship model and flexible work environment.


You can learn more about IBM’s careers in consulting on their website.


2. Why do you want to work in consulting?


How to answer: Again, have three reasons why you’re interested in consulting. You could mention the fast career growth opportunity, the opportunity to develop soft and hard skills, or the level of impact that you can make by working with large companies on their most challenging issues.


3. Walk me through your resume


How to answer: Provide a concise summary of your work experience, starting with the most recent. Focus on emphasizing your most impressive and unique accomplishments. At the end, tie your experiences to why you are interested in consulting.


4. What is your proudest achievement?


How to answer: Choose your most impressive, unique, or memorable accomplishment. Structure your answer by providing information on the situation, the task, the actions you took, and the results of your work.


5. What is something that you are proud of that is not on your resume?


How to answer: This is a great opportunity to highlight an accomplishment that is not related to your professional work experience. Perhaps there is a non-profit that you volunteer at, a side project or business that you work on, or a hobby that you have won awards or recognition for. Choose something that is impressive and interesting.


6. Tell me about a time when you led a team.


How to answer: If possible, choose a time when you directly managed a person or a team. For this question and the following questions, make sure that you structure your answer. Structure your answer by providing information on the situation, the task, the actions you took, and the results of your work. This is known as the STAR method and is commonly used to answer behavioral or fit interview questions.


7. Give an example of a time when you faced conflict or a disagreement.


How to answer: When answering this question, focus on emphasizing the steps you took to resolve the conflict or disagreement. Speak to the interpersonal skills you had to use in order to mediate the situation. Interviewers want to know that you are a great mediator and that you can handle conflict in a constructive way.


8. Tell me about a time when you had to persuade someone.


How to answer: Choose a time when you were able to change someone’s mind. Focus on emphasizing the steps that you took to persuade that person and what impact and results this had. Interviewers want to know that you are a great communicator and a good people person.


9. Describe a time when you failed.


How to answer: Choose a time when you failed to meet a deadline or did not meet expectations. Focus on emphasizing what you learned from the experience and how you used that experience to deliver even better results in the next opportunity that you got. Interviewers want to see that you don’t get discouraged from failure and that you treat those experiences as learning opportunities.


10. What questions do you have for me?


How to answer: This is a great opportunity to get to know the interviewer on a more personal level. Ask them questions about their experience in consulting or their career. Express genuine interest in what they have to show and ask follow-up questions. The more you can get the interviewer talking about themself, the more likely they will have a positive impression of you.


Recommended IBM Case Interview Prep Resources


We hope that you found this article on IBM consulting interviews helpful. If you are considering which resources to use in your case interview prep, we recommend the following:

  • One Week Case Interview Course: A comprehensive case interview course that condenses all of the case interview strategies, techniques, and practice you need into a 15 – 25 hour course. Learn through 50+ concise video lessons and 20 full-length practice cases with detailed solutions.


  • Hacking the Case Interview: In this book, learn exactly what to do and what to say in every step of the case interview. This is the perfect book for beginners that are looking to learn the basics of case interviews quickly.


  • The Ultimate Case Interview Workbook: In this book, hone your case interview skills through 65+ problems tailored towards each type of question asked in case interviews and 15 full-length cases based on real case interviews. This book is great for intermediates looking to get quality practice.