There are two main types of case interviews: interviewer led and interviewee led.
It is important to understand the difference between these two formats so that you know how to prepare for each of them.
Strategies that work well in an interviewer led case may not work as well in an interviewee led case and vice versa.
In this article, we’ll cover the similarities and differences of an interviewer led case interview vs. an interviewee led case interview and exactly how to prepare for each.
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.
What is an Interviewer Led Case Interview?
An interviewer led case interview is a format where the interviewer leads the entire case interview - presenting the business case problem, asking the candidate a series of specific questions, and controlling the direction and pace of the case.
An interviewer led case interview is also known as a command-and-control style case interview.
The defining characteristic of an interviewer led case interview is that there is much more guidance and direction provided by the interviewer throughout the process.
Candidates typically do not need to think through what the next step of the case interview is because the interviewer will often jump in and ask a specific question for the candidate to look into and answer next.
Once that question is answered, the interviewer will jump in again and direct the candidate to look into and answer another question.
In other words, the interviewer has a specific list of questions that they will ask the candidate to talk through and answer.
The candidate does not have much say, if any, in what questions they want to look into and answer. This has already been decided by the interviewer.
Here is an example of what an interviewer led case interview looks and sounds like.
What is an Interviewee Led Case Interview?
An interviewee led case interview is a format where the candidate is expected to lead the case – identifying what areas to look into, proposing next steps, and driving the overall direction and pace of the case.
Interviewee led case interviews are also known as candidate led case interviews.
The defining characteristic of an interviewee led case interview is that candidates are expected to identify the next step in the case interview throughout the entire case. The interviewer will be providing much less direction.
For interviewee led case interviews, the interviewer does not have a specific list of questions to ask the candidate.
Instead, the candidate is expected to choose the right questions to answer based on their hypothesis or business intuition.
The interviewer in an interviewee led case interview can still provide guidance and support, but they will not be doing this proactively. The interviewer will only step in and take more control of the case if the candidate is not going down the right direction.
Here is an example of what an interviewee led case interview looks and sounds like.
Interviewer Led vs. Interviewee Led Case Interview Similarities
Interviewer led and interviewee led case interviews have many similarities:
1. The steps in the case interview are the same
Although the format of the case interview is different, 80% of what each type of case interview entails is the same.
As with any case interview, you’ll be expected to:
- Structure a framework
- Solve quantitative problems
- Answer qualitative questions
- Deliver a recommendation
You’ll go through the exact same steps of a case interview for both an interviewer led and candidate led case.
2. The case interview is still a collaborative discussion
Remember that just because it is an interviewee led case interview, the case interview is meant to be a collaborative discussion. You’ll be interacting with the interviewer to bounce ideas off of them, get feedback, and get tips or guidance if you get stuck.
3. You should still develop and have a hypothesis
Just because a case interview is interviewer led does not mean that you should be letting the interviewer do all the thinking.
Just as you would in an interviewee led case, you should develop a working hypothesis of what you think the answer to the case is. As the case interview goes on, you should be refining your hypothesis according to the new pieces of information.
4. The interviewer will still provide some guidance
If you get stuck or need help, the interviewer will provide guidance in both formats of case interviews, even in interviewee led case interviews.
So, don’t feel like you are on your own if you are in an interviewee led case interview!
Interviewer Led vs. Interviewee Led Differences
These are the major differences between interviewer led and interviewee led case interviews:
1. You will need to be more proactive in an interviewee led case interview
You cannot take a passive approach in an interviewee led case interview. Do not wait for the interviewer to tell you what you should be doing next because they won’t.
Once you finish answering a question or exploring an area of your framework, summarize the key takeaways and implications for your answer. Then, propose the next question to answer or area of your framework to look into.
2. You will need to follow directions more in an interviewer led case interview
In an interviewer led case interview, you’ll be assessed more on how you work with others and follow directions.
So, make sure you are doing what the interviewer is telling you to do. This is not the time to be deviating from the path that the interviewer has set for you.
You will not be earning more interview points for trying to be unique or different by not listening to what the interviewer has to say.
3. You will need to check in with the interviewer more in an interviewee led case interview
In an interviewee led case interview, you’ll want to run through your plan or proposed next step with the interviewer every time. This ensures that you are going down the right path.
If you don’t check in with the interviewer by asking them for feedback on your thoughts or approach, you may be going down a path that leads to a dead end.
4. You will need to listen more in an interviewee led case interview
In an interviewee led case interview, you’ll need to practice active listening much more. Try to pick up on subtle clues or guidance from the interviewer.
Do you think they approve of your approach or proposed next step? Does their face show signs of confusion? Or do they look like they are in agreement with what you are doing.
How to Prepare for Interviewer Led Case Interviews?
To prepare for interviewer led case interviews, you should strengthen your skill set in the core skills required for a case interview:
- Develop a structured approach: Establish a framework for analyzing cases that works for you. Having a structured approach will help you stay organized and ensure you cover all relevant aspects of the problem.
- Develop strong quantitative skills: Practice mental math techniques and estimation skills to quickly perform calculations without a calculator.
- Develop strong business acumen: Enhance your understanding of business concepts and frameworks. Familiarize yourself with common business terminology and be prepared to apply them in your analysis.
- Enhance critical thinking skills: Engage in activities that stimulate your critical thinking abilities. Solve puzzles, read analytical articles, and engage in debates to enhance your ability to think critically under pressure.
- Hone your communication skills: Practice presenting your findings and solutions in a clear and concise manner. Pay attention to your delivery, body language, and use of supporting evidence.
Make sure you are doing mock interviews with peers or mentors to simulate the interviewer led format. Receive feedback and work on improving your weaknesses.
Interviewer led case interviews are much easier to practice because don’t need to have a case partner. You can work through practice cases on your own to simulate an interviewer led case interview.
For more practice, check out our article on 23 MBA consulting casebooks with 700+ free practice cases.
How to Prepare for Interviewee Led Case Interviews?
In addition to all of the skills you’ll need to hone for interviewer led case interviews, you’ll also need to practice additional skills for an interviewee led case interview:
- Practice independent problem-solving: Work on solving case problems without relying on guidance or hints from others. Challenge yourself to structure your approach and analyze the problem independently.
- Hone iterative problem-solving: Interviewee led cases often involve iteration. Share your preliminary findings with the interviewer and discuss how these insights impact your next steps. This collaborative approach showcases your adaptability.
- Practice narrating your thought process: Talk through your thought process as you work through the case. Describe your hypotheses, the rationale behind your analysis, and any decisions you make. This gives the interviewer insight into your analytical skills.
- Practice asking for feedback during the case: Periodically check in with the interviewer to ensure you're on the right track. This not only demonstrates your willingness to collaborate but also allows you to correct any misunderstandings early on.
- Seek permission to proceed: After outlining your structure, ask the interviewer for permission to proceed. This demonstrates respect for their input and ensures you're aligned before delving into the analysis.
- Practice creativity: Since you're leading the case, feel free to explore creative analysis paths and frameworks. Demonstrate your ability to think beyond conventional methods and adapt your approach to the situation.
- Practice time management: Learn to manage your time effectively during case interviews. Develop strategies to allocate time proportionally to different stages of the problem-solving process.
- Practice controlling the pace: As the interviewee, you control the pace of the case. Don't rush, and avoid being overly slow. Strike a balance that allows you to cover all necessary aspects while maintaining engagement.
Again, ensure that you are doing mock case interviews to simulate the interviewee led format. Keep track of your weaknesses and focus on improving them one at a time.
How to Navigate Hybrid Interview Formats?
In some case interviews, interviewers may employ a hybrid format that combines elements of both interviewer led and interviewee led case interviews.
This format challenges candidates to adapt to different scenarios and switch between leading and following.
Here are some tips to navigate hybrid case interview formats:
- Pay attention to instructions: Listen carefully to the instructions given by the interviewer to understand the expectations of the format.
- Be flexible: Adapt your approach depending on whether you are leading or following. Take cues from the interviewer and adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Communicate effectively: Clearly articulate your thoughts and ideas to ensure that both you and the interviewer are on the same page. Practice active listening to gauge the interviewer's expectations.
- Stay calm under pressure: Hybrid case interviews can be demanding, so it's important to stay composed and focused throughout the process. Take a moment to gather your thoughts if needed.
- Showcase adaptability: Emphasize your ability to switch between different roles and work effectively in different formats. Demonstrate your versatility to the interviewer.
If you are unsure whether you should be following or leading, it is better to assume that you are leading. This shows that you are proactive and not passive.
However, if you feel that the interviewer is fighting you for control, back off and let them take the reins.
It is not ideal to lead the case if the interviewer is expecting you to follow. This may suggest that you are not a team player and difficult to work with.
Recommended Case Interview Resources
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.
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- 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