Nonprofit Case Interviews: Your Comprehensive Guide
If you are interviewing for a nonprofit consulting firm, expect to be given several case interviews, or case study interviews, during your interview process.
All of the top nonprofit consulting firms, such as Bridgespan and the McKinsey Social Initiative, use case interviews to evaluate candidates. You’ll likely need to nail every single one of your case interviews in order to receive a consulting job offer.
If you have an upcoming nonprofit case interview, we have you covered. In this article, we’ll cover in detail:
- What is a nonprofit case interview
- The 7 steps to solve any nonprofit case interview
- Nonprofit case interview examples
- Nonprofit case interview tips
- Recommended resources to prepare for your nonprofit case interview
What is a Nonprofit Case Interview?
Case interviews are a special type of interview that every single consulting firm uses. They are almost exclusively used by consulting firms, although some companies with ex-consultants may also use them.
A case interview, also known as a “case” for short, is a 30 to 45-minute exercise in which you and the interviewer work together to develop a recommendation or answer to a business problem.
For nonprofit case interviews, these business problems can be anything that a nonprofit or NGO faces:
- How can the American Red Cross increase the number of blood donors?
- How can the World Health Organization prevent future pandemic outbreaks?
- How can the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation best allocate their budget to tackle the most important and impactful public issues?
- How can the World Wildlife Fund increase general public education on sustainable vs. unsustainable food sources?
Case interviews are used by nonprofit consulting firms because they are the best way for firms to predict which candidates will make the best consultants. Case interviews do not predict this perfectly, but they come quite close.
Since case interviews simulate the consulting job by placing you in a hypothetical business situation, interviewers use case interviews to see how you would perform as a hypothetical consultant.
Many of the skills and qualities needed to successfully complete a case interview are the same skills and qualities needed to successfully finish a consulting case project. These skills and qualities include:
- Logical, structured thinking: Consultants need to be organized and methodical in order to work efficiently.
- Analytical problem solving: Consultants work with a tremendous amount of data and information in order to develop recommendations to complex problems.
- Business acumen: A strong business instinct helps consultants make the right decisions and develop the right recommendations.
- Communication skills: Consultants need strong communication skills to collaborate with teammates and clients effectively.
- Personality and cultural fit: Consultants spend a lot of time working closely in small teams. Having a personality and attitude that fits with the team makes the whole team work better together.
Case interviews also give you a sense of whether you would like the consulting job. If you find case interviews interesting and exciting, you’ll likely enjoy consulting. If you find case interviews dull and boring, consulting may not be the best profession for you.
The 7 Steps to Solve Any Nonprofit Case Interview
Although you cannot predict the exact case interview question or business situation you’ll be given, almost all case interviews follow a similar structure or flow. Therefore, you can follow these seven steps to solve any nonprofit consulting 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.
Nonprofit Case Interview Examples
Below, we’ve compiled all of the nonprofit case interview practice cases and examples that we could find from the top consulting firms. You can work through these cases to practice your case interview skills and identify improvement opportunities.
- (McKinsey) Diconsa case: This case focuses on deciding whether to leverage a chain of convenience stores to deliver basic financial services to inhabitants of rural Mexico.
- (McKinsey) National Education case: This case focuses on helping an Eastern European country’s Department of Education improve their school system.
- (Deloitte) Finance strategy case: This case focuses on helping a Federal Health Agency manage the financial activities related to eliminating Ebola.
- (Bridgespan) Home Nurses for New Families case: This case focuses on helping a nurse home visitation program develop a strategy for growth.
- (Bridgespan) Reach for the Stars case: This case focuses on helping a national initiative focused on improving student success in community colleges develop a strategy for growth.
- (Bridgespan) Robinson Philanthropy case: This case focuses on helping a philanthropy group develop a strategy for selecting organizations to give multi-year, multi-million dollar grants.
- (Bridgespan) Venture Philanthropy case: This case focuses on helping a charity group select opportunities for high-impact philanthropy.
For the first McKinsey case above, we’ve provided a full video walkthrough of how to solve the case. This should give you a clear idea of how to put the case interview strategies we’ve outlined to practice.
Nonprofit Case Interview Tips
Below, we’ve provided six of our best case interview tips to help you better prepare for your upcoming nonprofit case interviews.
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: Be consistent with what strategies you use
Whichever strategies you decide on using for case interviews, make sure that you are consistent in using them. The more you use the same strategies, the better and more comfortable you will get using them. On interview day, you’ll have confidence that these strategies will help you nail your case interviews.
Tip #3: 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 #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: 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.
Tip #6: Be enthusiastic
During the interview, display enthusiasm. This not only makes the interview more fun and interesting for the interviewer, but it also demonstrates that you are passionate about consulting and working at the firm. Interviewers want to hire candidates that love their job and work hard. Displaying enthusiasm is an indicator for these characteristics.
Recommended Resources to Prepare for Your Nonprofit Case Interview
We hope that you found this article on nonprofit case 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.