How to Crush Your Public Sector Consulting Case Interview
If you’re interviewing for a public sector or government consulting firm, expect to be given several case interviews, or case study interviews, during your interview process.
A case interview is a special type of interview that nearly every single consulting firm uses, including public sector consulting firms. Examples of firms with strong public sector consulting practices include: Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, Accenture, McKinsey, BCG, and Bridgespan.
Case interviews simulate the consulting job by placing you in a hypothetical business situation in which you are asked to solve a challenging problem. These interviews usually last between 30 to 45 minutes. Throughout the case, you’ll be working closely with your interviewer towards developing a recommendation or answer to the business problem.
Case interviews are so widely used by consulting firms because they can assess so many of the qualities needed to become successful consultants. An interviewer can gauge your analytical capabilities, business acumen, communication skills, and cultural fit with the firm all through a single case interview.
If you have an upcoming case interview at a public sector or government consulting firm, we have you covered. In this article, we’ll cover:
- Essential public sector knowledge you should know
- The 7 steps to solve any public sector consulting case
- Public sector consulting case interview examples
- Public sector consulting case interview tips
- Recommended resources to prepare for your case interview
Essential Public Sector Knowledge You Should Know
Public sector consulting is focused on helping government agencies at a local, state, or federal level solve operational or strategic challenges. Public sector consulting may also include helping non-profit entities.
According to Bain, government spending now represents about 20 percent of the $60 trillion total global economy. There are eight major categories within public sector consulting:
- Cities and infrastructure: Developing cities and infrastructure that are economically and socially sustainable
- Education: Delivering sustained gains in learning outcomes at all levels of education
- Defense and security: Helping defense ministries, national security, and public safety organizations address their most pressing challenges
- Global public health: Addressing urgent public health challenges and improving health outcomes
- Economic development: Designing and implementing economic development, job creation, and economic growth strategies
- Public finance: Transforming the financial management practices of ministries of finance and government agencies to create new opportunities and growth
- Climate action: Driving technology and economic transformations to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment
- Philanthropy: Helping foundations, individual philanthropists, and companies amplify their social impact and achieve systematic change
Some examples of public sector consulting engagements include:
- (Accenture) Helping the National Park Foundation develop immersive digital tools to attract younger visitors to national parks
- (Accenture) Working with the Department of Education to improve the experience of taking out and paying back student loans
- (McKinsey) Advancing childhood literacy in Brazil
- (McKinsey) Boosting agricultural productivity in North Africa
Before your public sector consulting interview, we recommend that you research previous work that the consulting firm you are interviewing for has done. This will give you a good idea of what types of case interview questions and topics you could get on your interview day.
The 7 Steps to Solve Any Public Sector Consulting Case
Follow these seven steps to solve any public sector 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.
Public Sector Consulting Case Interview Examples
Below, we’ve compiled all of the public sector practice cases and examples that we could find from the top consulting firms. These cases will be particularly helpful for you to practice your case interview skills and identify potential areas for improvement.
- (McKinsey) Diconsa case: Public sector case focused on deciding whether to leverage a chain of convenience stores to deliver basic financial services to inhabitants of rural Mexico.
- (McKinsey) National Education case: Another public sector case focused on helping an Eastern European country’s Department of Education improve their school system.
- (Deloitte) Finance strategy case: Public sector case focused on helping a Federal Health Agency manage the financial activities related to eliminating Ebola.
- (Roland Berger) Transit-oriented development case: This profitability case focuses on helping a local public transit operator improve its profits. This case is split into two videos, part one and part two.
- (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.
See below for a video that walks through solving the first McKinsey case listed above. This video will give you a more clear idea of how to implement the case interview strategies mentioned in this article.
Public Sector Consulting Case Interview Tips
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.
Recommended Resources to Prepare for Your Case Interview
We hope that you found this article on public sector consulting 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.