What is a Case Interview? A Comprehensive Explanation
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.
These business problems can be anything that real companies face:
- How can Amazon increase its profitability?
- What can Apple do to increase customer retention?
- How should Tesla price its new electric vehicle?
- Where should Disney open another Disneyland theme park?
Case interviews simulate what the consulting job will be like by placing you in a hypothetical business situation. Cases simulate real business problems that consulting firms solve for their clients. Many case interviews are based on actual projects that interviewers have worked on.
While consulting projects typically last between 3 to 9 months, case interviews condense solving the business problem into just 30 to 45 minutes.
Nailing your case interviews is critical to breaking into consulting. There is no way to get a consulting job offer without passing your case interviews.
What do Case Interviews Cover?
Case interviews can cover any industry, including retail, consumer packaged goods, financial services, energy, education, healthcare, government, and technology.
They can also cover a wide range of business situations, including entering a new market, launching a new product, acquiring a company, improving profitability, and growing revenues.
Although case interviews cover a wide range of industries and business situations, no technical or specialized knowledge is needed.
Unless you are interviewing for a consulting firm that specializes in a particular industry or function, cases are designed to be solved by someone that has general business knowledge.
With enough practice and repetition, anyone can master case interviews.
What is the Format of a Case Interview?
Although there is a wide range of different cases you could be asked to solve, all case interviews follow the same progression.
The interviewer will provide you with the case background information. You’ll have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and verify the objective of the case. Next, you’ll create a framework to solve the case.
Afterwards, you’ll start exploring different areas of your framework to develop support for a recommendation. Along the way, you’ll solve quantitative problems and answer qualitative questions.
Quantitative problems may include estimating the size of a particular market, calculating expected profitability, or interpreting data in various charts, graphs, and tables.
Qualitative questions may include brainstorming ideas or giving your opinion on an open-ended business question based on your business acumen.
Finally, once you have gone through the major areas of the case, you’ll deliver a recommendation at the end of the case interview.
Why are Case Interviews Used?
Why do consulting firms use case interviews to assess candidates?
Case interviews are the best way for consulting 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.
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.
What Qualities do Case Interviews Assess?
Case interviews assess five different qualities or characteristics.
Logical, structured thinking: Consultants need to be organized and methodical in order to work efficiently.
- Can you structure complex problems in a clear, simple way?
- Can you take tremendous amounts of information and data and identify the most important points?
- Can you use logic and reason to make appropriate conclusions?
Analytical problem solving: Consultants work with a tremendous amount of data and information in order to develop recommendations to complex problems.
- Can you read and interpret data well?
- Can you perform math computations smoothly and accurately?
- Can you conduct the right analyses to draw the right conclusions?
Business acumen: A strong business instinct helps consultants make the right decisions and develop the right recommendations.
- Do you have a basic understanding of fundamental business concepts?
- Do your conclusions and recommendations make sense from a business perspective?
Communication skills: Consultants need strong communication skills to collaborate with teammates and clients effectively.
- Can you communicate in a clear, concise way?
- Are you articulate in what you are saying?
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.
- Are you coachable and easy to work with?
- Are you pleasant to be around?
All of these five qualities can be assessed in just a 30 to 45-minute case interview. This is what makes case interviews so effective in assessing consulting candidates.
Differences Between Case Interviews and Typical Job Interviews
A case interview is a special type of interview that is very difficult from your typical job interview. It takes time and practice to adjust to the case interview style and format.
Below are five key differences you should be aware of between case interviews and typical job interviews.
Case interviews focus on one big question.
In most job interviews, you may answer six to eight different questions in a single interview, spending a few minutes on each. For case interviews, you’ll spend 30 to 45-minutes solving one case and answering one big question.
Case interviews may be broken down into several smaller questions that you’ll need to answer, but the overall focus is to answer one overall question.
Case interviews are a collaborative conversation.
In a typical job interview, the interviewer will ask you a question, you’ll answer it, and then this sequence will repeat. Case interviews feel much less like an interview and much more like a collaborative working session.
For a case interview, rather than just answering the interviewer’s questions, you’ll be working closely with the interviewer. You’ll ask them questions to collect information, walk them through what you’re thinking, and get feedback from them on your approach.
You will not be able to pass the case interview without the interviewer’s help and feedback.
There is no one correct answer.
At the end of a case interview, you’ll deliver a recommendation to solve or answer the business problem you were given. Some recommendations may be better than others, but there is no one single correct answer.
Case interviews can be solved in a variety of different ways. Data and information can also be interpreted in many different ways. People’s opinions on business issues will also be different.
Due to all of these differences, there is a wide range of potential recommendations or answers. As long as these answers are supported with data or evidence, they can be acceptable answers.
The process matters more than the answer.
In the typical job interview, interviewers assess you primarily on your answers. However, because case interviews do not have one correct answer, interviewers focus more on assessing you on the process.
How did you go about solving the case interview?
Did you use a logical, structured framework to break the overall problem down into smaller, more manageable components? Did you generate meaningful insights from solving quantitative problems? Did you draw appropriate conclusions from answering qualitative questions?
The overall process of solving the case interview is much more important than just the answer that you get at the end.
Case interviews require no specialized knowledge or experience.
In most job interviews, you are applying to work in a specific industry or for a specific function. During the interview, interviewers want to see that you have this specific knowledge and experience.
Consulting is completely different because most consulting roles are generalist roles in which you do not specialize in an industry or function. Specialization in consulting occurs as you become more senior.
In case interviews, you will not be expected to have specialized knowledge. Instead, only basic business knowledge is needed of fundamental concepts such as profit, market share, and competitive advantage.
Types of Case Interview Formats
Traditional Case Interview
The traditional case interview is the format that accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all case interviews. It is the format we have covered so far in which you and the interviewer work together to develop a recommendation or answer to a business problem.
The traditional case interview starts with the interviewer explaining the case background information to you. The case interview ends after you have delivered your recommendation to the interviewer.
There are two styles of traditional case interviews, candidate-led case interviews and interviewer-led case interviews.
- Candidate-led case interviews: You will be driving the direction of the case. You will propose what area of your framework to start in, what questions you would want to answer, what analyses you would want to do, and what the next step is to solve the case. If you go down the wrong direction, the interviewer will steer you back on course, but you ultimately decide what to do next.
- Interviewer-led case interviews: The interviewer will be steering and controlling the direction of the case. The interviewer will point you to which questions to answer, what analyses to do, and what the next step is to solve the case.
Written Case Interview
Written case interviews are much less common than traditional case interviews.
For written case interviews, you will be given a packet of information at the beginning of the interview. This packet usually has between 20 to 40 pages of graphs, charts, tables, and notes. You’ll be given information on the case background and the objective of the case.
In some written case interviews, you may also be given a list of important questions to answer. In other written case interviews, you’ll only be given the primary business problem you are asked to answer.
You’ll then have 1 to 2 hours to analyze the information packet and then make 3 to 5 slides to present your analysis and recommendation to the interviewer.
In some written case interviews, you’ll have to create these slides completely from scratch. In other written case interviews, you’ll have pre-filled slide templates that you will fill out with your analysis and work.
For written case interviews, you’ll be working by yourself. The interviewer will leave the room to let you work and then return when time is up to hear your presentation. During the presentation, the interviewer may ask follow-up questions on your work and findings.
Group Case Interview
Group case interviews are also much less common than traditional case interviews.
For group case interviews, you’ll be put into a group of 3 to 6 people with other candidates that are also interviewing for the same consulting job you are interviewing for. The group will be given materials which contain the case background, objective, and all of the information needed to solve the case.
You’ll then have 1 to 2 hours to work together as a group to create a slide presentation that summarizes your work and recommendation.
During this time, the interviewer will be listening in on the discussions and conversations that the group will have, but they will not interfere or answer any questions.
Once the time is up, your group will deliver your presentation to the interviewer, who may also ask follow-up questions on the work and findings.
For group case interviews, there is a heavy emphasis on assessing how well you work in a team. Consultants spend almost all of their time working closely in small teams, so teamwork and collaboration are essential.
Interviewers will assess you on criteria such as the following:
- Can you make meaningful contributions while working in a group?
- Are you easy to work with?
- Can you handle conflict and disagreement with teammates?
- Do you bring out the best ideas and qualities in other people?
Types of Case Interview Business Situations
By now, you should know that case interviews cover a wide variety of industries and functions. However, there are six common case interview business situations that account for over 80% of all case interviews.
There is a very high chance that you’ll see these types of case interviews in your first-round and final-round consulting interviews.
Profitability case interviews
Profitability cases ask you to identify why a company is experiencing a decline in profitability and what they should do to address it. This is the most common business situation for case interviews.
To solve these types of cases, you’ll need to understand quantitatively, what is the driver causing the decline in profits? You will need to determine whether revenues have gone down, costs have gone up, or both have occurred.
Afterwards, you’ll need to understand why this is happening. Once you understand this, you can brainstorm potential ideas and prioritize the solutions that are the most impactful and feasible to implement.
Market entry case interviews
Market entry cases ask you to determine whether a company should enter a new market. This is the second most common business situation for case interviews.
To make this decision, you’ll need to assess whether the market is attractive, how strong competitors are, whether your company has the capabilities to enter, and what the expected profitability is.
Growth case interviews
Growth cases ask you to determine how a company can best increase its revenues.
To solve this case, you’ll need to identify all of the major ways the company can grow.
Should the company grow organically by targeting new geographies or customer segments? Should they grow by launching new products and services?
Instead, should the company grow inorganically by acquiring or forming a partnership with another company?
Once you have identified all of the major opportunities for growth, you can prioritize the opportunities that are the most impactful and feasible.
Pricing case interviews
Pricing cases ask you to determine how to set the optimal price on a product or service. To do this, you’ll need to consider different factors.
How much does the product cost to produce? You don’t want to price the product too low such that you have a loss on each sale.
How much are customers willing to pay for the product? You don’t want to price the product too high such that no customer is willing to purchase your product.
How much are competitors setting prices for similar products? You don’t want to price the product too high such that customers choose to purchase competitor products.
Considering each of these points will help you determine the right price to set.
Merger and acquisition case interviews
Merger and acquisition cases ask you to determine whether a particular company should be acquired.
To solve this case, you’ll first need to understand what the reason is for the acquisition. In most cases, the company will be looking to grow its revenues and profits.
Then, you’ll need to assess whether the market that the acquisition target plays in is attractive, whether the acquisition target itself is attractive, whether there will be any meaningful synergies, and whether the financials of the acquisition make sense.
These considerations will help you determine whether the acquisition should be made.
New product case interviews
New product cases ask you to determine whether a company should create and launch a particular new product.
To solve this case, you’ll need to assess whether the product’s market is attractive, whether the product meets customer needs, whether the product is superior to competitor products, whether the company has the capabilities to create and launch the product, and what the expected profitability is.
These considerations will help you make a smart and informed decision.
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