I went through consulting recruiting for the first time my senior year at UT for a full-time job, and I had no idea how to begin prepping for “case interviews”. Case interviews are a type of interview common with consulting firms where the interviewer posits a hypothetical question that requires logic, eloquence, mathematical calculations, and some business knowledge to solve. But case interviews to me meant something so intimidating, it made me want to hide every time the thought remotely crossed my mind. Thankfully, I had a lot of help from supportive friends who had previously gone through the process, and now I want to pass on the things that worked for me in the hopes that these tips will make casing a little less intimidating. Although I started casing a bit “late”(in that I had 2 months to learn how to case interview before my first real interview), I made it to the final round interviews for Accenture, BCG, Deloitte, and EY and walked away with two offers. With that being said, it would have been beneficial had I started about a month earlier, but there’s still a lot you can do with only 2 months.
- Don’t be discouraged by high learning curves and rough beginnings. Thinking back to my first practice case makes me cringe at how much I struggled; a friend who practice-interviewed me practically carried me through bit by bit because I had no sense of how to start, carry, or finish the case. To remedy this, I watched countless youtube videos of people casing well, and I gave case interviews to friends who showed me what a good case answer looked like. If you’re not a business major, it’s a good idea to self-teach certain concepts such as variable costs, fixed costs, and pricing structures. Also, note that the real case interview will flow much more smoothly than the practice cases with your friends, because recruiters know how to give cases (since it’s part of their job).
- Set up a schedule and take all the opportunities to practice. Find a supportive group of people who will give you brutally honest feedback when casing each other. Balance your schedule to find time to practice a little bit every day, which is a lot more helpful in terms of improvement than dedicating a 6 hour block over the weekend. There are so many ways to get practice in –whether it’s reaching out to recent graduates to case you over the phone, setting up a framework by yourself, or casing with friends. Sayli and I actually spent a 3 hour drive back to Dallas talking through fermi and market sizing problems. It was really nerdy of us but it did get me comfortable with tackling problems that would initially make me draw blanks (how would I know how many golf balls fit inside an airplane?!).
- Practice smart. Researchers in a study found that among a university, the”elite” violinists and “average” violinists practiced the same number of hours. The only difference that separated the two groups was that the “elite” group practiced deliberately. The notion of deliberate practice, as mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, HBR, and other research studies, is focusing on areas beyond your comfort and competence. When you apply this idea to case practice, it means casing with live feedback and starting over to correct the mistake, trouble shooting weak areas, and not getting too comfortable with cases done right. For example, I was terrible at mental math and my disorganized notes made it worse. However, you don’t have to be good at mental math as long as you get good at explaining your math. I would literally verbalize ” ..5o cars at a price of $15,000 per car gets us to…(okay, 5 x 5 is 25, carry over the 2, bring down the 0..) $750,000 in yearly sales revenue..” while making sure my decimals and zeroes were lined up. Whenever someone gave me a challenging case, I made sure to give that to someone else, because it helped me learn different ways to approach the problem and identify areas in which I needed to improve. You learn just as much practicing a case as you do giving a case. Lastly, practice with different people because everyone notices different things and may give you some very insightful, different feedback.
- Use frameworks as tools, not crutches. Frameworks are great tools to help map out an initial plan on how you’ll explore the problem, especially when the case question is vague such as “I want to start a smoothie shop on campus, how do I do it?”. Frameworks can really help drill your idea and organize the process by helping you be comprehensive when solving the case. However, some cases are designed to not be able to fit into any frameworks, so you’ll need to be comfortable coming up with categories that make the most logical sense. For example in this creative case, it’s hard to solve the case with a structure other than the following three column categorizations: “flower shop”, “bakery”, and “chandelier store”. Interviewers are testing to see that you’re using your own logic and creativity to solve the problem rather than a checklist. However, if you do use a framework, make sure to at least customize it to fit the problem (rather than “x revenue – y cost = z profit”, say something closer to”total sales of $x from reaching new millennials, minus the $y costs from both property maintenance and raw materials will result in an annual profit of $z”, for example).
In the end, the goal of case practice is less about becoming “good” at case interviews and more about building good habits that carry you through. To help with the nerves, relax during your case by imagining that you’ve already gotten the job and are solving a problem for a current client (your interviewer). If you’re new, best of luck 🙂 and if you’re experienced, tell me what worked best for you in a comment below!
Some feedback I’ve both given and received throughout the process:
- Eye contact
- After you’ve been given the problem, always sum up the background information just to let the interviewer know you’re on the same page (even if there’s nothing you need to clarify)
- Always ask for time to map out how you’ll dive into the problem
- Tell the interviewer what you’re going to do before you start
- Drive the case with ideas rather than questions
- Come up with many, many ideas; don’t be afraid to push the envelope in creativity with open-ended qualitative questions like “what should we do with the extra space?”
- Answer and explain with confidence
- Not everything they give you in the case question is relevant, sometimes you’ll actually get the answer wrong if you use all the information.
- Give a concise summary in no more than 2 sentences that ties back to the original problem and mentions potential risks (just don’t rehash your calculations!)
- Don’t forget about behavioral (Why consulting, why our firm, tell me about yourself)