We tutor hundreds of MBA students every year in finance, accounting, statistics, economics, etc and end up getting asked about their case interviews since some of our tutors have worked in management consulting. Having answered questions on management consulting case interviews numerous times, we have put together our list of top 10 management consulting case interview tips.
1. LIVE case interview practice
Live case interview practice did not appear at #1 in our top 10 case interview tips by accident! Lack of practice is the most frequently cited reason for failure in management consulting interviews. “I have conducted countless consulting interview workshops at top business schools and always stress the importance of case interview practice. Unfortunately it falls on deaf ears!” says a recruiter from a top management consulting firm. “We recruit from the top institutes around the world and our applicant pool consists of some of the brightest candidates. You need to be at the top of your game to succeed in consulting interviews.”
I also want to stress on the LIVE portion of this top 10 case interview tip. It is good but not sufficient to practice from books or websites. You need to practice live with a partner. This type of case preparation is closer to the real case interview. You will improve on your delivery aspect of the case interview. A few ways to do it:
- Case interview practice partner: Find friends interested in management consulting to practice case interviews with. Conduct case interviews for them and have them conduct case interviews for you. You learn what it is like to be on the other side of the table and learn from your case interview partner’s mistakes.
- Your career center: Most career centers will assist you in case interview preparation by having professionals or industry executives conduct mock interviews for their students. If they do not offer any practice services, have them contact us and we can provide the required case practice.
- Professionals in practice: Request management consultants to interview you using the case interview format and give you feedback on your performance.
2. Organize your notes well
Consulting cases contain lots of data and facts. Well organized case interview notes help in multiple ways:
Case interview notes help capture key pieces of information. Usually this information is critical in cracking the consulting case interview. Putting down the case information in an organized manner minimizes the chances of missing key links while working through the consulting case interview.
Organized case interview notes also help the interviewee structure the approach to cracking the case and also helps the interviewee communicate his/her thoughts in a structured manner to the case interviewer. Interviewers are evaluating the interviewee’s thinking process. It is insufficient for the interviewee to think clearly – the thought process (hopefully a logical one) must be communicated to the interviewer. Learning how to take good notes in an organized manner is critical.
3. Ask probing questions
Case interviews test the questioning skills of candidates. Asking questions that bring out information required to solve a consulting case is a daily task in management consulting. The case interview format tests questioning skills. Don’t hesitate to ask all your questions. Interviewers do not reveal all the information unless asked for. No question is considered out of bounds although questions must be phrased in a professional manner.
4. Listen (vs. hearing)
I call this “listening with your brains!” Many interviewees come prepared with a set of questions for the different types of cases. As soon as the case begins, they start shooting questions almost as if the answer does not matter! Make sure you understand the implications of an answer. Use follow-on questions in response to the interviewer’s answers. Often interviewers answer questions in a manner that leads you down the right path.
5. Take time to think
Take time to think about the case and the information available. You could say some thing like “Please give me a minute to structure my approach” or “Please give me a minute to organize my notes”. It is not only accepted but usually viewed favorably by most case interviewers. Use this time to organize your notes and structure your approach to the case at hand.
6. Structure your approach (frameworks can help in this process)
In consulting practice, a live case is broken down into smaller pieces. These pieces are called modules or projects or assignments or tasks. Once you have pertinent case information break down the case into smaller units. For example if your case involves profitability of a new venture, the high level modules can be revenues and costs. The costs can be broken down into fixed costs and variable costs. Variable costs can be salaries, inputs and overheads, etc. Frameworks usually help identify different areas that you can explore.
After you have thought through the case and structured your approach, you are ready to crack your case. Ensure that your interviewer is on the same page throughout the case. Thinking aloud will help communicate your approach. “This is how I am going to tackle this case: First, I will review customer dynamics. Second, I will analyze competition…… Finally, I will ……and end with my recommendations ” It is also a good idea to confirm that your approach is sound by asking a professionally worded question such as, “Do you have any suggestions about this approach or shall I proceed with the case?”
8. Make assumptions (but test them first with the case interviewer)
Consulting case interviews are conducted in a limited time frame. You will not have all the facts and will have to rely on assumptions in many cases to crack the case. The golden rule here is to inform the interviewer about the assumption and confirm that your assumption is good. This way the interviewer is on the same page as you and can correct you if you are going down the wrong path.
9. Connect with your interviewers.
Your interviewers are human beings. Look people in the eye. This shows confidence. Smile! Be happy. Be pleasant. Your interviewers are making judgments about your skills and abilities. The first and the last few minutes of a consulting interview are usually not focused on the case interview. Use this time to build a rapport with the interviewer. If you do this you will have an edge over others. No rules here – use your intuition. (also read more about the “airport test”).
This is critical for case interviews. Conclude your consulting case interview with findings and recommendations. Use leading words like “to summarize…” or “in conclusion…..”. Even if you have not been able to finish your case completely, summarize what you have reviewed and what your conclusions are so far. Also indicate what else you will want to explore.
We hope these tips give you success in your management consulting case interviews. Do let us know if we can be of assistance with you case interview preparation. Our tutors with experience recruiting for management consulting firms can conduct mock interviews for you giving you valuable practice and actionable feedback and to polish your case interview skills and increase your chance of success.