How to tackle the case interview

After the previous blog-post by Vibeke on how to successfully complete a job-interview, the first interview round was a walk in the park for you. You remained composed and pulled off your best performance. After a few days you receive the phone call you’ve been waiting for «Congratulations, you are through to the second round. This time you will be presented a case for you to solve. Good luck!». You feel the panic and anxiety slowly creeping on. Luckily for you, you are smart enough to follow up on the blog job-guide and found your way to reading this blog-post.

The business case has been a natural part of the interview process for as long as history can tell within the consultancy industry. But why is that? A business case is a preview to the life of a consultant. You are faced with a «real» problem, which you have to solve with the information that has been made available. This trend is spreading to other industries, as more and more businesses are including the business case in their interview processes in order to select their new prodigies. The reason can be explained by the business case wide range of favourable attributes  when uncovering and identifying qualities in the candidate, such as structuring information, asking important (and relevant) questions, identifying problems, reasoning and justification, making rational assumptions, time management, and last but not least, presenting your solutions and recommendations. These are important qualities in many positions- not just within consultancy!

So how can you best prepare for a case-interview?  In this blog-post we have gathered the most valuable suggestions that we, as management trainees, have identified and experienced when we applying for jobs. However, before you show up to the interview there are a few proactive measurements you can take. Most importantly is to become familiar, and knowledgeable, with the company that you are applying for. What is its core business? Organizational structure? Main strategy? Within what industry(ies) are they active? Customers? Competitors? Opportunities? These might be seen as obvious aspects, but way too few acknowledge their importance. And remember there are many generic tools on which analysis of these aspects can be performed but our best tip is to study the annual report- and while you are doing so, noting down a few key ratios could prove fruitful. In addition, since you will most likely be presented a contemporary and highly relevant case (you see, companies are not stupid- getting free insights from potential candidates is a great way to get fresh perspectives on a current problem) it could be advantageous to prepare by thinking of such potential issues on beforehand.

When eventually being presented with the case it is crucial to consider what the interviewer is actually asking for. This might sound obvious but the worst thing you can do is to jump too fast to the wrong conclusions or try to force fit the problem into an already made up framework or solution that does not apply.  Take some time to organize your thoughts and try to state the identified issues loudly in order to confirm that it is relevant and align with the question asked.

Once the issue has been identified it also needs to be carefully defined. The key to a good problem definition, and consequently a good case solution, is ensuring that you deal with the real problem – not its symptoms. Not every problem is an actual problem, and not every problem is its own problem. Instead, problems could rather occur as an effect of the underlying causes to a root problem. However, if several root problems are identified, structure and prioritize them accordingly in order to select one or a few on which you focus your solution. Gather information around it- ask questions that check your understanding and can help you clarify the problem.

Once you have identified and defined the problem, a structure and/or a framework will help you identify the analysis you may want to perform and enable you to outline each step to reach a solution. This is also an excellent way of showing the interviewer your ability to structure an issue, and sequentially and logically display how you reach your conclusions. Furthermore, the case-interview should be a dialogue between you and the interviewer, so make sure you communicate your logic and underlying assumptions instead of internalizing them. Remember, the interview is not only interested in your conclusions, results or recommendations, but rather how these have been produced.

Once the structure has been outlined, it is important to also list the alternative courses of action that you have identified, and justify the one(s) you have chosen by underlying it with several arguments. Focus on the issues that will make the biggest difference in terms of creating value, but make sure that you justify and explain the reasoning behind your trail of thought and the decisions you take. In addition, discuss potential shortcomings of your suggestions in order to show awareness, but provide suggestions to how these can be mitigated or managed. At the end of the interview, you should summarize the key options you have developed and then conclude with your recommended solution to the problem.

Lastly, you are not expected to know everything about the business or the case. Rather, the purpose of a case interview is for you to demonstrate your approach to solving problems so remember to continuously interact by asking questions and discussing your line of thought with the interviewer.

Now that you know the basics of case-interviews, you should be ready to tackle any cases thrown against you. However, cases come in all shapes and sizes so make time to practice as many different types of cases as possible!