Making a Case for Yourself During a Case Interview

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Case interviews may be one of the most feared types of job interviews, and with good reason. Unlike the typical “Walk me through your resume” and “Why are you interested in this position?” questions that simply require you to draw upon information you have already studied, case interviews present you with an unexpected scenario that you then have to analyze and often develop a solution for.

For example, imagine being asked upon sitting down to your interview, “Our company is considering partnering with a non-profit organization to promote wellness both for employees and customers. What factors contribute to whether this partnership is a sound business decision or not?” If you are not used to thinking about the different elements of a business and how they interact, you will likely find this kind of question very difficult.

While you cannot prepare responses for case interviews the way you would for conventional questions, you can train yourself to handle them and put your best foot forward. The key is to understand that these questions are more about testing your thought process and how you approach certain situations than memorizing all possible scenarios and their solutions. Consulting firm Bain & Co.’s publication “How to Ace the Case Interview” explains, “A case study consists of a business problem taken from a real-life business situation, or an example drawn from your resume. It focuses on your analytic approach to the problem, rather than specific business knowledge. […] Remember, we are interested in how you analyze the problem, not how much you know about the industry.” Armed with this knowledge, you can use these case interview tips to prepare for this special type of interview:

  1. Check out consulting companies’ websites. One of the best places to start your case interview preparation is the websites of the very companies you may be applying to. For example, consulting firms McKinsey & Co. and Bain & Co. offer descriptions of the case interview process, sample questions and detailed explanations of some possible ways to approach solving the problems they present.
  2. Understand how a case interview “works.” Understanding how a case interview is conducted and what the interviewer expects of you is very important in helping you succeed. Keep in mind this type of interview typically involves not just one, but a whole series of questions, starting with the interviewer’s description of the situation they would like your input on. As you answer, your interviewer will ask even more targeted questions to get a better sense of your proposed solution. Be prepared to think very deeply about the situation, and to consider multiple factors that contribute to a given situation.
  3. Tackle one step at a time. For these types of interviews, it might be helpful to walk your interviewer through your thought process, asking questions as you go along. For example, if he asks you to determine the consumer demand for wine glasses in America, don’t panic! Instead, talk out your thoughts as you narrow down to your estimate and explain the assumptions you are making at each step. Exact numbers aren’t as important as having a really logical thought process.
  4. Know that the interviewer is on your side. This may be hard to believe, but your interviewer actually wants you to do well! His or her job is to find a candidate who matches the company’s culture and who can add value exactly where it’s needed. He or she can’t achieve this goal without a fair interview process that allows candidates’ strengths to shine. Know that your interviewer will very likely treat you exactly how you would treat a nervous candidate, so don’t hesitate to ask her numerous questions so you can better understand what you are being asked.
  5. Practice with a friend or family member. Practicing with a friend, family member or career counselor is a very helpful method of interview preparation and is essential when it comes to preparing for case interviews. More than other types of interviews, case interviews are conversations between the interviewer and interviewee, and as such you should practice this more interactive format until you are utterly comfortable with it. Print out the sample interview questions from McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co. and Deloitte & Co., and find some case interview preparation books. Have your friend or family member ask you these questions, simulating as best as possible the conditions of the case interview. Record your mock interview sessions using a recorder or a smartphone app so you can hear yourself and note where you can improve your tone, slow down a bit, or better explain a given concept.

Another great resource if you are a college student is your school’s career development center, where you can often find books on case interview preparation and even schedule appointments with a career counselor. With enough practice and a solid understanding of the structure and goals of the case interview, you can put your best foot forward and make a good impression on potential employers.

Kaitlin Louie is a content writer and editor for several websites including Schools.com . She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature from Stanford University, and aspires to be a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction.

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