What is a Case?
Cases are a tool used by interviewers based on a business scenario; they go beyond behavioural and background questions to assess the actual abilities of a candidate by replicating the steps of a consulting project.
They are a means of evaluating potential candidates when facing a real-life business challenge to determine whether you could interact with clients in a professional manner if hired. Cases can test quantitative aptitude, creative thinking, general business acumen, soft skills, presence, poise, and reaction to pressure through a business simulation.
While there are various types of cases, including but not limited to market entry, profitability, and M&A, majority of cases require you to follow a 5-step process.
1. Structuring the Problem
After the interviewer provides you with the context of the problem (usually starts something similar to, “our client “A” who is a toy manufacturer has recently witnessed a declining trend in its revenues for the last 3 years. They have asked us for our advice”), get the case facts right by asking clarifying questions (especially the objective). Do not just repeat what the interviewer said. Then take a minute or so to draw the structure:
- Two levels of structure – broad buckets (e.g. customers, competition, company) and sub buckets
- Draw out a tree diagram rather than bullet points
- Customize the structure to the case, don’t overuse existing frameworks
- Be MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive)
Once you have a general sense of how you want to drive the case forward turn the paper around to show the structure to the interviewer and walk them through it as if you were speaking to a client.
2. Develop Hypothesis
Once you have created a structure refer to it throughout the analysis and prioritize your thoughts by forming a hypothesis. Forming a hypothesis allows you to verify your assumptions, cross out menial factors, and come to the core of the problem time efficiently.
- Use the info provided and any clues from the interviewer – don’t come straight to the conclusion even if you have background knowledge regarding the situation
- Use your framework and info to form your initial hypothesis
- Don’t feel pressured to form hypothesis without enough data
- Sometimes the answer is less obvious – you may have to dig a bit first, which leads to the next step
3. Deep Dive
This is where your analytical ability is tested. With the raw data given perform analysis and organize as ‘slides’ (e.g. separate pages for revenue analysis, cost analysis, profit analysis, etc.) For quantitative data layout in tables when possible.
Remember to treat the interviewer as if you were talking to a client by making everything clear and easy to understand.
Finally, link together the various analysis you have gathered (don’t just look at each of them independently).
During the process some math calculations will be required and for this portion speak as if you are talking to your grandmother (i.e. when possible try to provide a word equation before heading straight to the calculation, show your calculations, and speak out loud your math). Common fact: it’s okay to make a math mistake. Go back where you slipped up and redo to derive the correct answer. Just don’t do it too much. Consultants are also humans!
4. Develop a Solution
Drive the case forward by answering the “why” (what caused the problem) and “how” (what actions need to be taken).
Think out of the box to develop creative solutions. However, if you think the goal is not achievable then suggest alternatives.
Always consider implementation implications, risks, and mitigation.
Utilize your analysis to make a powerful statement – take a stand, don’t hesitate. Always end your case with a succinct recommendation.
While your communication skills will be tested throughout the whole case this is the section where you can truly shine by delivering a strong, yet concise synthesis – be prepared for the “elevator test”.
Take a moment, a minute or two, to prepare your thoughts. It is recommended to use an executive summary style – highlight the main points as you go through the analysis to facilitate a concise summary.
Provide the answer to the question first. Then talk through the reasons behind the answer (e.g. it is recommended our client take action X because of A, B, and C reasons).
Last point, don’t stress and have fun throughout the whole process!
Jason is a management consulting enthusiast with past experience in helping F500 financial services clients with product management, go-to-market and distribution channel strategy.