The consulting case interview: 10 tips for a successful performance

THIS is the first of a series of posts looking at the consulting case interview. Below, I provide ten insightful tips that will help you achieve success in your case interview. The information below is from my own thoughts and by reference to Vault Guide to the Case Interview.

1. Practice, practice, practice

Preparation is important for three main reasons:

  1. The interview process is extremely competitive. You are unlikely to succeed without a lot of practice;
  2. Case problems are indicative of the type of work that you will have to do as a consultant. So, your ability to answer case problems indicates your readiness to start work as a consultant; and
  3. Your preparedness for the interview is an indicator of your motivation and passion to be a consultant. If you can’t be bothered to prepare, then you don’t want the job badly enough.

2. Take notes

You should take notes when the interviewer is giving you the facts of the problem question.  Remember to bring a notepad and pen to the interview because the benefit of writing things down is that:

  • It helps ensure that you don’t need to ask the same question twice;
  • It helps you to structure your thoughts; and
  • It allows you a moment to pause and think before addressing the question.

3. Don’t make assumptions

Your interviewer will most likely leave information out when giving you the facts. You should not assume facts that have not been given to you. The interviewer has more than likely drawn the business case from the interviewer’s experience of a real world business problem. In answering a business case problem, you should assume the persona of a consultant trying to learn about an assignment. For example, you should ask if the company, or another company in the industry, has encountered a similar business problem, and what they did about it. Although your interviewer may not release that information, the interviewer will be impressed that you asked these sensible questions.

4. Ask questions

Your interviewer expects you to ask questions in order to obtain an accurate picture of the relevant facts in the case. For example, if you don’t know the first thing about the automobile market, ask how much it costs to manufacture an engine. If you are asked to estimate the demand for hamburgers in Sydney, feel free to ask how many people live in Sydney and the surrounding areas. Your interviewer is likely to direct your line of questioning to a specific area, but you must always be ready to control the conversation in case the interviewer does not direct your reasoning.

5. Engage in active listening

It is not wise to stick religiously to asking a list of pre-prepared questions. Listen to the information that you have received and the answers you get to your initial questions and how this affects your understanding of the problem. What is unclear and what do you still not know? Make sure you respond to the information you receive and incorporate it into your analysis.

6. Maintain direct eye contact

Eye contact is important because it demonstrates confidence and authority. As a consultant you will have to meet with upper management and boards of directors regarding matters that you have been briefed on only hours before. The case interview is a practice for the real thing.

7. Take your time

It’s okay to take a minute to collect your thoughts. However, it’s probably not such a good idea to leave the interviewer hanging for 5+ minutes while you ponder the deeper aspects of the problem. In short, it is more important to give a well thought out and structured response than to respond immediately.

8. Clearly structure your answer

Clearly structure your answer by identifying to the interviewer the analysis framework you are going to use and the structure of your answer. For example, “firstly I will consider X, secondly I will consider Y, and finally I will make a recommendation.” A large part of a consultant’s job is to explain complex ideas clearly and succinctly. By structuring your answer, this will help you to structure your thoughts and may alert you to factors that you would have otherwise failed to consider. Providing a clear structure will impress your interviewers by avoiding the impression that you “made it up as you went along”. I will consider the main analysis frameworks that you might be able to use in a later post.

9. Think out loud

The business case is an opportunity to show the interviewer how you think. As you analyse the elements of the business case, be sure that you talk out loud and explain your reasoning. This is the only way the interviewer can assess your performance.

10. Summarise your conclusions

You have limited time in your case interview to make your point. It is important to be able to briefly summarise the conclusion you have come to based on your analysis of the facts and to make a recommendation.