Just Revealed: How To Not Freak Out At Case Study Interviews

by on October 31st, 2012

Recently I attended a seminar at my business school given by Marc Cosentino, Author of Case in Point: Complete Interview Case Study Preparation. When I was in business school, I had a case study interview with a company and it was HARD! Even when I got hired at my first job, I was asked, “How many dentists are there in the United States?”

For some reason I nailed every other question during the interview but the case study question just through me for a loop. I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t prepare myself like I should have. That is why I wanted to “Go back to school” to see what I could have done better. I know your professors don’t want to hear this but your job search could be more important than you classes so don’t forget about preparing for the job search and interviews while you are in school so you don’t have to go back to school like me! Case studies are being used more and more in many different industries, not just consulting! It’s always good to brush up on your case study skills because you never know when these questions might be coming your way. There are two types of case questions:

1) Market Size Questions

How many jelly donuts fit into the leaning tower of pisa? How big is the disposable diaper market? For these questions, you have to show how you would answer based on your own logic. You may not get the right answer but it doesn’t matter if how you answered the question makes sense to the interviewer. Here are some basic facts you want to have memorized about the country that you will be interviewing in (these are probably not exactly right but that is ok, you just want to have a close number in your head):

  • Population of the US: 320 million
  • Average life expectancy in the US: 80 years
  • How many people per age group in the US: 4 million
  • How many households are there in the US: 100 million

You will not have a calculator so practice without one and practice, practice, practice. Don’t worry about being exact, just be close enough. When you first get the question, summarize the question and write everything you know down. Verify the objectives and ask if there are any other objectives that you should be aware of. Ask questions and lay out the structure of how you will answer and then state your hypothesis at the end. You have to show that you made a decision not merely on the number. So if you already know the answer because you read it in the newspaper that morning, who cares! You have to show that you logically can come up with the same answer not just by pulling it out of your head.

Other hints: The interviewers love it when you graph things and turn your notes around so that they can see. Write big, legible and star important sections in your notes. Turn your note page around so that they can see what you are writing and thinking. This way they will move forward and lean in. This is exactly what you want because you want them to feel like the client and not the interviewer because you will get rated on teamwork. So don’t be afraid to bring in the interviewer on your team. Don’t be too worried about silence. It is ok if you are doing something and taking notes. The interviewer will collect your notes afterward and examine it so you want it to tell a story that you knew what you were doing when you answered the question! Warning: They will try to force you to make a decision. They will tell you that your answer is wrong and they will cut you off. Defend your answer without getting defensive and don’t lose your confidence!

You will get beat up by the interviewer, but it is really important not to lose that confidence! When they try to beat you up and throw another question at you, just get right back up and continue along.

2) Business Case Questions

This type of case study is when the interviewer gives you a long case and at the end they ask you questions about how you would solve the case. For example, a company just acquired another company and wants to make sure that the employees are still happy and productive with new management in place. What would you do to make this happen? Often you will have to list pros and cons in this type of question when you come up with your recommendation.

Case Study Evaluation Form

Here is a sneak peek at what you will be graded on:

  • Analytics (Structured framework, quant acumen, good use of data provided)
  • Communication (Eye contact, articulation, listening, asking probing questions, note layout)
  • Personal (Enthusiasm, self-confidence, teamwork, engagement, logic)

The Airport Test

This should be an easy test to pass in an interview. Will the interviewer like spending A LOT of hours in the airport with you. You have to be able to show that you are easy to get a long with.

Why Consulting (or insert your field here)?

This is a no-brainer. You should immediately look directly into their eyes and do not look away. You should have thought about this answer a long time ago so you should be able to give it in your sleep.

Ways To Prepare

  1. Learn from the expert like I did and read Case in Point
  2. Make a case journal and write what you learn about each case you do.  What did you miss?  What did you get right?  What could you do better next time?
  3. Read practice cases
  4. Practice online cases (McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting websites)
  5. Practice live cases with classmates, friends, alumni and career services

Have you ever had or given a case study interview? What are your tips?

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