AN INTRODUCTION TO CASE INTERVIEWS

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AN INTRODUCTIONTO CASE INTERVIEWSOffice of Career Management

An Introduction to Case InterviewsOverviewHistorically used by consulting firms to assess a candidate’s ability to handle real-life business problems,case-type interview questions are becoming increasingly common in other industries and disciplines. Caseinterviews involve presenting a business problem to a candidate in order to evaluate him or her on manydimensions. In a case interview, the interviewer will present you with a real or simulated problem and willexpect you to use your common sense, analytical abilities, and logical thinking skills to work through theproblem, identify issues and structure a logical approach to addressing the problem. There is typically nota right or wrong answer. Consider this description of case interviews from McKinsey & Company:“We believe the best way to assess your problem-solvingskills is to discuss a real client scenario with you. This helpsus understand how you structure tough, ambiguous businesschallenges, identify important issues, deal with all theimplications of facts and data, formulate conclusions andrecommendations, and articulate your thoughts in a fastmoving discussion.” Source: McKinsey & Company WebsiteCase interviews are often used to assess the following skills: Listening skillsAnalytical and problem solving skillsAbility to manage ambiguityAbility to organize information and create recommendationsAbility to maintain professional poise under pressureBusiness judgmentUnderstanding of business and economic principlesIntellectual curiosityEnthusiasmHow to Succeed in Case Interviews: Preparation and Practice“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”-Seneca the Younger, Roman PhilosopherThe single most important factor in achieving success with case interview questions is to practice, practice,practice. If you have a case interview coming up, finish reading this guide and the other references listed inthis document, then get to work on live practice as soon as possible.

Types of Case QuestionsCase questions vary widely and can be splitinto several categories.Some tips for getting enough practice:ACCORDING TO MARCCOSENTINO, AUTHOR OFCASE IN POINT, CASEQUESTIONS CAN BECLASSIFIED AS FOLLOWS: Work through many types of case questions,identify your weak areas, and focus yourefforts on improving those skillsMarket Sizing Questions Set aside scheduled time to practice Practice with your friends, classmates andalumni in consulting Set up a mock case interview with theOffice of Career ManagementYou may see these as a stand-alone or part of a Participate in case competitionsbusiness strategy question related to enteringa new market or developing a new product. Thesequestions assess your ability to think analytically,make assumptions, and use good businessjudgment. For example, the interviewer may ask you to determine the number of lightbulbs sold inthe U.S last year. Again, begin with clarifying questions (compact, fluorescent, incandescent or both?Residential, commercial, or both?), then make some logical assumptions. Your assumptions may beoff, but again, it is your logic and overall thought process the interviewer is interested in.Factor QuestionsThis type of question is gaining popularity, particularly within non-consulting firms who use caseswhen interviewing for roles in finance, marketing, or operations. An example of a factor questioncould be, “We’re thinking of putting a new distribution center somewhere in the Midwest. Wherewould you put it and why?” Factor questions are used when low on time thus not giving theinterviewer enough flexibility to meticulously walk you through an entire case. Instead, you willbe required to think in terms of the “broad strokes” of the case.Even though these are more conversational in nature, the interviewer will still be looking for four keythings: (1) structure of thought, (2) confidence level, (3) communication skills, and (4) creativity. Somewill ask you to make a recommendation which you will then have to articulate and evaluate based onrisks and next steps.Business Case QuestionsBusiness case questions vary widely but will generally fall into two categories: (1) number casesand (2) business strategy and operations cases. A number case is often just a pure math problemthat you will be expected to do in your head. An example of a number case could be something like,“Our total manufacturing costs are 20 million. With that we can make 39,379 units. What is ourapproximate cost per unit?”A business strategy and operations case, on the other hand, will present a more inclusive businessopportunity and/or problem. An example of this could look like, “General Mills has invented a newtype of cereal that never gets soggy. The director of marketing calls you into his office and asks,‘How should we price this?’ What do you tell him?”

Answering the QuestionDeloitte recommends this 5-step approach to guide your responsein case interviews:1.2.3.4.5.Understand the issue; ask clarifying questions as needed.Identify the underlying assumptions.Summarize key issues and findings.State your recommendations.Outline next steps and expected results/impacts.An understanding of common business frameworks is integral to working through a case successfully.However, two case interview preparation experts, David Ohrvall with MBACASE and Marc Cosentinowith Casequestions.com, caution against overuse or misuse of frameworks. David Ohrvall recommendsa Maximum Value Model approach. In his book, Crack the Case: How to Conquer your Case Interviews,David provides the following description of this model:“This model captures the basic elements or ‘zones’ of a business,and presents them in a graphic format that is easy to understand and remember. I designed this model to address head-on three pervasive problems I witnessed in the candidates I interviewed: Heavy reliance on well-known business frameworks The inability to stay calm under pressure The lack of an integrated, holistic view of howbusinesses work”Marc Cosentino outlines The Ivy Case System in his book, Case in Point: Case Interview Preparation. Marcalso addresses the limits of a framework approach in his book:“A framework is a structure that helps you organize your thoughtsand analyze the case in a logical manner. Often, however, you have tocut and paste from a number of frameworks in order to answer anysingle case question. the difference between a framework and a systemis that a framework is really a tool, while a system is a process. Insteadof memorizing seven individual frameworks and then trying to decidewhich one(s) to apply, you learn the system, which already has thetools built in.”The bottom line is, it is important to be familiar with business frameworks, but relying too heavily on oneframework may cause you to ignore critical issues. Avoid forcing a framework onto a problem. Instead, takea step back and make sure you identify the key issues, and then begin drawing upon frameworks to establisha structure for answering the question.Use the system to practice developing new frameworks rather than tryingto force-fit frameworks within a system. You should also be prepared toanalyze charts or graphs, as well as basic financial statements.

FrameworksFrameworksVault Guide to the Case Interview provides a good overview of basic andadvanced frameworks, a few of which are referenced below, and discouragescandidates from overtly referencing a framework; i.e., avoid blurting out“I’ll be using the Four C’s.” Instead, discuss your approach with the guide inmind. Many case interview guides also remind you to keep in mind that you’reinterviewing with an expert who is intimately familiar with complex businessframeworks and principles; be sure to wow them with your uniquely logicalapproach and common sense, not your ability to memorize a framework.Some basic frameworks:Cost-benefit analysisInternal vs. external market factorsFixed vs. variable costsSome more advanced frameworks:Net Present ValuePorter’s Five ForcesThe Four Ps (Price, Product, Position/Place, Promotion)The Four Cs (Customers, Competition, Cost, Capabilities)The Five Cs (Character, Capacity, Capital, Conditions, CompetitiveAdvantage)Value Chain AnalysisBCG MatrixSee the Vault Guide to the Case Interview for more detailsCommon MistakesAvoid these common mistakes noted on the McKinsey & Company website: Misunderstanding the question or answering the wrong question. Proceeding in a haphazard fashion. For example, not identifying themajor issues that need to be examined or jumping from one issue toanother with out outlining your overall approach. Asking a barrage of questions without explaining to the interviewerwhy you need the information. Force-fitting familiar business frameworks to every case question,whether they are relevant or not, or misapplying a relevant businessframework that you do not really understand, rather than simply usingcommon sense. Failing to synthesize a point of view. Even if you don’t have time to talkthrough all the key issues, be sure to synthesize a point of view based onwhere you ended up. Not asking for help. Some candidates feel it is inappropriate to ask forhelp when they are stuck. Whether it is a misunderstanding related tothe overall problem, or whether you are struggling with a specificanalysis, be sure to ask for help when you need it.Additional Tips Take time to gather yourthoughts. Be sure you understandthe question and mainissues. Ask questionsthroughout theinterview. Make ita dialogue and interactwith the intervieweras much as possible. Take loose sheets ofwhite paper for notes,and take notes throughout the interview. Writeneatly and use graphicswhere needed. Explain your work andyour assumptions outloud. Be aware of non-verbalcues. Is the interviewerengaged? If not, makesure you’re not strayingtoo far from the mainissues. Practice your math;most recruiters don’tallow calculators, sopractice estimating. Write down yournumbers and checkthem. Most errorsinvolve being off bya zero or two. Explain your thinkingas you work throughthe numbers. Practice as much asyou can using samplecases with friends,classmates, and yourcareer consultant.

Where Can I Get More Information?General GuidesVault Guide to the Case Interview – Access Vault at:More from theExperts Vault Video Guide to Guesstimates –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v FQUcoun99VkView this helpful video for tips on answering a simple market-sizing question.Vault Case Interview Practice Guide 2: – More Case InterviewsProfessional Case Interview Preparationhttp://www.mbacase.com/Founded by David Ohrvall, a former Bain & Company management consultantand case interview preparation expert, this website includes access topreparation information and information on purchasing David’s book Crackthe Case as well as private coaching lessons.http://casequestions.com/Founded by Marc Cosentino, a former director of Harvard Career Servicesand case interview preparation expert, this website also includes access topreparation information and information on purchasing Marc’s book Case inPoint and graph analysis for consulting & case interviews as well as privatecoaching lessons and an online interactive preparation tool.“Case interviews – theyare about stacking upyour skills against a realbusiness challenge. You’llbe asked to demonstrateyour problem-solvingskills, your analyticalability, and your strategicand logical thinking.These case interviewsalso help us assess yourcommon sense, creativity,and comfort withambiguity. At the sametime, you’ll gain insightinto our approach becausethese cases represent realclient projects.”--Deloitte websitewww.caseinterview.comFounded by Victor Cheng, a former McKinsey consultant, resume screener,and case interview interviewer. He offers students a chance to discover howhe passed 60 out of 61 case interviews and landed 7 consulting job offers withaccess to his free 6 hour case interview training videos. You can also join the193,645 subscribers who receive the case secrets email newsletter that he isfamous for.https://managementconsulted.com/Management Consulted is the leading resource on all things consulting, witha focus on resumes, interviews, case interviews, and finding managementconsulting jobs! They’ve written many consulting articles on topics rangingfrom travel to salaries, from resume mistakes to summer internships, from exitopportunities to case interview preparation. Be sure to check out the “Free Info”section of the website, which even includes a free case of the month.Consulting Firm Web SitesThe following sites include valuable case interview tips, advice andpractice cases as well as information on company culture and whatto expect on interview day.Deloitte - http://www.deloitte.comBain & Company - http://www.bain.comMcKinsey & Company - http://www.mckinsey.com/BCG - http://www.bcg.com/“A good case interviewshould be an enjoyableand thoughtful discussionof business issues andproblem-solvingtechniques. We arenot looking for a “rightanswer” or asking youto spit back memorizedbusiness terms, currentevents or well-knownframeworks. Rather, wehope to see a good doseof problem-solving skills,creativity and commonsense.”--Bain & Companywebsite