The workplace as a whole is changing, and this is just as apparent in recruiting as in day-to-day work.
In the endless search for the best new talent, the biggest firms in various sectors, including tech and finance – from Google to Capital One – are starting to apply versions of the case interviews which have previously been associated with management consulting.
These interviews are notoriously difficult, but they are not unconquerable!
Let’s first explore why the case interview concept is being applied so widely. From there, we can go on to some tips on how you can ace your own case interview and land a great new job as a result.
Note that, in such a compact article, we can’t go into enormous detail setting out the rudiments of case interviews. Those who are truly unfamiliar with the case interview concept can see the free MyConsulting Case Interview Guide for a much more detailed explanation.
What is a case interview?
During a case interview, you will be given a relatively long, involved case study to complete. It will take the form of a conversational problem-solving exercise, where the interviewer will provide you with information, graphs, and data tables. The aim is to assess your problem-solving skills.
In most cases, the case study will be based on a real-life problem, and often referencing recent work the company has done. Depending on the role you are applying for, you might be asked to look at the finances of a company to discover why they are losing money.
For a technical role, you could be asked to solve a problem with a computer system.
In all cases, it’s crucial to realize that getting to the correct answer is not the primary goal. There may even be several correct answers. The interviewer is more interested in your approach to the problem, and if you communicate your thoughts clearly.
In rare cases, you may be asked to solve a hypothetical problem, but it usually relates to the role you applied for.
Why case interviews?
McKinsey, Bain, BCG, and other top management consulting firms have a formidable reputation for finding and incubating some of the best young business minds in each generation. If you are trying to find the best possible staff, why not take a leaf out of their book?
The result has been that tech firms, banks and others are increasingly implementing their own versions of these case interviews
A Changing Market
However, it is worth pausing to consider why firms feel the need to reconsider their recruiting style at all if the previous method had been functioning acceptably, to begin with. In doing so, we can understand why you need to take case interviews seriously.
Gone are the days when you could stroll into a top firm and get told to turn up on Monday morning on the strength of a top university degree.
This is for a few reasons:
- Quality graduates are less scarce than they used to be. Even if employers only hire from top universities, they can still choose from a broad range of candidates.
- Companies have realized that your raw grades are not necessarily reflective of your real-world competence. A maths genius might well be a terrible co-worker, for example.
- Specific qualifications are often less relevant than general thinking skills, especially if there are no degrees that directly prepare you for the job.
- The market is in constant flux. What companies really need is generally capable individuals with sharp thinking skills and a problem-solving mindset – in short, the ability to generate good ideas and then put them into action at speed.
How Do I Prepare for Case Interviews?
So, we can see why case interviews are so important, but how can you help ensure you do well enough to get the job?
The technical content of the case studies themselves will change depending upon which business sector the interview covers.
Let’s run through some top tips to get your performing to the best of your abilities.
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No matter how many years of experience you have, or your qualifications, preparation is the key to success in case interviews, and the earlier you start, the better.
Spending a few hours the night before the interview frantically practicing case studies won’t make you an impressive candidate. Even the week before is too late to start.
How long should you spend will depend on your knowledge of the industry, and if you are applying to a top-end company. Around 40-50 hours is probably the minimum, but the sooner you start, the better.
Improve Your Mental Math
In these days of calculators on your smartphone, mental math skills have really declined. Brushing up on your math skills is one of the fastest ways to get your case study performance improving.
Focus On Fundamental Skills
Fundamental skills that will improve your case interview technique include the ability to break down problems, and the basics of finance and economics.
Being able to split a complex problem into multiple smaller issues quickly will definitely help during the interview.
Frameworks and generic solutions are used by some consultants to offer quick and easy problem answers. The biggest issue with this is that those complex problems don’t easily fit into a framework.
A good interviewer will quickly spot if you are using a framework, and you are going to be far more successful at case interviews if you can start from first principles.
It cannot be stressed enough, but you must practice. Problem-solving is a skill that improves with practice, and that translates directly into improving your ability during case study style interviews.
Remember Communication Skills
You could be the most exceptional problem-solver that ever lived, but if you can not communicate your solution in simple terms to those around you, it counts for nothing. This is vitally important during a case interview since the aim is to assess your problem-solving and communication skills.
Time to Get Started!
Now that we have an understanding of case interviews, why they are being adopted so widely and how you can start to prepare, it’s time for you to go off and get started so you can put in the work and hopefully land your dream job!