Case interview. If you are an undergraduate or MBA student who wants to get a consulting offer, you better do well on the case interview. If you ran a regression on consulting offers and good case interviews, the correlation would be 0.7 or higher. In non-geek terms, case interviews make the difference. You need to crush the case.
If you don’t do well on the case, it does not matter how good your GPA, industry knowledge, networking, and resume reads – you will not get a job offer.
What’s a case interview? This format of interviewing is tough, but also a lot of fun. The interviewer gives you the problem and background, and it is up to the candidate to think through the problem, and selectively ask questions to solicit the information needed to get to a solution. 70% IQ, 30% EQ.
I tell younger MBAs to think of it as if you were interviewing a client employee to get some information. What kind of questions would you ask? What would your demeanor be? How would you engage in conversation to prevent it from feeling like series of robotic questions? How would you build credibility? How would you coach the interviewee in the right direction, so they help you to solve the problem?
Thinking while smiling. It tests you mind & composure. Consulting firms want smart people who are not robots. Successful candidates can break down complex problems in their head, while maintaining their composure. (photo: flickr, creative commons, wayofthesword14)
What they are looking for. In my mind, consulting firms wants people who are smart, logical, quick-thinking, well-spoken, and engaging. Alternatively, they DO NOT WANT slow, confusing, dense, garble-mouthed, boring robots. Consultancies want people they can immediately put in front of clients; they will bill you out to clients at $250-$400 a hour, and they want people who smell like success.
If you are not too familiar with case interviews, that is okay. There are a ton of resources, and it only takes 1-2 months to really understand the general mechanics of a case interview and start smoothing out the rough edges.
Resources. There are books and websites dedicated to “cracking the case”. Top MBA programs have consulting clubs, where they essentially collect case interview examples from the past. Duke even has some cases from the late 1990s. Career management centers typically organize case interview practice sessions where MBA alums go back to campus and run the MBAs through “mock case interviews”.
Start with the consulting websites. Consulting firms know that case interviews are tough. They don’t want you to fail, so they actually provide a lot of really good advice on their websites. The kinds of questions might come up, what things they look for in candidates, and they even provide case examples. This is the best place to start familiarizing yourself with the case interview format and approach. Look at these tips:
- McKinsey & Co case interview
- Bain & Co case interview
- Boston Consulting Group case interview
- Deloitte case interview
- PWC case interview (pdf, 160k)
- Oliver Wyman case interview
- AT Kearney case interview (pdf, 1.2Mb, 35 pages)
- Booz & Co case interview
- L.E.K. Consulting case interview
MBA consulting clubs. Many of the consulting clubs have put together “case books” with dozens, hundreds of sample case interview questions. These have been collected over the last 10 years, and it gives you a good flavor of they types of questions asked and the types of logical problem solving that you want to demonstrate. Use these to practice with friends and colleagues. It will warm-up your brain prior to case interviews:
- Northwestern Kellogg consulting case book 2011 (pdf, 3.2Mb, 199 pages)
- Emory Goizueta consulting case book 2006 (pdf, 9.3Mb, 665 pages)
- Johnson Cornell consulting case book 2004 (pdf, 1.1Mb, 122 pages)
- Wharton consulting case book 2009 (slideshare)
- USC Marshall consulting case book 2001 (pdf, 255K, 50 pages)
Case interview experts. If that is not enough, there are websites which offer advice on case interviews and provide services for a fee. These are the best two I saw:
It’s interview season in September. Most management consulting firms and investment banks start interviewing as soon as school starts in September; they want the pick of the litter (best students). This means that for MBAs looking for full-time consulting offers, it high season to practice case interviews with friends. In my experience, it is good to practice with another person 20-30 times before your real interviews. Case interviews are a different animal, you should treat them accordingly.