In a case interview, you’re required to solve a business problem presented as a question, situation, or challenge.
Your task is to:
- ask questions, to help you identify the main problems
- develop and present a framework for analysing the problems
- use the framework to come to a conclusion or recommendation.
Case interviews can be one-on-one or in groups as part of an assessment centre. They are commonly used by management consulting firms and investment banking organisations (and increasingly by other organisations) as part of the selection process. Approaches vary between companies, but you may be asked to:
- lead an interactive discussion about your approach and conclusions to a case
- develop a written response to a case, present your recommendations and lead a discussion
- respond to specific questions about a case study and provide recommendations.
What do employers assess?
During the case interview, the employer assesses your ability to creatively deal with complex business problems. You must demonstrate logical, structured thinking and provide practical solutions to business problems.
The employer is looking for skills and attributes such as:
- analytical and logical reasoning ability
- numerical and verbal reasoning
- problem-solving ability
- organisational and time management
- ability to think quickly under pressure
- presentation and communication skills
- confidence, business acumen and professionalism.
Types of questions
Brain teasers are logic questions used to gauge your problem-solving skills. Some questions are straightforward logic puzzles. Others could be answered in various ways by applying lateral thinking and don’t rely on conventional responses. They allow you to demonstrate your creative and analytical thinking.
In a role play, you will be the consultant and the interviewer will be the client or manager. This is a common type of case interview for management consulting roles. You need to discuss the issue with the client, ask relevant questions (to collect information), analyse the situation and develop recommendations. It’s an opportunity to display client relationship skills and show that you enjoy solving problems.
Graphic interpretation questions are used by strategy firms. You’re required to review and interpret statistical data presented in a chart or graph.
Case interview scenarios
Business situations test how much general business knowledge you have and whether you can apply it to a common business problem. There are several types of business questions, including:
- profit and loss
- organisational structure
- implementation of new technology
- marketing scenarios.
In most cases, you are required to give a verbal response. Your interviewer will probably draw on their own client experience to guide you through the situation.
Good business strategy questions tackle areas such as market sizing, logic puzzles, and multiple operations problems. Complex business strategy questions can deal with multi-industry, multi-national and multi-issue problems or more localised scenarios, allowing the interviewer to probe your abilities in a variety of areas.
Common types of business strategy scenarios might involve:
- advising a client about an acquisition
- responding to a competitive move by another company in the industry
- evaluating opportunities for a new product introduction.
The best way to answer is to use a problem-solving framework. This means setting out a plan in the beginning, organising your analysis and following it through to conclusion.
Business operations case scenarios deal with the actual running of the business and are more complex than market-sizing questions or brainteasers. They require basic business knowledge and common sense, as well as clear and efficient thinking.
Consultants like these questions because they allow them to see whether you understand fundamental issues related to running a business; for example:
- the relationship between revenues and costs
- the relationship and impact of fixed and variable costs on a company’s profitability.
Business operations questions require you to demonstrate a good grasp of business processes and an ability to sort through a pile of information and home in on the most important matters. Operations questions may have many potential answers.
Market-sizing scenarios require you to determine the size of a particular market (for example, the total amount spent in Australia at the movies). Questions might be simple or complex, requiring you to analyse information to identify the issues. Market-sizing scenarios may test your numerical and analytical skills, as well as your ability to use logic, creativity and common sense.
Tips for case interviews
Research the organisation and industry. Ask what case interview approach will be used, since this will vary between organisations.
There are many online resources, some provided by consulting companies, which provide insight into the process and practice of case studies. Before the interview, be sure to practise using the resources provided below.
On the day
Deliver your responses in a logical and orderly way. Business models can offer a framework for organising information and thought processes. Take time to show how you analyse an unfamiliar problem before reaching a practical solution. Remember, there is no right way of doing a case interview, nor is there a single answer – how you reach your conclusion is what matters.
You can follow these steps to generate a hypothesis and supporting arguments:
- Listen closely to the situation description and make notes. Paraphrase the question back to the interviewer to make sure you understand it.
- Ask the interviewer focused, relevant questions to evaluate the situation. Questions are expected and are an essential part of the process.
- Create an approach or framework that focuses on critical issues and guides your analysis.
- Analyse the problem.
- Lead discussion on the options explored, building a case for the decision you would recommend.
- Clearly summarise your final analysis and conclusions.
- Think aloud so that the interviewer understands the direction of your thinking and the process you use.
- Don’t rush to conclusions. Silence, and taking time to think, is okay. You may also want to write down your findings and assumptions – the interviewer may wish to view these.
- It’s important to manage your time efficiently and show confidence in your judgement.