Case interviews are in a way similar to typical job interviews but a lot more complex. In this interview, you will be asked to solve a series of business problems. Does it sound not that complex? However, you are going to solve cases under time and psychological pressure. If you’ve just heard of case interviews, I’ll tell you right now to expect a stressful experience.
I am not here to scare you but to help you prepare yourself for a case interview. So why do consulting firms make case interviews so difficult? Case interviews are difficult for good reason. The interview is an accurate reflection of what to expect on the job. If you hate the interview, you will also hate being a consultant.
So by doing case interviews, firms can have a better idea of how well a candidate thinks, analyzes, and works through business problems.
What To Expect In A Case Interview
What can you expect in a case interview? Each consulting firm has different formats for approaching case interviews. However, their base formats are very similar to each other.
No matter the firm, all case interviews have a face-to-face format, and they will only give the case once the interview starts. To better illustrate what happens in a case interview, I will give an example.
Say, there is a restaurant chain called Huge Patty, and recently, they aren’t as profitable. Now, it will be up to you, the consultant, to help find a solution to their problems. You will then interact with the interviewer to get more information. While there is interaction, it will be up to you to lead the conversation.
During the interview, the applicant’s skill sets will be exposed and evaluated. Although there needs to be a solution to solve the problem, it’s not the whole point. Rather, the interviewer is more interested in your thought process and approach toward the problem. That’s because there can be many solutions to a problem, not just one.
Firms want candidates that can logically and consistently solve problems. There are many ways to answer a case interview, but some are better than others. Here is how to answer case interviews.
How To Answer Case Interviews
1.) Identify the root cause or the reason behind the problem.
Sometimes, you can get too focused on the surface or symptom of the problem. To better illustrate my point, let’s use a medical example to give a better picture.
Say a patient comes to you with a severe stomach ache. Addressing the symptom would be like giving the patient painkillers. On the other hand, addressing the root cause of the stomach ache would be performing medical tests on the patient. See what causes the stomach pain, is it appendicitis, ulcers, problem, or even gastritis?
The same can be said in your approach in case interviews. Look for the root causes. After that, we can now trace back where the roots branch out.
2.) Break down the problem
Next, you can start breaking down the problem into smaller pieces. To help you be more efficient at breaking down problems, I suggest using the MECE principle. Pronounced as Me-see, MECE means mutually exclusive and collectively exclusive.
The first part, mutually exclusive, is an idea from probability theory that two events cannot happen at the same time. To put it in perspective, say you roll a six-sided die. The outcome that a six or a three appears is mutually exclusive. Now putting it in solving cases, mutually exclusive ideas would be distinctly separate and don’t overlap.
Now, for the remaining half, the collectively exhaustive. The concept behind it is that the set of ideas is inclusive of all possible options. Back to the six-sided die example, the set of numbers from 1 to 6 is mutually and collectively exhaustive.
With these two elements, you can take in loads of information and simplify it to multiple groups. These groups should then be separate and distinct ideas.
To further simplify the concept of MECE, let’s use another example. Imagine you have a list of groceries in front of you. In that list, the said items are listed: milk, butter, yogurt, fish, garlic, beef, cabbage, cheese, and chicken.
Quickly, close your eyes and try to remember the items on the list. Not that easy, right? Now, we use the MECE principle so you can better remember the items. We will end up with these groupings:
- Meat Products: Fish, beef, chicken
- Dairy Products: Milk, butter, yogurt, cheese
- Vegetables: cabbage, garlic
You now notice that the items are categorized distinctly, separately, and differently. The items are not listed mutually exclusively. On top of that, the groupings cover all the nine items on the groceries list. So you can consider the grouping as collectively exhaustive.
3.) Case Interview Frameworks
Case interview frameworks are templates for solving case problems. By utilizing frameworks, your approach is always logical and structured. Picture it as your roadmap towards solving case problems.
Some frameworks are only specific to some topics. For example, use a profitability framework for profitability cases. Now, how do you know what frameworks to use during a case interview? No, the case interviewer won’t point out what type of case you are solving.
The only way for you to know what kind of case you are dealing with is by applying the two points above. Even then, perhaps you still don’t know what type of case you are handling. To know what kind of case, learn to know different frameworks.
Study different frameworks until it comes out naturally for you during the interview. Using the wrong framework can cause you to struggle or get lost in trying to solve a case interview.
With these three points, you can efficiently answer case interviews. However, remember that this is just a guide. No article in the world will help you magically solve cases. You need to practice a lot to effectively answer case interviews and increase your chances of getting a job offer.