9 tips to help prepare for a consulting case interview

18 January 2019 Consultancy.uk

The field of strategy and management consulting is one of the most popular destinations for graduates and MBA professionals. The consulting case interview might very well be one of the most nerve-racking moments in the application process at leading consulting firms such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bain & Company – after all, once you have decided that consulting is the right job for you, the next thing you need to do is to prove that same point to your interviewer.

Experts at My Consulting Coach share nine tips to help candidates prepare for a consulting case interview.

Know the basics

This means you should know what exactly happens in the interview process for aspiring consultants and how it usually goes. Typically, you will undergo a two-pronged procedure. First, your leadership skills and ability to work in a team will be assessed in what is called a fit interview. After this, comes the actual case interview. Here, you will be given a case, a scenario, or a problem. It may be hypothetical, factual, or a hypothetical one based on a real-life consultancy project. The task at hand is for you to show how you can solve this problem to the best of your abilities. While your interviewer will be the one asking questions, do note that you are also allowed to throw in your own set of queries. It may also be worth noting that, normally, these set of interviews will take around 30 minutes to an hour. So, be prepared to be in the hot seat for some time.

Learn to press pause

Your first reaction when a question is asked is, of course, to answer. However, train yourself to resist the urge to do so. As you prepare for your consulting case interview, remind yourself to get used to the act of taking time to think before you speak. Condition your mind such that, during your case interview, your mind will automatically hit pause before you get your busy with your talking point. Not only will you be buying yourself enough time to gather your ideas and thoughts, but you will also be showing to your interviewer that you are the kind of consultant who can reign over instincts when the need arises.

Qualify your questions

As mentioned earlier, your case interview is not a one-way street. As such, your interviewer will be expecting you to raise questions as well. During a case interview, your questions are as crucial as your final answer. You do not need to raise a lot just to prove that you are inquisitive and curious. But you do have to ask a few right ones. So, you will need to learn how to ask insightful and clearly relevant questions. Evaluate the information given and assess the impact of each detail to the problem you are trying to resolve. By doing so, you can demonstrate your ability to process information thoughtfully to the point that you can identify which points need clarification and further probing.

9 tips to help prepare for a consulting case interview

Mind your manner

By manner, this means your way of relaying what you want and need to say to your interviewer. As the consulting industry is by and large a field that thrives on communication, it is important to have a good command of the language. Consultants convey ideas, findings, concepts, and similar data to clients. Not to mention dealing with the jargon of different fields. Which is why you need to prove that you possess effective communication skills. But your grammar skills are only half of the battle.

In a consulting case interview, you will also be gauged on how you break down your solution to the given problem. And this is reflected in the structure of your answer. Think of ways on how you can create a framework for your case interview answer. One way to do so is by showing how you can dissect your answer into several steps or stages. State the problem in your own words to show your grasp of the case scenario. Next, define and elaborate on your action steps (i.e. how you will respond and tackle the situation). Then conclude with your overall resolution. The goal is to convey, as much as possible, a clear-cut, step by step solution that led to your conclusion. Keep in mind that you are in this case interview to show how you think and solve problems. Doing it in a structured and organised manner will make it easier for your interviewer to analyse how exactly your mind works.

Do your research

Case interviews are meant to evaluate not only your skills but also your knowledge. In preparation, you also need to do your research about the company and be up to date when it comes to current events. More often than not, case interviews dwell on business-related problems such as new acquisitions, revenue prospects, and the like. Knowing more about the company’s values and goals can help you position your case interview answer in such a way that it remains aligned with what the company stands for. Brushing up on current events, on the other hand, will help you in terms of applying real-world scenarios to the case situation asked.

Similarly, you can also prepare for your consulting case interview by practicing on sample case interview questions which can be found on several resources. While every industry has a unique approach and a confidential set of questionnaire, case interview questions usually revolve around similar topics and principles. For example, some case problems given may deal with making reasonable estimates of unknown facts. Others are poised to evaluate how well-versed you are in terms of business concepts such as value proposition, pricing, and product development, to name a few. And then there are also other cases that identify components that cause businesses to gain or lose profit. Case interview questions may be unpredictable, but you can always anticipate similar problems so you can prepare your template of possible answers.

Brush up on your math skills

Your consulting case interview will not only revolve around a word problem with a concept-based solution. More often than not, you will have to also perform some mathematical computation (such as providing numerical estimates and percentages). In line with this, you will have to refresh your numerical agility and computation tactics to arrive with a plausible answer. Never underestimate the power of mental math and basic arithmetic concepts as these will definitely come in handy in your upcoming case interview.

“Case interviews are meant to evaluate not only your skills but also your knowledge. In addition, during a case, your questions are as crucial as your final answer.”

Be keen on details

The field of consultancy is filled with interaction and is widened by networks of connections. Given the vast exposure a consultant has, keeping an eye out for details is a must if you are to make each connection as distinct as possible. During your case interview, the same principle applies. Paying attention to every detail given in relation to the case will show your interviewer that you are receptive enough and capable of handling complex information. Remember that the best consultants strive for accuracy and know how to filter useful data from those which are not.

Allow room for flexibility

Equally important to a well-structured case interview answer is your capacity to make room for adjustments and changes. While you may have prepared a standard answer format to ensure that your manner is impeccable, do not overdo it. Make sure you also leave out a chance to show how you can be quick on your feet during the course of the interview. Because in reality, the life of a consultant revolves around flexible schedules and adapting to multi-faceted industries.

Exhibit grace under pressure

Consultants at consulting firms are very much used to functioning well despite any situation. Your goal then is to show your interviewer that you can do just the same. And it starts with your case interview performance. Exude confidence as you answer in an unhurried yet well-timed manner. Oftentimes, concise and direct to the point answers are enough to satisfy interviewers. Do not allow any form of pressure to distract you from managing your time during your case interview.

Conclusion

As with any other career step, preparation is the ultimate key to getting favourable results. When it comes to consulting case interviews, preparation comes in various forms. Knowing the steps involved in the entire process, its duration, and its goal can help you in setting the right mindset for your upcoming case interview. Similarly, pausing to think about relevant questions before giving out a concise answer can demonstrate how you use caution, critical thinking, and exemplify your probing skills. And when it comes to delivery and communication, grammar and structure will best convey your ideas. 

On the other hand, research about the company as well as keeping abreast with current events are essential in terms of supplying relevant and necessary information that will support your answer during the case interview. Practice exercising attention to detail and flexibility, and learn to filter necessary information and use it to bring about your resolution’s best-case scenario.

In the same manner, you will also have to lastly, learn the art of grace under pressure. Take a deep breath and fill your voice and every answer with the confidence you gain from all your hard work and preparation. 

Related: Why strategy and management consulting are so popular among graduates.


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