On the Case – How to Ace the Consulting Case Interview
ConsultingIndustry SpecificInterview Types
Posted by Pamela Skillings
What Is a Case Interview?
In a case interview, the candidate is provided with a detailed situation, problem or challenge and asked to analyze it and come up with a solution.
A case interview question can be based on a creative business situation your interviewer has experienced in real life, or one manufactured to deduce your abilities. Questions can range from the basic (How do you know the light goes off when you close the refrigerator door?) to the sweat-inducing (Estimate the volume percentage of disposable diapers in the total US household garbage).
Acing the case interview is a key factor in getting hired in management consulting. After all, companies hire consultants to strategize solutions to business, organizational, or industry-specific problems.
Case interview questions help an interviewer understand how you think and how you would approach a client challenge if hired. Case interviews are also used in investment banking and other industries that require strategic business thinking.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks – Case Questions
You may be asked a few getting-to-know-you or warm-up questions first, but the interviewer will soon get down to the main event of the interview: the case question(s).
Each case question will outline a business problem. The problem may be general (“Determine the market for a drug that prevents baldness.”) or very specific and detailed (see example below).
“The global market for crystal giftware is growing at 3% a year, yet the client is experiencing steady declining sales and shrinking market share worldwide. Therefore, the CEO of Swarovski has retained your consulting firm to help him identify the cause for their declining sales and market share. He would like you to figure out two specific problems: Why is Swarovski’s market share declining? What can they do about it?” 
You, the candidate, are expected to resolve the problem within a limited amount of time while being observed. Many applicants fail in this challenge — especially without proper preparation.
How to Answer Case Interview Questions
Firms use case interviews to evaluate analytical ability and problem-solving skills. Your interviewer is more interested in your overall approach to the problem than the final outcome.
Your future employer is trying to see if you can analyze complex problems critically and break them down in a logical manner. Do you take all critical aspects into account? Do you avoid jumping to conclusions? Do you ask insightful questions? Do you have strong critical thinking skills?
If you arrive at the “right” answer or close to it, you get a gold star. However, it’s not always possible to get the “right” answer — either because there are multiple correct responses or critical information is not provided.
You can ace the case interview without getting the answer correct as long as you show that your thinking and problem solving processes are sound.
Your process will highlight your strengths in key competencies: numerical and verbal reasoning, communication and presentation, listening and observation, and understanding of business models and concepts.
Here are some high-level guidelines for answering case interview questions effectively (also see below for resources to help you dig deeper into your case interview preparation):
- Listen carefully. Pay attention to the question, including specific word choice, and make sure you understand what the interviewer is really asking for. Take notes so you’ll be able to refer back to provided data points.
- Ask clarifying questions. Make sure that you understand the purpose of the case. For example, in our giftware case question above, you’re dealing with a typical “increasing market share” problem. You should also ask for additional information and/or direction if needed. By asking smart questions, you show off your critical thinking skills and also engage your interviewer in the process.
- Outline your approach. After you’ve considered the case and asked any clarifying questions, explain to your interviewer how you plan to structure your response. This shows purpose and framework.
- Think out loud (but take your time). Tell the interviewer the factors you are considering and strategies you plan to use. If you decide to reject an option, explain a valid reason. However, don’t feel the need to express every thought that you have. Pause to consider before sharing a particular thought process with your interviewer. You don’t want to blurt out something that will make you look foolish.
- Stay focused. It can be very tempting to get bogged down in detail and possibilities. Keep the original question in mind and don’t allow yourself to wander too far from the main objective.
- Pay attention to feedback. Many interviewers will provide feedback — verbally or via body language or facial expression. Be observant and you’ll be able to see clues that you’re on track or way off base. If you get stuck, ask for input or validation of your understanding.
- Show off your quantitative skills. Take advantage of opportunities to calculate estimates or otherwise demonstrate your comfort with running numbers.
- Wrap up and summarize. When you’ve worked through the problem, take time to end crisply and confidently with a summary of your approach and key findings.
Preparing for a Case Interview
Preparation is key when it comes to acing the case interview. The best way to get good is to practice. Your competitors for the job will be practicing and you should too.
You never know exactly what case questions you will get. However, you can hone your skills by reading as many business-case dilemmas as possible.
The more types of cases and case frameworks you are familiar with, the smaller the risk of encountering a problem that will stump you. Standard case frameworks help you structure your answer by giving you detailed guidelines on how to generate solutions. Examples of frameworks: segmentation of a market, analysis of a competitor’s initiative, product pricing, etc.
Practice, Practice, PracticeReading up is a good start, but you should also spend time on mock case interviews. You can practice with a friend or colleague. This will be most effective if your practice partner is briefed on the basics of case interviewing so that the role play is realistic.
You can also work with a professional coach if you want truly realistic practice and feedback. At Skillful Communications, we have helped many clients prepare for their case interviews and land jobs at top consulting firms.
More Case Interview Resources
Here are some additional resources to help you understand and prepare for the case interview:
1. Consulting Firm Web Sites — Most of the top consulting firms provide guidance on case interviews online.
2. Helpful Books
Connect with Pamela Skillings on Google+
Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.
In this PrepPack™ you will find preparation materials for your Deloitte interview. As well as this, there are specific materials for the Deloitte case study, presentation, group exercise and more.
Below we will outline the types of interviews you may encounter in your application process, and give you tips on how to prepare for them.
Deloitte First Interview and Case Study
This interview is usually part of the recruitment process for BrightStart, the summer vacation schemes and the graduate programme applicants. This interview is designed as to learn more about you and your suitability for the role you have applied for.
The interview also contains the Deloitte case study for you to discuss with your interviewers. Ahead of your interview you will be given a short period of time to read a case study and think about some answers to a set of guide questions. The information contained in the case study may include numerical information as well as articles. Once in the interview room, the interviewer will ask you questions on the case study for you to discuss with them. You may find it useful to write down your thoughts to take into the interview.
Ahead of this interview you are advised to prepare examples of activities or pieces of work you have been involved with, where you have built up into a project over a large period of time. The interviewers are looking for evidence of your role, and how you worked with others to achieve your goals. Use the the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) to organise your answers and ensure that you don’t leave anything out. You should also read up on Deloitte, as well as any news concerning the company. Be prepared to answer questions about why you have chosen this specialty.
Applicants for consulting positions will have a group exercise at this interview.
Deloitte Competency Based Interviews
Applicants for the Deloitte professional hire positions can expect to be invited to at least one competency based interview. In a competency based interview you are asked questions designed to allow you to demonstrate that you have the skills to do the jobs. These skills are in the job description and person specification for the role you are applying to, as well as Deloitte’s core competencies and values.
Prepare in advance for a competency based interviews by thinking up examples against each competency. Develop examples around the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) to ensure that you have covered all the necessary information about your role in this example and how you contributed to the outcome.
Final Interview with Presentation
The final or Deloitte partner interview is usually the last part of the recruitment process for Deloitte BrightStart and Deloitte graduate programme applicants. This is a one hour interview in which you will give a pre-prepared presentation. This interview will focus on your values and how you can contribute to Deloitte. You should prepare examples demonstrating what matters to you, how you can contribute and so on. As always, prepare these examples using the STAR method (situation, task, action, result). Other questions in the interview may test your commercial awareness, so prepare by reading the news, thinking about the implications for Deloitte; read up on the trade press; read the Deloitte website, and make sure that you know about the company’s departments, work and competitors. You should also prepare questions to ask in the interview. Make sure they are not too obvious or could be found easily by looking at the website.
Ahead of this interview you are sent a topic and asked to prepare a five minute presentation to give over to your Partner interviewer. Make sure you understand what is in your presentation as you will be asked questions at the end. You are allowed to take a handout for the interviewer, but you will not have access to any IT equipment.
Topics will depend on the area you are applying to, but include:
- Your take on European audit reforms
- Have corporations learnt from the recession
- Regulatory impact on businesses
- How will audit have to adapt going forward
Read more tips about how to give a presentation on our presentations pages.
Prepare for Your Deloitte Case Study and Interview
If you want to really prepare for the Deloitte case study and interview you have to get the best preparation possible. Here we have highlighted the different sections of the Deloitte assessment centre to help you prepare. Start preparing today so you won’t be left behind.
Deloitte Interview Questions
The variety of interviews and range of interviewers at Deloitte mean that there are many questions you may experience. Questions at interviews may be situational, behavioural, about you or your choices.
Below is a selection of questions that may span any number of interviews:
- Why Deloitte, and why this job/ department?