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WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT CASE INTERVIEWS?There are many former McKinsey (and other) consultants in management and executive roles who are accustomed to using case interviews to evaluate job candidates. Doing well on case interviews usually requires the "consulting toolkit" that many employers value. You'll often be competing with former consultants - who know how to do well on case interviews - for jobs so preparing for case-type interviews can help level the playing field.
WHAT ARE NON-CONSULTING, CASE-TYPE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS LIKE?Non-consulting case interviews (I'll refer to them as "case-type" interviews) are similar to consulting case interviews in that they're used to assess a candidate's ability to think through and solve a business problem. Typically, you'll be presented with a business situation and asked how you would deal with certain issues or answer specific questions related to the case.
EXAMPLES OF NON-CONSULTING, CASE-TYPE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
- Suppose we're considering launching a loyalty card program - what are some of the things we should think about as we make the decision?
- Suppose we find that our employee turnover has suddenly increased during the past year - how would you go about figuring out how to reverse the trend?
- Suppose we have the opportunity to acquire our largest competitor - what would you want to know before going through with the transaction?
HOW TO PREPARE FOR NON-CONSULTING, CASE-TYPE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
1. Know your interviewer's businessConsulting case interviews assume that you have no knowledge of the case topic. In fact, if I saw that a McKinsey candidate had professional or personal experience with the case topic, I would switch to my back-up case on a completely different industry. That was to make the process fair to both a) other candidates who didn't have similar familiarity and b) the candidate who might try to apply incorrect, external information, assumptions, or knowledge to the case. In consulting, we were testing candidates' ability to reason through business problems, not their knowledge of the subject matter.
Non-consulting interviews apply cases differently. In these, in addition to seeing how you think through a business problem, the interviewer usually wants to see that you a) have a working knowledge of their industry or company and b) are passionate about or at least interested in what they do. So, make sure you:
- Understand the company's business model and what they do
- Familiarize yourself with your interviewers' area(s) of responsibility
- Acquaint yourself with their competitive landscape and current events in their industry
2. Be aware of general business issues and trendsOn the one hand, McKinsey cases take place in self-contained universes. For the most part, all of the information you need to solve the case is given to you verbally or in exhibits like tables or graphs. In general, consulting case interviews focus on how you work with the information you're given - while you're expected to know and apply consulting frameworks, creative problem solving, and general business dynamics, there's no expectation that you apply extraneous facts or knowledge to a case. If you do apply them, you would typically do so as additional thoughts, next steps, or caveats to your primary answer.
On the other hand, non-consulting, case-type interviewers will expect you to put your answers into the context of the current business envinronment. If there are macro issues that will impact your answer, you'll be expected to understand and explain those implications. Examples that might be applicable to some cases would include: the state of the US or global economy, unrest in certain international markets, the cost of fuel or natural resources, and the increasing use of mobile devices.
3. Answer the question that's askedThis is important for any interview question - case or otherwise - but seems to be especially challenging during case interviews. Candidates get so wrapped up in trying to solve a particular part of the case that they'll deliver an answer that doesn't directly address the question asked. A helpful suggestion is to write down the question. Then, as you work through the case, take a peek at the question and make sure that your response is going to answer it.
4. Demonstrate structured problem-solvingOften, the case interview is less about getting the right answer than it is about letting your interviewer see that you're able to tackle problems in a thoughtful, logical, structured way. To be clear, "structured" doesn't mean that you're expected to memorize and apply canned business frameworks. It means that your problem-solving approach is organized, thorough, and easy-to-follow. Adopting a T-shaped approach - making sure you've gone broadly across relevant topics before going deep on one or two - is a good way to do this. Both during and after my time at McKinsey, I'm much more impressed with candidates who can set up and explain a thoughtful approach to solving a problem that gets to an "incorrect" (I like to think of it as "different from what I was expecting") answer than someone who guesses or happens to have extraneous knowledge, and just blurts out the "correct" answer.
5. Cover the basics of consulting case prepUltimately, a case-type interview is still a case interview, so you should understand the basics of consulting case prep. There are plenty of online resources - including this blog - that can help. If you're in business school you can also leverage your consulting club - many have tutorials, case books, and other useful resources - or ask your consulting classmates for help and advice. If you're not currently in school, find friends, colleagues, and people in your network with consulting experience and ask for their help. In particular, look for cases that have lots of exhibits - graphs, tables, and data - to interpret since it's likely that your ability to draw conclusions from them will be evaluated.
Although it's far less common in non-consulting interviews, your case might require math - and most interviewers will not let you use a calculator. So, just in case, brush up on your arithmetic, practice doing public math (working through calculations on paper and explaining the steps you're taking out loud), and avoid common case math errors.
Finally, be prepared to synthesize your answer in a clear, concise manner, similar to how you would deliver a 30-second elevator pitch.