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The Case Interview

In addition to behavioral questions, you may have a case or technical portion of the interview. This type of interview is common when interviewing for consulting and marketing positions. Such interviews put candidates in hypothetical situations, have them solve business problems and test their ability to function under pressure.

The best preparation for case interviews is PRACTICE!

Three Categories of Case Questions

Market-Sizing: Market sizing cases test your thought process, ability to structure, general business and numbers sense, and communication given an ambiguous problem. The goal is to showcase how you break down the problem and come to a reasonable answer. There is often a broad range of acceptable answers instead of one correct one.

Sample Questions:

  • How many yellow school buses are used for elementary schools in [city you are recruiting for]
  • What is the market size of protein powder in the U.S.?

Commonly Used:

  • U.S. population (300M or 320M), NYC population (7 or 8M)
  • Average members per household (3 or 4)
  • Lifespan (80 years), estimated population per age year (320M/80years = 4M)

Strategy Cases: Strategy cases test your ability to structure a business problem into sub-problems, ask for and analyze data.  Case types can include profitability, market entry, acquisition, organization, industry analysis, capacity expansion, investments. Strategy cases may sometimes have a mini-market sizing case embedded as well.

Sample Questions:

  • Our client is a mining company in Australia. They would like to know if they should expand their mine into an adjacent lot.
  • Our client is a fast-food chain. Over the past 3 years, they’ve experienced declining profits in their Northeast segment and want to explore how to turn this around.

Quantitative Questions and Brain Teasers: These serve to see how well you think on your feet, and may or may not have a definite answer.

Sample Questions:

  • Twelve is what percentage of 144?
  • Why are manhole covers round?

To learn more: Management Consulting and the Case Interview Process.

Ten Tips for Acing the Case Interview

  1. Understand the Question: Before jumping into your answer make sure you understand the entire question. Restate the question and make sure that all of the information you heard was correct and clarify any questions about the prompt itself.
  2. Take Time to Think: After receiving the prompt and asking some clarifying questions, take a few minutes and think about what approach you are going to take for each section. Jot down notes for each part of the question and consider which framework you are going to use. A few minutes of silence may seem awkward, but interviewers understand that you need time to gather your thoughts.
  3. Form a Partnership with the Interviewer: The case interview is a partnership between the interviewer and the applicant where the interviewer is the “client” in the consulting engagement. Your task is not simply to answer the questions, but to build a relationship with the client, find out critical pieces of information that may have not been revealed, and read subtle cues from the interviewer.
  4. Listen attentively throughout the Case: Listening is crucial for the consulting case interview. The interviewer will give you clues throughout the case and if you do not pay careful attention you may miss an important point, taking you down the wrong path.
  5. Use Frameworks: Frameworks are ways to structure your answer, making it easier both for you and for the interviewer. It helps the applicant by structuring their thoughts and making sure they don’t forget a key part of the analysis. At the same time, it helps the interviewer by providing a clear train of thinking instead of jumping around from point to point. It is not imperative to memorize every framework, but it is important to have structure in whatever way you decide to approach the question.
  6. Take Notes: Be scrupulous in your note taking; it is not enough to just listen attentively. Having detailed notes will help you avoid making careless mistakes and keep your thoughts organized. Make use of highlighting, circling or whatever type of marking up you prefer—it’s a great way to prepare for a summary at the end of the interview. Some interviewers may ask you for your notes after the interview in order to check your organization and/or make sure you do not disclose information to other applicants.
  7. Make Assumptions: Making assumptions during the case (and estimations) will help you solve the problem faster and make it easier to make calculations to continue with your analysis. For example, if you are doing a market sizing on how many coffee cups are sold in the U.S., you might say, “I am going to assume a U.S. population of roughly 300 million people divided equally among the 0-20, 20-40, 40-60, and 60-80 age range”. Remember to always justify your assumptions: “I am going to assume we can capture 10 percent market share, because of x and y.” Estimations are also a key way to simplify your analysis, but make sure you are not estimating or rounding a number that needs to be exact (like profit margin).
  8. Ask Great Questions: The consulting case is largely about asking the interviewer the right questions in order to learn more about the organization. Because the interviewer usually has information that is not immediately revealed, you should ask questions before making your own assumptions. Questions have to be probing and show your understanding of the subject matter. Instead of asking to learn more about the competition, you may ask, “Do you have any information or insight on the breakdown of the fast-food industry? How many major competitors are there and what are their respective market shares? On what basis do they differentiate themselves?”
  9. Provide Insight Beyond the Case: It is not enough to simply answer the questions posed by the interviewer. Throughout the case, your role as an applicant is also to give insight wherever you can, showing the interviewer your thoughtfulness and expertise in business strategy. For example, if you are estimating revenues from radio advertising, you may offer additional insight about how much TV or online ads cost as a way to estimate radio ads. Additionally, you may even go beyond the questions in the case in the conclusion and offer two or three things the organization should consider that were not posed by the case but may be good business strategies.
  10. Have a Conclusion: There is nothing more awkward in a case interview than when the applicant answers the last part of the question and assumes they are done. Take a few minutes at the end to gather your thoughts and provide a thoughtful summary that includes the question posed, your approach and assumptions, and your final conclusions. This is a great way to set you apart from other applicants and, if done correctly, will end the interview on a high note (even if there were blunders at various points in the interview).

Sample Business Frameworks

  • 3 C’s (Company, Customer, Competition): A framework for analysis that includes understanding the internal operations and strategy of a company, the customers and demand for the product, and competition in existing and new markets.
  • 4 P’s (Product, Price, Promotion, Place): A framework used to analyze marketing initiatives and new product launches. Product refers to the characteristics of the item being sold. Price refers to the amount it is sold for. Promotion refers to the strategy of how it is sold (PR, Marketing, etc.). Place refers to the channels through which it is sold and how it is positioned.
  • Cost vs. Benefit: A simple framework that allows you to divide your analysis of a business case between the costs that will be incurred by a specific action (physical costs, reputation and brand, etc.) as well as the benefits that will result from the action (efficiency, revenues, strengthening of brand, building relationships, etc.).
  • Fixed vs. Variable Costs: Costs can be split up between those that stay constant, regardless of a company’s activity (fixed costs) and those that vary based on the number of sales (variable costs). An example of a fixed cost is rent. An example of a variable cost is raw materials.
  • Internal vs. External: A framework that analyzes a business case from an internal perspective (culture of the organization, core competencies, products, etc) and the external perspective of the organization. (Barriers to entry, the capacity of industry, competition, etc.).
  • McKinsey 7-S Model: Strategy (firm’s goals), Structure (an organizational form that best suits firm’s goals), Staffing (what type of staff does firm require), Style (management style), Skills (what skills do employees need), Systems (what measurement systems are needed), Shared Valued (firms’ culture).
  • Porter’s Five Forces: Developed by HBS professor Michael Porter, this is a framework to analyze an industry. The five forces are Power of Suppliers, Power of Buyers, Substitutes, Rivalry (among firms), and Barriers to Entry.
  • Profitability: Profit is defined as Revenues – Costs. To analyze a profitability scenario you can analyze revenues (quantity * price) and costs (fixed vs. variable costs discussed above). To fully understand profitability study an accounting income statement.
  • STP (Segmenting, Targeting, Positioning): A framework for finding the correct market for a product or service. Segmenting refers to identifying the distinctions between customers, targeting refers to identifying the target group, and positioning refers to the strategy of appealing to this target group. Supply vs. Demand – Economic analysis which aims to forecast the price of a good or service based on the intersection of supply and demand curves. Supply analysis looks at the production of goods and services to see how much is available for the market. Demand analysis looks at consumers’ desire for a good or service and how much they are willing to pay.
  • SWOT: A simple presentation framework that allows you to pinpoint an organizations Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
  • Value Chain/Supply Chain Analysis: A framework for understanding the flow of goods and money in an industry. Components include Inbound Logistics, Production Logistics, Outbound Logistics, Sales and Marketing, Service.
  • Other Frameworks: Macroeconomic Frameworks, Political Frameworks – (non-profit motivating organizations), Organizational Change Frameworks, Produce Life Cycle.

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