What is a case interview, and how does it differ from any other interview?
In answering these questions, it’s actually easier to begin by explaining what a case interview isn’t. A case interview is not a trawl through your employment history. A case interview is not an exploration of your academic credentials. If you find yourself sat opposite a case interviewer, the consulting firm has already deemed you a good match on paper. But while a CV implies a certain amount about a candidate, through their experience and academics, it doesn’t tell the whole story. As a result, consultancies use case interviews to assess a candidate’s skills and suitability for the job.
The case interview is used by all consultancies (so there’s no getting out of it!), and simply put, it is an analysis of a business question. The interviewer will present the business problem, or case, and by thinking out loud you will have to derive an answer in front of your potential employer. The question or problem could be on anything – previous cases have seen scenarios as diverse as marketing a cereal and launching a new jet engine. But don’t worry, you won’t have to read up on aviation before your interview! The questions aren’t designed to test whether you know the right answer; in fact, there often is no right answer. Instead, the questions are designed to see how you arrive at your response. In short, the firm wants to see how your brain works and how you use logic to solve a problem.
Before you get around to the case itself, expect a five to ten minute preliminary chat. This may involve a couple of behavioural questions, after which you may be tested on your knowledge of the company itself. Case interviews are only around 30 minutes long, and these preliminaries can eat into 15 minutes of that time. This means you’ll only have 15 minutes or so to do the case itself.
Cases come in all shapes and sizes. Most will be presented orally, although some will involve handouts and a few may even be entirely written. But no matter what is required of you, cases will generally fall into one of the three types: Business Cases, Guesstimates or Brainteasers. The first is outlined below:
The interviewer will present you with a business scenario and you’ll have to analyse it, ask appropriate questions and make recommendations. As mentioned earlier, there is no right or wrong answer; however, do not make assumptions unless you have to! If you don’t have enough information to progress your line of reasoning, ask your interviewer relevant questions. It’s the interviewer’s prerogative to refuse to answer your questions, but if that is the case, don’t be deterred. Inform your interviewer that a lack of information has forced you to make some assumptions and carry on with your case. Here are the most common questions asked in case interviews:
- What is the client’s product?
- Who hired our firm?
- How long will the project last?
- Has the client experienced this issue in the past?
- If so, how did they respond? What was the outcome of their actions?
- What have similar companies done in similar situations?
While a business case could be on practically anything, most can be categorised under one of eight typical cases. Note however that these specific case types are not mutually exclusive; your case may be a combination of two or more types, or require problem solving under a number of categories. Here are the different types of case you may receive and examples of problems interviewers have posed in past interviews:
New Product Introduction
In a nutshell, these cases will ask you to recommend a strategy for introducing a new product to market. E.g. Buzz Motors is a car manufacturer. The company has designed and built a brand new electrical car. How should it be introduced to the market?
Entering a New Market
If you’re faced with this case type, your task will be to analyse whether a company should enter a new market. This may also involve the viability of a new product line or additional service. E.g. A computer manufacturer has been approached about diversifying into printers. Provide an evaluation of this proposal and the company’s ability to deliver the product.
Falling Profits Case
This type of case will have you investigating the reasons for a company’s fall in profits. E.g. Food distribution company, Fast Foods, has had three straight quarters of growth. However, the fourth quarter saw a 40% fall in profits. What happened?
Entering a New Geographic Market
This type of case will have you exploring whether a company should expand into new countries or regions. E.g. Clear-as-Day has been successfully making bathroom cleaners in the UK for a decade. The company believes it can replicate this success on the Continent. How sound is this expansion?
Site Location Case
Should your interviewer pose this type of problem, you will be tasked with evaluating possible sites for a company’s new facility. This may even involve a recommendation for the complete relocation of an organisation’s operations. E.g. A motorcycle manufacturer believes they may be able to cut costs by moving their operations into a more provincial retail park. What factors should be considered in making this decision?
Mergers & Acquisitions Case
This sort of case is exactly as it sounds, requiring you to appraise a mooted merger or acquisition. E.g. An international voucher code website is considering buying out a new competitor that poses a threat in a particular market. Assess the viability of this proposal.
Competitive Response Case
This case will challenge you to determine the best course of action following a move by the client’s competitor. E.g. A clothing retailer’s closest competitor has just taken its entire product range online. How should the client respond?
Changes in Government/Regulatory Environment
Your interviewer will present a change in government or regulatory environment, and your task will be to advise how the company should respond to the new circumstances. E.g. Due to an increase in tariffs on all exports, an international distributer’s profits have suffered. What should the company do?
For information on case interviews, read the second part of this article here.
This article is an extract from Inside Buzz's "An Inside Look at Consulting, 2013 Edition". For more in-depth information on consulting, download the free guide here.