5 Tips for Acing the Consulting Case Interview

by Vault Consulting Editors | January 05, 2011

  • My Vault

By Igor Khayet, My Resume Shop

This post is part one of a two-part series on advice for the consulting case interview

As an interview consultant, I have helped hundreds of students apply for positions at top consulting firms. At Yale's Undergraduate Career Center, I have seen how a lack of preparation can make even the brightest students struggle with the consulting case interview. While the best way to prepare is through extensive mock interviewing with someone knowledgeable about the case interview process, that's not always an option. Here, then, are five helpful tips for acing your consulting 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. It does not make sense to ask a clarifying question about the prompt halfway through the case. For example, if the prompt states that you should estimate the demand for haircuts in the United States you should clarify if the interviewer would like the information in number of haircuts, the monetary value, or both.

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 (more on this later). A few minutes of silence may seem awkward, but interviewers understand that you need time to gather your thoughts. Many students jump right into an answer and are caught stumbling through the case without a clear direction.

3. Form a partnership with the interviewer:

The case interview is a partnership between the interviewer and the applicant. Remember that 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. For example, if part of the analysis is to identify costs, you should provide an answer and then ask if you have missed any important costs. Additionally, as you analyze the case and provide analysis, watch the non-verbal communication of the interviewer. Are they nodding their head in agreement or taking notes, or do they look lost and confused?

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. One of the worst things you can do is ask a question that has already been answered or make an assumption that has already been refuted with case information. If the case is about projecting the market for premium travel packages, you should realize the importance of the word “premium”. This will dictate your approach.

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. An example of frameworks is Porter’s Five Forces, 3 C’s, 4 P’s and dozens of others. It is not imperative to memorize every framework, but it is important to have structure in whatever way you decide to approach the question.

 

About Igor Khayet:

Igor is the President and Founder of My Resume Shop, a career services company offering assistance with résumés, cover letters, and interview preparation (including Consulting Case Interviews). He is a former Admissions Interviewer for the Yale School of Management and a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches. Contact him at igor@myresumeshop.com

Filed Under: Consulting

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