How to End a Case Interview on a High Note

by Vault Careers | August 13, 2012

This is the fourth in a series of posts for Vault by Nick Waugh and Kenton Kivestu on preparing for the upcoming consulting recruitment cycle. Check in for a new interview-related post each Monday until August 27th, when we will be launching the 2013 edition of the Vault Consulting 50, which will feature insider information—including tips and sample interview question—from thousands of practicing consultants at the most prestigious consulting firms in the world.

Synthesis – “it’s a conclusion not a summary”

It’s amazing how the end of a case can feel like the air going out of a balloon. As an interviewer, you have watched an extremely successful and smart candidate struggle through the case interview “game”. Ninety percent of the time the candidate just wants to get out of the room. It can be very hard to watch.

A partner at one of our firms once said to us that “every client meeting should end on a high…you want everyone to be feeling positively about what was discussed or at the least know the path forward and their role”. That same advice should be applied to a case. This is usually the final impression you leave with an interviewer. You want it to be the proverbial finale at the end of the fireworks show.

While that sounds dramatic, there are several keys to success at the end of the case:

Synthesize, don’t summarize

All too often, candidates simply summarize what was discussed over the previous 20 minutes. They discuss the answer to their public math. They mention another takeaway that was discussed that might have been more qualitative in nature. In such a hurry to get to the end, they forget that this section has the most important “so what?” of the entire discussion. Think about what all the clues you have gotten are and how they add up to the recommendation. The sum will be greater than the individual pieces.

Don't waffle—make a direct recommendation

Consultants are paid for their recommendations. Firms test a candidate’s ability to do this with their cases. If a candidate is asked at the outset if a firm should enter China and at the end gives a two-sided argument that gives no clear direction, there is doubt that consultant will be worth their mettle in the boardroom. Think about the facts that you have learned throughout the course of the case, apply some basic logic or your experience, and be firm with a recommendation. There usually is no right answer to a case and if you can make a recommendation supported by the facts that you discussed with the interviewer, you will be “right”. 

Speak clearly and reference your structure where relevant

The best cases are often railroaded by the interviewee’s inability to communicate effectively. Imagine an interviewer who has flown in the night before (or the morning of), has their own project and the deliverables they owe a Partner on their mind, has been interviewing candidates for five hours straight and has asked all of them the same case and questions. This person is tired and distracted and needs to be spoon-fed a recommendation. An interviewee cannot expect this person to “read between the lines” or understand a point that is being made indirectly. The best syntheses state a recommendation and then support it with three to five clear bullets based on information uncovered in the discussion. Interviewees who speak in bullets and not paragraphs are infinitely more successful.

Next Week: Cracking the Personal Interview

Previously:

How to take the Stress out of Doing 'Public Math'

Case Interviews: The Dangers of Too Much Practice

How to tell the story of your summer internship

Nick Waugh is currently with a private equity firm helping to form and implement strategies within its portfolio. Prior to that, he was an Engagement Manager at McKinsey and Company where he was heavily involved with recruiting out of the country's top business schools. Having been through hours of case interviews, Nick wants to see candidates more informed and thus more successful. He can be reached at nick@rocketblocks.me

Kenton Kivestu is a Senior Product Manager with Zynga. While in business school he worked at the Boston Consulting Group and prior to that was at Google. He has helped to recruit and hire top candidates throughout his career. Kenton has channeled his desire to help others interviewing at consulting firms through his case practice tool www.rocketblocks.me. Email Kenton at kenton@rocketblocks.me

Filed Under: Consulting | Interviewing | Job Search | Networking


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