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by Vault Consulting Editors | September 12, 2007

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With the fall recruiting season imminently approaching, case questions are a looming reality for those looking to land a spot at a consulting firm of their choice. Unlike behavioral (or "fit") interviews, case interviews are not designed to test your educational or professional qualifications. Generally, if you've made it to this stage of the hiring process, the firm has already deemed you worthy of a more in-depth skill assessment. As such, in the case interview you should show off your creative and analytical thought process, presentation skills, attention to detail, quantitative skills and leadership skills. Show the interviewer that you are able to take charge of the case question and work independently to arrive at some logical conclusion. In most cases, the interviewer will be looking for strong out-of-the-box thinking, rather than a concrete answer to the question.

In your preparation for these case studies, I thought I would share with you some of the case examples and interview tips that consultants divulged to us in the 2007 Vault Consulting Survey. Most consultants told us that case questions are taken directly from the interviewer's actual consulting engagements, rather than abstract business scenarios. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts/strategies on how best to solve these cases.

Examples:1. "Company X is in the fitness business has been experiencing declining profits. Can you help us understand why has this happened and what we can do to improve it?"2. "After having given the candidate some pertinent data for evaluation/synthesis, the question of 'should we buy this asset or not' would be a typical question."3. "How to contend with an increasing problem of unpaid accounts receivable at a large automotive parts supplier."4. "My case interview was about finding the right price point for a 'luxury' pet food. It was more theoretical versus actually cranking out the numbers, which I thought was much more useful in terms of having a discussion about the concepts at play."5. "An airline is trying to decide whether to continue to pull planes from the gates to do maintenance or to do some maintenance at the gate. What factors must you consider to make the best decision?"6. "Imagine a paper company with three divisions: stationary, paper products for the kitchen and printer paper. The stationary division is doing poorly and you have been brought in as a consultant to help advise the company as to whether or not they should sell off the division."7. "There is an oil/gas company who is deciding between two different technologies for transferring natural gas, which one should they pick?"

And here are some tips from various consultants on how to approach these types of questions:

-"Successful interviewees must disaggregate the problem into the component pieces and solve each piece logically."

-"Be prepared. Be prepared for traditional, structured interviews (devise how many golf balls could fit into a football arena), and be prepared for them to ask you nothing at all (interviewee is expected to wow interviewer with depth of questions posed)."

-"A structured approach is very important to make sure you lead your interviewer through every step of your analysis. Also, if you start down the wrong track, be receptive to real-time coaching by the interviewer, who typically will try to help you get back on track."

-"I used the Vault case studies guide to prepare from. Don't go to the interview without having practiced at least 50 of them because being practiced in structuring problems is the most critical thing. Cases are always done based on a project the interviewer has worked on so there's no point trying to memorize particular examples you read." [shameless plug]

-"It's not about the answer, but about a comprehensive approach to understanding all of the factors that might affect the outcome."

In preparing for your case interviews, be sure to check the firm's website to see if it has any specific practice questions. BCG, for example, offers this useful resource.

And for some additional insight, check out this informative video.

Good luck!

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