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March 10, 2009


While the traditional case interview remains the tried-and-true method of screening potential consultants, many consulting firms are incorporating a hybrid interview into the mix: the presentation case. As a part of second or third round interview rounds, candidates may be ask to present and discuss a topic to a set of multiple interviewers.The case interview presentation could take many different forms. You might be handed a pile of papers to read through and be instructed to put together a short PowerPoint deck for discussion in an hour. Some firms ask you to complete a set of presentation slides by hand, often supplying the conclusions and key insights based on the data provided. Other firms ask you to prepare a presentation ahead of time on the topic of your choice, and one or two even make you explain a topic to your interviewers on the fly.As mentioned elsewhere in this guide, some consulting firms have been using presentations within the context of a group discussion and joint presentation for years. It is interesting to see that the trend is finally moving to the individual level.

Where is my case interview, and what have you done with it?

While the traditional case interview is generally a good indicator of success in actual problem-solving, it is also an imperfect assessment in many ways. Cracking a case on the spot isn't something you normally do on the job; in reality, you will rarely need to solve a client's problems in the space of twenty minutes. The necessary data would never be available right away, and you would have normally have days or weeks to create an appropriate framework and adjust it as necessary. Firms have realized that they might be missing out on great candidates who might not do well at in the classic case interview.If you've taken a personality test like Myers-Briggs, you know by now that people process information differently. Some people are great at processing data using intuition; others need to have all of the facts and numbers before they can synthesize them. What if you weren't so great at analyzing a case on the fly and in front of a tense client, but with 10 minutes alone to reason you'd come up with a brilliant solution? Wouldn't that person make an outstanding consultant as well? Think about your peers who you feel would make highly successful consultants, yet aren't getting consulting jobs because they aren't stellar at case interviews.

From the firm's perspective, the presentation case interview can give the hiring firm data that the traditional case interview cannot provide. The firm gets a slightly better sense of how you might conduct yourself interacting with a client, which is generally just as high-pressure a situation (if not more) than your typical interview situation. It also sees you in a more typical job situation, where you are given data or research summaries and you need to draw some conclusions. Finally, the firm sees your presentation skills; no matter the level, nearly all consultants do at least some presenting on every project. This tells the firm quite a bit more about how you would actually do the job. This is so useful an interview format that you'd think most consulting firms would use it. Indeed, if it weren't so time-consuming (and therefore costly) for firms to round up the number of people necessary for this process, they probably would.

But this departure from the traditional case can also be a boon for the candidate. While there are a wide variety of traditional case interview questions out there, let us boldly argue that they test the same sorts of things thinking on your feet, having studied and practiced frameworks, and having thought through the "right" types of problems. Here are just a few other dimensions or skills that could surface for you to better make your case:

  • Synthesizing research offline. Suppose you were the sort of person described above, where you were decent at case interviews but exceptional at thinking about information and processing it after a few minutes alone? What if you were really good at spotting trends within a lot of data? The presentation case format could make you shine.
  • Presentation. You also don't get the opportunity to present content during a traditional case interview that you get during a presentation case interview. Some people are really good at making presentations, and such speaking skills are crucial to client project work. An important aspect of this is presentation structuring.
  • Teaching ability. Consultants are often the experts who have to teach content or explain complicated topics to clients. Again, during a traditional case interview you don't get the chance to show off your teaching skills, whereas during some versions of the presentation case interview you do.
  • Team skills. Some firms are using the group interview format mixed into all of this; occasionally you will need to work with other interviewees to structure and present a recommendation to the mock review board. If you are particularly good at building team consensus and playing well in the sandbox, this will work in your favor.

The upshot is that you might have to do some or of all of these things during an interview. The fact is, you are going to have to do all of these things as a consultant. You might as well see what it's like to do some of them during the interview process. And you might get some extra points for it.All in all, we think the presentation case interview is a good thing. It makes everyone in the process better informed, and that's better for everyone involved, especially you.


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