Mastering Case Interview Language Skills: How to Practice

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Last Updated on February 15, 2024

Many people I work with for top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain practice case interviews in English, using English-speaking resources and working on cases with English-speaking partners, even though they are not native English speakers.

This does not come as a surprise as all resources are, in fact, in English and if you practice with people from different countries, the common denominator is English.

However, their actual live case interviews might be in a different language, for instance, their mother tongue or in the language of the office they are applying for. For some, this could mean preparing for a case interview in a non-native language.

In this brief article, I want to discuss in what language you should practice for case interviews.

Why Practice in the Right Language?

If you are preparing for a case interview in a language that is not the language that your real case interview will be in, it is important to take steps to ensure that you are also comfortable and confident communicating in the relevant language during the interview.

I remember that I had a ton of projects with English-speaking clients at McKinsey and then after two years, I was working with a German client for the first time. You would guess that since German is my native tongue it would have been business as usual but it took me a couple of meetings to adjust and get into the German top-down presentation/Pyramid Principle communication and it felt uncomfortable initially.

As a result, I was slower, it took me more time to think, and the ideas I could come up with were limited by my issues to express myself properly (as funny as it sounds). I believe that some of the clients also noticed that, which is – of course – not ideal.

The same applies to case interviews.

You want to reduce any cognitive load that does not contribute to thinking about and solving the problem.

Communication should not be an additional burden and come naturally.

How to Practice in the Right Language?

Gaining consulting interview language skills is much more than understanding what language you should practice in. You need to become fully comfortable with the right habits, phrases, and keywords as well.

Here are some tips that can help you prepare and be ready for your case interview in the right language:

  1. Start preparing early: The earlier you start preparing, the more time you will have to become comfortable with the language and communication style used in your interview. Aim to start preparing in the right language at least one month in advance, if not more, to give yourself enough time to get comfortable. Learn how to communicate using the Pyramid Principle.
  2. Practice with native speakers: Find native speakers of the language you will be using in the interview and practice with them. This can be through mock case interviews or targeted drills. Practicing with native speakers will help you become more comfortable with the language and improve your pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. It’s essential to do as many live cases as possible in the language of the interview. This will allow you to practice your communication skills and get feedback on how you are doing. Try to find a partner who speaks the language fluently and is willing to help you prepare.
  3. Engage in language drills: If you are interviewing in a different language than your native one, set aside time to practice the language on your own, focusing on specific areas you need to work on. This can include vocabulary building, grammar, or pronunciation exercises. Doing language drills on your own will help you internalize the language and build confidence, especially in a case interview, which requires a very specific type of business language. In this article, we describe the different phrases you can use for the different parts of a case (e.g., structuring, brainstorming, charts, math, and recommendation). Read it and translate it into your local language.
  4. Be aware of cultural differences: Different languages and cultures may have different communication styles and expectations. While consulting interviews are very standardized, there are still some local differences. For example, in some cultures, it is common to be more direct and to the point, while in others, more indirect or nuanced communication is preferred. Be aware of these differences and adjust your communication style accordingly.

It is difficult to specify an exact number of live cases or drills in the second language that will be necessary to be comfortable in an interview. This will depend on various factors, such as your language proficiency, the complexity of the cases, and the language and cultural differences you are dealing with. Multilingual case interview preparation could make this even harder.

Consider the extra time needed to become comfortable in a given language when creating your case interview preparation plan.

Practice content and communication with our dedicated preparation packages.

On top of that, you should practice in the required language with

  • several strong case partners
  • access to relevant case materials
  • a strong coach, e.g., in English.

Also, be aware that some firms in certain countries interview in multiple languages. For instance, McKinsey in Japan interviews in English and Japanese. BCG in Germany interviews in German and English. If you are interviewed in multiple languages, practice cases and drills in both!

Still, aim to do as many live cases and drills as possible in the language of the interview. This will allow you to practice your communication skills and get feedback on how you are doing. As you become more comfortable and confident with the language, you can gradually increase the difficulty of the cases you work on.

In conclusion, prepare for a case interview in the relevant language, even more so if it is not your first language. Mastering case interview communication in a second language and case interview language skills development for consulting firms takes time and effort. However, with practice and preparation, you can become comfortable and confident in communicating in that language during the interview. The key is to start early, practice as much as possible, and be aware of cultural differences.

On top of that, also make sure to generate strong fit answers and behavioral stories in advance and practice them in the relevant language for the personal fit interview.

How We Guide You to Ace Your Case Interview

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