How do you succeed in a consulting case interview?

the image is the cover for the article on case interview skills

Today we focus on how to develop, deploy, and demonstrate the right skill set!

Consulting case interviews

The set of skills you need to display in a case interview is the same as the skills needed in the daily life of a McKinsey, BCG, or Bain management consultant. The case interviews are basically a trial run to gauge how well you would do the analytics in the actual job.

The second element of a typical consulting interview would be the personal fit or personal experience interview, which we describe in great detail here.

Case interview skills

Before you start preparing for case interviews, it is important to understand what dimensions the case interviewer will score your performance on. Knowing about what is important for the interviewer, you can tailor your preparation and put special attention to the points outlined below.

We discuss 6 key areas that you need to focus on as well as provide examples of how a strong candidate would display mastery in each.

Let’s break it down!

Case interview structure

Structure. Throughout the case interview, the structure should be the anchor that keeps you focused and on track. Initially, you need to structure your issue tree with each branch representing a part of the problem you would like to investigate. Devise a MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) approach, covering all aspects of the problem. Stick to this structure throughout the case and refer insights back to it. Tackle one branch of the structure at a time and deep dive into the branch until you have concluded your analysis or investigation and received a key insight. Then, move on to the next branch. After concluding each branch, synthesize your findings and discuss how they relate to your status quo in the case. Using this approach, you will significantly increase your chances to understand the root cause of the problem and devise a sound recommendation in the end.

Creativity/ insightfulness

Creativity. One way to rise to the top of a bunch of case interview candidates is to demonstrate a spike in creativity. When thinking about the problem and drafting your issue tree, go as broad and as deep as possible. Try to come up with as many different angles to the problem as possible (breath) and draft rich descriptions that qualify why these areas are important to investigate (depth). Refrain from using frameworks like 90% of other applicants. Remember: creativity is nothing without structure. Keep your creative thoughts contained in a MECE structure.

Case interview analytics

Analytical rigor and logical thinking. The analytical rigor links the structure to creative thinking. Employ a hypothesis-driven approach to your problem solving, i.e. have a clear picture of where you think the solution of the case is buried. This way, you will be able to qualify your thinking, follow your structure, tackle (likely) high-impact issues first, lead the interviewer, and ask the right questions.

Ace the case interview with our dedicated preparation packages.

Case interview math

Mental math and basic calculus. There are two parts to the problem when cracking math problems during a case interview. First, to solve a specific problem, you are often asked to derive the correct approach to calculate your desired outcome variable. You need to structure your approach before doing the actual calculations. Watch for different measurements, etc. Even the simple computations often include some twist. Second, you need to calculate relying on basic pen-and-paper math. Incorporate some pen-and-paper and mental math exercises into your case interview preparation routine. The best way to solve math problems during the case interview is to first, ask the interviewer to structure your calculations, second, guide the interviewer through your planned approach, third, do the calculations swiftly in silence and sanity check them, and lastly, present your results top down to the interviewer PLUS qualify what these numbers mean in the context of the case. What is the ‘so-what’? We have written about case interview math in more detail here.

If you need to brush up on your math skills, we have created a program with detailed insider learning materials, 25 videos and a guidebook as well as 2,000 practice drills that mimick the McKinsey, BCG, and Bain case interview math as well as the aptitude and analytics test math for you here: the Case Interview Math Mastery.

Pyramid Principle / Top-down communication

Communication and maturity. Communication is very important since you need to be able to elicit the right information as well as convince the interviewer about your recommendation. First, always communicate top-down, e.g. when making a statement, start with a key fact, then provide supporting information for this fact. You’ll ensure that your statements are to the point and prevent endless rambling about a certain topic. Time is limited and you want to get your point across in a concise and structured manner. Second, over-communicate about what you are thinking to allow the interviewer to understand your thoughts and considerations. The interviewer needs to understand how you reached a certain conclusion, e.g. when discussing your drafted analysis, tell the interviewer what you would like to investigate and why. Third, are you leading the conversation or are merely getting dragged along by the interviewer? Remember to be in the driver seat and be confident to lead the talk.

Business savviness

Business sense and intuition. While you are certainly not expected to know details about a certain industry or specific context of the case, you need to be able to demonstrate business sense and intuition, which is very much related to common sense. You should be able to quickly understand the business – even just by asking targeted questions – about how a specific business works, what its business model is, what the main cost drivers are, and how the business makes money. When receiving new information or insights during the case, you should be able to make sense of it in the context of the case and relate it back to the information you already have as well as the problem at hand. Interviewers would like to see you quickly gravitate towards and identify the root cause of the case problem. Use your common sense or experiences/ knowledge with other industries or contexts to explain certain phenomena in the case, e.g. when coming up with assumptions.

We can help you learn all the skills needed for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain interviews

We have specialized in placing people from all walks of life with different backgrounds into top consulting firms both as generalist hires as well as specialized hires and experts. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we help you by

Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program to help you break into consulting.

Ace the case interview with our dedicated preparation packages.

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