Consulting Interview Preparation Plan: A Winning Strategy

Last Updated on February 16, 2024

Consulting case interviews are a critical component in the hiring process of top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These interviews are designed to mimic the real-life challenges consultants face, presenting candidates with business problems that require innovative solutions. Unlike traditional fit interviews that focus primarily on past experiences and qualifications, case interviews test a range of skills including problem-solving, analytical ability, creativity, and communication.

In a typical case interview, candidates are given a business scenario, problem, or challenge and asked to formulate a structured approach to solving it. This may involve analyzing data, making calculations, and presenting a coherent strategy to address the issue at hand. The cases can cover a variety of topics, from market entry strategies and growth plans to operational improvements and pricing strategies.

Many candidates make a cardinal mistake when preparing for their consulting interviews. They don’t have a proper preparation plan when starting out.

Having a set plan to execute when going for the McKinsey, BCG, and Bain interviews goes a long way to make sure you are spending the right amount of time effectively on getting better.

In this article, we want to give you some guidance on how to structure your preparation most effectively. We answer the following questions:

  • How long should you prepare for?
  • How much time should you invest?
  • How should you divide your time between cases and personal fit questions?
  • What are the most effective ways to prepare?

Preparation Correlates with Performance and Offers

The preparation for consulting case interviews cannot be overstated in its importance. These interviews are, to a significant extent, a learned skill. Through preparation, candidates can familiarize themselves with the common formats of case questions, develop a systematic approach to tackling different types of cases, and refine their analytical and presentation skills.

Our evidence from running more than 1600 case interviews for our candidates and supporting tens of thousands more through our preparation products suggests a strong correlation between the amount of time spent preparing and the candidate’s performance in case interviews.

Those who invest time in understanding the fundamentals of case interviews, practicing with a wide range of case types, and receiving constant feedback on their approach and performance tend to perform better. This preparation helps candidates develop the agility to navigate complex problems and the confidence to articulate their solutions effectively.

However, the preparation journey is not one-size-fits-all.

The optimal amount of preparation varies depending on an individual’s background, problem-solving experience, and familiarity with business concepts. While some may require more time to acclimate to the unique demands of case interviews, others with relevant experience or natural problem-solving skills might find themselves progressing more quickly.

In essence, thorough preparation enables candidates to internalize the habits and thought processes that successful consultants employ, ensuring they can meet and exceed the expectations of top consulting firms during their case interviews. The goal is not just to solve several cases back-to-back but to demonstrate a level of strategic thinking and professionalism that resonates with the consulting firm’s values and approach to client service.

Understanding the Preparation Timeline

The Ideal Time Frame

When embarking on the journey to prepare for consulting case interviews, understanding the ideal time frame is crucial. Typically, as the bare minimum we advise our candidates to allocate a minimum of two weeks of full-time preparation. This period is essential for learning the basics, understanding the mechanics of case interviews, and beginning to apply this knowledge to practice cases.

However, not everyone can dedicate full-time hours, and for those balancing other commitments, spreading preparation over no longer than three months on a part-time basis is recommended. This extended timeline allows for a gradual but consistent deep dive into the nuances of case solving, ensuring that learning is thorough and not rushed.

The rationale behind setting a maximum preparation time is to avoid diminishing returns on the time invested and potential case burnout. Prolonged preparation can lead to overthinking and eroding the spontaneity and clarity that come with fresh insights.

One to two months of preparation time is usually the sweet spot that allows candidates to amplify their strengths and work on their weaknesses to have a well-rounded profile that is offer-ready.

A daily investment of a few hours is ideal. This should include a mix of reviewing theory, practicing cases, and reflecting on feedback from mock interviews. Consistency is key; regular, focused sessions are more beneficial than sporadic, lengthy ones.

How Long Should You Prepare for Consulting Interviews

The answer is: It depends on two things.

First, can you devote a significant amount of your time to the interview preparation? Second, do you have a business background? If the answer is yes to both, you could potentially prepare within 3 weeks. If you are working a full-time job and have no business background, you should rather invest 2-3 months.

In the latter case, you would need more time to get up-to-speed with business concepts and need to manage your time more carefully to avoid burning out before the interviews.

Tailoring Your Timeline

Several factors can influence how much time you’ll need to adequately prepare for consulting case interviews:

  • Background and Experience: Candidates with a business or consulting background may find some aspects of case interviews more intuitive, potentially reducing preparation time.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Individuals with strong analytical and problem-solving skills may progress faster through the preparation materials and case practices.
  • Learning Style: Fast learners or those with prior experience in similar interview formats might find they require less time to get up to speed.

Given these variables, it’s important to assess your starting point and adjust your preparation timeline accordingly. Here’s how to tailor your timeline:

  • Evaluate Your Current Skills: Take stock of your analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills. Identify areas of strength and weakness to focus your preparation.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Based on your assessment, set realistic goals for each phase of your preparation. If you’re already familiar with the basics, you might spend less time on introductory materials and more on advanced practice.
  • Adjust Based on Progress: Be flexible and willing to adjust your plan based on your progress. If you find certain areas more challenging than expected, allocate additional time to them.

Creating a personalized study plan, while keeping in mind the recommended minimum and maximum preparation durations, can help you maximize your learning and increase your chances of success in consulting case interviews. Remember, the goal is not just to prepare but to prepare efficiently and effectively, tailoring your approach to fit your unique background and learning needs.

How Much Time Should You Invest When Preparing for Cases?

When preparing for cases, split your time between

  • reading business publications and consulting firm research like McKinsey Insights, BCG insights, etc/ (0-20 hours)
  • familiarizing yourself with business terminology and different industries (0-10 hours)
  • conducting structure, math, and exhibit drills on your own (40-200 hours)
  • reading through cases (5-20 hours)
  • performing full-mock interviews with peers (10-50 hours)

In total, if you are working without a coach, you should spend around 50-300 hours on case interview preparation. The exact time you need depends on your skill-set related to problem-solving, idea generation, math as well as business acumen, and communication.

Experienced candidates can usually get away with the bare minimum. If you have significant deficits in more than one area, 200 hours of preparation time is not unrealistic if that is what it takes to pass the bar.

The majority of successful candidates will usually prepare within 50 to 80 hours on average.

Resources:

Focus on quality over quantity. Doing 50+ cases does not mean much if you are not applying the right habits to score high and do a detailed debrief after every case to improve. You want to move from bad to good for your weaknesses and good to great for your strengths. Use the feedback from your previous experience, case coaches, and peers to tailor your prep accordingly.

Consider booking at least an initial coaching session with a professional coach and interviewer to get a detailed and objective evaluation of your performance. This will act as a productivity and skill multiplier since you will learn the right habits for every case regardless of context and framework right from the start.

Additionally, you will get a tailored preparation plan out of the session that will set you up for effective and efficient preparation. By just reading Case in Point and Victor Cheng, you do not cover the full range of more creative cases that are common nowadays in MBB. In short, approach and mindset > framework.

Practice drills alone (structure, chart, math) and practice full cases with other excellent candidates who know the right habits and approach. You must be practicing with really good peers, otherwise, you are wasting your time. Practicing drills on your own is a huge effectiveness and efficiency booster since you can go over many more questions in a shorter amount of time compared to practicing with peers. Do both in parallel!

For your preparation, tailor the cases to the firm you are applying to. McKinsey cases for instance are quite different from BCG and Bain.

Invest extra time into case math. Math problems are the common most reason why candidates fail. If math is a weakness of yours invest 2 hours per day on a. setting up the math logic and b. conducting number drills. There is no excuse for not investing the extra time to become bulletproof in all areas that are evaluated during a case interview.

Otherwise, every hour invested into case practice is worthless in the end if you do not receive the offer. It can be uncomfortable and tough to work through one’s weaknesses day after day but that is the only way to become successful.

Structuring Your Preparation Process

Getting Started

The first step in preparing for consulting case interviews is to understand what they are and why they are used. Case interviews simulate a consulting project scenario, asking candidates to solve a business problem or challenge. This tests your analytical thinking, business acumen, and communication skills.

To get started, immerse yourself in the basics:

  • Familiarize Yourself with Case Formats: Learn about different types of case interviews, including market sizing, and business situations, as well as different case interview formats based on who is leading the case.
  • Understand the Evaluation Criteria: Know what interviewers are looking for, such as structured thinking, numerical proficiency, creativity, and poise under pressure.
  • Begin with Learning Resources: Start with introductory materials, such as books on case interviews, online tutorials, and courses that provide an overview of the case interview process.

Importance of Understanding Key Skills and Habits

Mastering case interviews requires more than just understanding the types of cases you might face; it necessitates internalizing key skills and habits that successful consultants use. These include:

  • Structured Thinking: Learning how to break down complex problems into manageable parts.
  • Analytical Skills: Being able to quickly and accurately analyze data to extract insights as well as performing quick mental math.
  • Effective Communication: Communicating your thoughts and solutions clearly and persuasively.

Developing these skills early in your preparation process sets a strong foundation for more advanced practice and helps you approach cases with the right mindset.

Deep Dive into Case Practice

Strategies for Effective Case Practice with Peers and Coaches

After grasping the fundamentals, the next step is to engage in intensive case practice. This phase is about applying what you’ve learned and refining your approach through repetition and feedback. Here are some strategies:

  • Practice with Peers: Find study partners who are also preparing for consulting interviews. Practicing with peers can provide diverse perspectives and mimic the dynamic nature of real interviews.
  • Engage with Coaches: Professional coaching can offer personalized feedback and insights from experienced consultants. Coaches can identify weaknesses in your approach that you might not see and provide strategies for improvement.
  • Utilize Real Cases: Work through cases from actual consulting projects if possible. This ensures that your practice is as relevant and realistic as possible.

Building Up Stamina and Focusing on Weaknesses

Consulting case interviews can be mentally taxing, requiring you to think on your feet for extended periods. Building up your stamina is crucial:

  • Increase Practice Intensity Gradually: Start with shorter practice sessions and gradually increase their length and complexity to build your endurance.
  • Simulate Interview Conditions: Practice cases in a simulated interview environment, including dressing formally and having a series of cases back-to-back to mimic the exhaustion of actual interview days.

Focusing on weaknesses is equally important:

  • Identify and Target Weak Areas: Use feedback from peers and coaches to identify areas where you struggle, whether it’s quantitative analysis, business judgment, or structuring.
  • Customized Practice: Tailor your practice sessions to focus on these areas. For example, if quant is a weakness, incorporate more data analysis and math practice into your routine.

By structuring your preparation process around these principles, you’ll be better equipped to handle the demands of consulting case interviews, ensuring a well-rounded and effective preparation journey.

A Tailored Consulting Interview Preparation Plan

Now, you should spend 50-70 at a minimum on the preparation. Depending on the time you have available per week as well as on your skill level and experience, you should decide how many weeks you need to prepare.

Two examples are below:

Example: Experienced Candidate With a Full-Time Job

  • You have done case interviews before and now want to get a job at McKinsey
  • You reckon that you would need 110 hours to prepare
  • You are working a full-time job with 50 hours per week and decide you can spend 20 hours per week on interview prep
  • You would need to start preparing roughly 6 weeks before the interview

Example: Candidate With No Business Background, Can Practice Full-Time

  • You have never done a business interview before, your math is rusty, you struggle with breaking down problems into their constituent parts, and have little knowledge of business concepts
  • You reckon that you would want to invest around 300 hours in the consulting interview prep
  • You can spend 40 hours per week
  • You need to start your preparation around 8 weeks before the interviews

Please note that these are just recommendations based on our experience.

Most candidates prepare significantly less than the proposed hours. While we understand the constraints about timing and preparation, please note that most candidates also fail to secure their offer with around 1% of applicants actually being able to start their consulting careers.

Find a number that works for you and consider including rest periods or days to avoid burning out and keeping your mind fresh.

Detailed 8-Week Case Interview Preparation Plan

Accelerating your case interview preparation involves a structured plan that moves you efficiently from a basic understanding of case interviews to being well-prepared for the real thing. Here’s how to structure your accelerated preparation plan:

  1. Weeks 1-2: Foundation Building
    • Begin by familiarizing yourself with the format and purpose of case interviews.
    • Invest time in understanding the evaluation criteria and mastering basic thinking techniques, not frameworks.
    • Start practicing simple case studies to apply theoretical knowledge.
    • Critically evaluate in what areas you are stronger and in what areas you are lagging.
    • Create a preliminary preparation plan based on these insights that helps you work on all areas of the case alone and with peers.
    • Begin practicing with professional coaches to gain insights from experienced consultants. If you want to engage a coach, their value add is highest during the early stages of your prep as they can show you how it’s done, critically evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and create a tailored prep plan for you. Everything you will work on after the coaching will be more effective and efficient. Some of my clients reach out two days before the interview for a final test interview, only to find out that they would need to significantly overhaul their whole approach.
  2. Weeks 3-4: Skill Enhancement
    • Continue your focus on developing key skills such as structured thinking, analytical prowess, and effective communication.
    • Engage in daily practice sessions with peers and individual drills alone, focusing on a variety of case types and case elements.
    • Review feedback meticulously and identify areas for improvement and adjust your preparation plan as you move ahead.
  3. Weeks 5-6: Intensive Case Practice
    • Increase the volume and complexity of cases you practice.
    • Simulate real interview conditions to build stamina and adaptability.
    • Start preparing and rehearsing answers for the personal fit interviews.
  4. Weeks 7-8: Real Interview Simulation and Fine-Tuning
    • Engage in mock interviews that simulate the full interview experience, ideally with former or current consultants.
    • Focus on refining your approach based on feedback, honing in on areas of weakness.
    • Schedule lighter practice sessions, focusing on maintaining sharpness without causing burnout.
  5. Final Days Before the Interview
    • Reduce the intensity of practice to avoid fatigue. Focus on relaxation and mental preparation. If you know you are a nervous test-taker or interviewer, prepare mentally already from the very start. Imagine positive outcomes and visualize how the interviews go well.
    • Review your notes and key insights and learnings to keep them fresh in your mind.
    • Ensure you are well-rested and mentally prepared for the actual interviews.
the image is a 7 day example plan for consulting case interviews, it breaks down ecery day of the week into different practice parts for consulting jobs at mckinsey, bcg, and bain
Consulting Interview Preparation Plan Example

Balancing Practice with Rest and Other Responsibilities

It’s crucial to balance intense preparation with adequate rest and attention to other life responsibilities. Here’s how:

  • Schedule Regular Breaks: Incorporate short breaks during study sessions and longer breaks every few days to prevent burnout.
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Ensure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly to keep your mind and body in optimal condition.
  • Manage Your Time Wisely: Use time management techniques to allocate specific blocks of time for case preparation, ensuring you also have time for work, studies, or personal commitments.

What About the Personal Fit Interview or the McKinsey PEI?

Fit questions are often neglected as candidates mostly focus on cases. For personal fit questions and behavioral questions devote your time in the following way:

  1. Prepare answers for all the typical fit questions and McKinsey PEI stories within 4-6 hours.
  2. Rehearse them a couple of times with friends, peers, and family within 5-7 hours.

In total, spend around 10-15 hours on personal fit questions.

Resources:

How We Can Accelerate Your Preparation

Tailored Coaching and Resources for Exceptional Preparation

To further accelerate your preparation, consider leveraging tailored coaching and specialized resources:

  • Personalized Coaching Sessions: Work with a coach who can provide personalized feedback and guidance, focusing on your specific weaknesses and how to address them.
  • Access to High-Quality Materials: Utilize resources that offer in-depth insights into case interviews, including case books, video series, and preparation courses designed by experts.
  • Practice with a Purpose: Make each practice session count by setting specific goals, such as improving quant speed or enhancing structure clarity. Use resources that match these goals for targeted improvement.

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.

Key Factors Impacting Preparation Time

Natural Intuition and Ability

Some candidates possess a natural intuition for business and problem-solving, which can significantly impact the amount of time needed for case interview preparation. Individuals with a strong foundational understanding of business principles, strategic thinking, and analytical skills may find themselves navigating through case studies more intuitively. This innate ability to dissect complex problems and formulate coherent solutions can shorten the learning curve, enabling these candidates to grasp case interview concepts and techniques more rapidly.

Learning Speed

The speed at which a candidate learns new information and adapts to the case interview format plays a crucial role in determining the overall preparation time. Candidates who can quickly absorb and apply new concepts and problem-solving techniques will likely progress faster in their preparation. Learning speed is influenced by various factors, including prior knowledge, the effectiveness of study methods, and the ability to internalize feedback from practice sessions. Faster learners can move through the preparatory stages more swiftly, dedicating more time to refining their skills and addressing specific weaknesses.

Quality of Practice

The quality of case interview practice is arguably more important than the quantity. Engaging in high-quality practice sessions that closely mimic actual consulting interviews can lead to more significant improvements in performance. This includes practicing with experienced partners or coaches who can provide realistic case scenarios and constructive feedback. Quality practice also means focusing on areas of weakness and systematically working to improve them. Candidates who prioritize quality practice are likely to see a more efficient improvement in their case-solving abilities, potentially reducing the overall preparation time needed.

If someone tells me he or she has worked on 100 cases, this is usually not a promising sign but quite the opposite!

Consulting Firm Requirements

The specific requirements and expectations of the consulting firm a candidate is applying to can also influence preparation time. Top-tier consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain have rigorous standards and may present more challenging case interviews compared to other firms. Candidates targeting these prestigious firms may need to invest additional time in preparation to meet the higher standards. Understanding the nuances of each firm’s case interview style and focusing preparation efforts accordingly can help candidates tailor their study plan to align with these expectations, potentially impacting the duration and focus of their preparation period.

Recognizing these factors can help you tailor your preparation strategies effectively, optimizing your time and efforts towards achieving success in the case interviews.

Tips to Decrease Case Interview Prep Time

Besides the mentioned items that you only partially influence, other things can make you more efficient.

It’s not just about the hours you put in but to make those hours count. Maximizing the efficiency of your preparation for consulting case interviews can significantly reduce the amount of time needed while still ensuring you are well-prepared. Here are some strategic tips to help you streamline your preparation process:

Learning the Right Strategies Before Practicing

  • Understand the Fundamentals: Before diving into extensive case practice, spend time learning the fundamental strategies and thinking techniques used in case interviews. Familiarize yourself with the types of cases you’ll encounter and the typical structures for solving them. Resources like books, online courses, and workshops can provide a solid foundation.
  • Master Core Concepts: Focus on mastering core concepts such as market sizing, profitability analysis, and growth strategy. A strong grasp of these concepts will allow you to approach a wide variety of cases with confidence.
  • Study Successful Examples: Review examples of successful case interviews. Analyzing these can help you understand what a strong performance looks like and the rationale behind certain strategies.

Practicing Efficiently with a Partner and Former/Current Consultants

  • Select the Right Partners: Practice with peers who are also serious about consulting interviews. Ideally, partner with individuals who are at a similar or higher preparation level to ensure challenging and productive sessions.
  • Leverage Expertise: Whenever possible, practice with former or current consultants. They can offer insights into the nuances of case delivery and provide feedback that aligns with consulting firms’ expectations. Utilizing platforms and networks to connect with such individuals can be incredibly beneficial.
  • Simulate Real Interview Conditions: Treat practice sessions as if they were real interviews. This not only helps with nerves on the day of the actual interview but also ensures you are practicing under conditions similar to what you will face.

Importance of Feedback and Focused Improvement

  • Seek Constructive Feedback: After each practice session, seek detailed feedback from your partner or coach. Understand what you did well and identify areas for improvement. Specific, actionable feedback is invaluable for targeted improvement.
  • Focus on Weaknesses: Use the feedback to pinpoint your weaknesses and dedicate time to improve these areas. If numerical analysis is a challenge, for example, focus on cases or exercises that strengthen your quantitative skills.
  • Iterative Improvement: Approach your preparation as an iterative process. Implement the feedback from one session into your next practice case, continually refining your approach and skills. This focused improvement strategy ensures that each practice session contributes to your overall growth.
  • Reflect on Your Progress: Regularly take stock of your progress and adjust your preparation plan accordingly. Reflection allows you to see where you’ve improved and what areas still need attention, ensuring that your preparation remains focused and efficient.

Learning the right strategies upfront, practicing efficiently with the right partners, and focusing on feedback-driven improvement can streamline the preparation process and enhance your readiness for consulting case interviews.

Final Thoughts on Preparation Time and Planning

Understanding When You’re Ready for Interviews

Determining when you’re truly ready for consulting case interviews is a nuanced process. It’s not merely about reaching a certain number of practice hours or completing a set number of cases. Instead, readiness is better gauged by your comfort and confidence in handling a wide range of case scenarios and your ability to create fundamental frameworks on the spot and apply concepts flexibly and creatively. When you find yourself consistently providing structured, insightful solutions and receiving positive feedback from experienced practitioners, you can feel confident about your readiness.

It is important to keep in mind that you will likely never feel fully ready or perfectly prepared, which is completely normal!

The Importance of Practice and Not Just Counting Hours

Effective preparation transcends the simplistic metric of accumulated hours. It’s the quality of those hours that matters most. Deep, focused practice, where you actively learn from each case, refine your approach, and build on feedback, is far more valuable than a superficial tally of time spent. Remember, practice is not just about repetition; it’s about evolution and improvement. The goal is to develop a keen analytical mindset, robust problem-solving skills, and the ability to communicate your ideas clearly and persuasively.

As we’ve explored, preparing for consulting case interviews is a comprehensive journey that demands strategic planning, disciplined practice, and an adaptable mindset. Key factors like natural intuition, learning speed, the quality of practice, and specific firm requirements significantly influence the amount of preparation time needed. Strategies to decrease prep time include learning the right strategies before practicing, efficient practice with partners, and leveraging feedback for focused improvement.

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