How to ace the Bain written case interview
Bain & Company employs written case interviews during their recruiting process in addition to the traditional face-to-face case interviews.
After all, the written case interview presents you with a slight variation of the classic case interview. Hence, preparing for the case interview also helps you with your performance with the written case and vice versa. Below we dive into the differences between both case formats, discuss how Bain expects you to perform, as well as provide actionable advice on how to solve written case interviews.
The written case interview asks you to draft a recommendation for a challenging client situation. You are presented with a lot of information and facts about the problem as well as a few key questions that need to be solved. You will have ~1 hour to prepare your recommendation, which you have to present and defend in front of one or more interviewers afterward.
Your task is to understand the client’s problem, develop a sensible recommendation, taking into account the various trade-offs. You are expected to engage in a problem-solving discussion with your interviewer, who acts as a fictitious client to ensure a strong outcome for the client.
The quick facts
- Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes in total (55 minutes to prepare, 40 minutes to present and debate)
- Data: 20-30 slides packed with information on a specific client’s issue
- Output: Slide templates to structure and guide your storyline and recommendations. Fill in the blanks on the specific slides (e.g. provide supporting data and points for an action title, fill results calculations, strengthen graphs and tables with data you have calculated, etc.)
- Format: You prepare several slides to present your recommendation and analysis/ supporting arguments and then get challenged by the interviewer to see how you would react in a real client situation
- Math: The numerical problems are simple and should be tackled with classic pen-and-paper math or estimations; calculators are not allowed
- Focus: All industries or functions are fair game
- Target group: The written case interview is currently employed mostly in Asian and European offices during the second round interviews.
How does Bain want me to tackle the written case interviews?
Bain recommends the following to tackle their interviews. Keep it in mind when you draft your recommendation!
- Trust your gut. There is no one correct answer. You need to deliver a persuasive recommendation and participate in a rich discussion about how to achieve results for your client.
- Prioritize. Preparation time goes quickly, so put aside case slides that seem less important.
- Be concise. Have your key messages outlined in your summary. Save the details for your discussion.
- Do the math. Figure out what analytics are necessary for your recommendation, and piece together the required data from the slides.
- Be pragmatic. Craft a recommendation that can actually be implemented by the client.
- Consider both sides. Strengthen the rationale behind your recommendation by working through the strongest arguments against it.
How do I approach the Bain written case interview?
We have compiled a tested strategy to help you to effectively tackle this type of assessment. Below is our 6-step approach to written case interviews that focuses your efforts, makes sure you zero in on the crucial bits of the case, swiftly analyze and synthesize the available information, and provide a strong recommendation.
#1 Already have a plan when you go in for the written case
Since time is usually limited, you should have a plan on how long you want to spend on each task of the assignment beforehand. For the 55 minute case take
- 2.5 minutes for a quick scan of the documents
- 2.5 minutes to plan your approach (i.e. what do you need to figure out, what information is important, what analyses would you have to do, what output documents do you have to draft)
- 10 minutes to draft your output slides (doing this early helps you to focus your analytical efforts)
- 30 minutes to conduct analyses and work through the case
- 10 minutes to populate your slides with your findings and recommendations
#2 Focus – quickly separate crucial information from the noise
Written cases usually present you with an information overload that you need to sort out. First, figure out what information is crucial so you can conduct the necessary analyses to reach a recommendation. Write down what the actual question is that you need to solve for right away and constantly relate back when you work on the written case. That way you should be able to read with a certain objective in mind and improve your comprehension speed. Second, dive into the relevant information, structure your analysis, and dive right in. Similar as to a case interview, take a hypothesis-driven approach to frame your structure and thoughts. Synthesize each bit of your analysis to draw proper conclusions.
You can practice this by looking at business school cases, such as
Additionally, try to increase your reading speed with apps such as Spreeder, Reedy, or Read Me!
#3 Graphs and charts – interpret and distill key insights from graphs and charts
Written cases bombard you with charts, graphs, tables and other visual depictions of data that you should use to test your hypotheses. Learn how to quickly read and interpret them.
- What are the key messages and insights?
- How does the information of several charts/ tables, etc. relate to each other?
- What information is relevant to the case?
In order to prepare these skills, go through The Economist, the Wall Street Journal or similar and use their graphs or tables to train your reading and interpretation skills. Alternatively, look at practice McKinsey Problem Solving Test or BCG potential test graphs. Time yourself while doing it, e.g. giving yourself 30 seconds before you are able to communicate what the graph is all about and what you would infer from it (what is the ‘so what’?).
#4 Math – quickly draft equations and conduct pen-and-paper math
Get into the habit of quickly setting up and simplifying calculations. Practice quick pen-and-paper math as well as estimations similar as you would do in a normal case interview. To prepare and practice, look into McKinsey PST, BCG potential test exercises as well as GMAT questions.
#5 Storyline – draft a compelling storyline and tell it with visually appealing outputs
Create a top-down storyline of your recommendations. State your primary recommendation, then use supporting arguments to strengthen your position.
In practice, you would have one key slide talking about your finding and recommendation, i.e. the what or how the client should solve the problem, Then, you would have several supporting slides, discussing arguments for your solution, i.e. the why your approach is the best. Lastly, put a slide talking about the next steps to hedge your bets (what else would you like to know to make your recommendation even stronger) and demonstrate that you think ahead.
As for the slide design, use an action title on each, then some visual aid like a graph (remember to have a graph title as well) and some supporting bullet points, or if not applicable, just bullet points.
- The action title should convey the so-what of your analysis. You need to show the implication of what you present rather than a description of what you have found.
- The headings of each slide together should tell the full story. Everything below the heading are details to the story and should support your key message
#6 Presentation and defense – communicate and defend your recommendation top-down
If you have to present your findings at the end of the case, follow the top-down approach of your slide deck. Be confident and engaging when going through your recommendation and supporting arguments.
First present your headlines, e.g. “The client needs to cut cost by x% to break even within the next 5 years”; then move on to the details of the slide such as “Our manufacturing costs have increased by 25% over the last 3 years,..” This approach is very much like the recommendation you would give at the end of a normal case interview
Clarify when you are using hypotheses and assumptions that you were not able to verify.
Lastly, be open and ready to debate. The interviewers will definitely challenge your recommendation. It is important that you confidently stand your ground unless they make you aware of an obvious mistake on your part. In the latter case, demonstrate that you are coachable and save the situation by providing a plan of action on how to re-do the analysis to cross-check and improve your results.