The Ultimate Guide to Written Case Interviews

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Last Updated on February 5, 2024

Looking for ways to ace the written case interview?

This guide offers key strategies and insights to succeed in a vital part of the recruitment process for leading consulting firms, including Bain, BCG, Deloitte, and PwC. Learn to dissect written cases, formulate compelling recommendations, and deliver your findings with assurance.

Approaching a Written Case Interview

Written case interviews are a natural extension of the traditional case interview.

Bain & Company Recruiting

The written case interview, a distinctive approach within management consulting recruitment, tests candidates on their problem-solving capabilities in scenarios that closely replicate the work of a real consultant. This assessment typically progresses through five phases:

  1. Receipt of case materials and questions
  2. Data analysis
  3. Development of analytical slides
  4. Presentation to one or two interviewers
  5. Subsequent Q&A session

Two standout features of any written case are the ample preparation time it affords and the information overload it presents, demanding a detailed examination of copious amounts of data. During a given period, candidates must dissect the scenario at hand and assemble slides that effectively communicate their findings and strategies, echoing the consultant’s task during client discussions.

In essence, a written case challenges you to formulate a strategic recommendation for a complex client issue. Armed with an abundance of information and several critical inquiries, you’re given approximately anywhere from one hour to a couple of days to prepare your advice, which you’ll then need to articulate and justify to one or more interviewers.

The objective is to delve into the client’s dilemma, propose a well-reasoned strategy while considering potential compromises. You’re expected to engage in a constructive dialogue with your interviewer, who assumes the role of a hypothetical client or project manager, aiming to secure a favorable result for the client.

Throughout this process, you’re inundated with data. The key is to adopt a hypothesis-driven approach, aligning the questions with the available information to promptly identify and analyze pertinent data points.

From this analysis, you’re tasked with creating a concise, consulting-style presentation that weaves together your own narrative and insights, showcasing your ability to distill complex information into a clear and compelling storyline.

The Role of a Written Case Interview in Consulting Recruiting

The journey to a written case interview begins once you’ve successfully navigated through the initial CV screening and tackled any online assessments in the recruitment pipeline.

While the conventional case interview remains a staple in all consulting firms’ evaluation arsenal, the written case interview emerges as a pivotal element in the hiring process across various firms and locations. However, it’s important to note that not all firms or offices include the written case in their selection procedure, as recruitment strategies may vary.

This is a crucial detail to remember as you map out your consulting interview preparation plan.

If you find the written case interview awaiting you, there’s no cause for alarm.

Essentially, the written case interview offers a nuanced twist on the traditional case interview format. Therefore, honing your skills for the case interview will invariably bolster your readiness for the written case, and the reverse holds true as well.

Key Skills Evaluated in a Written Case Interview

During the written case interview, consulting firms look for a suite of essential skills vital for a consultant’s success:

  • Analytical Thinking: Evaluates how effectively you can navigate through complex data to uncover key insights and make logical conclusions.
  • Problem-Solving: Your creativity in formulating hypotheses and developing actionable plans to address the case’s business issues is put to the test.
  • Time Management: The ability to allocate your time wisely across various tasks to ensure both thorough analysis and well-crafted recommendations is key.
  • Communication: It’s critical that you articulate your findings and reasoning clearly and persuasively in your presentation.
  • Attention to Detail: Your propensity to identify and evaluate subtle yet significant pieces of information is closely examined.
  • Creativity: Your capacity to invent original solutions and tackle problems from new perspectives is valued.
  • Business Acumen: Assesses your understanding of the wider business environment, industry specifics, and the practicality of your recommendations.
  • Quantitative Skills: Your skill in performing accurate calculations and using numerical evidence to support your conclusions is crucial.
  • Composure Under Pressure: How well you maintain calm and confidence during the interview, especially when your ideas are challenged, is important.
  • Presentation Skills: The visual and organizational quality of your slides, along with your ability to present information engagingly, is evaluated.

Different Written Case Interviews by Firm

While the trend of utilizing written case interviews in consultant recruitment is seeing a decline, several notable firms still incorporate this method into their evaluation processes, including giants like BCG, Bain, PwC, and Deloitte.

Bain’s Approach to Written Case Interviews

Bain, a leading consulting firm, is well-recognized for integrating written case interviews. However, it’s important to note that not every Bain applicant will experience this format. It’s more prevalent in Bain’s offices across Europe and Asia, including the Greater China region, and tends to be less common in North American branches.

Key aspects of Bain’s written case interview include:

  • Question and Response Formats: Candidates are provided with 20-30 slides detailing a business scenario, and Bain offers 4-6 partially completed slides for candidates to analyze and fill in with their insights.
  • Preparation Time: Candidates have approximately an hour to prepare their recommendations on handwritten slides, without the use of calculators.
  • Presentation: A 30-40 minute presentation window is given to discuss findings and field questions from the interviewer.

For a deeper dive into Bain’s written case interviews, consider exploring more about their specific process.

BCG’s Written Case Interviews

BCG also employs written case interviews in certain locations, with practices varying by office. This format finds its place in some U.S. offices and international locations like Russia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and South Africa.

Distinctive features of BCG’s written case interviews include:

  • Question and Response Formats: Candidates work through 40-50 documents to address 3–4 core questions, using blank slides to present their analysis and recommendations.
  • Preparation Time: An extensive two hours of preparation is allowed, with calculator use permitted.
  • Presentation: Presentations last between 40-50 minutes, followed by a detailed Q&A session.

For more insights, the BCG written case interview process provides further details.

PwC’s Strategy for Written Cases

PwC, particularly its Strategy& division, stands out among the Big Four for its use of written case interviews, typically in the final assessment round.

PwC’s written case interview process involves:

  • Pre-Interview Preparation: Candidates receive a comprehensive set of documents 48 hours in advance to prepare a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Presentation and Q&A: A 20-30 minute presentation is followed by a 15-30 minute discussion with the interviewers.

Deloitte’s Written Case Interviews

Deloitte, or Monitor Deloitte, has been known to include written case interviews in its recruitment strategy, although current practices may vary.

The format closely mirrors that of Bain, with candidates receiving a set of slides to analyze and prepare recommendations within a 50-60 minute timeframe, leading to a 40-minute presentation and subsequent Q&A.

To secure a position at Deloitte, preparing for both traditional and written case interviews is advisable.

The Phases of a Written Case Interview

Stage 1: Receiving the Case

Candidates are provided with the case materials, typically including printed PowerPoint slides or A4 documents, filled with tens of slides featuring text, data tables, charts, and a description of the client’s goals.

Stage 2: Developing Hypotheses and Analyzing Data

The initial step requires candidates to dive deep into the materials provided to perform a comprehensive analysis. This critical phase is all about formulating and testing hypotheses based on the gathered data, requiring candidates to sift through the information to identify key data points that will guide the development of their presentations.

The ability to efficiently generate and evaluate hypotheses is tested here, as candidates must navigate through the abundance and complexity of data presented to them.

Stage 3: Designing Presentation Slides

Armed with insights gained from their analysis, candidates move on to the slide creation phase. This involves selecting relevant data to support their hypotheses and assembling slides that succinctly summarize their analysis, key findings, evidence, and proposed strategies.

Stage 4: Presenting Findings

Following a preparation period, candidates are given 15 to 20 minutes to present their findings and strategic recommendations to the interviewers. The presentation needs to be coherent and structured, encompassing a case overview, clearly stated hypotheses, and the evidence supporting these hypotheses, culminating in solid, actionable recommendations.

Stage 5: Question and Answer Session

The interview concludes with a Q&A segment lasting 15 to 20 minutes, offering an opportunity to explore deeper into the candidates’ presentations or to address any specifics that require clarification.

During this session, interviewers critically assess the candidates’ arguments and the rationale behind their conclusions, scrutinizing their preparedness and depth of insight.

It’s important for candidates to recognize that the thorough questioning of their approaches and conclusions serves as an integral part of the evaluation, designed to assess their ability to confidently and effectively defend their recommendations under scrutiny.

Strategy for Tackling Written Case Interviews

I’ve crafted a strategy that’s been tested and proven effective for mastering written case interviews. This six-step approach is designed to help you focus your analysis, identify the key components of the case, efficiently synthesize the information presented, and develop a persuasive set of recommendations.

1. Strategize Before Beginning

Given the tight time constraints typical of these interviews, it’s important to map out how you’ll allocate your time across various tasks. For instance, for a 55-minute Bain case, consider the following breakdown:

  • Initial Review: Spend about 2.5 minutes for a cursory glance over the documents to get a general sense of the content.
  • Planning Your Approach: Take another 2.5 minutes to outline your strategy. Determine what needs unraveling, which pieces of information are crucial, what analysis is necessary, and what your final deliverables should look like.
  • Slide Drafting: Allocate 10 minutes early on to draft your presentation slides. This upfront effort helps sharpen your focus for the analytical deep dive to follow.
  • Analytical Deep Dive: Dedicate 30 minutes to thoroughly analyze the case and work through the specifics.
  • Finalizing Your Slides: Use the last 10 minutes to refine your slides, ensuring they accurately reflect your findings and recommendations.

Adjust this time proportionally to the time you are given for your analysis. For 30 minute cases, cut every step down by roughly 50%, so in total, you would need 5 minutes to scan the documents and draft a plan, spend 5 minutes to draft your desired output, then work 20-25 minutes on the material and use the last 5 minutes to populate your slides or flipchart.

Be mindful of the inherent time pressures and the possibility that not everything may go according to plan. It’s wise to segment your time carefully, ensuring each phase of your preparation receives due attention while also leaving some buffer for unforeseen challenges or additional refinements.

2. Quickly Separate Crucial Information From the Noise

Written case interviews often inundate you with an excess of information that requires sorting. Initially, identify the essential information needed for your analyses to formulate a recommendation. Document the primary question you need to address and continually reference it throughout your work on the case.

Ensure clarity on the questions posed and develop a hypothesis for each possible response. Given the premium on time, it’s not feasible to explore every analysis and hypothesis comprehensively. Concentrate on the critical questions that fundamentally influence your recommendation, aiming to focus your presentation on the most relevant aspects.

This approach allows you to read with targeted objectives, enhancing your ability to process information quickly. Then, gather the necessary data, organize your analysis strategically, and engage deeply. Adopt a hypothesis-driven method to structure your analysis and reasoning, integrating each piece of your analysis to arrive at well-founded conclusions, akin to the process in a traditional case interview.

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. Interpret and Distill Key Insights From Charts and Data Tables 

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?

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’?).

You can also use our Consulting Chart and Data Interpretation Course and Drills to improve how consultants analyze charts and generate insights quickly.

4. Quickly Draft Formulas 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 to what 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.

If you need to brush up on your math skills, we have created a program with detailed insider learning materials and close to 2,000 practice drills that mimic the McKinsey, BCG, and Bain case interview math for you here: the Case Interview Math Mastery.

5. 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. what or how the client should solve the problem, Then, you would have several supporting slides, discussing arguments for your solution, i.e. 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 aids 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. Communicate and Defend Your Recommendation

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 recommendations 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 cost has increased by 25% over the last 3 years,..”

Follow this structure:

  1. Offer your recommendation succinctly.
  2. Back it up with compelling evidence and reasoning.
  3. Outline potential risks linked to your strategy.
  4. Advise on the next steps to further improve your analysis or move towards implementation.

Remember, reiterating the case prompt isn’t necessary—it’s a prudent use of precious time to dive straight into your insights.

This approach is very much like the recommendation you would give at the end of a normal case interview.

Point out when you are using hypotheses and assumptions that you were not able to fully 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.

Learn more about consulting case interview communication here.

Practice for the Written Case Interview

Preparing effectively for the written case interview is crucial to securing that coveted consulting role. For case interview preparation, employ consulting case study tips and robust case interview strategies to navigate the challenges and ace your assessment.

If you want to test your ability to work on a written case, click the following links to practice resources:

Here are six key strategies to polish your skills for a standout performance:

  1. Refine Rapid Reading Abilities: Speed reading is essential due to the voluminous information you’ll face. Learn to quickly identify key data, which is vital when under time constraints. Employ techniques such as using a tracker or pacer and practice using speed reading apps on your computer and phone.
  2. Hone Consulting Math Proficiency: Sharp mental arithmetic is a must for consultants who work with numbers daily. Using a calculator is not allowed. Strengthen your mental math with daily practice, starting with small steps and building up to complex calculations.
  3. Develop Data Analysis Skills: The core of a hypothesis-driven approach is the ability to analyze data to support your recommendations. Focus on the three key processes: Analyzing the data presented, contextualizing within the case’s framework, and interpreting the results to drive business insights.
  4. Grasp Case Interview Basics: The fundamental skills of a traditional case interview apply here too. Familiarize yourself with concepts like issue trees, MECE principles, structured communication, and top-down analysis.
  5. Master Consulting-Style Slide Creation: In consulting, presentations are the end-product of your analysis. Learn to organize content in a clear, impactful way, even if the actual design isn’t your responsibility. Look for resources that guide you through crafting slides that resonate with a consulting audience.
  6. Practice with Mock Interviews: Simulate the interview experience with mock sessions. Seek out former consultants and expert interview coaches who can provide informed feedback and guidance.

Diligent practice in these areas can significantly enhance your readiness and confidence for the written case interview, setting you apart in the competitive field of consulting.

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