How to prepare for consulting case interviews
When you start out with case interview preparation, the process might seem tedious and complicated. In order to make the best out of your preparation in terms of progress and efficiency, follow these three guidelines below:
Keep the preparation short and concise
We are advocates of short but intense case interview preparation. As with everything you learn, you will make quick progress once you start out preparing and after some time the learning curve flattens out. There are two issues with continuing past this stage. First, it is inefficient and a waste of your time and second – even worse – more preparation may even harm your effort due to an inhibition of the necessary spontaneity and creativity needed during the real case interview.
It is common for people who over-prepare and try to practice every cases scenario in the book as well as getting exposure to every industry out there. This behavior is not surprising considering that consulting applicants usually come from the top 10% of their university cohort and are used to intense preparation and studying. More often than not, I have witnessed these over-prepared students stall as soon as they enter their first real case interview when a case or problem was presented from a different angle. They had a wrong sense of security that was shattered in an instant and from there onwards their interview day was a real pain to go through. Needless to say, such candidates will not leave with an offer in their bag.
Additionally, the longer you prepare for the interview, the higher the risk that you will burn out in the process. Case interviews should actually be a fun endeavor which you should approach with a refreshed and curious mind. You need to be in this state when you tackle the first real interview as well as hungry to find a solution.
Ideally, we recommend that the preparation period should last between three weeks and two months depending on the basis you are starting from as well as on how much time you have to prepare and practice each day. Lastly, don’t make interview practice your only occupation at a time. Try to find a balance with other activities and make sure to plan for breaks every few days to clear your head.
Get rid of the generic frameworks and focus on case interview habits
Traditional case study literature often advocates the use of memorized frameworks to structure your process and solution in a case interview. Proponents argue that these generic frameworks should be applied like a template in each interview. While some frameworks such as the simple revenue & cost framework can certainly be useful to structure certain problems, the spread of generic frameworks has taken overhand. Reality is more complex and problems consultants face cannot be pressed into generic frameworks. As a case interview candidate, you should be aware that in reality, the pre-tailored solution approaches more often than not lack applicability in real interviews. In line with real consulting projects, that have become more difficult and diverse, case interviews have adapted as well. Instead of preparing for a successful run through by memorizing standard structures and answers, there is a dangerous potential to lead you on the wrong path for two reasons:
- Memorizing gives you a false sense of security. It’s surprising how often interviewees begin to stall in their first real case interview when they find out their learned-by-heart framework does not fit the case at hand. What’s even worse is when they then try to force fit the case into their framework. I want to spare you and your interviewer of that experience.
- By thinking in pre-conceived frameworks you will take away your chance to actually come up with more creative and better solutions to the problem. Your mind is operating in a preset and limited solution space. Thinking freely improves your business sense and intuition, which will help you a great deal in the interview and later on the job. You want to surprise the interviewer positively. Being the 5th candidate of the day applying the same generic structure and answer does not impress the interviewer who is in charge of the make or break decision. Cases have gotten more complex in recent years as consulting practices address the issue of ‘better’ prepared candidates that flock into the interview process with their preset mindset and case knowledge. The creative solution always wins! This is what differentiates a good candidate from a great one.
Case interviews are designed to be solvable by every layman out there. Big consultancies praise their diversity where 50% of their consultants have a background different from business, economics or finance. The other 50% (the so called exotics) include medical doctors, hard science majors or even theologians. Cases are designed like that in order to evaluate and challenge peoples’ thinking, not gauge what they know (however, basic common knowledge as well as being informed about current affairs in politics, economics and business help a great deal to put things in perspective and see the bigger picture; after all, you should be an interesting and smart conversation partner).
In order to accommodate this issue, we advocate a behavioral, habit-based process approach that should give the interviewee the opportunity to develop creative and successful case solutions on the spot to master the consulting case interviews. Process and habits rather than pre-set frameworks and tools are crucial for success. It deals with the questions of how to approach a problem, how to break it into parts and how to think it through. In this sense, the approach is very broad but gives you full flexibility to prepare and during the interview to be nimble and creative while still being structured in your doings.
We are currently working on an ebook on the consulting case interview habits that will propel your interview skills. Watch this space!
Leverage multiple study buddies
Don’t prepare alone. Generally, you should focus your time on doing mock interviews with real people. Connect with friends, university peers, and strangers via Facebook groups or consulting mock interview platforms. In order to benefit most from this experience here are a few rules:
- Practice with multiple people and rotate constantly. In order to avoid picking up false habits and to replicate real life situations, practice with a group of people at the same time. You want to learn from different people and at the same time, you don’t want any familiarity with interviewers.
- Switch hats between interviewer and interviewee role. While some might think that playing the interviewer part is tedious you can actually learn a lot from presenting the case, leading the interview giving feedback to the interviewee in the end. In this role, you can observe and learn from strong as well as weak interview performances.
- Invest in some quality case partners early in the process. Make sure to train with experienced interviewers a few times when you start out with case practice. Their proficient feedback will help you build strong habits and put you on the right track early on. Depending on your network, this can either be current consultant friends who offer this for free or professional consulting interviewers you can meet on online platforms. We at StrategyCase.com offer mock interview sessions. Click here if you are interested.