Last Updated on February 14, 2024
The global pandemic has made virtual communication more important than ever before and consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain have adapted by conducting case interviews via video conferencing platforms like Zoom.
While the pandemic has ended, virtual interviewing has stayed for most firms, roles, and offices.
If you are preparing for an online case interview, it is important to be well-prepared to showcase your skills and land the job.
In this article, we will outline some tips and strategies to help you prepare for an online case interview and impress the interviewer.
The Shift to Virtual Interviews in Consulting
All consulting firms have embraced virtual interviews as the standard mode of conducting case interviews during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and reduce physical contact has made virtual interviews more appealing.
Benefits of Online Case Interviews
Virtual interviews offer several advantages over in-person interviews. For instance, candidates do not have to travel, which saves candidates time and firms money. Moreover, virtual interviews allow firms to interview candidates from different regions and time zones without the need for physical meetings. This creates a more diverse pool of candidates and ensures that firms can tap into talent from different parts of the world.
In addition to the above, virtual interviews are generally more efficient as consultants can perform them during their normal work week, potentially during a short downtime at the client site. Firms are now also able to schedule interviews back-to-back without the need for time-consuming transitions between interview rooms. Virtual interviews also offer more flexibility, with candidates able to choose the location and setting of the interview, ensuring that they are comfortable and confident during the interview.
Are All Consulting Firms Conducting Virtual Interviews?
As a result of these benefits, even though the pandemic is luckily long gone, many firms continue to employ virtual interviews, at least partially. The actual picture is a bit more nuanced.
Some firms have moved back to offering in-person interviews, usually for more senior positions or final-round interviews. In-person interviews provide an opportunity for candidates to experience the firm’s culture and interact with team members on a more personal level. Additionally, for some firms, in-person interviews may be necessary for specific cases that require hands-on problem-solving.
While virtual interviews have become the norm for most consulting firms, some offer in-person interviews for certain positions or circumstances. Nonetheless, virtual interviews offer several benefits that make them the preferred mode of interviewing in the consulting industry.
If you are given the chance to interview in person or remotely I would always go for the in-person experience. It is much easier to connect with your interviewers and the experience will overall be more rewarding.
Key Strategies for Virtual Case Interview Preparation
Understand the Format of the Remote Case Interview
Online case interviews typically follow a similar format to in-person case interviews but with some variations to accommodate virtual communication. The interviewer may use screen-sharing technology to present a case problem or slide deck.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with the technology and format ahead of time to avoid any technical issues during the interview. All consulting firms are usually very transparent about how the interviews are conducted and what programs you should install beforehand. Most firms conduct their interviews via Zoom.
As regards the case interview strategies for remote candidates, the evaluation criteria, difficulty levels, and the way the cases are conducted are exactly the same as in an in-person meeting. Hence, your approach should not differ from an in-person setting. Calculators are not allowed for the math part and I would advise against using one in secret as interviewers are trained to spot this.
Practice, Practice, Practice
When thinking about how to prepare for an online case interview with McKinsey or any other consulting firm, the key to success is to learn the ropes of proper problem-solving techniques and then practice. The average successful candidate prepares between 100 and 150 hours for their case interviews.
To master virtual case interviews with top consulting firms, utilize our resources on StrategyCase.com and the 100s of free articles to learn about the different elements of a case interview such as structuring, charts, and math.
For paid resources and courses, please check the bottom of this post. You must get a sense of the types of cases and questions you may encounter. Practice with friends, peers, or a case interview coach to get feedback on your approach and technique.
Focus on Structure and Communication
In an online case interview, clear communication and structure are especially important as it might be impossible to visually present your answers. Even more so than in an in-person interview, make sure to focus on top-down communication and keep up the structuring of your answers.
When communicating your structure In a virtual interview, it is important to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely. To make it easier for the interviewer to follow your thought process, use numbers to separate your ideas and signposts to highlight what you are going to talk about before diving deeper into it.
Be sure to listen carefully to the interviewer’s prompts and ask clarifying questions as needed. Develop a clear framework for approaching the case problem and communicate your thought process clearly and concisely.
More on these important parts:
Consider the Different Case Types
Different consulting firms may have different styles and approaches to case interviews. Do your research on the specific firm you are interviewing with and familiarize yourself with their case interview style. For example, McKinsey may focus more on business strategy cases, while Bain may focus more on market sizing or profitability cases. Prepare for these specific types of cases by practicing with similar case examples.
Prepare for an online case interview with our dedicated preparation packages.
Work on Your Behavioral and Fit Answers
In addition to case questions, many consulting firms will also ask behavioral questions to assess your fit for the job. Be prepared to discuss your background, motivation, experience, and relevant skills in the consulting fit interview.
Use the SCORE Framework I have developed to structure your answers and provide specific examples.
Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them
There are four key issues that I have spotted in virtual interviews that can be prevented with proper preparation. Adopt these best practices for virtual case interviews:
Dress Professionally and Minimize Distractions
Even though the interview is conducted online, it is important to treat it as a professional job interview. Dress professionally, and appear well-groomed. Make sure your background is clean, simple, and uncluttered. Minimize any potential distractions such as noise or interruptions. If there is construction work going on during the day of the interview or similar predictable noise sources, invest in noise-canceling headphones or ask a friend to interview at their place.
Test your internet connection and equipment ahead of time to ensure a smooth interview experience. Test your audio and webcam to ensure that they are working properly. Check the volume, clarity, and lighting to make sure that you will be seen and heard clearly during the interview. Test this not just by yourself but with a case practice partner. You don’t want to think about overcoming technical challenges in remote case interviews on top of the stress of the actual interview.
Ensure an Ample Supply of Paper and Pens
To avoid any awkward pauses or interruptions during the interview, prepare all the materials you need in advance. This includes notepads, pens, or other resources you might need to look at during the interview. It can come in handy to have a couple of checklists or a set of formulas in front of you for the different parts of the case. Have the latter stuck to the wall behind the monitor or in front of you so that you won’t have to look for them during the interview or give the impression that you are reading something.
Watch Your Body Language and Smile
When it comes to tips for presenting case solutions effectively on Zoom, body language is just as important in a virtual interview as it is in an in-person interview. You need to demonstrate presence in the call. Use your hands when explaining your answers and smile to show engagement and confidence. Avoid looking terrified or frowning upon hearing a challenging case question. I spot this behavior in almost every second case interview at different parts of the case. Even if you are struggling, appear at ease!
As an interviewer at a leading consulting firm, one of the key differences I’ve observed between online and in-person interviews is how candidates manage their presence and communication. In virtual settings, many candidates underestimate the importance of engaging the camera directly and maintaining a dynamic presence.
Unlike in-person interviews where natural body language and eye contact come more easily, online interviews require candidates to be more deliberate in showcasing their enthusiasm and confidence. A common pitfall is not looking into the camera when speaking, which can make candidates appear disengaged.MBB Interviewer Feedback from Our Network
To make sure that your setup works and you look good on camera, try out the particular video call software before the interview. Ensure that you are presenting yourself in the best possible light during the interview, practice with others, and/or record yourself with the software beforehand to simulate the call. This will allow you to identify and correct any issues or problems that may arise during the actual interview.
Listen Carefully and Play Back Information
In the realm of navigating virtual case interview formats successfully, it’s paramount that you strategically allocate time for the interviewer to contribute their insights, thereby ensuring a two-way dialogue. This approach not only underscores effective communication in virtual interview scenarios but also provides an opportunity to confirm comprehension of the task at hand.
By actively summarizing and playing back the interviewer’s points, you demonstrate your ability to grasp complex data analysis questions in virtual case interviews, a skill that is crucial across all stages of the discussion. Additionally, you decrease the room for errors and misunderstandings.
This reflective practice not only showcases your problem-solving skills in remote case interviews but also highlights your adaptability to the key differences between in-person and online case interviews at top consulting firms.
Such a methodical approach ensures that you fully understand the interviewer’s expectations, thereby positioning yourself as thoughtful and meticulous in your response strategy.
An online case interview requires careful preparation and attention to detail. By following these tips and strategies, you do not leave anything to chance.
How We Help You Ace Online Case 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 focus on teaching the best habits and strategies to ace every application end-to-end from resumes to interviews.
We can help you by
- showing you how to ace case and fit interviews in our video academy
- coaching you in our 1-on-1 sessions to become an excellent case solver and impress with your fit answers (90% success rate after 5 sessions)
- preparing your math to be bulletproof for every case interview
- helping you structure creative and complex frameworks for case interviews
- teaching you how to interpret charts and exhibits like a consultant
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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.
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