So, you’ve sent your consulting cover letter, maybe even did the McKinsey Problem Solving Test already and have just received your invite for a real case interview. Here I will explain the general case interview approach. If you want more company specific information, check out the company profiles section.
What is a case interview?
A case interview is a simulation of real-life consulting work. During this simulation, you are the consultant trying to solve a problem from the client (simulated by the consultant or partner opposite you). They will be looking for key consulting skills, not just rating your analysis of the problem (the ‘hard’ skills) but also your client friendliness and general positive attitude (the ‘soft/people’ skills). We will delve into each one below.
The hard part
During the interview, you will be presented with a business case. This can be anything, from M&A’s (mergers & acquisitions) and profitability problems to new product launches and market entry, often from the interviewer’s own experience. This also means that cases differ per company and per office, as consultants in New York do more private equity cases and Accenture has a more technology focus. Check out our Company Profiles page for more info.
Hard skills are concerned with the way you approach the case: how do you set out to solve it? Can you grasp the complexity and propose a clear analysis that solves the case? This site and my book are here to improve your case interview approach, and we’ll start with the basics. Every case follows a standard structure:
Opening the case starts with getting the question right: just as in real life, the client is not always clear in what needs solving. Is revenue the problem and our focus? Is it costs? What is our goal? Start by repeating the key points gathered from the introduction and the question:
So the client is in the road construction business and recently acquired a competitor in the state of New York. Profits have been falling and now the client has asked us to get profits back to $ 10m in 5 years… are there any other goals I need to worry about?
You should then ask some general questions to make sure you understand the firm’s internal and external situation. Make sure you understand how the company creates value for it’s customers and make sure you understand how industry situation and national policies affect the company. Then move on to analysis.
In your analysis, you propose a framework to analyze the client’s problem and then work your way through it. Based on your framework, you ask the interviewer/client questions to gather information on where the problem lies and whether the solution you have in mind will work out or not. It’s important to make sure the interviewer understands your approach and why you choose to analyze the competition: he’s looking for a candidate that can repeat these analytical skills on the job, not one that got lucky asking the right questions and stumbled upon the right solution.
When you’ve worked through your framework and gathered enough data and insights, it’s time to synthesize all this info and present your conclusions to the interviewer/client. When closing a case, make sure you present an actionable conclusion: do not just give him insight in the current situation, give the client an advice on what he should do to solve the situation. Support this conclusion with three key facts you’ve gathered during your analysis, for example:
To get profits back to $ 10 million the company needs to cut costs by divesting division X, because of three key reasons. First of all, division X is costing more than the revenue’s it brings in, leading to a yearly net loss of $ 15 million. Divesting it might lead to some short term costs in severance payments for example, but will save more than the goal set by the client. Secondly, the market for division X’s services have been in rapid decline and there are no indications this will change anytime soon. And finally, division X’s work can be easily subcontracted to private contractors, so it’s not essential we have its skills in house.
As you can see, we start with the conclusion and follow up with the reasons why, following the Pyramid Principle. More info on frameworks, structuring, pitfalls and case interviews with complete example solutions in my book.
The soft part
It’s not only about whether you have the analytical skills to solve the case. As a consultant, you spend a lot of time with the client, relying on him to supply you with data and information on the company, gathered through interviews. The client and it’s employees are often in distress, otherwise they wouldn’t hire an expensive consultant to fix the situation. They fear that they’ll lose their jobs or position within the firm as a result of this fix and often hesitant to help you. Similarly, the executive who hired you, his colleagues (or their boss, or the board) might not like your conclusion and hinder your analysis or your attempts to implement it.
To motivate these often unwilling employees and to quickly assess the political situation and navigate this minefield, you need people skills. From start to finish, even before and after the case, the interviewer will be assessing you on these skills. Can you convince that your solution is the best? How do you respond when the client disagrees with your view? Can you motivate the people around you? Are you pleasant to work with?
The interviewer will be looking for two consulting specific skills and you should be ready to impress him with great examples that prove you have them. Aside from the ‘standard’ interview questions you can always expect, we will tell you which skills these are and how you best answer interview questions in ‘Cracking the Case‘.
Good luck with your interview!