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November 26, 2012

Case Interview Coming Up?

hand drawing in a whiteboard

The case interview is a tricky interview format that requires careful study in advance. In my previous three posts I discussed the importance of knowing what format to expect as you schedule an interview, and explored Panel and Group formats.

A case interview is a more specialized and technical format. You will be provided with a scenario involving a business problem similar to those you would encounter on the job and asked to offer a solution. So far, this may sound a bit like the common interview questions about how you might respond to an irate client, et cetera, but it’s different, and not just because the question is more detailed.

In the case format, the interviewers are not only looking for a good answer; they’re looking for the entire process you use to come up with your answer. They want to see how you work by observing you in action.

Case interviews are intended to evaluate a wide variety of skills at once: problem-solving, analysis, creativity, communication, technical skills and more, including the ability to thinking quickly on your feet and handle an unfamiliar situation while keeping your cool.

More than for any other type of interview, there are extensive resources online to help you prepare, including sample cases. The companies at which you plan to interview may offer specific guidance on their websites. You might take a look at Boston Consulting Group’s case interview site and McKinsey & Company’s, for a start. Other websites, such as,  offer resources relevant to a wide range of companies. Some universities offer case interview workshops.

Some overall tips for success include the following:

  • Listen very carefully.
  • Ask if you can take notes, but don’t get too caught up in note-taking.
  • Ask for a moment to consider the case. If no time limit is offered, a minute or two is usually acceptable, while five minutes is too much.
  • Be methodical in your approach.  Formulate a hypothesis.
  • Ask a logical series of questions to gather necessary information and test your hypothesis.
  • Identify the main issues and don’t get lost in the details.
  • Think out loud; your thought processes are just as important as the ultimate solution.
  • Apply relevant principles or models.
  • Throughout, demonstrate good interpersonal skills such as open, friendly body language and a positive attitude.

This concludes my brief series on types of interviews, although there are more types I have not covered, including video and computer interviews, and behavioral interviews, where nearly every question requires you to tell a story from your work experience. Employers continually innovate in search of more effective ways to identify the right candidate and minimize costly mismatches.

Know the format before you arrive, be prepared to confidently ace the interview, and get that great job!

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