An interview process is a discussion which is aimed at knowing the candidate personally, learning more about his or her analytical aptitude and also introducing the company to the candidate, it’s people and the kind of work the company does. One is assessed on their ability to listen, communicate effectively and present themselves with a lot of tact, persuasiveness, positive energy and commitment.
The company looks for creative thinking and intellectual curiosity in the candidate. In case you are looking to join a consulting firm, they just want to know what it would be like working together with you on a client project. There are many interviewers who look for a bit of spark in your personality. Mostly interviews are divided into three stages: personal background, a case study and then an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions and know about the company.
Here we will talk in detail about the case study round and how to prepare for it to make it more effective in an interview process.
The case study interview usually consists of a single session, in which the candidate is given an authentic business problem similar to one that the firm regularly handles while dealing with their clients. The candidate is then asked to study the problem, perform an in depth analysis and render their advice on how to handle the scenario.
This round mostly takes place in person, onsite and one-on-one with the interviewer, but may also be conducted remotely or in a group setting. Your thought process and questions are much more important than finding a great solution to the problem.
The case study interview is an important piece of the employee selection process for the professional service firms. For consultancies, it’s specific purpose is to assess the aptitude for partner track roles. Earlier, the case study interviews were held to hire the associate level employees who are expected to work directly with the clients and produce a string of billable services. But, in the recent years, case study interviews have expanded to the analyst level employees, in organisations which are usually the target clients of the consultancies, especially in tech, e-commerce, healthcare and even the NGOs. These analyst level employees provide the internal support to the senior management, researching and vetting the strategic opportunities.
Although, no particular formal training is needed to ‘crack the case', yet most candidates find the need of a substantial preparation to get into the consulting mindset and sharpen the skills that the interviewers are looking for.
The Consulting Firms favour case study interviews for various reasons. Firstly, case studies represent an authentic sample of the often difficult work of the business strategy and the tasks that consultants deal with every day. The tasks include gathering and analysing all the information, prioritising the findings and determining what’s missing, then creating structures to make the things understandable, putting the results into a greater context, understanding the tradeoffs, creating the blueprints for implementation and delivering presentations.
Next, how the candidates interact with the interviewer also provides an insight into what sort of relationship they are going to have with the senior managers who are paying hefty rates for the firm’s services. They look for an evidence that candidates would communicate effectively with executives and build a durable, trusting business relationship with them.
Consultancies also prefer the case study interviews because of the work samples, as they are a valid indicator of the future job performance. Moreover, the cases used in interviews are often standardised so that they can be used to assess multiple candidates with the same yardstick.
Finally, case studies are preferred as most of the applicants for consulting roles have very high grades from top business schools and an impressive work experience, therefore they can’t be differentiated on the basis of that. There case studies are an effective way to distinguish the best among the best.
At a case study interview, the questions the consultancy will want an answer to include the following:
Are you someone whom they would want in their team and can depend on for contributions and insight?
Are you always curious, a quick learner and ready to learn about things even if they aren’t particularly interesting to you?
Can you make presentations which are clear, relevant and actionable?
Can you think fast and quicky adapt to the changing situations?
Do you come across as a poised, presentable and confident individual in front of the clients, most of whom are senior managers?
Business acumen: This includes focusing on the relevant areas, avoiding getting hung up on trivia and anticipating the challenges in an absence of the hard data.
Effective Communication: This means being effective in all the communications and building a good rapport with the clients and their staff. Listening actively and giving the clients the confidence that they’ve been heard and speaking the language of the client.
Analytical thinking: Good analytical thinking especially in framing the issues, breaking the situations down into a range of discreet alternatives, structuring the complex situations and rendering the findings in a concrete business language.
Asking the appropriate questions: Interviewers always want an assurance that you are mindful of both you and your client and understand each other clearly. They. want to see that you also respect the limits of the available information and quickly determine the remedies.
Case study questions mostly cover general business strategy topics. The candidates can expect any of the following questions during their case interview:
Build a business case to develop a new line of business, creating a subsidiary business or spinning off an existing one.
Build a business case for developing a top new product, service or technology solution.
Recommend on whether to pursue a purchase, acquisition, merger, joint venture, strategic alliance or a major partnership.
Recommend on whether to enter a new market and if so, suggest the competitive strategy for that (e.g., cost, service, quality).
Determine how to price or segment a new product or a service offering.
Suggest on how to improve the company’s business, unit growth and how it might affect critical areas of the company’s financial statements, especially revenue, gross margin or profitability.
Suggest on how to respond to a major competitive threat (like Google / Amazon / Microsoft just entered our space)
While preparing for the case study interview, it is important to keep all the things in perspective. You are not going to be assessed on your mastery of the business strategy. Rather, the interviewers are looking at whether you can take a critical approach to the complex business problems and can break those down into components logically, clearly and thoroughly.
They want to see if you can give a structure to those components, one that highlights meaningful differences in choices a client may face. They are especially looking onto whether you are asking insightful questions which increase everyone’s knowledge and drive the conversation toward a solid conclusion.
In that context, here are some practical ways of how you can prepare for the case interview:
Tips on How to Perform Well in the Case Study Interview
Treat the interviewer as you would treat a firm’s most valued client: Always communicate using the language of the client wherever appropriate.
Actively engage with the interviewer: Ask questions in order to make sure that you are understanding all that matters and also being understood on the other hand.
Demonstrate that you are thoroughly enjoying the process: Consulting is gruelling work. Demonstrate that you can bring energy to a consulting engagement and you’re the kind of person clients would love to work with, especially when the going gets tough.
Keep the conversation lively and relevant: At each and every step you need to make sure that you are giving a structure to the business problem and keeping all the issues in the right perspective.
Although, it’s not a very easy task to perform well in a case study interview, still you can prepare in such a way that your communication skills, analytical acumen and business intuition all becomes razor sharp on the day of the interview. Further, you can show that you are one of the few who has a consultant mindset and appear natural.
In short, here are the steps that you can take which will show you have the fundamentals of consulting and the aptitude to master them over your career. Get familiar with the most common business case scenarios and the important differences between those scenarios. Develop a working method of breaking down the business cases into several components and structure those components. Acquire knowledge about the analysis frameworks, how they can be used as problem solving tools and where is it appropriate to use them. Practice and adopt a narrative style that gets people interested and excited about your work. Develop a conversational style which starts with asking good questions and ends with being a good listener.