The consulting case study interview is used to test your aptitude for a career in this competitive industry. Like many challenges in life, the key to cracking it is preparation.
If you're applying to consulting firms, you're likely to be given a case study as part of your assessment centre. Our top tips will help you successfully negotiate yours and impress the assessor.
1. Know what they’re looking for
In the case study, you'll be given a simplified business situation, which you will be expected to work through calmly and methodically. At some firms, your interviewers may have personally selected and developed the cases, based on their own experience.
It’s important to remember that they are not looking to trick you, or catch you out. They want to see how you would deal with a problem you're likely to encounter.
The key things that they want to see from you are:
- Your approach to solving a problem
- Whether you can think creatively and analytically
- How you use data to guide your thoughts and measure results
- How well you communicate your ideas
2. Do your research
It's important to get a sense of the projects the firm deal with and the industries in which they operate.
Start with their website and go through press releases. Also, use the business press to look up cases of note. As you read these, don’t just absorb the information, but look at it critically. Think through the steps they took to solve the issue, and follow their logic. If think they did a good job then have reasons why; if you would have done it differently then have evidence to back it up.
This is all part of developing a consultant's mindset, which is one of the key elements tested in the application process.
3. Work on your basic skills
The more prepared you are when you walk into that room, the more relaxed you will be and feel that you have the tools ready to deal with whatever case you’re given.
One of the key skills tested is your ability to use information to guide your solution and quantify its success. This doesn’t require a maths degree but it does mean you need to be comfortable working with numbers and doing some basic analysis.
Work on your ability to do simple calculations in your head, such as using percentages and rounding numbers to work out rough estimates.
The business press is also a good way to brush up on your vocabulary. Make a list of terms that come up in stories about the firm, as well as key words for the sectors they work in.
You won't know which case study you'll be given, but there is a knack to them so the best way to prepare is to practice. The firm’s site will usually have examples for you to work through, often based on real projects they have covered.
Case study interviews are a conversation, so it’s much more helpful to do your practice with a partner. Talk through your solutions as you go, since the way you think is as important as the answer you come out with.
Practice it from the interviewee and interviewers point of view, learning to assess your partner's answers critically. If you can find someone to practice with who has done a case study interview before, then even better.
5. Keep developing your consulting mindset
It takes time to learn how to think like a consultant, but you can practice it all the time.
When you read a business story, think about what you would have done in that situation. When you buy a sandwich, have a think about how many that shop sells in a year, who buys them, and what factors affect that sandwich market.
Even examples that seem quite trivial have likely been thought through from a business perspective. You need to start building that curiosity and insight, and eventually this will come naturally to you.