Case studies typically last for 30 - 45 minutes. You are not always given the opportunity to prepare the case in advance and may instead have to tackle the case study for the first time in front of your interviewer. A case typically begins with the interviewer providing you with an overview of the business problem. Upon reiterating the situation back to your interviewer and asking for clarification of any potential ambiguities, you then present your hypothesis, move on to your case analysis, then close the case.
- It is essential that you listen actively and concentrate fully while your interviewer is giving an introduction to the case. Note down all relevant information in a well-structured manner so that (1) you do not have to ask your interviewer to repeat him/herself and (2) you can easily find the information you need if you later need to reference it. After hearing the problem, you could paraphrase it back to the interviewer in order to ensure that you have fully understood his or her instructions. This can ensure that you do not immediately go off on an incorrect tangent and waste valuable time.
- In addition, clarify any issues that you are uncertain about (unless it is something that can be easily researched). For instance, if the case is related to coffee machine sales but it is unclear whether the coffee machines in question are small domestic coffee machines or large commercial machines, raise this query. This could even work in your favour, as it demonstrates your ability to consider different variables from the outset. Failure to do so could negatively impact upon your assumptions (for instance, assumptions relating to the customer base and market size), which could have a significant impact on the validity of your final conclusions and recommendations.
- Rushing into giving an answer is also not recommended. If you need time to carefully consider how best to tackle a particular problem, ask your interviewer if you can take a few seconds to think about the question or try to stall. Thinking out loud can help to buy you additional time, as can having a drink. Once you have thought about your answer, compose yourself and deliver a rational and well-structured response. Rushing straight to a conclusion that has received little consideration would be a risky course of action if you were dealing with a genuine client and could reflect negatively upon your professionalism.
- Having clarified all the potential ambiguities, you should then ask your interviewer for 30 seconds – 1 minute to think carefully about which case study framework(s) you should use to help you tackle the case study (different types of case study frameworks and their relevance to different types of problems are covered later in this handbook). Once you have decided which framework is most applicable to the given problem, start to note down your thoughts and ideas (if you are given the opportunity to do so). It is of vital importance that you present your ideas in a concise and well-structured manner to the interviewer, so when making preparatory notes, ensure they are well ordered and clearly written. Notes spread randomly over multiple sheets of paper, written in illegible handwriting could disrupt your presentation and reflect negatively on your ability to communicate to clients. In addition, you may have to reference your notes at a later stage if your interviewer asks follow-up questions during and/or after your presentation.
By Jake Schogger - City Career Series