If you’re interested in consulting, you’ve almost certainly heard of a case interview — a job interview in which you are presented with, and asked to solve, specific business challenges. But increasingly, case interviews aren’t just for consultants. Professionals in finance or business operations, as well as those seeking high-level positions within an organization (think: Director level or above) may very well encounter these challenging interviews as well.
The tough part about case interviews is that you’ll have to be specific and demonstrate hard skills — you won’t earn any points with vague or fluffy answers, no matter how charismatic you are. Interviewers want to see analytical thinking, creative problem-solving and data-driven reasoning.
So, what do you need to know to succeed in a case interview? Read on.
Case Interview Questions
At the heart of case interviews are case interview questions. These aren’t your typical interview questions, though, like “Tell me about yourself” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Instead, you will typically hear a description of a business challenge, and then be asked to come up with a solution.
You have a 10-minute window to discuss pricing strategies for a new pair of wireless headphones with the Sales Director. The headphones come in a variety of colors, connect with any Bluetooth capable device and will be sold at select big-box retail stores in North America.
On the list provided, you will see a list of production costs including marketing, manufacturing, packaging and other components of bringing the headphones to market.
In this situation, how would you price the headphones? How would you pitch the price point to the Director of Sales? Is there any other information you would like to know before getting started?
Another question you might be presented with is a brainteaser — an oddball question intended to exercise your logical reasoning. For instance, a candidate who interviewed at Facebook was asked the following:
You're about to get on a plane to Seattle. You want to know if you should bring an umbrella. You call 3 random friends of yours who live there and ask each independently if it's raining. Each of your friends has a 2/3 chance of telling you the truth and a 1/3 chance of messing with you by lying. All 3 friends tell you that "Yes" it is raining. What is the probability that it's actually raining in Seattle?
Regardless of what question you are asked, there is rarely one correct answer.
“Case interviews do not have right or wrong answers more so because the candidate is working with limited or hypothetical information. What interviewers are really looking for is the candidate's ability to think logically and analytically to come up with feasible solutions to a problem,” says Chris Chancey, founder of Amplio Recruiting.
Case Interview Formats
While all case interviews begin with a question, the manner in which you answer them will vary depending on what format the interview takes. Here are a few common examples of case interview formats:
- Candidate-Led: In these case interviews, you will be presented with a question by the interviewer and then expected to lead them through to an answer step-by-step.
- Interviewer-Led: These types of case interviewers involve “1-2 interviewers leading a candidate through a multi-step case problem,” says William Wadsworth of Exam Study Expert. “Each step might be a 5-15 minute analysis exercise, and could involve estimating a market size, diagnosing the root cause of a business problem or brainstorming ways to turn the situation around, before presenting a short conclusion or recommended action on the entire case at the end.”
- Presentations: For presentation case interviews, you will be given a problem and then expected to present the solution in a deck. This allows you to go much more in depth, so make sure to perform ample research beforehand and cite it in your presentation.
- Video: In rare cases, a company might want you to do a case interview via video before you do an in-person interview. This might involve you being interviewed on a video conferencing platform like Skype or Zoom, or recording a video answer to a case interview question and submitting it.
Before the Case Interview
There’s plenty that you can do before a case interview to ensure your success. Make sure to take the following steps in the days leading up to the interview:
If you’ve been given the question ahead of time, make sure to research everything you can about it. For example, if given the wireless headphones question outlined above, you could look into real companies in that space (e.g. Bose, Sony, Apple) and learn about their products, pricing, financial reports, challenges they’ve encountered, etc. All of this can inform how you answer the question. If you haven’t been given a question to prepare for in advance, look up Glassdoor interview reviews to see which questions previous candidates have been asked, or simply search online for “case interview questions.” Look at how others have answered them, and think about how you would answer them yourself.
With questions as broad as the ones you’ll hear in case interviews, your answer might be long-winded and rambling if you’re not careful. That’s why “the development of a problem-solving structure or framework is at the core of acing a case interview,” according to Chancey. “There are numerous theoretical frameworks out there, for example, the 3Cs, 4Ps, Porter's Five Forces, Pricing Framework, Market Entry Framework etc.”
Look up some of the most common frameworks, and think about how you can apply them in a given situation.
“The idea is not to memorize these frameworks and regurgitate them during the interview, but to use them as a way to support your strategic thinking process. In the end, interviewers are looking for candidates who can use existing theory to come up with customized frameworks to solve unique problems,” Chancey adds.
While research and knowledge are important to succeeding in a case interview, they can only take you so far.
“People do not regularly articulate their internal thought process so if you do not practice articulating that process before your interview, your description is less likely to be clear,” says Mike Cox, President of Cox Innovations and author of Living Your Best Career. “If you have the money and time to hire a career coach who is experienced in case interview preparation, that’s ideal, but even just enlisting a friend or family member to help you can create a step-change improvement in performance.”
Before heading out to the interview, “make sure you bring a notebook to take notes, watch to track time and calculator in case you need to do some calculations,” says Joseph Liu, Career Consultant & Host of the Career Relaunch podcast. “You absolutely cannot use your smartphone to do any of these things because it simply looks unprofessional to interviewers.”
During the Case Interview
Want some advice on how to best deliver your response? Keep these tips in mind.
There’s nothing wrong with getting more information in order to clarify and help inform your own approach, so don’t be shy about asking interviewers questions.
“Look at case interviews more like an interactive session with your interviewer and less like a test that you are required to complete on your own,” Chancey recommends. “Engage the interviewer by asking questions and verbalizing your problem-solving framework and process as you go along.”
Remember: if you don’t believe in your own response, the interviewers won’t either.
“Any signs of insecurity, uncertainty or random reasoning will not bode well for the interviewee. Being firm [and] decisive with the ability to support one's conclusions will serve the interviewee the best,” says Nick H. Kamboj, Chief Executive Officer of MBA admissions services firm Aston & James, LLC.
Confidence should not just be heard in your voice, but also projected through your body language.
“Responses should also be articulated well through the use of effective body language techniques such as high to mid steepling with clear, open-faced hand gestures followed with triangulation of eye movements,” Kamboj adds.
You won’t be the only one asking questions in the interview — your interviewer will almost certainly ask probing questions into your approach that you must be prepared to answer.
“Candidates should expect to receive a lot of ‘why’ questions. For example, ‘Why are you choosing that particular approach?’ or ‘What other ways could you look at the problem? Why do you think this one is the best?’” Cox says. “Candidates should describe their thought process as transparently and thoroughly as they can.”
Though proper research and preparation are important, you don’t want to sound like you’re just echoing other case studies you’ve read or frameworks you’ve practiced.
“The MOST important words of wisdom that I have is that you should absolutely be yourself. Say what you wish to say and say it with confidence,” Kamboj advises.
The company is interviewing you for a reason — they see potential in you! So always make sure to bring your unique perspective to the table.