Management Consulting Case Interviews

Cracking The Case

Tips For Case Interviews From the Other Side of the Table

Here at Argopoint, like other consulting firms, we often use case study interviews to evaluate potential applicants. These interviews are commonly a source of anxiety for undergraduates and other first-time interviewees, but they don’t have to be. Our founder, Jason Winmill, has 20 years of experience in the management and strategy consulting field, and has run thousands of case interviews with top candidates from schools including Harvard Business School, Wharton, and Yale. Here are some tips for prospective applicants gathered from years of experience on both sides of the process:

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

— Peter F. Drucker, Leading 20th Century Management Thinker

Pay attention to the interviewer

You might be talking to a senior or junior member of the company. They might be warm and talkative or reserved and direct. Some interviewers enjoy the process, while others don’t…and sometimes your interviewer might just be having a bad day.

Suggestion: Get a read on your interviewer. Observe the behavior and attitude of the interviewer and act appropriately. Whether they want to chat for a bit or get right down to business, follow their lead. In addition, the information that an interviewer gives you is meant to help you, so pay attention and use their cues to your own benefit.

It’s about more than just the math

Too many first-time interviewees spend time worrying about doing the math correctly to the exclusion of other important factors. Keep in mind that you’re being evaluated on a comprehensive basis, including your critical thinking skills, your analytical capabilities, and your ability to solve problems.  While quantitative prowess is important to being a consultant, this capability doesn’t go very far if you do not know how to apply it in a business setting.

Suggestion: Be sure to demonstrate to your interviewer that you can not only find solutions to mathematical problems, but that you can also use your findings to quickly form opinions and guide decisions. In addition, make sure you spend time demonstrating more than just your quantitative capabilities.

Demonstrate enthusiasm and keen interest in the conversation

In a case interview you are presented with business problems, similar to those actual consultants are faced with.  This is an opportunity to demonstrate to the interviewer that you can both can handle consulting work, and that you find it interesting. A good consultant will find the work enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

Suggestions: Demonstrate enthusiasm and energy in your conversation with the interviewer. This will demonstrate your passion for the industry.

Focus on the bigger business problems present

You are not expected to be an expert on every industry. Don’t be concerned if you do not know the specifics of the industry that you are questioned about. What is important is your understanding of business and your ability to solve business issues.

Suggestion: Focus on the bigger problems that can be generalized across industries to all businesses. Examples include declining profitability, merger integration, increasing market share, etc.

Structure the problem to help to brainstorm your own solution, but don’t force fit any frameworks

Most firms and professionals recommend applying a pre-existing framework to the scenario at hand. This will structure the problem making it clearer, to both you and the interviewer, how you are thinking about the problem. However, be weary of a strict compliance to these frameworks. Applying one to a situation that it doesn’t fit with is a large mistake you should try and avoid. This mistake implies a misunderstanding of the fundamental problems and thus a flawed way of addressing them and coming to a solution.

Suggestions: Study or review various business frameworks such as Porter’s 5 Forces and a traditional microeconomic cost structure. In addition, read publications such as The Economist and The Wall Street Journal to become familiar with actual business problems and solutions, as well as descriptions of various industries.

Don’t over complicate things

You need not focus on all the information presented to you. While it’s not a bad thing to see potential hours’ worth of issues, as it shows you can think deeply about a problem, focusing on all of them will waste your time without getting you any closer to an answer.

Suggestion: Prioritize and focus on key information, not all the information. As soon as you have a sense of the most important factors in a case, shift your attention to those aspects. Ask questions about the core issues that you have identified.     

Ask (smart) questions

A consideration of the interviewer will be identifying how you act when faced with an ambiguous situation. Consequentially asking too many questions will portray that you don’t respond well. On the contrary, interviewers expect you to ask some questions, but they should be relevant and important to the issue at hand and your proposed solution.

Suggestion: Demonstrate leadership ability and initiative by focusing on questions that help you in connecting the information, but not that aid you in creating a complete picture. This will show that you can solve problems in a less structured environment and possess creativity. 

Communicate your thought process clearly

One of the most important parts of the interview is assessing your problem solving, analytical and critical thinking skills. To demonstrate that you possess these qualities, make sure to communicate your thought process clearly to the interviewer when coming to a solution.

Suggestion: Be thorough in walking the interviewer through your complete thought process. Explain why you come to each assumption that you do and why the questions you are asking him or her are relevant to the scenario presented.    

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box

If there were simple solutions to the problems that consultants address, then there would be no consulting industry, as businesses would be able to solve their own business problems. When businesses approach consulting firms they are looking for innovative and creative solutions.

Suggestion: In developing creative solutions, be sure to always stick to common sense and business acumen.  

Demonstrate a dedicated interest in the firm you are interviewing at

Remember that the interview is a good place for you to learn more about the firm, as well as where the firm learns more about you. Use the opportunity wisely and make keep the interview interactive so you can learn more about your interviewer and gain insight into their thought processes and daily work.

Suggestion: Be yourself and display your interest in the firm by making the interview as interactive as possible.

Above all, relax and enjoy the experience. Your interviewers are looking for the skills and traits that will genuinely lead to your success in the position—they want you to succeed. The best applicants are excited by the challenges available in the consulting field, so try to think of your case interview as an enjoyable new challenge and an opportunity to learn more about the company you’re interviewing with. Good luck!

Jason Winmill is the managing partner at Argopoint LLC and has over 20 years of management and strategy consulting experience.  Jason has advised senior executives (including general counsels) across a range of industries including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, retail, consumer products, financial services/insurance and utilities.

Jason served as the “outside architect”—assisting in the design of an outside counsel rationalization and partnering program for one of the country’s top ten largest legal divisions.   His work for this client and other in-house legal groups has resulted in a portfolio of more qualified outside counsel (as measured by a reasoned assessment of objective markers) and significantly lower costs for legal services. He worked to improve efforts involving litigation, intellectual property (patents and trademarks, among others), human resources, real estate, mergers and acquisitions, government investigations and regulatory law.  Jason’s work has been featured in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ACC Docket, The American Lawyer, Inside Litigation, Purchasing Magazine and Inside Supply Management.

Jason has held positions at Bain & Co—a leading strategy consulting firm and at Goodmeasure Consulting, a leading organizational change consulting firm headed by Harvard Business School faculty, a former editor of the Harvard Business Review and leader of the Harvard Business School’s general management faculty.

Jason is an honors graduate of Harvard College.  He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School, where he was elected to lead the school’s Forum on Business Ethics.

 

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