Invited to participate in a case study interview but not sure about the best ways to get ready for it?
While you’ll still need to impress a prospective employer with strong research, confident interview responses and a professional appearance, the case study interview tests your knowledge and abilities through a spontaneous, analytical exercise. It examines how you approach problem-solving with the pressure of handling a situation without previous knowledge of any details or context.
Although the consulting industry utilises it as an essential part of the hiring process, the case study interview can be also found in many other environments, including startups, government and corporate organisations. It measures a candidate’s analytical, logic reasoning and communication abilities while under pressure.
In this guide, we will cover what you need to know to successfully prepare for a case study interview.
Case Study Interviews Explained
Even if you’ve never participated in one, it’s likely you’ve heard stories about the case study interview format. The case study puts you, the candidate, on the spot to solve a business problem posed by the interviewers.
Case study interview questions cover a wide range of topics and do not look for a single ‘right’ answer. Instead, the format gives the interviewers a look at how you respond spontaneously while applying problem-solving skills to create a solution to the business challenge presented.
For example, an exercise might ask what the potential market size is for a vegan food company within a prospective city and if setting up shop within the region would be worth it. The case study may not share all the details to help you reach an answer, but it should prompt you to ask questions that help you structure your thought process.
What to Expect in a Case Study Interview
The ways by which a case study interview is conducted will vary by company. However, this format bears unique characteristics:
- You’ll receive an introduction to the business problem, its relevant details and other information that lend to setting context. Some companies may choose to share a briefing document for you to read, while others may prefer to communicate the scenario in conversation.
- Information about the business problem will be, to some degree, vague. While the problem may cover complex business concepts, expect that the information will provide a high-level description of the scenario – not detailed reports with specific facts and figures. Case study interviews present such information in general terms for a reason. They’re meant to provide just enough information so that you can choose how to approach your line of questioning to solve the problem.
- The discussion about the business problem will be led by either the interviewer or the candidate. You need to be prepared for both situations. Who leads the conversation about the business problem is important, as it reveals the direction the discussion will take.
In interviewer-led sessions, the interviewer seeks to gauge the quality of your approach as it relates to a specific part of the business problem. They control the dialogue, focusing on a series of tough questions unlike those considered to be difficult in other interview formats. The interviewer sticks to a line of questioning that refers to details and themes relevant to the business problem, and evaluates how you comprehend, interpret and recommend actions within this specific domain.
On the hand, candidate-led conversations evaluate your ability to understand a business problem comprehensively, and from multiple points of view. Consultants play different roles on projects. Their actions cover various levels of activity, from analysing the business facts and data, creating the solutions and communicating directly with the clients on the overall strategy and approach. You’ll need to show strong methodology to guide others in your process.
Candidate-led sessions are challenging because they give you the freedom to explain your best approach to tackle the entire problem, but without receiving the input or comments of others to help guide a conversation along.
How to Prepare for a Case Study Interview
As you might find these interviews to be difficult, intense and downright nerve-wracking, you can succeed in a case study interview through thoughtful preparation. Here are five tips to help you ace the interview:
1. Demonstrate Your Analytical, Reasoning and Communication Skills
While recapping key details of the business problem is important, the case study interview measures much more than your ability to recall the facts. It showcases how you think on your feet as you seek out information to determine your course of action.
While you might be comfortable sketching out a framework or a mathematical formula that helps you identify the way you wish to solve the problem, this interview format also tests your ability to explain the reasoning in a clear and believable manner to others.
To be successful in a case study interview, you must demonstrate the skill to process information quantitatively, as well as speak about your rationale and decisions convincingly.
2. Get Ready to Play an Active Role in the Discussion
Case study interviews require a high level of engagement. While other interviews might have you responding to questions with rehearsed answers, the case study interview presents a situation that is dynamic and unpredictable.
You’ll want to approach the session with an active disposition. This typically includes taking notes, documenting your observations and ideas, sketching out diagrams and charts, and asking follow-up questions throughout the interview.
3. Identify the Type of Problem Posed to You
Jobseekers may find that there are common themes that appear when covering the type of business problems found in case study interviews. Eight of the most common exercises explore these questions:
- Maths – eg: ‘How many more units do we need to sell to double the profit?’
- Market size – eg: ‘How big is the market size within the US for smart wearable devices?’
- Framework/Issue tree - eg: ‘Identify the factors you would consider in addressing the problem.’
- Data-chart insights – eg: ‘What story do the numbers tell about the operations of this business?’
- Value proposition – eg: ‘What factors do customers look for in choosing a mobile phone carrier?’
- Business valuation – eg: ‘Just how much is this company worth today, and would it change if acquired by our competitor?’
- Hypothesis – eg: ‘What are some possible reasons that explain this trend?’
- Brain teaser – eg: ‘How many tennis balls can you fit in an area that is twice the size of a football field?’
There is not a single approach that solves all business problems. By identifying the type of problem you’re encountering, you’ll be able to quickly determine the most appropriate method to apply.
For example, you might discover that a maths problem will rely on the knowledge of specific formulas and expressions, while a hypothesis question calls for a closer look at the root causes behind an issue.
4. Organise a Framework that Helps You Solve the Problem
Having a good framework to apply to a problem is the key to doing well in a case study interview. You want to show that you understand a business issue well enough to formulate recommendations or insights that address the problem. As there isn’t one right answer to such a problem, your interviewer will be interested to hear about the thought process you applied to arrive at your decisions.
The process may involve a range of problem-solving skills and methods, including the use of mathematical formulas, first-hand knowledge about an industry and decision-tree flowcharts that guide through questions you’ve applied to the issue.
It’s helpful to write down your framework and refer to it as needed. By having the steps outlined, you’ll be able to explain your recommendations in a clear and confident manner so that the rationale used in your analysis appears sound.
5. Practise, Practise, Practise!
Prepare for the case study interview by engaging in mock practice sessions before the big day. While it’s important to spend time putting together the methods you’ll use to analyse a business problem, enlisting the help of a friend or two familiar with this interview format is essential.
You’ll want to find case study examples online and share your selections with those helping you practise. Your friends should read the materials before the practice sessions and play the role of the interviewer.
By conducting a practice session as if it were the real thing, your friends will help you work through the awkwardness and spontaneity of the case study interview and develop the confidence to perform successfully.
By following these tips, you’ll be ready to show off your analytical, communication and problem-solving skills, all important to the case study interview. However, don’t limit your preparation only to the guidance given for this specific style; rather, you’ll want to make sure you continue the things that served you well for other interview formats, including making a good first impression and avoiding interview faux pas.
By combining those behaviours with the preparation, mindset and practice needed to solve business problems on your feet, you’ll put yourself in a great position to succeed at a case study interview.
Have you ever found yourself in a case study interview? What advice do you have to give? Let us know in the comments section below!