The management consulting recruitment process is known for being highly competitive in nature. Applicants prepare months in advance, especially for the case interview.
A recent article released by CNN suggests that management consulting firms are prioritizing recruitment in 2014. To be more specific, Deloitte stated in the article that they are looking to fill roughly 12,000 vacant positions. In the same article, PricewaterhouseCoopers is also on the look out for new hires (4,449).
These figures indicate that the consulting industry is still rapidly expanding and shows no signs of slowing down. Despite the need for new consultants, top consulting firms are making it clear that their standards for new recruits are not being compromised. One of the ways that consulting recruiters ensure that they are hiring the best from each batch of applicants is through the case interview.
What Is A Case Interview?
A case interview is the practical part of the consulting recruitment process. It is usually the last portion of the interview, after the employment exams. Candidates who make it to this step would have undergone a strict shortlisting process and several rounds of screening.
The case interview is composed of a business case that is a stimulation of real-time consulting scenarios. It is designed to expose how candidates think and process problems. It is important to take note that panelists are concerned about the analytical aspects of the case (how you come up with the answer). Panelists have also been known to provide hints for candidates using guide questions.
During a case interview, candidates are required to propose step-by-step solutions to the business cases provided to them. It is not uncommon for individuals to go through several business cases in one day. There are reports of candidates going through as many as 6 for highly competitive consulting positions.
Basic Case Interview Scenarios
Before reaching the case interview, a candidate has to be shortlisted. This takes years of preparation, obtaining the right credentials, joining the right clubs and building a solid consulting network. Assuming that you have all those covered, we will focus entirely on the consulting case interview.
The most common scenarios that applicants encounter during the case interview are the following: organization, start-ups and the release of a new product (risk and strategy). It is recommended to familiarize one’s self with these basic cases. Should you pass the interview process, it is highly unlikely that you will be immediately assigned high profile, complex projects.
Where To Find Sample Cases
There are a number of reliable sources for sample cases that one should take note of. The first is your target firm’s website. McKinsey, Bain & Company and BCG have a set of samples on their respective website that are made up of real cases that they have encountered. Each website has their own way of guiding the applicant to go through the sample cases. McKinsey uses guide questions throughout the sample to provide hints for the reviewer, while Bain & Company includes a range of tools such as videos and multiple-choice questions.
Another great source for consulting cases are books. Case In Point, by Marc P. Cosentino, provides a selection of consulting sample cases, as well as informative tips on how to overcome and breakdown complex questions. This book is regarded as one of the best books for case interview preparation. Top MBA programs are known to purchase and recommend the latest editions of Case In Point for their students, members and staff.
Case Interview Frameworks
Once you have a set of sample cases, it’s time to apply the right case interview frameworks. It is nearly impossible to solve a case in the manner that the recruiter wants you to without using a consulting framework. Remember, what the recruiter is looking for is more than the right solution. He or she is more interested in how you came up with the correct set of options, including your thought process.
Case interview frameworks are designed to organize your method in solving the case through the use of categories and revealing questions. Each consulting firm has their own preferred frameworks that they find to be useful and superior. It is best to take note of your target firm’s set of frameworks that they rely on. This can give you insight on the type of cases that you might encounter.
Basic consulting frameworks such as SWOT Analysis and Seven S are a great way to start the case, as they can help identify problem areas. It is important to understand that it is not recommended to forcefully apply a framework to a case. This can be extremely misleading. Instead, adapt and use only part of the framework that is relevant to the type of case being presented.
Case Interview Skills
Apart from testing your analytic skills, case interviews test one’s ability to compute figures and data under pressure. Some interviewers even go off topic and ask more direct math questions such as, how many golf balls can fit in a standard freight container? It is best to be prepared for such misleading scenarios.
Lastly, don’t forget to sharpen your communication skills. Confident message delivery can show the recruiter that you deserve the consulting position that you’re applying for. Good luck!