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Introduction to the Case Interview

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Introduction to the Case Interview [#permalink] New post 17 Dec 2007, 18:45
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Here is a brief introduction to the case interview methodology.

Case interviews are designed to scrutinize the skills that are especially important in management consulting and related fields: quantitative skills, analytical skills, problem-solving ability, communications skills, creativity, flexibility, the ability to think quickly under pressure, listening skills, business acumen, keen insight, interpersonal skills, the ability to synthesize findings, professional demeanor, and powers of persuasion.

Above all, the interviewing firm will be looking for someone who can do the real work at hand. Management-consulting companies, for example, want to know that you are the kind of person who can make a good impression on clients. Keep in mind that consulting firms value case interviews because there is no perfect background for consulting. Consulting requires working in unfamiliar territories, thinking on your feet, and performing in situations where you never have enough time.

Experts agree on many of the fine points for approaching case interviews:

RESOURCES

(1) Practice extensively before undergoing a case interview. Use books and Web sites for practice cases. Some companies that use case interviews provide good information on their own Web sites. Boston Consulting Group, for example, provides an interactive case you can work through for practice, as well as additional cases you can rehearse with friends. Vault.com, which has some of the best resources on the Internet regarding case interviewing, suggests starting out by practicing explaining something like how to change a tire. Move on to assessing a situation for friends or family members, such as which bank they should choose for a checking account. In all cases, try to avoid "um's" and other filler words. Practice summarizing in a minute or less. Boston Consulting Group notes that Harvard Business School produces numerous case studies that can be used for practice; the studies are likely available in your business-school or career-services library. Other experts suggest talking to alumni from your school or others who've been through a case interview, as well as reading business magazines and periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal to get a sense of how companies deal with the kinds of issues likely to be asked about in case interviews. Some universities offer case interview workshops.

DIGEST THE QUESTION

Listen carefully to the question. Paraphrase it back to the interviewer to ensure your understanding. Listening is the most important skill a consultant has. The case isn't about you or the consultant; it's about the client. You may also want to take notes; in most cases the interviewer will allow you to do so. Practice with both a pad of paper a pad of graph paper in case you want to create a graph as part of your conclusion.

Silence -- but not too much of it -- is golden. The interviewer expects you to take a minute or so to collect your thoughts, so don't be afraid of silence. It's a nice idea, however, to ask the interviewer if it's OK to take a moment to ponder the case. And don't take too much time. Experts agree that five minutes would be excessive.

Remember that rarely is there one "right" answer for analyzing a case. Your process for reaching your conclusions is equally important to the interviewer as is the conclusion itself. In fact, the interviewer wants to observe as much of that process as possible, so it's important -- once you've taken the time to gather your thoughts -- to "think out loud" as you're working through the case. Although there is probably not one right answer, avoid ignoring or forgetting important facts, defending impossible ideas, and force-fitting the wrong structure onto a problem.

ASK QUESTIONS TO HELP GUIDE YOUR SOLUTION

Don't be afraid to ask questions. The case interview is meant to be interactive, with lots of back and forth between you and the interviewer. Questions are expected, especially because the information provided about the case will likely be incomplete. The interviewer will be looking at your resourcefulness in collecting information. Make sure you ask your questions in a logical -- not random -- progression. It's helpful to adopt the persona of an actual consultant trying to learn about the assignment and, therefore, failing to ask questions is a fatal error in the case interview. Be sure, also, to listen carefully to the answers to your questions. And don't get rattled if the interviewer wants to know why you want the information you're asking for. It's all part of understanding your thought process.

FRAMEWORK SOLUTIONS

Construct a logical framework with which to explore the critical issues of the case. Many of the principles we learn in business school can serve as a framework. Examples include Porter's Five Forces, the SWOT analysis, Value Chain Analysis, and the Four P's of marketing. If you have some business experience, you can can also draw on applicable situations you've encountered. Make sure your conclusion is grounded in action, not just theory. Be able to explain and defend your reasoning.

AVOID PERFECTIONISM

Prioritize the issues and objectives. Don't get bogged down trying to deal with every aspect of the case. As you ask questions, you should be able to pick up clues as to which issues are most important. Some of those clues might be meant to lead you back on track if you've gone astray, so be sure to listen carefully. If direction is not forthcoming, don't be afraid to take control of the conversation to get to the meat of the case.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Creativity and brainstorming may be just what the interviewer is looking for.

FINE TUNING

Some of the standard advice about case interviews is the same advice that applies to any kind of interview:

-Maintain eye contact. Eye contact will help you engage the interviewer, establish rapport, and contribute to the interactivity of the interview.

-Project confidence. Your ability to work the case confidently, without getting flustered or frustrated, is key.

-Demonstrate your enthusiasm. Behaving as though you feel it's fun to tackle this kind of problem is integral to showing how well you'd fit in as a consultant or whatever position you're interviewing for. Assure your interviewer though your enthusiastic demeanor that you are exactly the kind of person he or she would enjoy working with.

Most common types of case questions we can begin discussing:

Calculation/estimation/guesstimate/numerical/market sizing cases
Problem cases
Probing cases
Business operations case
Business strategy case
Resume case (case based on a company at which you worked)
Brainteaser/logical puzzle/IQ question
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Re: Introduction to the Case Interview [#permalink] New post 22 Dec 2007, 02:32
Great stuff
Thanks for sharing
GMATT73 wrote:
Here is a brief introduction to the case interview methodology.

Case interviews are designed to scrutinize the skills that are especially important in management consulting and related fields: quantitative skills, analytical skills, problem-solving ability, communications skills, creativity, flexibility, the ability to think quickly under pressure, listening skills, business acumen, keen insight, interpersonal skills, the ability to synthesize findings, professional demeanor, and powers of persuasion.

Above all, the interviewing firm will be looking for someone who can do the real work at hand. Management-consulting companies, for example, want to know that you are the kind of person who can make a good impression on clients. Keep in mind that consulting firms value case interviews because there is no perfect background for consulting. Consulting requires working in unfamiliar territories, thinking on your feet, and performing in situations where you never have enough time.

Experts agree on many of the fine points for approaching case interviews:

RESOURCES

(1) Practice extensively before undergoing a case interview. Use books and Web sites for practice cases. Some companies that use case interviews provide good information on their own Web sites. Boston Consulting Group, for example, provides an interactive case you can work through for practice, as well as additional cases you can rehearse with friends. Vault.com, which has some of the best resources on the Internet regarding case interviewing, suggests starting out by practicing explaining something like how to change a tire. Move on to assessing a situation for friends or family members, such as which bank they should choose for a checking account. In all cases, try to avoid "um's" and other filler words. Practice summarizing in a minute or less. Boston Consulting Group notes that Harvard Business School produces numerous case studies that can be used for practice; the studies are likely available in your business-school or career-services library. Other experts suggest talking to alumni from your school or others who've been through a case interview, as well as reading business magazines and periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal to get a sense of how companies deal with the kinds of issues likely to be asked about in case interviews. Some universities offer case interview workshops.

DIGEST THE QUESTION

Listen carefully to the question. Paraphrase it back to the interviewer to ensure your understanding. Listening is the most important skill a consultant has. The case isn't about you or the consultant; it's about the client. You may also want to take notes; in most cases the interviewer will allow you to do so. Practice with both a pad of paper a pad of graph paper in case you want to create a graph as part of your conclusion.

Silence -- but not too much of it -- is golden. The interviewer expects you to take a minute or so to collect your thoughts, so don't be afraid of silence. It's a nice idea, however, to ask the interviewer if it's OK to take a moment to ponder the case. And don't take too much time. Experts agree that five minutes would be excessive.

Remember that rarely is there one "right" answer for analyzing a case. Your process for reaching your conclusions is equally important to the interviewer as is the conclusion itself. In fact, the interviewer wants to observe as much of that process as possible, so it's important -- once you've taken the time to gather your thoughts -- to "think out loud" as you're working through the case. Although there is probably not one right answer, avoid ignoring or forgetting important facts, defending impossible ideas, and force-fitting the wrong structure onto a problem.

ASK QUESTIONS TO HELP GUIDE YOUR SOLUTION

Don't be afraid to ask questions. The case interview is meant to be interactive, with lots of back and forth between you and the interviewer. Questions are expected, especially because the information provided about the case will likely be incomplete. The interviewer will be looking at your resourcefulness in collecting information. Make sure you ask your questions in a logical -- not random -- progression. It's helpful to adopt the persona of an actual consultant trying to learn about the assignment and, therefore, failing to ask questions is a fatal error in the case interview. Be sure, also, to listen carefully to the answers to your questions. And don't get rattled if the interviewer wants to know why you want the information you're asking for. It's all part of understanding your thought process.

FRAMEWORK SOLUTIONS

Construct a logical framework with which to explore the critical issues of the case. Many of the principles we learn in business school can serve as a framework. Examples include Porter's Five Forces, the SWOT analysis, Value Chain Analysis, and the Four P's of marketing. If you have some business experience, you can can also draw on applicable situations you've encountered. Make sure your conclusion is grounded in action, not just theory. Be able to explain and defend your reasoning.

AVOID PERFECTIONISM

Prioritize the issues and objectives. Don't get bogged down trying to deal with every aspect of the case. As you ask questions, you should be able to pick up clues as to which issues are most important. Some of those clues might be meant to lead you back on track if you've gone astray, so be sure to listen carefully. If direction is not forthcoming, don't be afraid to take control of the conversation to get to the meat of the case.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Creativity and brainstorming may be just what the interviewer is looking for.

FINE TUNING

Some of the standard advice about case interviews is the same advice that applies to any kind of interview:

-Maintain eye contact. Eye contact will help you engage the interviewer, establish rapport, and contribute to the interactivity of the interview.

-Project confidence. Your ability to work the case confidently, without getting flustered or frustrated, is key.

-Demonstrate your enthusiasm. Behaving as though you feel it's fun to tackle this kind of problem is integral to showing how well you'd fit in as a consultant or whatever position you're interviewing for. Assure your interviewer though your enthusiastic demeanor that you are exactly the kind of person he or she would enjoy working with.

Most common types of case questions we can begin discussing:

Calculation/estimation/guesstimate/numerical/market sizing cases
Problem cases
Probing cases
Business operations case
Business strategy case
Resume case (case based on a company at which you worked)
Brainteaser/logical puzzle/IQ question
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 [#permalink] New post 27 Dec 2007, 20:25
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This is a valuable overview. A brief addition/point of emphasis- make certain to include the interviewer in your thought process. Candidates often keep too much of their reasoning hidden in their own heads rather than showing the interviewer how they think. The journey to your answer is usually far more important to the interviewer than your final result.
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 [#permalink] New post 27 Dec 2007, 20:49
really cool...thanks for sharing
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Re: Introduction to the Case Interview [#permalink] New post 17 Apr 2009, 04:10
Thanks a lot, really usefull info!
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Re: Introduction to the Case Interview [#permalink] New post 01 Jun 2009, 11:42
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An invaluable free source that helped me during undergrad case interviews was http://www.caseinterview.com/

If you find it helpful, make sure to donate to his cause!
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Re: Introduction to the Case Interview [#permalink] New post 29 Jan 2010, 20:01
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Great guide. I'd also recommend taking a look at this one http://www.simplythecase.com/the-case-i ... mystified/
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Re: Introduction to the Case Interview [#permalink] New post 27 May 2010, 10:08
thanks for sharing!
Re: Introduction to the Case Interview   [#permalink] 27 May 2010, 10:08
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