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From Good to Best: Acing the Case Interview

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

If you are serious about a career in management consulting, or are just curious about exploring it as an option, you would have come across the interview format the industry is known for – the case interview. A case interview is an interactive process where an interviewee solves a management consulting case – modeled after a real world consulting project or problem – in front of interviewers. Case interviews exist because they are the easiest way of simulating an actual consulting project scenario, and testing the candidate’s ability to solve real business problems in a structured manner.

There are various types of case interview questions, each represents different business scenario.

Do be aware that there are different formats of case interviews, including 1-on-1, group case, presentation case, etc. This article will focus on how to crack the most popular 1-on-1 case interview, although most of the tips are applicable for other case interview formats as well. Presented below is the typical flow of a case interview, and the tips for each stage of it.

Stage 1 - Case Prompt

At this stage, the interviewer will give a brief description of the case (usually a few sentences), and ask a vague question. The description of the business problem will usually contain some information of the client (e.g. “Fortune 500”, “pharmaceutical company”, etc.), and the situation the client is facing (e.g. “falling profit”, “customer attrition”). The question usually contains very little direction, such as “how do we proceed”, or “what can we do to help the client”.

Pro Tips

1. Summarize the essence of the problem

Be succinct in the summary. Show that you understand the problem at hand, and are able to articulate it to the client. Showing understanding of the client’s situation is the first step towards solving the problem with the client, so show that you are a pro.

2. Clarify the goal

Do not assume that you know the best. Always clarify what the purpose of the case is. Is the client trying to grow revenue, reduce cost, drive profitability or capture market share? Be very explicit that you are thinking for the client, and solving the actual problem they want you to solve.

3. Ask for some time

Once you are clear about the situation and the goal, ask for some time from the interviewer. With the few minutes that the interviewer gives you, collect your thoughts and start developing your problem-solving framework.

Stage 2 - Develop Framework

The candidate develops the structure for solving the case. The structure needs to include an overall hypothesis, and a problem-solving framework (also known as an issue tree).