Many aspiring consultants get anxious about the case interview stage of the recruiting process. The good news is, with proper preparation you can definitely ace your case interviews.
You see, management consultants spend most of their hours understanding and analyzing businesses, problems, solutions and communicating with clients and team members. Case interviews provide a great setting to assess whether or not you’re suitable for a job that requires structured, logical and analytical thinking skills. Case interviews allow the firms to get a firsthand glimpse of how you’ll handle a real case or situation.
The key to a successful case interview is to prepare – practice, practice, practice. But how exactly is the best way to practice? Here are some guidelines:
Start Practicing Cases Now – Not Tomorrow, Not in a Week
Procrastination is often the cause of one’s failure. So start your case interview prep as early as possible. The earlier you start, the more cases you are likely to get familiar to. Get your hands on many different cases. There are plenty of books and websites and other valuable resources that can help you in your case prep. Your confidence will increase as you work on more cases.
Assess Your Competency
It is important that you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, evaluate your skills and focus on improving on the things where you are not good enough. This will help you complete all the competencies needed to deliver what is expected from you as a consultant. Self-awareness will help you identify and hone the skills that you lack. For instance, if you don’t feel confident about reading financial statements through graphs and tables, then invest more on time on improving your graph and table analysis skills.
Don’t Read Cases as You Would Normally Read a Book
If you opt to read cases first, make sure you you read the intro, and reflect what clarifying questions you would ask. Take note of these and then compare with what the book says. Doing cases involves on the spot thinking and requires the ability to create structure from ambiguous details. Remember that it is still best to do practice cases. If you only read cases you might not be able to replicate their process during crunch time.
Improve Your Quantitative Skills
Whether you like it or not, case interviews will contain a lot of numerical calculations. That’s why it is important for you to hone your mental math skills as well as your tables and graphs data analysis. If you feel that your quantitative skills are not that sharp, take the time to improve. Try simulating the actual case interview so you can gauge your speed in performing numerical calculations.
Case studies are likely to include quantitative questions involving tables and graphs, so be ready for them too. Don’t worry if you are not that good yet with data interpretation presented through tables and graphs. As with anything else, you can be good at it with daily practice and persistence.
Master the Frameworks
You should know the consulting frameworks by heart. While having the ability to think logically is great, you still need to master the consulting frameworks. This will even more guide you in structuring your answer within the specified time. Sometimes, aspiring consultants find it hard to determine where and how to start. And this problem can be solved by applying frameworks.
Mastering frameworks will help in determining which approach to use in different situations. Train yourself by applying different frameworks to various cases. You’ll learn how to identify the possible contributing factors and ultimately, generate sound recommendations. Frameworks can be used to check the completeness of your solution and to give data-driven support to your conclusion.
Simulate Actual Case Interviews
Working through a case within time constraints is very much different from reading a case at a leisurely pace. Simulating your case interview will not only help you in gauging your speed. This will also help you learn how to handle pressure well. Apparently, the amount of time you spend answering questions is a critical consideration. Ideally, you should practice with someone who has experience and knowledge in consulting.
Practice with a Qualified Person
Conducting a mock interview is a great way to prepare for a consulting interview at a top firm. While it is important that you study on your own too, you need to do a mock interview with good people to verify if your efforts have been fruitful.
Remember, only do mock interviews with qualified people – those who have sufficient knowledge about the industry. You need to spend time with people who are better than you. Why? Because you need to spend more time thinking about what mistakes you have made and which areas need improvement. And those realizations can only be given to you by people who know better than you.
There are many people on consulting forums who are willing to devote their time to do Skype interviews. You could also ask the help of some alumni from your school in consulting (does not have to be Bain or McKinsey as most young alumni in consulting would be willing to help out).
Although you may also ask the help of less experienced family or friends, the best people still to have your mock interview with are those who are used to work or are currently working at a consulting firm.
Ask for Detailed Feedback
After the mock interview, ask your practice partner for a detailed feedback. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, your practice partner may notice that have no problems with personality questions but struggle with the market sizing calculations. Then consider this feedback and hone your quantitative skills. Focus on the improving the negative comments.
Set Up Informational Meetings or Phone Calls with Former and Current Consultants
Informational meetings with past and current consultants can help you learn more about real cases and real problems. Remember, practice cases are seldom used in real life interviews. Current and former consultants may provide you with tips on what consulting firms are truly looking for in responses. The more you understand about case interviews, the better are your chances of acing your interview.
Moreover, meeting consultants will also provide you a great feel for the types of people you’ll likely to work with. This will help you manage your expectations and decide whether or not it’s the right path for you.
This is invaluable not just for networking purposes, but more importantly for industry and job familiarization. The more you know about consulting – the lingo, the lifestyle, challenges, and rewards – the better you’ll do in the interview.
Scan the News in the Morning before Your Interview
As an aspiring management consultant, you must know your target audience. So make sure you are very well informed on the latest business news, and have a good grasp of politics and international affairs. You must be updated about the key issues of the moment.
Be Ready to Ask Intelligent Questions
As you practice for your case interview, don’t forget to prepare to ask some intelligent questions for the interviewer as well. Although you are the one to be interviewed, it is critical that you know what questions to ask your interviewer so as to impress him/her as much as your answers do. You may ask for additional information or for clarification on key points. Don’t be hesitant to ask as the interviewer is not there to trick you into going to the wrong path.
Remember, case interview is not just about answering questions, it’s also about asking the right questions to draw important information out. Plus, confidently asking the right questions will demonstrate your strong communication abilities.
Maintain a Positive Energy
It is important to have a proper mindset to pass the case interview. You see, even the most experienced interviewers can be a bit anxious when asking questions. Realize that you and the interviewer are in the same boat. Project a great energy to maintain a calm situation for the both of you. Never underestimate the power of good vibes. However, do not overdo this. Practice will help you do this right of course. Also, practice your smile as you need to smile a lot.