How Much Time Should Be Spent Preparing for Case Interviews?

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Happy young woman being interviewed

It’s critical to prepare for the consulting recruiting process, particularly case interviews. This is how prospective firms really gauge your problem solving skills, strategic and critical thinking skills, as well as your business judgment and numerical reasoning.

Landing a consulting job at top-tier firms like McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co., and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) can be tough. The competition is steep, especially for undergrads. Compared to candidates from business schools, undergrads often lack  necessary credentials in their resume, particularly in regard to work and leadership experience. As employers will most likely rely on the applicant’s performance during the case interview to assess a candidate, intense preparation for undergrads is a must.

Undergrad consulting applicants are not the only candidates who need to diligently prepare. Every aspiring consultant should be properly equipped for a case interview as lack of practice is the most commonly cited reason for failure.

Positive Effects of Preparation

Sometimes aspiring consultants neglect the importance of due preparation, even if they are aware of the tough competition. Acing your case interview is crucial to breaking into management consulting. If you thoroughly prepare, your prospective firm will perceive you as an eligible candidate who possesses the capabilities required for the position.

Hard work is a must. Due preparation will hone the key skills needed to nail down the interview. Practice will help you learn how to break down a problem and identify contributing factors for evaluation, thus, enhancing your analytical skills.

Being familiar with various cases will also improve your ability to generate sound conclusions and practical recommendations, which establishes problem solving skills.

In addition, diligent preparation can help you learn how to clearly and confidently express your ideas under pressure. Thus, you’ll be able to demonstrate exceptional communication and stress management skills. You need to strengthen all of these abilities in order to be successful in a mentally-stimulating work environment.

Length of Preparation

There is no fixed amount of time when it comes to case interview preparation. As there is no required length of time, it really depends on your dedication. However, many consultants would recommend a preparation period of three months. Again, there is no specific formula; you just need to keep practicing until you feel confident that you are ready for the interview.

Tips on How to Prepare

Here are some strategies on how to do well during case interviews:

Start as Early as You Can

The earlier you start, the more cases you’ll be familiar with. To be successful in this field, you need to be disciplined and follow a proactive review schedule. If you postpone your preparation, you might find yourself cramming at the end. Never underestimate the power of early preparation.

Attend Consulting Case Interview Practice Sessions

For students, there are consulting clubs and career service centers that organize review sessions. Take advantage of these—visit your consulting club or career center to ask for additional review materials.

Master Consulting Frameworks

The time constraints may cause some anxiety. If the case seems ambiguous, you may be overwhelmed and confused with where to base your analysis. That’s why it’s helpful to master consulting frameworks that can guide you in finding the solution.

Make Use of Available Materials

There are plenty of study materials available on the Internet, although some sites require registration. Study different cases and explore situations which involve business aspects such as marketing, pricing, competition, product development, etc. You never know what type of problem you’ll be presented with during the interview, so it’s best to read and study a variety of cases. The key here is to answer the review questions before you read the given answer.

Try the Interactive Case Interviews of McKinsey, Bain, and BCG

In order to land a job with these top-tier firms, you should consider reviewing their interactive case interviews. Their websites provide practice case interviews that may help you understand how they handle their projects. Although they don’t provide actual client assignments, you’ll get a good grasp of their approach to strategy consulting and what to expect during the interview. However, there is often no time limit in these practice exercises, so you may want to time yourself while taking them.

Try Mock Interviews

The best way to practice critical thinking skills and communicating structured ideas is through mock interviews. Practicing by yourself is necessary to hone your skills, but conducting simulated interviews with a friend will provide you with valuable feedback. Remember to:

Find experienced people to practice with. The best people to conduct your mock interview with are those currently working or who used to work at a consulting firm. You may also ask the help of those colleagues who have been through case interviews before. Be considerate of the person’s time; only ask for their help if you feel that you have sharpened your skills and are ready for the mock interview.
Be serious. Treat your mock interview as a real interview. Don’t joke around simply because it’s “only practice.” Try to simulate the stress that you’ll experience during the actual interview.
Ask for feedback. After your mock interview, ask for your friend or colleague’s feedback and their impression of the case. It’s important that both of you perceive the same problem. Take notes and ask questions. This way you can get more insight on how to improve.

No matter what you aim for, preparation should be an integral part of your plan. And if you are aspiring to become the next management consultant at one of the three top-tier firms, you must spend time practicing case interviews.

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