The format of many case interview questions is fairly simple: “How many [widgets] are [produced, sold, installed] in [time frame] in [arbitrary location].” You may also hear something like, “Why does [company] choose to do [unique business practice] even though it causes [known consequence]?”. Read how to get alive…
Breaking it down like that may make the questions seem simple, or even rote. But they are not, by any means. Contrast the first with, “How many electrical generators are likely to be sold this year in Nigeria?”
Clearly, the format is simple but provides a wealth of variety for interviewers looking to test their candidates’ understanding of business concepts and critical thinking in compressed time lines.
The first thing to keep in mind is that while the venue and type of business will change, your analysis should not. The skills you have acquired in analyzing potential problems won’t differ whether you’re covering motor yachts or apple picking.
Stick Figures and Flow Charts
You may ask your interviewer for a minute or two to collect your thoughts, and we highly recommend that. Before you get into your analysis, you may be having difficulty because of nerves or trying to concentrate.
If you enjoy putting a face on the problem, feel free to draw a stick figure representation. For the Nigerian example above, a person, next to a box connected to a light would work fine. If you think in diagrams, then a flowchart of the path from needing electricity to buying a generator might help.
Either way, you have taken the pressure of the interview down to a more manageable level. In creating a new diagram or picture, you’re creating a “client” who you’re helping, and not the interviewer.
Using What You Just Made
You will likely be making frequent calculations, so graph paper is a good idea since you can write ideas and build charts for your management consulting firm interview. Rephrase the question and make sure that you have it right before you begin.
Then chart what you want to address and how you will do so. This should be part of an ongoing conversation you have with the interviewer, who may be able to provide additional information and answer any questions that you have.
If you’re stuck in an area where you’re lacking information, feel free to glance back at your stick figure (which should now be the 2nd or 3rd page back) or flow chart and look for elements that the interviewer may be able to help you with.
Remember, You Know How to Do This
The thing about the case interviews is that you are applying the principles you already know to a new situation. But the approach itself isn’t drastically different, and the questions (as we noted before) are similar to the ones you worked out in business classes.
Make sure that you ask questions that are pertinent and quantitative in general, and that you always return to the question involved. And prepare to wow your interviewer.