If you are applying for a role within management consulting for one of the Big 4; Deloitte, EY, KPMG or PwC, you may be asked to undertake a case interview. A case interview is a type of job interview in which you will be presented with a specific business situation, and asked to answer questions on how you would handle this specific situation. It may be a situation you are likely to encounter in your day to day job or it could be a question unrelated to your role. For example, you may be asked how you would determine the market for a new product launch, and you’d need to be able to ask questions and extract information to be able to determine this. Case interviews can be complex, but it is important to take a deep breath and think things through carefully before you start.
A case interview may be different to what you’ve done before, and as such, it can be difficult to know exactly what is expected of you from the interviewers. The good news is that there isn’t really a right or wrong answer to the question, the interviewer is looking to see how you reach your solution. This includes the questions you ask and the logic you use. They are looking for you to ask questions which will help you reach a solution and to carefully consider the information you have to reach a final conclusion.
As you are being interviewed for a management consulting role, there are general case interview topics which will usually be used by most organisations. These include:
Business Analysis – the question may be related to your ability to analyse a specific business. This may include understanding its market potential, profitability, growth etc. For instance, you may be asked whether the company should start exporting to a specific country. In this case, you would need to determine the cost, and calculate the profitability to reach a conclusion. This type of question would come down to your ability to ask the right questions, to make calculations and to problem solve.
Estimations – it is not always easy to know the answer in business. For example, you might be asked to estimate the company profits over the next 5 years’. In this case, the interviewer is looking for your ability to extract information, calculate, problem solve and reach a conclusion, without having hard facts on hand. There is no way of knowing exactly what you will be asked during the case interview, but by looking up business case studies, you’ll get a good idea of how to work out the answer. It’s more about structure and problem solving, than anything else. If you can reach a strong conclusion, all the better.
Case interviews, especially with one of the Big 4; Deloitte, KPMG, EY or PwC can be challenging, but there are some steps you can take to prepare for these. Practice
Like most things in life, practice makes better and by understanding exactly what is expected of you, you’ll be in a better position to be able to answer the questions. Reading cases and practicing online case study tests will help you get prepared for the interview. If you can get a buddy to help you practice, this will also benefit you. Ask for feedback from a friend, as this will give you a better understanding of what you’re doing right and what you need to work on. If you can’t find a buddy, practice by reading the cases aloud. The key to success with the case interviews is preparation and practice. It is also a good idea to practice calculations too, as this may be part of the process during case interviews. You may need to work out numbers and it’s important to have an understanding of how to work these out, especially when you’re on the spot.
Make sure you completely understand the question before you start, as if not, you may go down the completely wrong track with your calculations and answer. The interviewers will not be concerned if you need clarification of the question. They would much rather that you communicate with them and ensure you understand everything before you start. This approach is the one they’d expect you to take with a client, so don’t feel like you’ll mess it up by asking for reassurance.
Candidates often think that they shouldn’t take their time when it comes to interviews, and rushing through them usually ends with making mistakes. There’s no need to rush through the case interview, it is much better if you take your time and carefully consider the question. If you rush, you are more likely to make mistakes. If you go slowly and carefully, you will make better progress with the interview. If you don’t understand anything at any point, just ask for clarification.
The interviewer will start by giving you details about the case. They will then usually ask if you have questions – always say ‘yes’ to this. This is your only chance to obtain as much information as you need to be able to answer with clarity. Make sure you understand what the situation and problem is. If anything is unclear, ask for clarification. If you show you are genuinely interested in the case, you will come across well to the interviewer. Think about it more in real terms than just trying to pass your interview, and ensure your listening skills are as good as your verbal communication skills. The interviewer will be expecting you to ask questions to be able to reach your conclusion. Don’t worry about asking questions, the interviewer will be more concerned if you don’t ask anything.
Try and think about the case interview as a conversation between two people. Use positive language and try to build rapport with the interviewer. The more you engage with the interviewer, the more likely they will be to give you additional information and maybe even some clues. In the Big 4 organisation; Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and EY, you will be expected to be able to engage well with a wide range of different people. It is important that this comes across during the interview.
In order to deal with a case correctly, it is a good idea to follow a structure. The interviewer will be looking for you to follow a logical process and to figure out your answer from this structure, not just ‘winging it’ to get a result. It will also make it much easier for you to reach a conclusion. For example, if you were asked how to determine the market for a product. You might start by defining the characteristics of the product and asking related questions to break down the answer into components. This will make it easier for you to draw a conclusion. If you get to the end and you decide that the answer isn’t right or you need more information, you will still have a basic format to work with, rather than having to start from the beginning again. Even with case interviews for the Big 4; EY, PwC, Deloitte and KMPG, the interviewers are not specifically looking for a ‘right’ answer, they are looking to understand how you reach your conclusion. This is often more important than the answer itself.
The case study interview is firstly, about your ability to communicate – both listening, speaking and writing. The interviewer is looking for your ability to engage and extract the right information. Don’t just ask questions for the sake of it, ask questions which will help with problem solving and reaching a conclusion. The interviewer is also looking to see a desire and motivation to problem solve. For example, establishing the most relevant information, connecting facts together with evidence to reach a conclusion. They will want to see that you are questioning yourself and A strong structure will also be important to the interviewer and your ability to make calculations. It is highly likely that your case study will include problem solving and numerical abilities, as ultimately, business success comes down to profit and loss.
A good way to create a structure for the case interview is to look at the problem or the question you are trying to answer. This is the first part of the building blocks. An issue tree can be a good way to break your problem down to sub-problems, in order to reach your conclusion. For example, should we sell our product in China? This can be further divided into what the product is, what the market is for the product, what the demographics are in China, what the cost would be etc. The structure is about dividing each issue into further issues until you reach a final conclusion. Then you should make recommendations based on this. It might not just be one straightforward answer, you may have many different recommendations based on your studies.