So, we said it before but we’ll say it again.
Ain’t nothing like a turn-off than someone who doesn’t walk their own talk.
Buuut… that being said, here are some gentle guidelines for things to remember during your consulting case interview.
It sounds super basic and we assure you it is. But we can’t tell you the number of times we’ve had interviewers tell us that ‘kids these days’ just aren’t listening to them.
But seriously. Listen to the question being asked of you. Ensure that you understand it correctly. Repeat it back to them if necessary. And confirm your mutual understanding once you have it in your head. This is essential. There’s no point trying to solve a case that you don’t understand.
An interviewer might give you a case verbally or provide some written materials. In many cases, it may be a bit of both. It’s important that you have a notebook and pen handy to take notes either way. Sometimes you won’t be able to write on the information they’ve provided, so it’s good to know you’ve got your own supply of paper.
A case interview is only about 20-30 minutes so you do want to get into the guts of the case pretty quickly. It does pay however to note down the key facts of the case so that you have something to refer back to if you get stuck. You may have an excellent memory but there’s nothing worse than realising half-way through you forgot a vital fact and the interviewer isn’t playing nice and giving it to you.
We suggest underlining or noting down key facts as you read or hear them so you can find them more easily later.
So, you’ve understood the question. Now it’s time to game plan. Don’t be afraid of a little silence. In fact, call it out if you feel it’s necessary, ‘I’m just going to take a moment to consider how to approach this problem’ (and by moment, keep it conservative, a couple of minutes max).
During this silence, see if you can come up with a plan of attack. It doesn’t have to be set in stone (after all, the plans don’t always go to plan, as the saying goes) but enough to kickstart you into gear.
Think about it this way – what are you trying to solve? And what’s the most critical bit of information that you need to get there? And then go from there.
As we said earlier, the interviewer is not going to be spoon feeding you the case. What they do have though is information. And it is your job to get as much as you can out of them. After all, this isn’t a free lunch and they aren’t just going to give it away.
So, when you come to a point in the case when you need to make an assumption, don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve got a number for you but be equally prepared for a straight out ‘No’. (Don’t worry in that case, this just means there’s an opportunity for you to Shine Bright Like A Diamond and showcase your Brilliantly-Analytical-And-Logical-Yet-Oh-So-Creative-Beautiful-Mind to come up with your own number).
In fact, this rule applies to any point in the case where you feel like there might be some hidden information. Case in point – don’t be afraid to ask.
We know, we know, this sounds like some paradoxical yoga pose. But we’re serious. Sometimes, you’ll come up with a number and the interviewer will question if you’re right just to test your strength of conviction (sneaky!). You need to be able to sanity check your assumption and stand firm if you believe it holds. Other times, the interviewer might be genuinely trying to stop you heading down a rabbit hole or dead-end. It can be tricky to decipher your interviewer’s intention especially if they’re sitting arms with crossed completely deadpan so you will need to use your best skills to determine the appropriate course of action.
Remember, even if you do end up down the rabbit hole or at a dead-end, this is not the end! You can still recover. Like we said before, simply ‘fess up and see where you went wrong. After all, even the best consultants make mistakes or sometimes real-life goes differently to expected, so take charge. You got this!
Interviewers often use their own cases during case interviews and are happy to talk about what they did. If you have had a good discussion about a real-life case, feel free to ask, ‘So, what actually happened?’. Hearing these kinds of insights can be helpful to understand how real-life problems are actually solved and may also help you with your arsenal for your next case interview!
The interview is still an interview until you’re safely out of the building. Be careful of what you say in the elevator, toilet or lobby. You never know who is listening, watching or just happening to be passing by.
Be nice to the receptionist. Be nice to the person who holds the elevator door open to you. Be. Nice. To. Everyone.
And no matter how poorly you went or think you did, it’s important to stay upbeat. Even if you did manage to come up with a trillion dollar number when it was only a million. Again, they’re testing your grace under fire and you want to be able to be that cool cucumber we talked about earlier. It’s ok to act as though you have had a challenging but enjoyable time. When the interview wraps up, say thank you and keep that smile the right way up all the way out of the office.