Verbally outlining your response is the hardest part of a case
- and the most crucial.
Almost all consulting firms use case interviews as part of
the interviewing process. Case interviews are intended to
assess how you will fare on the job when posed with an actual
client's business problem or other conundrum (e.g., "Why are
manhole covers round?").
Although some consulting case questions may seem somewhat
ludicrous and extremely difficult to answer, they do serve a
purpose and have been proven to be effective tools for
discerning logical thinking and problem-solving skills.
How many golf balls are sold in the U.S. each year?
Du Pont has just invented a light-weight, super-absorbent,
biodegradable material that would be perfect for disposable
diapers. What should they do with it?
To help you optimize your case interview performance, we
offer you these dozen guidelines. Whether answering a
brainteaser, guesstimate, or business case question, these
simple tips should help you maneuver through your answer with
poise and confidence. Be sure to brush up on (or learn) some
business basics, and then practice, practice, and practice.
1. Listen to the Question
Listening is the most important skill a consultant has. The
case isn't about you or the consultant; it's about the
client. What are they really asking for? Pay particular
attention to the last sentence-one word can change the entire
2. Take Notes
Taking notes during the case interview allows you to check
back with the facts of the case. If you blank out, all the
information is right in front of you.
3. Summarize the Question
After you are given the question, take a moment to
encapsulate the highlights (out loud). It shows the
interviewer that you listened; it allows you to hear the
information a second time; and it keeps you from answering
the wrong question.
4. Verify the Objective(s)
Professional consultants always ask their clients to verify
their objective(s). Even if the main objective seems obvious,
there could be an additional, underlying objective. When the
objective seems apparent, phrase the question differently:
"One objective is to increase sales. Are there any other
objectives I should know about?"
5. Hold that Thought--One Alligator
The interviewer wants you to think out loud, but think
before you speak. If you make a statement that is way
off-base in an interview, the recruiter will wonder if he can
trust you in front of a client.
6. Ask Clarifying Questions
You ask questions for three main reasons: to get additional
information that will help you identify and label the
question; to demonstrate to the interviewer that you are not
shy about asking probing questions under difficult
circumstances (something you'll be doing on a regular basis
as a consultant); and to turn the question into a
conversation. Nothing turns off an interviewer quicker than a
7. Organize Your Answer
Once you've identified and labeled your case, you can choose
a response strategy and lay out your structure (this is when
knowing your business basics will come in handy). Verbally
outlining your response is the hardest part of a case-and the
8. Manage Your Time
Your answer should be as linear as possible. Don't
get bogged down in the details. Answer from a macro-level and
move the answer forward. It's easy to lose your way by going
off on a tangent. Stay focused on the original question.
9. Be Coachable
Listen to the interviewer's feedback. Is she trying to guide
you back on track? Pay attention to her body language. Are
you boring her? Is she about to nod off? Is she enthralled?
10. Be Creative and Brainstorm
Some of the best experiences you'll have as a consultant
will be brainstorming over Chinese food at ten o'clock at
night. Brainstorming without commitment allows you to toss
out uninhibited suggestions without being married to them. It
gives you the opportunity to review all the options and
eliminate the inappropriate ones. Consulting firms like
liberal arts candidates with intellectual curiosity who can
"think outside the box" and offer up a new and interesting
perspective. While you don't want to get lost on a tangent,
offering creative answers to the original question is
11. Exude Enthusiasm and a Positive
It's not enough to do well on the case, you have to thrive
on the challenge of the case. Recruiters want people who are
excited by problem solving and can carry that enthusiasm
throughout the entire interview.
12. Bring Closure and Summarize
If you have done all the above and you've made it through
the analysis, the final action is to bring closure by
summarizing the case. Review your findings, restate your
suggestions, and make a recommendation.
And now for the practice, practice, and practice.
Grab a roommate, cousin, or coworker to coach you through the
Which of the dozen guidelines are your strengths? Which are
you working to improve?
How many hotel-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner are
produced each year around the world?
A client company of the consulting firm comes to us to
discuss expanding their bicycle business. They are
exploring the idea of producing battery powered skate
boards. They have called us in to help identify some of the
problems that they will be facing in entering the market
with this product. What factors should we consider?
Approximately how much money does a large ski resort make
in a weekend?
A man is dead, hanging from a ceiling by a rope in a room
with no windows, doors or furniture. With the understanding
that no one else has been in the room except the deceased,