Case Interviews – #1: What is the Real Question?

Over the past couple of years, case interviews have grown in popularity, even with employers outside of the consulting and financial industries.  This type of interview allows the employer to see how a candidate processes information, approaches a problem, works through data, and summarizes conclusions.  A case interview can be an intimidating experience because one has to analyze a situation and data fairly quickly and proceed to work through a problem without the luxury of ample time or sufficient information.  Often there is no “right” answer (although there are several wrong ones), the hiring manager wishes to see the analytical skills a candidate possesses.  With some tips and practice, one can break the case into manageable pieces.

Case interviews usually start by the employer supplying a framework of the situation or challenge, providing data (verbal or in print), and asking a question.  During this time it is crucial that you listen to what is being presented, most times note taking is allowed and even encouraged.  Bill Goodyear, ND alum and CEO of Navigant Consulting, said in an address at Notre Dame in 2007 that listening was the most important skill for an effective consultant.  After the presentation of the case, it is a good idea to summarize what you heard to ensure you did not miss any crucial points.  Better to realize this mistake now than 30 minutes into your answer!

One of the first steps in handling a case interview is to verify the question.  It is important that you address the question asked by the employer – when one begins to sift through the data and work out his/her answer, it is very easy to forget what was the initial question.

Another solid practice is to ask if there are any additional parameters/questions that need to be answered or taken into account when evaluating possible solutions for the company.  In the consulting industry, the initial problem a firm is asked to address may be a symptom but not the actual problem.  In the case interview, hiring managers like candidates who do not automatically jump into trying and solve a problem, but rather step back and ensure they have a broad perspective when evaluating the problem.

For example, a case study could be given to a candidate that asks the individual to identify ways to increase revenue for a product line.  After asking if there are any additional parameters or objectives the company would like to address, one may find out that the company does not want to invest any additional capital or personnel to raise revenue numbers.  Knowing this information is helpful as one does not want to spend time and energy discussing the merits of a revenue producing strategy that the company has no interest in considering.

In recap,

  • listen carefully to the presentation by the interviewer
  • review the information to ensure accuracy
  • verify the question to be address and ascertain if any additional objectives need to be considered when evaluating the case study
Tomorrow: Asking Questions in a Case Interview

About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
This entry was posted in Career Management, Case Interview, Communications, Interview, Job Search and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Case Interviews – #1: What is the Real Question?

  1. Pingback: Case Interviews – #2 Asking Questions | Career Seeker's Guide

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