A case study interview is sometimes used to evaluate candidates for management consulting or strategy roles. We asked Darlene K. Ritter, an Accenture consultant who also volunteers with campus recruiting, and helps graduate students prepare for these types of interviews, to share her tips for success.
Expect the unexpected. The focus of an interview may vary and you’ll need to be prepared to participate in whatever discussion the interviewer has in mind. For most interviews, the interview is a two-part process; during the first part, you chat about your general qualifications, and during the second, you focus on the case study. However, during my first interview, the interviewer opened with, “OK, I think I got to know you well enough, so let’s just dive into the case,” and the entire interview was devoted to the case itself. I had expected some time to continue to build upon the rapport I established in previous conversations, but did not have that chance. During another series of interviews, my second interview was completely focused on my previous role, and how I handled certain scenarios. Bottom line, be flexible, and ready discuss the work you do and how you do it.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The interviewer is your biggest asset in the room. He or she has all of the information you need to “solve” the case study successfully. There is no reason not to ask your interviewer to define an acronym, or repeat or confirm details. If the interviewer asks “How do we achieve success?” you need to ask “What does ‘success’ mean to you? Is it turning a profit? Raising the company’s profile?” When you get staffed on a project, you need to be able to ask questions to figure out what the problems might be, and that applies here, too.
Start where you have the most information. Inventory the information you have then dig into the area of the problem where you think can have the most impact.
Follow the interviewer’s cues. If the interviewer says something, it probably means something; don’t dismiss seemingly extraneous details out of hand. This is an example I use when prepping candidates: “The case is about a retailer who wants to increase the value of a company it purchased, and I say the owner loved the brand when growing up. The purpose of that detail is to indicate that turning around and selling the asset is not an option for making it profitable because the owner is attached to it.”
Don’t get frazzled. Take time to talk through a problem and, if you can’t make sense of it, tell the interviewer that you want to put it on hold and return to it. Doing so will buy you time to process what you’ve been missing. Don’t let your stress agitate your interviewer, and don’t let yourself get bogged down--you don’t want to appear directionless. If you get stuck, get creative. Once, when an interviewer began to overwhelm me with jargon, I asked him, “How do you explain to your daughters what you do?” and his answer helped me understand so that I was able to move on with the case.
Case study interviews (or “casing”) should be fun. Think of the interview as an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself.
Call on your own life experience. Your experience has helped you progress in your career and education; keep using that experience to help you succeed in your case interview. For example, in a business case study, you could bring your own experience as a traveler to a case about a different hypothetical airline. Your individuality is important. At Accenture, we value the unique insights each one of us brings to bear; your individuality can serve you well when you’re interviewing.
Show your process. Stand up and use a white board if that helps you get your ideas across... Don’t be self-conscious--what matters is demonstrating that you can solve problems.
Remember, the interviewer wants you to succeed. People want you to do well because they want to hire you—they want to fill the role, so the goal of the interviewer is to set you up for success. Work with them, don’t be afraid of them.
Tell us if you found these tips helpful, and check out our latest jobs to see if any speak to your problem-solving skills.