Overview of Consulting Case Study Interviews

by Jaineel Aga

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Consulting Jobs In India.

Case interviews can make people frantic and nervous. In the fit interview, you sell yourself as a candidate. In the case interview, you're tested on analytics, hard skills and, to some extent, creativity.

There are 2 types of case interviews: the guesstimate and business case. Guesstimate scenarios include sizing questions (like the number of golf balls that fit into a Boeing 747) and the market questions (size of wedding dress market in London). The business case tests your analytic thinking and your ability to handle client situations.

Guesstimate questions test 2 major things:

1. Your ability to make reasonable assumptions

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Case interviews can make people frantic and nervous. In the fit interview, you sell yourself as a candidate. In the case interview, you're tested on analytics, hard skills and, to some extent, creativity.

There are 2 types of case interviews: the guesstimate and business case. Guesstimate scenarios include sizing questions (like the number of golf balls that fit into a Boeing 747) and the market questions (size of wedding dress market in London). The business case tests your analytic thinking and your ability to handle client situations.

Guesstimate questions test 2 major things:

1. Your ability to make reasonable assumptions

2. Your ability to be structured in thinking and answering

Guesstimates are questions thrown to the applicant, and it's up to YOU to make some good assumptions, back them with reasoning and/or data (you don't have to be an encyclopedia, of course), and then have a good structure in analyzing and drilling down ("double click" in consulting speak) into your data.

There are 2 ways to approach these questions: top-down (a very broad understand like going from the population of a country to a small subset of people at a city level) and bottom-up (start off small, like average foot traffic at a restaurant to broaden to entire restaurant industry). Macro to micro, or micro to macro, until you reach the guesstimation.

Now onto the case interviews.

The business case tests your quantitative skills, analytics, interaction with clients. .

Say you're playing the consultant, and your interviewer is your client who's a CEO asking you a strategic question. You have to bring out the right data and arrive at a good answer.

For example, he might be the CEO of a giant automobile manufacturer who wants to enter the Indian market. The question may just be, "should I do it?" It's your responsibility to start asking relevant questions - one of the key abilities that any top consulting firm will look for in a good interviewee.

Once you've asked a relevant question, your "client CEO" will give you data. In this example, it could be about historical sales or pricing of a particular type of Indian automobile. Use that data to drive your answer, but keep in mind that they may have given you too much or too little data to answer!

There are 3 major skill sets evaluated in a case study interview:

1. Your ability to ask the right questions

2. Your quantitative skills, your ability to number crunch data

3. Your communication skills

Make sure, especially during the number crunching questions, to double check your answers. Some feel that they should answer a question quickly, leading to critical mistakes.

Examples of  case studies subjects include profitability, M&A (what factors to look for), market entry, cost optimization etc. Because there are so many different types of cases, it's good for a student to have 5-6 good generic frameworks in mind that can be applied in multiple scenarios.

Frameworks are not supposed to be applied rigorously to every situation. They should be used as a "mental checklist" to make sure you've considered all factors. If I were doing an industry analysis, I would have this checklist of 5 points I want to make sure I cover when thinking about the industry. The first is: what's the competitive structure of that industry - is it a monopoly? is it an oligopoly? The second is vertical chains of production: who are the buyers? the sellers? How much power does each hold? And so forth.

Frameworks are important as a guide, but not a "ruler." If you're flummoxed by a situation where you've considered every option but  still aren't getting the right answer, go back through those frameworks and determine if you're missing something from your checklist.

99 times out of a 100, the missing piece is in one of those lists!
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