The Capital One Case Interview: Everything You Need to Know

Capital One Case Interview Everything You Need to Know

Capital One is a pretty unique company: it’s a bank, with a culture that’s more like a tech or data firm. And therefore, the Capital One case interview is also pretty unique.

If you’re interviewing with consulting firms, you’ll recognize the overall format of a Capital One case interview. It is structured more like a strategy consulting case (and not like a typical bank interview). 

BUT the Capital One case interview contains more math, and often requires some knowledge of financial products.

Don’t worry! We can tell you what to expect and how to prepare.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • The skills Capital One looks for in candidates,
  • What their interview process looks like,
  • How their cases differ from traditional strategy consulting cases,
  • A Capital One case example,
  • 7 tips on how to prepare, and
  • A list of frequently asked fit interview questions.

Let’s get started!

The Skills Capital One Looks for in Candidates

In your Capital One Case interview, the interviewer will assess you on problem-solving, fluency on business concepts, communication skills, and especially, quantitative skills.

Just like other case interviews, in the Capital One case interview, you want to demonstrate how you think. 

You will have to be structured and organized, and communicate clearly throughout the case. To review some of the basics of how to ace the case interview, you should check out Our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep.

While the Capital One case interview resembles a typical case interview, it will be focused mainly on assessing your quantitative capabilities. Capital One is very data intensive, and they want to bring on employees who are excited to solve problems using math. 

In other words, Capital One wants to hire people who are fluent in making data-driven decisions. So during your Capital One case interview, you’ll want to demonstrate that you are very comfortable with math. 

There’s a big difference between forcing your way through a tough math problem and dare I say… enjoying it. 

You’ll want to feel super confident in your skills and your Capital One case prep. So even if you get tripped up or stumble during the case, you should look at the Capital One case interview as a puzzle to solve rather than the oral-math-test-that-ruins-your-life-and-disappoints-grandma.

One of our consultant advisors who gave input on this article shared this example: 

I got a “D” on my first finance mid-term in undergrad. I was so mad that I became a finance major and got a job in finance at a bank after college. I used to struggle with using new financial concepts, but now I have a great skillset to wrangle financial, marketing, and data challenges.”

You’ll want to display that kind of playful grit as you work through the Capital One case interview. They are meant to be tough and put people on their toes. 

We’ll talk more about how the Capital One case is different and outline a sample case below. 

Before we get to the details, we want to emphasize that you can practice your way to being prepared for this kind of math-heavy case.

In a Capital One case interview, the interviewer will also assess your communication skills based on your ability to:

  • Drive the discussion
  • Communicate complex ideas in simple terms

Driving the discussion

In the Capital One case interview, the interviewer wants you to play the role of a business owner as opposed to a consultant. This small change shifts the dynamic to you to drive the conversation. 

Tips!

DON’T be thrown by the fact that your interviewer is not offering up clear next steps or sometimes withholds key information. 

DO get comfortable with asking questions when you need to know more. 

DO practice transitions so you can smoothly flow from each small conclusion to the next topic. 

To help with transitions, you can use something like the phrase “Well now that we’ve concluded X, I’d like to get a better understanding of Y.”

Communicating Complex Ideas in Simple Terms

Capital One Case Interview: Interview Process

You will likely need to be able to explain difficult concepts to someone who is (pretending) not to be an expert on the subject. 

Be prepared to break your analysis down into simple, logical steps, and walk your interviewer through what you’re doing. Communicating about your analytical approach is often more important than getting the math right. 

Tips!

Do take good notes during the interview, especially on data you may need for calculations.

DO use structured thinking to outline how you want to analyze the problem and to ask questions about the data points you need to make decisions. 

DON’T dive into a calculation before you’ve walked your interviewer through your analytical structure. 

We’ve heard many stories of consultants who outlined their logic, flubbed the math a little, made a correction, adapted their answer, moved on to the recommendation, and got an offer.

Your ability to adjust your approach based on feedback is important, so if you’re able to quickly understand your error, you will probably get a pass on a simple math mistake if you were able to outline the correct logic and keep moving through the case without getting flustered. 

Now that we’ve reviewed what Capital One is looking for, let’s review their overall interview process. 

What The Capital One Interview Process Looks Like

Overall the Capital One interview process looks similar to other firms. 

If you’re recruiting on-campus for various analyst roles, the process typically looks like this: 

  • Resume drop (no cover letter)
  • First round of interviews (2 interviews – case and behavioral)
  • Final round of interviews (4 interviews – case, product, and behavioral)

Try to finish working through your case with enough time left for a few fit questions, and for your questions for the interviewer. 

If you’re applying from a school that doesn’t have a formal Capital One recruiting program, or as an experienced hire, there may be some additional elements to your application and interview process including: 

  • A cover letter, and
  • An online assessment.

Now that you’ve got the basics on the interview process, let’s talk about how the Capital One case interview is different from other interviews you’ve done!

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How Capital One Cases Differ From Traditional Strategy Consulting Cases

The Capital One case interview demands more from candidates than a typical case interview. Here’s an overview of the main differences: 

  • The Capital One case interview is very math-heavy.
  • You can use a calculator!.
  • There is less focus on working with clients.
  • You should be prepared to drive the case with a “business owner” mindset.
  • There may be more than one right answer to the overall case.
  • There may be cases about financial products.

The Capital One Case Interview Is Very Math-heavy

Capital One is looking to get a clear assessment of your data-driven decision-making capabilities. 

What does that even mean? 

In the Capital One case interview, you will cover fewer ambiguous concepts than in other case interviews. In a typical management consulting case interview, a smart, organized, great communicator who happens to be weak on math could ‘logic’ their way to some pretty solid recommendations. 

That’s not possible in the Capital One case interview.

A Capital One Case interview will have multiple discrete math problems. They often involve Algebra. Remember solving for “X”? Me neither. But you should revisit basic algebra and how to solve for unknown variables. 

There will be right answers to each of those problems, and they should steer you towards a final recommendation.

Capital One Cases Often Involve Break-even Analysis

The most frequent type of math problem in a Capital One case interview is a break even analysis. What the interviewer is often looking for is a recommendation on whether a particular strategy and investment will be ‘worth it’ for the company. 

In order to determine whether an investment meets the client’s expectations, it’s a good idea to ask your interviewer what their goals are. Example: would they be happy with a 3-year payback timeline? Or would a profit margin of 25% meet their expectations?

One of the most frequent types of break-even analysis is the time to break even. Here’s a sample formula. 

      Break-even:  Investment cost / annual profit = years to break even 

A break-even case might be structured likes this: 

  • Evaluate a new strategy for a company (e.g., the firm is launching a new product, changing pricing, etc.)
  • Assess the cost of this new strategy (both upfront and changes to ongoing costs).
  • Assess the impact to revenue over time,
  • Calculate the impact to profit (note how much higher profits will be once we hit a steady-state).
  • Estimate the break-even time.
  • Make a recommendation on whether the effort seems ‘worth it’. 

The recommendation you make may be subjective based on your experience, here’s a few examples: 

  1. Break-even is two years, and profits increase 2%.
  2. Break-even is two years, and profits increase 10%.
  3. Break-even is ten years, and profits increase 20%.
  4. Break-even is ten years, and profits increase 5%.

If you’ve asked your interviewer about the client’s profitability expectations, use their answer to determine whether the project meets them. If the interviewer does not provide concrete expectations, you will have to use your business judgment. 

For my money, options B and C appear worth it. Options A and D take too long or yield too little of a return in general.

Capital One Cases Are Sometimes Missing Essential Data

Another tricky element that may pop up in a Capital One case interview is that some essential data may be missing. 

If this happens in your case, DON’T FREAK OUT! 

You will have to make some basic assumptions using your business knowledge and simple logic. 

For example, you may want to calculate expected pricing over the next two years to estimate revenue. BUT your interviewer may not have that data. 

What would you do? You can make assumptions. 

Talk your interviewer through your assumptions. Here’s some ideas for the example above: 

  • Use the typical cost-of-living figures to grow pricing (e.g. 3%),
  • Use high and low scenarios to create boundaries for pricing over the next few years.

The idea of using high and low scenarios to test the financial impact of a financial decision is actually very common. It’s often considered overly precise to create a true forecast without detailed financial modelling. 

But it’s very common to start with low and high expected outcomes and narrow in from there as you get more data throughout the case.

You Can Use a Calculator!

It may feel overwhelming to use scenarios during a case interview, but another variation of the Capital One case interview is that you can use a calculator. 

So organize the math on the page and tap tap tap away at those scenarios. 

Just like open-book exams, this is a blessing and a curse. 

It’s great to have access to a calculator so you don’t have to worry about long division brain freeze during the Capital One case interview. But it also means that the math problems are slightly harder, and typically require a bunch of small calculations to get to the bigger answer. 

We recommend that you write out the framework for analysis, and then fill in numbers along the way. That way if you make a calculation mistake it’s easier for you or your interviewer to spot it. 

This is actually how teams work together to solve problems on a real case. 

Tips!

DON’T dive right into a 15-step calculation on your little calculator. 

DO outline the analysis you’re planning to do either verbally or on paper. 

Note: you can only use a simple calculator, so leave the TI-whatever-thousands at home! 

Since you probably don’t use these kinds of calculators often, you may want to practice with them during your prep.

Capital One Interviews Focus Less On Working with Clients...

If you get a role at Capital One, you likely won’t be working directly with any external clients. Instead, you’ll be helping to run a piece of their business like a credit card line.

So the Capital One case interview is typically structured as if you are a business owner. 

DON’T refer to giving options to the client, asking the client, etc.

… So Be Prepared to Drive the Case with a ‘Business Owner’ Mindset

In the Capital One case interview, the interviewer is typically looking for you to drive the discussion as a business owner. 

The interviewer will describe a business dilemma and then let you lead the rest of the discussion. You should aim to: 

  • Outline how you would approach the problem.
  • Propose the analysis you will do.
  • Request the information you need.
  • Weigh available options.
  • Make a recommendation and support it using the insights you’ve gathered throughout the case. 

This expectation is similar to Bain or BCG’s interviewee-led case interview. It’s basically the opposite of a McKinsey case where they walk you through specific questions and provide specific prompts. 

Your interviewer might actually leave you hanging without some data, to see if you can reason out what you need and make reasonable estimates. 

This interview format requires you to take a more assertive tack on how you’re going to navigate the interview. Have a lot of confidence in the path you want to pursue and really “own” it. 

TIPS!

DON’T wait for the interviewer to spoon feed you questions. 

DO think of yourself as a business leader. What would YOU do if given the information in the case?

There May Be More Than One Right Answer to a Capital One Case

O.K., so this is true with any case, but it might be more true with the Capital One case interview. 

There could be a few possible good answers based on the discussion you’ve had and the information you’ve received. That’s true with any project you might work on. There could be multiple options that work. 

You will still have to choose the path you believe in most. 

So be prepared to highlight multiple paths to pursue, pros and cons of each path, and why you chose your recommended path.  

Capital One Cases Are Sometimes About Financial Products

Most candidates also have multiple Capital One case interviews, so you’re highly likely to have at least one case that involves financial products. 

To be fair, you could go into a Capital One case interview with zero knowledge about financial products and if you ask the right questions you’ll be fine. 

But why risk it? 

You don’t need to become an expert in financial products overnight, but do yourself (and your interviewers) a favor: do some homework. 

Spend a few hours learning about financial products like credit cards, savings and checking accounts, and how companies like Capital One make money from offering those products. Also, read up on other financial companies like Venmo and PayPal make money, so you understand competitive threats to Capital One’s products. Investopedia is a good source for this.

The Bottom Line:

Do lots of practice cases and become fluent in the Capital One case. Let’s practice now!

A Capital One Case Example

Capital One Case Interview: Case Example

For this case, let’s say your interviewer tells you that you’re a Senior Pricing Director at Paper Mill Plus, a producer of basic white copy paper. Paper Mill Plus sells to various paper distributors and retailers across the country. You’ve been asked to explore price reduction strategies that will boost sales by 10%.

Structure

You’ll want to outline all the elements you need to make a recommendation. In this example, we’re going to dig deep into the Annual Sales number until we get to average pricing. 

  • Annual Sales = # of Customers X Average Annual Customer Spend
  • Average Annual Customer Spend = Monthly Customer Spend X 12
  • Monthly Customer Spend = Cases of Paper / Month * Average Annual Price per Case

Now we’ve got a logical outline of the dimensions we’ll need for our analysis. Let’s get one step closer to the answer by mapping out how we’ll estimate the growth needed: 

  • Annual Sales x 1.1 = Sales growth of 10% or Targeted Annual Sales

We’re ultimately going to use the Targeted Annual Sales number to back into our recommended strategy. 

You can ask your interviewer for any of the above data points. In this example, they provided you with the following: 

  • Annual Sales = $100,000,000,
  • The cost to the customer of a case of paper is $30, and
  • Paper Mill Plus has 1,000 customers.

Analysis

From here, we’re going to have to back into a few numbers. Let’s start with firming up the Targeted Annual Sales number. 

Annual Costs

 

Growth Factor

 

Targeted Annual Sales

$100,000,000

*

1.1

=

$110,000,000

Therefore, our new pricing strategy would have to bring in about $110 million in annual sales in order to hit our goal. 

We’ve got the price per case, but the interviewer did not share volumes. Let’s dig deeper into the current state to determine the current volume of paper sales. 

Annual Sales

 

Customers

 

Months in a year

 

Monthly Average Customer Spend 

$100,000,000

/

1,000

/

12

=

$8,333

Now we can calculate the average number of cases per customer. 

Monthly Average Customer Spend 

 

Average Price / Case

 

Cases x Customer / Month

$8,333

/

$30

=

278

* Note: if you recreate the calculations at home and truncate any decimals, you will calculate slightly different, but directionally correct, numbers. Directionally correct is a term that means it will provide you with the same insight and lead you to the same conclusion. 

So now we know that on average our customers purchase 278 cases per month. But how many cases will they buy if we reduce the price? 

You can ask your interviewer if there’s any research on the impact to the number of cases purchased when they raise or lower the price. 

Your interviewer might be a bit cagey here and say they have no data. 

They do know that most end-users have fairly consistent demand for paper and very limited places to extra store paper, so distributors and retailers don’t like to overstock too heavily. 

Distributors and retailers typically do have some extra storage capacity and they enjoy padding their margins even just a little, so they are likely to buy at least a little more. 

So you’re not going to get hard data from your interviewer and you should make a reasonable assumption. 

The simplest way to do this is to say for every $1 drop in price, customers will buy X more cases. 

The interviewer did not make it sound like your customers are very price sensitive, so it’s best to be conservative with your assumption. You could suggest this assumption to your interviewer like this: 

“Since we don’t know the exact impact that a price reduction has on the cases of paper sold, let’s make an assumption: for every $1 drop in price, on average customers will buy 20 more cases. Are you comfortable with this assumption?” 

Your interviewer will either agree, or nudge you to go higher or lower. 

Our advice is to choose numbers that will allow for simpler math.

Now let’s calculate the new sales number using our estimate for a $1 price drop, which would mean cases per customer per month would rise to 298. 

Average Price / Case

 

Cases x Customer / Month

 

Months in a year

 

Customers

 

Annual Customer Spend 

$29

X

298

x

12

x

1,000

=

$103,626,667

This is shy of our goal of $110 million, so let’s see if another larger price reduction gets us there. Here we assume a $4 price reduction and an increase in cases per month of 80. 

Average Price / Case

 

Cases x Customer / Month

 

Months in a year

 

Customers

 

Annual Customer Spend 

$28

X

318

x

12

x

1,000

=

$111,626,667

Recommendation

Great! $111.6 million is greater than our goal of $110 million, so reducing the price per case by $4 is a pricing strategy that could meet our goals as long as on average our customers buy 80 additional cases per month. 

As you discuss this strategy with your interviewer, you should explore the pros, cons, and risks of this strategy. 

There are certainly other issues to consider, such as:  

  • How competitors may react to your price drop.
  • Will customers over-buy for a few months and then reduce demand because they are overstocked on paper? 
  • Will this impact customer buying behavior over the long term? E.g., will they pressure your sales team for more and more deals? 

So while the data indicates there is a path to hitting 10% sales growth, there are risks to review with your interviewer and more than one possible ‘correct’ recommendation. 

This is just a sample analysis to show you how to think through the math for a Capital One case interview, and how it can factor into your final recommendation.

7 Tips On How To Prepare for the Capital One Case Interview

1. Do some homework on financial products.

2. Practice break-even cases and mathematical logic.

3. Outline the analysis you’re planning to do either verbally or on paper.

4. Communicate complex ideas in simple terms.

5. Get comfortable with asking questions when you need to know more.

6. Practice transitions so you can smoothly flow from each small conclusion to the next topic.

7. Drive the discussion as if you are a business owner.

Frequently Asked Fit Interview Questions

Capital One asks fit or behavioral questions as well as case questions, so prepare for these as well. 

For more insight on how to prepare for the fit part of the interview, check out our article on Fit Interview Questions. 

For a quick intro, here’s our list of the most frequently-asked fit interview questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Walk me through your resume.
  3. Why are you interested in working for Capital One?
  4. What’s something you’ve worked on outside of school?
  5. Tell me about a time you dealt with a tough problem.
  6. Tell me about a time you led others.
  7. When did you have to convince someone to change their mind on something important to them?
  8. Tell me about a failure.
  9. What do you like to do for fun?

Now go find your calculator from third grade, and you should be ready to prep for your Capital One case interview! 

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What Capital One looks for in candidates.
  • What the Capital One case interview process is like.
  • How Capital One cases differ from typical management consulting cases.
  • An example of the type of case used by Capital One.
  • 7 tips that will set you up to ace the case.
  • The most common fit interview questions.

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Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the Capital One case interview, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

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