As you prepare for management consulting interviews, it’s important to know that while the fundamentals of a case interview are the same at most consulting firms, each firm has its own style for the interview. Knowing what the different styles are will ensure you’re not thrown off your game by a case that’s different than you expected.
In this article, we’ll explain the difference between interviewer-led case interviews and interviewee-led case interviews.
Candidate-led, or interviewee-led, case interviews are consulting interviews in which the interviewee structures the key topic to be analyzed, then they pick where to start the analysis, and drive the case all the way to final recommendations.
Interviewee-led case interviews are used by the majority of consulting firms including Bain, BCG, Oliver Wyman, Parthenon, LEK, and Monitor / Deloitte, PWC.
Interviewer-led case interviews are consulting interviews in which the interviewer leads a candidate down a specific path towards a recommendation on a predetermined issue. During an interviewer-led case interview, after the candidate structures the key topics to be analyzed to solve the business problem, then the interviewer provides direction on where to start diving into the analysis.
Interviewer-led case interviews are used by McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, Strategy&, and Accenture.
Note that Oliver Wyman uses both candidate-led and interviewer-led cases, so you’ll have to be ready for whatever comes your way!
If you are deep in case prep and want to learn how to excel at both interviewer- and interviewee-led cases, this post is for you.
Let’s get started!
Why Do Firms Give Different Styles of Cases?
If you’re still with us, you’re probably deep into consulting case prep. And if you’re like me, you’re thinking “Why, oh great and powerful Oz, why are the firms making cases even more complicated?”
We totally understand; it feels like just one more hurdle to landing a consulting job.
This interview-style choice actually demonstrates a lot about the firms.
Why Interviewee-led Interviews?
Bain and BCG have regional hubs, and consultants rarely travel for projects outside their region. Therefore, no matter the client’s problem, they need consultants in their local market who can help solve it.
These firms are lean, requiring that everyone plays to their strengths. They want to see where you go and how you adapt.
Interviewers are looking for people who are comfortable pursuing different lines of thinking and moving in different directions.
In any given case you will be pushing the work forward, often very independently or without a clear road map. So it’s important to see how you drive the case to see how you can lead your own work and self-manage.
During the interviewee-led interview, the interviewer will want to see how you handle navigating without a short leash. They need consultants who are comfortable shifting through ambiguity in real-time.
They will wonder, “Could I count on this person to help us find a solid solution for a problem we’ve never encountered before?”
Why Interviewer-led Interviews?
On the other hand, firms like McKinsey have a hub and spoke business model. McKinsey teams can pull talent from wherever they need it. It’s not uncommon for consultants to be staffed in different regions than their home office.
So they don’t need everyone in their region to be a ‘jack of all trades.’ McKinsey teams can staff the consultant with the best fit for the client onto the team.
While McKinsey wants to give every consultant a well-rounded experience, it can be possible to specialize a bit more and a bit earlier. For example, good quant work begets more quant projects.
Additionally, there is also a lot of very specific planning at the beginning of McKinsey projects to make sure everyone is aligned and rowing in the same direction. On any given project, the engagement manager and partner parse out specific tasks throughout the course of the project.
In the interviewer-led case interview, your interviewer will want to know how well you can follow directions and how well you can drive the work within the provided scope.
The interviewer will observe how well you listen and playback what you heard.
They will wonder “Could I leave this person for the rest of the day and feel confident they will execute exactly what we discussed?”
Because the interviewer-led interviews all follow the same thread, it is easier for the interviewers to compare the candidates they interviewed that day based on their response and how each candidate handled each subject.
We’ll explain more about the similarities and differences between interviewer vs. interviewee-led case in the next few sections.
How Interviewer-led Case Interviews Are Similar to Interviewee-led Cases
Interviewer vs. interviewee-led cases are very similar overall.
In both case styles, you will have to:
- Absorb a lot of business information and data (you can ask your interviewer clarifying questions in both styles!),
- Structure a business problem,
- Lay out some conceptual options,
- Do some quick math, and
- Make recommendations for your client.
The types of problems you will be asked to solve will also be similar. The content of the cases will most likely revolve around the typical framework types – market or revenue growth, cost-cutting, expanding into new customer segments, etc.
The good news is that all your case prep will build your skills for both types of cases.
Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 85% of our clients pass the case interview.
How Interviewer-led Case Interviews Are Different from Interviewee-led Cases
The differences between interviewer- vs. interviewee-led cases are mainly about communication and who drives the momentum in the case.
In a candidate-led case, you are given the problem and expected to finish all the way through to the recommendations.
The interviewee-led case is overall more difficult than the interviewer-led case because it all rests on the choices you make. Here are some specifics about interviewee-led cases:
- The information you receive upfront will likely be pretty high-level. The interviewer may spout some facts about the client and then just ask “What do you think they should do?” Or they may ask you something more specific like “Should the client enter this market?”
- You also are tasked with requesting more of the information you need. This is where your prep will be invaluable. Study those case frameworks and get fluent about which kind of information you need in various circumstances.
- You can choose if you want to focus on the market, competitors, pricing, wherever you want to go!
It can feel pretty overwhelming to have to choose from all the possible paths you could go down, or even once you’re deep into the case.
It’s not unusual to pursue a path, and halfway down the path realize that you don’t know where to go.
That’s actually what consulting can be like. Sometimes the direction you set off on turns out differently than you expected.
Firms who use the interviewee-led case want to evaluate you on structure, math, communication, but they also want to see what happens to you when you get 3/4 of the way through the case:
- Do you know how to drive towards recommendations?
- Do you get lost and fumble?
So don’t freak out.
If you study case archetypes and practice a lot of cases, you’re going to have great instincts on what to do once you’ve solved a math problem. (That’s when my mind would go blank and I would start thinking about the cabernet I was going to have once I got out of there.)
Interviewee-led cases are also sort of like “choose your own adventure” books. If you remember those, sometimes you could actually choose a path that led to a complete dead end.
That can also happen in a candidate-led case. If it does, acknowledge it, put a bow on that thread, and go back to your structure to see where to go next.
If you can do that in a cool, collected way, it will impress your interviewer and let them know you are mentally prepared for that to happen IRC (In Real Consulting).
In the interviewer-led case there will be some specific differences:
- You will be given very specific questions to answer. They may even be yes or no questions with certain thresholds or criteria attached.
- Interviewer-led cases will be more specific and go deeper on a given topic. Because you don’t have the whole universe of issues to address, you can go deep on specific areas and get into real problem-solving.
- The math will be more difficult. There may be multiple math portions of the case, and each area may require multiple calculations to get to the answer.
- The dynamic between you and the interviewer is different: this will feel more like working with a manager than like having a thoughtful and collaborative discussion with a client.
In the interviewer-led case, the firms are testing you on specific skills. More to come in the next section with some detail about McKinsey first round cases.
McKinsey First Round Cases
McKinsey first round cases are very structured and often have 6 sections with 6 specific questions:
- Case set-up and structure: You can structure the case as normal. The interviewer may even ask you to choose where you think you should explore. But then the interviewer may say something like “OK, that’s a good thought, but let’s discuss this other area for now.” Don’t be alarmed. They have a ‘script’ they are supposed to follow.
- Conceptual questions #1: The interviewer will typically point you in a direction and ask you to think through options. For example: “Let’s focus on variable costs. What are the levers for this company?” This is where you can go deeper into the key area of interest in the structure.
- Math question #1: As we mentioned, the math will be more difficult in interviewer-led cases. For example, you might have to assess a change in margins 3 years from now. So you’ll have to calculate current margins, grow revenue and costs, and then calculate the new margin.
- Conceptual question #2: This is similar to the conceptual question above but now you will be honing in on the final recommendation.
- Math question #2: The second math question should be getting to your ‘Go / No Go’ decision or highlighting the best option.
- Recommendation: This is pretty similar to a normal recommendation. Just remember to leverage information and conclusions from each of the questions above.
Hot tip: Since you are usually given specific questions at the start of an interviewer-led case, I recommend you use a single piece of paper to write those down and bring that back as part of your conclusion.
In the practice case I used to give, I’d recommend candidates write down the two questions that would determine the answer:
- Is the market growing more than 10% per year? (our client’s criteria for new market entry), and
- Should we enter the new market?.
Most first round cases for McKinsey follow this theme of questions. So be prepared for that second math question, and know that if you mess up on the first one you get a clean slate to do better on the second math question!
Once you’ve made it through the first round, there’s a chance you will get a 6 question case for your final rounds, but McKinsey partners tend to get bored with doing the same case over and over. They are more likely to invent something on the fly and it may feel … more like an interviewee-led case.
So if you’re interviewing with McKinsey, you’ll actually need to prepare both types of cases.
The good news is that once you’ve mastered the candidate-led case, the interviewer-led case should feel like a breeze.
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In this article, we’ve covered:
- Why firms give different styles of case interviews,
- How interviewer and candidate-led case are comparable,
- How interviewer and candidate-led cases differ.
Now get back to running cases!
Still have questions?
If you have more questions about interviewer- vs. interviewee-led case interviews, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.
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