7 Tips for Acing Your Virtual Case Interview

Virtual case interviews. This image shows a desk with a laptop, a notepad filled with notes and a mug of coffee waiting.
Rebecca Smith-Allen
Rebecca Smith-Allen

Former McKinsey Engagement Manager

So many aspects of life are different as a result of the COVID-19 Virus. The fact that most management consulting firms have transitioned their case interviews to online rather than in-person meetings is just one more change we need to adjust to.

If you’re reading this article, it’s not the thing you’ll have to worry about. 

Are there differences between virtual case interviews and in-person interviews? 

Yes. But we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know to succeed in this new environment.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Ways video conference case interviews are different from in-person interviews,
  • Ways consulting case interviews will remain the same even as they move online,
  • How online case interviews differ by consulting firm,
  • How to practice and prepare for virtual case interviews,
  • Common mistakes to avoid in video conference case interviews, and
  • Our 7 tips on acing your virtual case interview.

Let’s get started!

How Are Video Conference Case Interviews Different from In-person Interviews?

The key to feeling confident with the new virtual case interview process is being prepared. 

Being prepared used to mean being ready for case and fit interview questions. Now, there are other considerations as well:

  • Your technology,
  • Your interview environment,
  • Connecting with your interviewer, and 
  • Differences in online case content.

Make Sure Your Technology Is Ready for a Video Conference Case Interview

Having the right technology set-up is critical so that you can communicate with your interviewer without technical issues creating stress or distractions. To ensure you’re technically prepared for your online case interview, you need to check your:

  1. Computer,
  2. Webcam,
  3. Audio, and 
  4. Internet connection.

1. Use a Computer, Not Your Phone for Your Virtual Case Interview

You need a big enough screen to see your interviewer, read charts, and display your structure for solving the case. This means you need a computer monitor, not a phone screen. 

In addition, your interviewer may ask you to use a virtual whiteboard which you may not be able to access from your phone.

Make sure your computer has the minimum system requirements for the platform you’ll be using for the online case interview.

Download needed software and give it a practice run ahead of time. For example, if your virtual case interview will take place over Zoom, create a Zoom account, download the software, and check your requirements beforehand. 

In addition to Zoom, consulting firms are hosting video conference case interviews on WebEx, Skype, and similar services. 

Do a practice virtual case interview with your case partner so you’re familiar with how the platform works and don’t run into surprises on interview day.

If you’re using a laptop, fully charge it beforehand and have the charger plugged in before the interview starts. This way, you won’t run out of battery midway through the interview.

2. Ensure Your Webcam Has Clear, High-Quality Output

Test your webcam to make sure its output is high quality. 

We recommend using a computer rather than a cell phone for virtual case interviews, as stated above, so that your interviewer can clearly see you. To establish rapport with the interviewer, a good webcam is also key. If the integrated webcam in your computer isn’t good enough, buy an external webcam. 

In your practice video conference case interview, handwrite your case framework and case math calculations, and check if your case partner can read them. In addition, practice walking an interviewer through them via the web-cam rather than across a desk so you’re comfortable doing this on the interview day itself.

If your webcam is old so that your visual is not professional and clear, consider upgrading to a new, high-resolution webcam. If you aren’t sure what makes a great webcam or don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, we recommend a webcam that is 1080p/60fp (or 720p/30fps if you are on a budget). If you are debating between brands, we would recommend Logitech. 

3. Ensure Your Audio Is Clear

Test your audio as well.

Using earbuds with a built-in microphone will give you better audio quality than just using the integrated microphone on your computer. It’s even better if you use noise-canceling earbuds.

If you have the budget, we recommend getting a headset. Mpow is one that is reliable and won’t cost too much.

An app we recommend in case there is background noise such as a fire truck going by your window is Krisp. Whether you use headphones or the app, the important thing is to minimize distractions and ensure that you and the interviewer can clearly communicate on the interview day.

4. Test that Your Internet Connection Is Sufficient

Test your internet connection. You’ll need a high-speed connection to make the video work without being choppy and disrupting your ability to communicate.

It’s a good idea to keep a backup mobile hotspot ready just in case. 

Close all other browsers/tabs before you start your interview to make sure you are not taxing your bandwidth. 

You can test the speed and strength of your internet with an app such as https://www.speedtest.net/  but we recommend having a mock call with a friend with both your webcams on to see how stable your video quality is.

Non-technology Preparations for Your Virtual Case Interview

 

Case Interview Video Conference. This image shows a college student sitting at the desk in his dorm in front of a laptop, preparing for his virtual interview.

Non-technical aspects of an online case interview can also distract from your case analysis. The non-technical things you’ll want to prepare for include:

  • Room setup
  • Preventing disturbances
  • Professional attire

Room Setup

Make sure your background is professional and clean. A white wall is fine, as is a neat bookcase. A desk overloaded with papers, books, and random items is not.

Also, make sure you have all relevant materials for your online case interview at-hand, including:

  • Plain white paper for frameworks,
  • Lined paper for numbered lists,
  • A clipboard to make it easier to show your work to your interviewer, and
  • Pens and/or markers.

Make Sure You Won’t Be Disturbed

Make sure family, friends, and roommates know you have an interview and don’t accidentally enter the room when you are interviewing. You’d be surprised by how often this happens, and how badly it can affect your poise during the interview proper.

Professional Attire

Many people think they can get away with wearing a professional top and jammies on the bottom because “they won’t be seen. 

But it’s valuable to dress up for 2 reasons:

  1. You don’t want to embarrass yourself if you need to stand up for some reason, and 
  2. It puts you in the right mindset for the interview.

Connecting with Your Interviewer During a Video Conference Case Interview

In an in-person interview, you have a minute to shake hands and exchange small talk as the interviewer meets you and walks you to the interview room. These connections are important for giving you a sense of who the interviewer is as a person. Are they someone you’d enjoy working with?

It’s equally important that the interviewer can get to know you.

Regardless of the new interview format, building rapport with the interviewer is key to a good interview.

Make small talk with the interviewer at the start and end of the virtual case interview, if the opportunity allows for it.

Practice making eye contact with your camera. Eye contact can be awkward in video conference case interviews since you need to look and smile at the webcam rather than the picture of your interviewer that you see on your computer screen, so practice is key.

Also, pay attention to your body language. Body language is less apparent over a video conference interview than in person because the camera is impersonal. Its frame may even cut your hands out of the picture.

Test the distance you need between yourself and the camera to ensure it’s not too tight on your face so that your body language is visible. 

You can practice body language and ensure the distance between yourself and the camera is correct by recording the practice case with your case partner and watching it afterward. It’s awkward to watch yourself on camera but seeing yourself looking down rather than directly at your case partner will help you remember to look at the camera. Likewise, taking note of your body language as you case can also provide a visible reminder of what you should and shouldn’t do.

Case Considerations in Online Case Interviews

online case interview. This image shows a man in a button-down shirt sitting in his office looking at a wide-screen computer monitor.

Expect fewer charts in online case interviews. It’s more difficult for interviewers to share a lot of exhibits via video conference than across a conference table. 

That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to practice reading and interpreting charts. You do.

Because interviewers are sharing fewer charts over virtual case interviews, the ones they do share are usually more complicated. 

It’s a  good idea to take a screenshot of key charts your interviewer shares so that you can reference it again during your recommendation or other parts of the case.

Also, if you have any trouble seeing a chart your interviewer shares, let them know.

Be ready to share your own visuals as well, such as a bullet list of points which shows your structured approach to solving the case or the calculations you use to solve a case math problem. Your interviewer wants to understand how you approach problems. 

You can share charts via virtual whiteboards, using other software applications such as Word and sharing your screen, or by drawing your chart or framework on a piece of paper and holding it up to the camera.  

Across different parts of the virtual, a key to success is to overcommunicate to ensure your interviewer can follow your thinking and so that your structured analytics are clear.

Ways Consulting Case Interviews Remain the Same as They Move Online

The skills interviewers are testing for in virtual case interviews remain the same. 

They want to ensure you can identify the key issues in a complex business problem, structure your analysis, and identify a solution. The bar for passing a case has not been lowered because the case is being conducted online. 

To set yourself up for success, make sure you understand the client and the problem during the opening phase of the case. Listen carefully, take notes on key facts, ask pertinent questions and summarize the problem you’ve been asked to solve. 

When you move on to the structure phase of the case, you’ll find that it can be more challenging to make your structure clear in a virtual case interview, especially if your video or audio connections are anything less than perfect. 

To ensure your structure is clear, write it down on a virtual whiteboard or in a Word document and share your screen. Or you can write it down on paper and hold it up to the camera, provided you have a high quality webcam. 

Best practice is to write your hypothesis at the top of your whiteboard or piece of paper and the steps you’ll take to prove or disprove it in a numbered list beneath it.

online case interview. this image shows how you can write out your hypothesis and case structure on paper to ensure you clearly communicate your case structure in an online case interview

Use clear language when communicating to ensure your interviewer understands and can clearly follow your structure. When outlining your structure for approaching the case you can say something like, “Under my main question, I have three questions to explore: x, y, and z. Under x, I have four subpoints…”

Hold your structure sheet up again as you move onto a new point to remind the interviewer where you are in the case.

Also be clear about your approach in other parts of the case such as case math, brainstorming, reading charts, etc. Break each aspect of the case down on a step-by-step basis.

If your interview is in a corporate video conference center or through Zoom, you can use the digital whiteboard to show your structure. However, digital whiteboards don’t give you much space to work with so you’ll want to use them for your issue tree, then do math and take notes on a piece of paper.

Take time to organize your thoughts before you jump into the case and keep track of time the same way you would in an in-person interview. You want to ensure you can make it through the entire case.

How Virtual Case Interviews Differ by Firm

While just about every management consulting firm has moved to virtual case interviews, there are differences between how the firms have implemented them. Some consulting firms are using video conference services or corporate video conference rooms, while some are using Zoom or other platforms that can be run on candidates’ computers.

Read your interview invitation closely for these specifics. For example:

Accenture is having candidates type in their frameworks to a digital whiteboard.
McKinsey is asking candidates to use pen and paper for interviews.

As we hear how other firms are managing online case interviews, we’ll let you know here

How to Practice and Prepare for Virtual Case Interviews

Because your analysis of the case is still the most important thing for ensuring your pass your virtual case interview, you need to make sure you read not just this article but all our basic case interview preparation material as well:

See our Resources page for links to even more articles on case interview preparation.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Video Conference Case Interviews

If you’ve read through this article, you’re going to avoid the most common mistakes candidates make on video conference case interviews:

  • Not checking that they have the right technology ahead of time, 
  • Being interrupted by someone walking in on their interview,
  • Not creating a personal connection with their online interviewer,
  • Not able to communicate their analysis in a structured, easy-to-follow manner, and
  • Not being prepared to interpret complicated charts with case facts.

However, even if you’ve taken all the steps we suggest, there are still problems that can crop up. For example, your internet which is normally fine can slow and leave your video connection laggy.

The most important thing to remember is not to panic. If you have connectivity problems, speak slower, have your case structure written down, and point out where you are in your structure as you move through the case. 

Remember, hiccups happen in real life. Consultants are doing most of their client work virtually these days so they know about these challenges.

Showing confidence under pressure will help you distinguish yourself as a future consultant. Having said that, manage risks where possible so you can minimize chances of these hiccups occurring.

7 Tips for Acing Your Virtual Case Interviews

7 tips for acing your virtual case interview. This image summarizes the 7 tips outlined in this article.

1. Practice virtual case interviews.

The key is to record practice cases and watch yourself. Use Skype or Zoom for this and see how your video, audio, eye contact, energy level, and charts look from the interviewer’s point of view. Make adjustments to correct any problems and practice again. 

2. Put more energy into your online case interviews.

There’s a distance between you and your interviewer. Make up for this distance by working even harder to make sure your energy comes through. Smile and make eye contact with the camera, especially at the start of the interview. 

3. Ace Your Case Opening.

Listen carefully and take notes on key facts when the case is introduced. Summarize the problem you’ve been asked to solve and the client’s success criteria. Ask pertinent questions.

4. Structure your thinking.

Take time to think before diving into the case. Lay your structure out clearly and reinforce where you are in your structure as you proceed through your analysis. 

5. Over-communicate.

Speak clearly, tell your interviewer what assumptions you’re making, and walk them through your math calculations. Confirm that your interviewer is following your thought process.

6. Stay calm if you have technical problems.

Talk through how you can resolve them with your interviewer.  Show your poise under pressure.

7. Remember that consultants are doing video calls with their clients.

They understand the challenge you face with virtual case interviews. 

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • How video conference case interviews are different from in-person interviews,
  • The ways consulting case interviews will remain the same as they go virtual,
  • How video conference interviews differ by consulting firm,
  • How to prepare for virtual case interviews,
  • Common mistakes to avoid in video conference case interviews, and
  • Our 7 tips on acing your virtual case interview.

Still have questions?

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

Other people prepping for virtual case interviews found the following pages helpful: 

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