What Is a Case Interview? Insight From a Case Interview Coach

Picture of Liz Kenny

Liz Kenny

Former McKinsey Consultant

A consulting case interview is a specific interview format that evaluates a candidate’s skills by asking them to solve a business problem in real time. Your goal as an interviewee is to explore the challenge or opportunity and then outline a solution based on the information you’ve assessed. 

Does that sound overwhelming?

Don’t worry.

At MCO, we’ve helped thousands of clients land jobs at consulting firms. We’ll meet you where you are and help you unlock the “mysteries”’ of the case interview!

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What case interviews are like
  • Examples of case interview questions
  • What interviewers look for in your answer
  • The industries that use case interview questions
  • Our 5 tips on the best way to prepare

We’ll also provide links to loads of resources you can use to jump-start your case interview prep.

Let’s get started!

What Is a Consulting Case Interview?

What is a case interview?

Case interviews involve:

  • Real-world business problems: Most of the time, the cases are actual challenges consultants have solved for their clients. The cases are adapted to be appropriate for a case interview by disguising client names and key pieces of information (e.g., geographic markets, products, etc.), adjusting numbers and metrics, and trimming the scope of the problem so it can be solved in about 30 minutes.  
  • Frequently-used business frameworks: The business problems you will be asked to solve can be addressed with a standard set of consulting frameworks (e.g., market entry, cost savings, revenue growth).
  • Engaging and enthusiastic dialogue: The best case interviews are interesting discussions where you learn something from your interviewer, and they learn something from you. Case interviews should be . . . dare I say it . . . a fun conversation. The best case interviews have the vibe that you are discussing a topic you enjoy with someone you admire. 
  • Data-driven recommendations: The ultimate goal of the interview is to identify What you propose the client should do and Why. There are also several other “answers” you can provide throughout the interview: How you recommend thinking about the problem, What information you’d like to know, and What conclusions you draw from the preliminary information you’re given.
Woman Understanding What Is a Consulting Case Interview

Case interviews usually begin with an information dump about the client, their situation, and a problem or opportunity they face. If there’s anything you don’t understand about the case, you can ask follow-up questions before you get started.

Pro Tip! Find ways to ask questions smartly. If you don’t understand something, you can ask, “Can you say more about X?” Most often, you’ll get the clarification you need without asking a specific question.

From there, you will have a back-and-forth conversation with your interviewer where you will demonstrate the skills you’ve developed through your case interview prep, including: 

  • Structuring the case: Here’s where you will organize the client information and identify the next steps you’d like to take.
  • Outlining conceptual frameworks and a hypothesis: Next, you will drill deeper into a specific topic, outline the way you think about the topic, and identify areas that may offer promising solutions.
  • Solving analytical problems: You will always be asked to analyze quantitative problems and use the answer to help you make a decision.
  • Synthesizing and providing recommendations: Here, you can show how to evaluate all the information you’ve learned and outline the most compelling path for the client.
Applicant Presenting During a Case Study Interview

So what is a case interview for you? Think of the case interview as a litmus test for yourself: if you learn how to ace a case interview and enjoy your case interviews, you will likely succeed in consulting! If it is extremely nerve-wracking and difficult for you to survive a case interview, even after tons of studying frameworks and lots of practice, this could be a good moment to ask yourself if you will be happy in consulting when your daily life will be full of discussions like this with managers, partners, and clients. 

We understand this is a lot to absorb and even more to accomplish! Before you embark (or give up) on your consulting journey, you should know that most candidates spend a lot of time studying structures, frameworks, and analytical problems and then practice doing case interviews.

Examples of Case Interview Questions

Consultants must be ready to tackle any client challenges, so you should be familiar with the different kinds of questions you may face in a case interview. Here are a few examples of case questions and initial thoughts on how to tackle these questions:

Should a TelCo Enter a New Geographic Market?

Context:

  • TelCo operates a national telecommunications service in North America and is considering entering Europe.

Potential Questions to Solve:

  • How does entering a new geography align with TelCo’s strategic goals?
  • What is the market potential in the new market?
  • What are the potential risks and challenges?

Sample Analysis:

  • Start with a basic profit & loss framework to understand possible revenue and cost drivers in that market.
  • Calculate the potential market size (e.g., audience size or customer segment) and how that might grow over time to understand how attractive the opportunity is.

Can You Identify Ways for ChocolateCo to Reduce Their Costs?

Context:

  • ChocolateCo has experienced increased costs over the last 5 years and is looking to improve its profit margin.

Potential Questions to Solve:

  • What are the fixed vs. variable costs? What are the most significant cost categories? How have they changed over time?
  • Are industry or external factors influencing costs (e.g. cocoa prices)?
  • What does the supplier network look like? Are there opportunities to consolidate vendors and get better prices?

Sample Analysis:

  • Breakdown costs on a per unit basis to compare costs among different products
  • Group major fixed and variable costs as a percentage of revenue
  • Compare costs by vendor per unit

How Can EnergyCo Reduce Its Environmental Footprint?

Context:

  • EnergyCo wants to reduce its environmental footprint by 2030 and meet new regulations

Potential Questions to Solve:

  • What are the major sources of environmental impact for the client?
  • What technologies and strategies can be implemented to reduce environmental impact?
  • What are the potential cost and ROI (return on investment) considerations?
  • What is the impact of the regulatory requirements?

Sample Analysis:

  • Analyze EnergyCo’s business model and where the biggest opportunities are to reduce environmental footprint.
  • Collect data on energy consumption, emissions, and waste production
  • Identify the client’s supply chain and assess the environmental practices of suppliers.

Want a simple break-down of some of these concepts? See Case Interview 101.

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Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

What Interviewers Look for in Your Answer

Your interviewer wants to know if you’ll be a good fit for the consulting firm. They’ll ask themselves:

  • Can I put this person in front of a client? 
  • Can this person clearly articulate their thoughts? 
  • Can this person tackle math problems on the fly? 
  • Does this person accept feedback and incorporate it into their point of view? 
  • Will I enjoy working with this person?

Your interviewer will not always expect you to make a conclusive recommendation, but they want to see how you think and communicate. Here are some examples of how you can demonstrate that you think and communicate like a consultant: 

  • Organize any information you receive into logical categories.
  • Outline methodologies before you dive into doing analysis.
  • Be fluent in business concepts and incorporate terms into your answers.
  • If you don’t understand something, confidently ask for clarification.

Pro tip! There is such a thing as too much case prep. You want to build experience, fluency, and confidence with consulting cases. You don’t want to do so much case prep that you’re anxious and question everything you say in an interview.

Interviewers Reviewing Answers From Case Interview

Tech Industry Case Interview Questions

Case interviews are a very effective way to evaluate candidates for consulting. So it’s no surprise that other industries, including tech firms, investment banks, and consumer products companies, use cases in their interview process too. Tech case interviews are the most common but have key similarities and differences to consulting interviews.

Similarities in Tech Case Interviews

  • Tech case interviews are still an opportunity for firms to evaluate how they might work with you. It’s not so much about the answer you come up with — the answer may be something they have already thought of! But it’s still important to demonstrate how you tackle problems and challenges and if you can incorporate feedback into your approach.
  • Tech case interviews will include elements similar to the case interview – structure, conceptual thinking, analytical thinking, synthesis, and offering recommendations.

Differences in Tech Case Interviews

  • While applying for roles with technology firms, you may be asked to participate in a live case interview and/or to create a presentation to present to your potential boss and collaborators. 
  • In a tech case interview, there will likely be a more targeted set of problems you might solve. Tech case interviews will focus on how technology solves a problem and will most likely be something the firm has recently tackled or is currently trying to solve.
  • You will need to be fluent in tech-specific metrics. These will likely be more granular than general consulting metrics and most similar to productivity metrics (e.g., per user, per subscriber, etc.).
  • There may be a lot more hypothesizing – often called SWAG or Scientific Wild Ass Guesses – because a lot of technology’s financial impacts are unproven. You’ll need to feel comfortable drawing parallels from previous initiatives and outlining why this opportunity may have a higher or lower impact.
  • Tech firms are allergic to slides with too many words! This is more relevant for a presentation-style case interview, but it’s also helpful for a live case. You will not be expected to put as much on the PowerPoint slide as you may be with consulting interviews.
How to Prepare For A Consulting Case Interview

5 Tips On Preparing for Case Interviews

1. Study Different Types of Cases and Frameworks

You’ll need exposure to many different case types, frameworks, and math problems so you don’t get surprised by something unfamiliar in an interview. Start to learn common Case Interview Frameworks.

2. Talk the Talk

It’s important to be fluent in business terminology and to “speak” consulting. A tried-and-true way of communication is Answer First Communication, also known as The Pyramid Principle.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice!

There’s no substitute for running through cases. Case interviews are pretty challenging if you’re unprepared for them.

If you’re applying for consulting roles as part of an MBA or undergrad business program, you’ll have many peers who can practice cases with you. If you’re applying independently or struggling with any specific elements of the case interview, MCO case coaches can help you be more prepared.

4. Then Practice What You’re Weak In

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Put in some extra reps in the areas where you struggle so you can feel confident. A common problem area is Case Interview Math since you likely haven’t practiced mental math since elementary school.

5. Relax and Enjoy the Conversations

You want your interviewer to feel excited about working with you. After all that prep and practice, focus on making sure you and your interviewer enjoy the discussion.

– – – – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What is a case interview?
  • Sample questions for your case interview
  • What interviewers look for in your answer
  • How other firms use case interviews
  • The top 5 ways to prepare for your case interviews

Still have questions?

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

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

Help with Case Study Interview Prep

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for info on what a case interview is. My Consulting Offer has helped 89.6% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Eve was able to get her offer from McKinsey.

[EXCLUSIVE FREE TRAINING]

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

3 Top Strategies to Master the Case Interview in Under a Week

We are sharing our powerful strategies to pass the case interview even if you have no business background, zero casing experience, or only have a week to prepare.

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