How to improve your Case Interview STRAIGHT AWAY
The saying “No Pain, No Gain” has become so popular lately. You hear it everywhere, from motivational speeches, self-help books, to conversations with your parents. This saying implies that there’s not really any magical quick fix for anything… Or in our case, there’s no shortcut for Case Interviews.
Well, while it is true that there’s no shortcut to get 100% of anything, you can certainly achieve an 80% output by giving just 20% effort. In other words, while Case interviews take time to master, there definitely are simple quick & dirty tips that can significantly improve your performance in case interviews straight away.
Killer Tip No.1: Create a great first impression
Cases are more difficult towards the end but the majority of weight in the hiring decision is put around the beginning. So if there is a real focus point in a case practice, it would be the beginning.
Just by mastering the beginning, you are already better than 50 – 70% of candidates out there. The better news is that it is very easy to master the opening. There is a textbook formula that you can apply to almost any case to absolutely nail the openings.
So let’s say the interviewer has just given you the case context and the key question. Here are some “textbook” steps you should take:
Step 1: Thank the interviewer for taking the time:
We may take this for granted but interviewers are very busy people. So thank them and do it sincerely!
Step 2: Say that it is a very interesting problem:
By human nature, we subconsciously like those who give us compliments. So, don’t miss this good opportunity to subtly flatter the interviewer.
Step 3: Tell the interviewer how excited you are to solve the case
(even though you may not be):
No, I wasn’t serious!! If you can’t sincerely say you like case interviews, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. Consulting is in many aspects very similar to a case interview. So, tell the interviewer sincerely and with a big smile that you are really excited…
Step 4: Play back the case context and key question:
This is beneficial in many ways. One, it makes sure you solve the right problem. The quickest way to bomb a case is to solve the wrong problem. Second, even if you do get the problem right, doing this tells the interviewer that you have the habits of a good consultant.
Step 5: Once the interviewer confirms that you got the case right, announce your overall approach aka Case Interview Frameworks:
In almost every case I do, I say the following textbook pitch:
“Now I would like to first ask a few clarification questions about the case. Once I am positive that we are on the same page as to what needs to be solved, I will sketch out a structure and use it to find out where the root-cause might be. And lastly, once the bottleneck has been isolated, I will look for solutions to fix it. Does that sound like a good approach to you?”
… Of course we know that the interviewer will say yes, right?
Asking that last question is just a tactical way to show how humble and client-friendly you are.
Step 6: Now actually do what you just said:
So ask clarification questions, draw frameworks, analyze the case, and hopefully, once you’ve found the bottleneck, solve it!
Killer Tip No.2: Number your items.
This is the fastest way to sound more structural in Case Interviews. Let’s hear the following two examples and I want you to decide which pitch is more structured?
- Example 1: “In order to help In & Out with their profitability problem. I would look at Revenue and find out if that‘s what causing profit to go down or not. I would also look at cost and do the same.”
- Example 2: “In order to help In&Out with their profitability problem, I would try to look at the following two items. No.1: sales revenue. And No.2: cost of goods sold.”
Notice that content-wise, the first example is more MECE and structured. However, we can’t help but have the impression that example 2 is more structured and clear.
The magic behind example 2 is that the candidate just numbers his items. So, to instantly sound structured, put this into every pitch: “There are X number of items I am going to say. No.1 … No.2 … No.3 … and so on
Killer Tip No.3: Apply the “Map habit” as much as possible.
In the End-to-End program, the feedback about this comes so often that I even have a name for it. It’s called the “Map Habit”. Think about it like the times you go on road trips. As the driver, at multiple times during your trip, you pause, look at the map, and see what part of the journey you have covered to get an idea on where you are heading next.
Similarly, in case interviews, you should also pause often to brief the interviewer on what you have done and where you are going next in the approach.
This is not very difficult to do, but it’s beneficial in multiple ways.
- One – It helps the interviewer understand and follow your approach easier.
- Two – This tip makes you sound really structured and systematic.
- And Three – It helps you be more aware of your own approach and not get lost with the flow of the case.
Killer Tip No.4: Stick to the big and original problem.
This may sound like an obvious thing, but trust me, a lot of good candidates can’t do this. The level of pressure and complexity in case interviews is so high that it’s really easy to go with the flow and completely forget the main reason you are doing it.
You can’t pass an interview by solving the wrong case. A very simple yet very effective tip to fix this is to literally write the case’s key question in BIG and bold letters in your notes. Every time you look at your notes, you are reminded about it.
This actually leads us to the next tip:
Killer Tip No.5: Take good notes.
If you’ve watched our Case Interview 101 video, you would know that one of the key principles in solving problems in Consulting and in Case Interviews is to find the ROOT CAUSE instead of just curing the symptom.
This principle is so profound that I even use it in coaching. A lot of times I see candidates miscalculate really simple calculations. Other times, I see them asking for data they already have. Sometimes, I see them going in circles in their approach. And it’s not very unusual for me to see candidates just break down in stress when dealing with the complexity of fairly simple cases.
Most coaches out there just try to fix the symptoms; they tell you to do more case interview maths, remember the data, use better case interview frameworks, etc. But what I found out is that, there’s a very simple root-cause to all of those symptoms. It’s because those candidates don’t take good notes.
Note taking is very important in case interviews. Bad notes can lead to all types of other problems. Through the years, I have been researching and piloting different systems for case interview note taking. I came up with a system that works very well for me. Notice that there is more than one way to be right. But if you have no idea on how you would do this, my system is a good place to start.
Please refer to our “Case Interview Note Taking” video for more detailed information regarding that system.
If you would like to see even more great materials, check out our Youtube Channel or subscribe to our emailing list.
Save those valuable time on the Case Interview by boosting up your math speed and accuracy!
Case Interview Tips and Techniques: multiple real-life case interview examples with easy-to-follow visual illustrations!
Keep in touch with us
Get insights and updates from us on McKinsey PST and other Consulting topics.