Accenture is one of the largest consulting firms in the world, with more than 500,000 employees serving clients in 120 countries. If we could pick a consulting firm to win the aggressive campus recruiting award, it would probably be Accenture.
Today, let’s turn our attention to learning more about their recruiting process – specifically their all-important case interviews.
1. Accenture Interview Process and Requirements
1.1. Who is Accenture?
Accenture is one of the largest consulting firms in the world, along with MBB firms and the Big Four’s consulting practices. They offer services in Strategy & Consulting, Interactive, Technology & Operations.
There are the 2 basic points you should remember:
Accenture used to be the consulting department of a former “Big 5” accounting firm
The name of that firm is Arthur Andersen. Of course, Andersen is now gone (due to the Enron scandal in 2001), leaving us with only the Big 4, but the consulting department had already separated before that episode. When that department left Andersen, it had to change its name, so we have Accenture!
Accenture is not purely management consulting
In this regard, Accenture is similar to the Big 4 firms, who operate in other fields than management consulting. For Deloitte, EY, PwC, those fields are finance, risk, tax, etc. For Accenture, it’s IT.
1.2. Accenture recruitment process
Accenture recruitment process has three rounds: (1) resume screening, (2) on-campus behavioral interview, and (3) in-office interviews. Case interviews (where candidates are given business problems to solve) appear in round 3. If you are applying for a position at Accenture Strategy, you will have to go through a special interview called the Potentia interview.
- Round 1: Resume Screening: The outstanding move this first stage would be to prepare an exceptional resume, consulting style. If you’d like to check out free consulting resume templates and access to the exceptional guide that got me into McKinsey.
- Round 2: Behavioural Interview: Just like a typical interview, the purpose of this round is basically to test the degree to which you are fit to work for Accenture and the position you are applying to. The expected duration for this round is 30 to 45 minutes
- Round 3: Case Interview: This round typically lasts for one hour. You will be given a business case to solve while the interviewer assesses your analytical ability and problem-solving skills. More emphasis is placed on evaluating how the candidate thinks and how the candidate approaches problems.
The Potentia case interview is one notable difference between Accenture Case Interviews relative to other consulting firms. In all rounds, however, consistent performance is key.
1.3. What does Accenture look for?
Accenture look for three main qualities for its consulting applicants – problem-solving skills, leadership skills, and achieving mentality. This is similar to other consulting firms, such as MBB or Big Four firms. They also look for candidates with a clear motivation and dedication to work at Accenture.
Since most of the qualities mention are quite generic, I would explain them here:
- Problem-Solving Skills: Breaking down business problems is the core of consulting work. To be more specific, the entire consulting industry arguably rests on the unique analytical problem-solving ability of consultants.
- Leadership Skills: Consultants never tackle a project by themselves. They work with teams of experts and the brightest people from a wide variety of backgrounds and industries. Not surprisingly, it takes a versatile portfolio of leadership skills to put the right talents in the right tasks. Hence, in all rounds, you will need to show how your leadership style can bring people together to produce exceptional results.
- Achieving Mentality: Accenture places a strong emphasis on attracting, developing and retaining the very best people for its business. One defining characteristic of their employees is a can-do attitude. This is understandable, for consulting problems are big in scale and difficulty. Not to mention, consultants are expected to solve these under tight deadlines and deliver outstanding results. Without demonstrating an achieving mentality, the willingness to work hard, and the ability to produce top work, you will almost certainly not get in.
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2. Accenture Case Interview Format
Accenture case interviews follow the format of a typical consulting case interview. They are a mix of candidate-led and interviewer-led. Accenture case interviews are somewhat heavier on market-sizing questions, and not any heavier on math than any other case interviews.
2.1. What is a Case Interview?
A case interview is an interview put in a business context.
In a case interview, you will be given a business problem to solve. That problem, together with the surrounding business context given by the interviewer, is called a case.
Example: “Veggie Castle – a chain of vegan buffet restaurants, has been experiencing declining profits for the past 5 months. They want you to find the root cause and help them bring back stable profits.”
In this case, the problem is decreasing profits. You, as a candidate, are expected to pinpoint exactly what’s causing it and offer a solution.
2.2. What is Accenture Case Interview’s format?
Accenture case interviews are a mix of interviewer-led and candidate-led. In a candidate-led case, the candidate is given autonomy on the whole problem-solving process, with only one big case question. In an interviewer-led case, the interviewer direct the case by giving out separate questions.
I covered how to approach each format step-by-step in this detailed guide: Case Interview 101.
If the Veggie Castle case above were candidate-led, you will be expected to take control, breaking down the profit problem and digging into the root cause. If it were interviewer-led, you will likely be answering a series of questions. Your degree of autonomy over the problem will vary depending on the interviewer.
Now, let’s take a look at three characteristics of Accenture’s Case Interview.
2.3. What are some characteristics of Accenture Case Interview?
Accenture Case Interviews are somewhat heavier on market-sizing questions
Based on the field reports we’ve studied, most cases were divided into multiple questions, each super specific and to-the-point. In some cases, those questions were not even closely related to each other. The case as a whole sounds like a casual business discussion on some pressing issues.
With that said, you can expect to see these questions in any case interview at major consulting firms. Market-sizing and guesstimate questions are popular and it’s no exception here. Keep this in mind: Market-sizing questions are not about getting the correct number, but estimating in a structured and logical fashion.
Accenture cases are not any heavier on math than any other case interviews
There is a myth circulating around the forums that Accenture case interviews are heavy on math.
Almost every case interview out there does test some consulting math, but we don’t see any reports or statistics showing that Accenture tests math more than other consulting firms. Just think about it: is math the foundation of consulting work, and the main criterion in case interviews? Unsurprisingly, the answer is “No”.
What they look for in case interviewees is structured problem-solving – in other words, you solve problems by systematically breaking it down into small, MECE pieces, identify the root causes, and draw actionable, long-impact solutions.
You don’t need IT background to solve Accenture cases
Accenture may have IT-focused interviews, but NOT for management consulting positions. Except for some case contexts which may be related to IT (e.g: Uber‘s profit‘s going down), you can expect to solve the case content-wise just like you would do for any other typical case interview.
3. Accenture Case Interview Questions & Examples
Accenture case interviews test the candidate’s ability to solve problems using a structured approach. They are a mix of the interviewer-led and candidate-led formats, with three types of questions:
The “Great Unknown”
The “Parade of Facts”
The “Back of the Envelope”
Among these, the two most common case question types are “The Parade of Facts” and “The back of the envelope”. No matter what question type you are dealing with, don’t jump right in cracking the case before you understand the facts and know exactly what is being asked of you.
Let’s look at an example for each question type and how you can approach them:
Type 1: The “Great Unknown”
Interviewers at Accenture love probing into the Great Unknown’s question bank. Not only is it the most common question type, The “Great Unknown” questions barely give you any information to build a meaningful structure upon.
This is because they were designed to test your ability to discover necessary facts. To do so, you need to master one skill: Ask the right questions. Let’s practice with an example.
A leading manufacturer of plant-based meat has experienced a decline in profits despite an increase in market share. The senior executive team would like you to help them understand why and what they can do to reverse this trend.
The first thing to notice here is that “market share” is a percentage and not an absolute number. Hence,“an increase in market share” can mean several things.
It could imply that the company has increased its share of the market by beating out the competition, or the competition is exiting the market.
Equally possible, the market might even be shrinking, but the sales of the company are decreasing by less than those of its competitors.
After clarifying what “an increase in market share” means, proceed to asks some of these questions:
- Has the company experienced any significant increase in cost in the last couple of years related to any additional fixed or variable cost?
- On the revenue side, has there been an increase in the volume of output?
- What about the competition? Has the competitive structure of the industry changed? Mergers and Acquisitions? New Entrants?
- Are there any new products or new technologies that are gaining market share?
- How is the company currently positioned (low cost, high quality, etc)? What is its competitive advantage?
Type 2: The “Parade of Facts”
Contrary to The “Great Unknown” question type, The “Parade of Facts” presents you with an abundance of information. These questions challenge you to navigate through a jumble of facts to test whether you can grasp the crux of the problem, determine which information is relevant to the key issue, and how quickly you can do so.
For this type of question, pause for a moment and consider the central problem. It’s key to ask questions about facts that appear relevant.
Client is a leading ice-cream company that wants to sell vegan ice-cream. They want to know if the market is big, if they can make money in this business and how they can keep competition out. Some additional information is given:
- Trend among consumers is toward production transparency, e.g. they want to know their products were not made at the cost of animal suffering, labor exploitation, and environmental repercussions.
- Trend among consumers is to avoid artificial preservatives or colorings
- Consumers are currently purchasing $45 billion ice-cream cups per year
- There are five flavours – matcha, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.
- Ice-cream is packaged in 18oz cups
- Product is currently in limited consumer test at $4 to $5.50 per cup
The key problem here is to find out the size of the market and profitability of the business. To do so, consider asking the following questions:
- What prices are consumers responding to?
- What is the competitive structure of this market currently?
- What are the components of the company’s cost structure?
- What is the break-even point for the firm?
- What is the estimated market size ?
- What is the required market share to break-even?
Type 3: The “Back of the Envelope”
“The Back of the Envelope”questions are more heavy on math compared to other types of cases.
You will be asked to estimate the number of some everyday items in society. Examples are:
- What is the estimated value of a taxi medallion in New York City?
- How much money could Continental Airlines save by giving customers 1/2 a can instead of a whole can of Sprite?
- Estimate the change in the price of oil in the year 2000 from today’s price. Will it increase or will it decrease?
The interviewer is not looking for a random guess, but rather a structured thought process to get to a numerical answer. These types of questions are designed to test your comfort level with numbers, and your ability to customize frameworks to formulate a numerical answer.
A rule of thumb when approaching this question type: whatever method you use, it will be correct so long as it is consistent and holistically structured.
Estimate the total number of taxi drivers in Montreal.
Assume there are 2 million people in Montreal.
Step 1: Estimate the size of market by segmenting the population
- Assume the population consists of 30% adult men, 30% adult women, and 40% children
- Assume children do not use taxis and only 25% of adults use taxis
- Estimate the average number of taxi rides each man and woman takes a week. For this case, assume that taxi drivers are called 14 times a week in total.
- Thus the total size of the market (per week) is:
1,2 million people x 25% x 7 taxis rides = 2,1 million taxi rides
Step 2: Estimate the average number of taxi rides a driver can complete per week
- Assume that the average taxi driver typically complete 3-4 rides per hour
- If the average dry taxi driver is available eight hours a day, 5 days/week, they typically complete 120-160 rides per week (3-4 rides x 8 hours x 5 days)
- Divide the total market size by the average rides completed per driver to find the total number of drivers.
- There are between 13125 and 17500 drivers in Montreal.
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4. Accenture Potentia Interview
Accenture Potentia Interview is a special type of case interview designed to test sound judgement and creative thinking of candidates applying for Strategy roles at Accenture.
Below, I outlined three key characteristics of the Potentia Interview, and six tips you can apply to nail it.
4.1. Accenture Potentia Interview is for Accenture Strategy candidates
Not all candidates applying for Accenture must take the Accenture Potentia Interview. Only candidates applying for the Accenture Strategy track must take this test.
4.2. Accenture Potentia Interview is a case interview
Accenture Potentia Interview is a one-hour case interview. There are no clear guidelines for cases, so whatever case you get depends on the manager. Regarding case type, there is around 60% chance of getting market-sizing cases, and nearly 40% chance of getting profitability cases.
The usual format of Potentia Interviews is as follows:
- First, the interviewer will hand you a paragraph of text about a business topic with a problem statement. Topics are diverse and may not be work-related. Examples of topics include blood diamonds in Africa or intellectual property on the Internet.
- You will have 5 minutes to read, think through the problem statement and prepare.
- After that, you will present your thoughts and the interviewer will ask follow-up questions. This conversation lasts around 45 to 60 minutes.
4.3. Accenture Potentia Interviews place more weight on creativity than structure
Accenture Potentia Interviews place slightly more weight on creativity than structure. This is because they mainly test your ability to think outside the box, and come up with creative solutions/ideas.
Hence, structure-wise, interviewers at Accenture Potentia Interviews are usually less demanding than at MBB (Big 3) firms. This is true unless you meet an ex-big3 consultant as an interviewer.
This criteria is also why, in general, Potentia Interviews are conversational and not much emphasis is placed on getting the right answer.
4.4. 6 tips for the Accenture Potentia Interview:
Tip #1: Construct your answers using frameworks:
Keep in mind that you are being evaluated on how structured and organized the answers are. And to do so, it’s a must that you use frameworks to capture ideas that come to you.
Tip #2: Practice brainstorming ideas:
Coming up with a lot of good ideas in a short period of time takes practice. Try to generate ideas in different areas of your framework for a start.
Tip #3: Welcome ambitious ideas:
Remember, the level of creativeness and innovation in your thinking is also being assessed. Don’t be afraid to speak up ambitious ideas, because they might turn out to be very good. Regardless, it is best to keep both practical and ambitious ideas in your pocket so you can use them interchangeably to arrive at sound business decisions.
Tip #4: Don’t focus too much on getting the right answer:
Often, problems given in the Potentia Interview are complex and hence do not contain absolute answers. Focus on giving sound showing sound judgements, creative, innovative thinking, and you are good to go.
Tip #5: Bring in ideas from prior work experience:
A good way to showcase creativity is to draw relevant ideas from one industry and match them with another. Besides, this is a good opportunity to leverage your previous work experiences.
Tip #6: Listen carefully to feedbacks:
Remember to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to your interviewer’s comments and feedback. This is because you are supposed to maintain a two-way conversation, not pitching ideas. Do apply feedback from previous questions to improve your performance in later questions. It shows that you are paying attention.
5. How to Prepare for Accenture Case Interview
Step 1: Familiarize with case examples
Examine examples of candidate-led and interviewer-led cases to familiarize yourself with the flow of the case, and how to interact with the interviewer.
Accenture has several sample cases, summarized in the Accenture Case Interview Workbook.
Step 2: Practice consulting math
Consultants work with quantitative data dozens of times a day. It simply takes too long to pull out a calculator every time they need to calculate something, and doing so in negotiations looks really bad. This is why interviewers place such high emphasis on the mental math skills of prospective consultants.
In the beginning, consulting math can be difficult for some; nonetheless, I have a few tips for you to ease the process and still practice effectively:
- Use Your Head: Do all your daily calculations mentally unless an EXACT answer is required.
- Flatten the Learning Curve: At the start, a piece of scratch paper and a 5% margin of error really help; once you are confident, discard the paper and narrow down the margin.
- Establish a Routine: Allocate some time for daily practice this may seem hard at first, but once you’ve overcome the inertia, you can literally feel the improvement.
Step 3: Develop Business Intuition
Having business intuition significantly sharpens your performance in case interviews.
Working on any kind of intuition is a gradual process that takes practice every day. You can improve your business intuition in two ways:
- Written Sources: I suggest reading business papers daily; you can also visit McKinsey, Bain, and BCG websites for their excellent articles. Beware though – it’s not the pages you read that count, but the insights you draw from them.
- First-hand Experience and Observations: Don’t just come to your workplace to work; try to examine what senior managers are doing – what’s the rationale for their decision, and how has it impacted the organization?
Step 4: Learn the fundamentals and frameworks
It might be tempting at first to go straight for the frameworks – if you make this common mistake, get ready for some very unpleasant surprises in the interview. Frameworks need a lot of customizations to fit with real cases, and to customize effectively you need that fundamental knowledge.
Of course, don’t draw an issue tree for all your daily problems – that’s just overkill; but do take a structured approach, and picture an issue tree in your head while searching for your keys.
Step 5: Perform mock interviews
The best way to get good at something is to do it.
Find yourself a former consultant to help you practice; they’ve been through countless case interviews, both real and mock, they know what’s required of a candidate, so they’re the best people to run your simulations with.
Study your cases down to the smallest details. Replay them over and over and over again, take notes of the interviewer’s feedback, and look for other areas you can improve.
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