Case interviews at management consulting firms are among the most difficult job interviews, but they are also quite predictable. Once you know the types of questions they ask, preparation is straightforward.
Using years of experience at McKinsey, as well as field reports from thousands of candidates, I’ve crafted a list of 8 common case interview questions, and in this article, I’ll show you how to answer each of them.
If the interviewer asks you to identify factors contributing to a problem or to break down an entity (such as the revenue of a business), he/she is telling you to draw an issue tree.
And to draw a spot-on issue tree, you need to master consulting problem-solving foundations, the MECE principle, and common consulting frameworks. You should check out our other articles on these topics before moving on, because mastering the issue tree is the key to acing every possible case interview.
You also need good business intuition to draw good issue trees, so that’s all the more reason to start reading every day.
These questions go along the lines of “How many trees are there in Central Park?” or “What’s the market size of pick-up trucks in the USA?”
The key to nailing market-sizing and guesstimate questions lies in not the closest results, but the most logical and structured approaches. In fact, the interviewer expects you to follow these four steps:
Unless you come up with something about 10 times the reasonable estimate, don’t worry about being “wrong” – the interviewer is unlikely to have a “correct” number in mind, he/she just wants to see your structured mindset.
This question type is so common, we devote a whole article to it. Check out our comprehensive guide on Market-Sizing & Guesstimate Questions for more details!
Now, here’s a quick example for you to try and get used to this type:
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Brain teasers are riddles designed to test unconventional, creative, and logical thinking. A famous example of this is Accenture’s “How do you put a giraffe in a fridge?”.
Although not as popular as before, brain teasers might still appear in consulting interviews; therefore, you should spend some time to prepare.
Most brain teasers can be allocated into these seven types:
Read our article about Case Interview Brain Teasers for more insights on all of these exciting brain teasers, as well as 30 example questions and answers!
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In management consulting and case interviews, most charts are one (or a combination) of these four basic types:
- Bar charts compare the values of several items at one point in time, or 1-2 items at several time intervals.
- Line charts illustrate time-series data, i.e trends in data over a continuous period.
- Pie charts illustrate proportions, i.e “parts of a whole” analyses.
- Scatter-plots use data points to visualize how two variables relate to each other.
To read these charts and answer chart-insights questions effectively, you must follow a structured, comprehensive process:
Value-proposition questions are not only about correctly identifying customer preferences, but also about analyzing and delivering the answer in a structured fashion. The former relies heavily on business knowledge and intuition, but the latter can be trained methodically and quickly.
To structure your answers, the two most easy methods are (1) using customer segmentation (geographical, demographic, behavioral, psychological), and (2) assigning priority levels to each value (high, medium, low). However, don’t over-rely on them, since there may be more relevant and insightful question-specific segmentations.
|Segments the market based on the geographical location of customers||Segments the market based on personal characteristics of the customers (e.g: age)||Segments the market based on how customers act||Segments the market based on how customer think|
Customer segmentation types
Try using the two common methods for the following example, then come up with something more specific and relevant.
You do need some business and consulting knowledge to answer these questions to know where to fetch a given piece of data from, and how to do it (e.g.: survey, financial reports, client interview, etc.).
Is there any other tip to improve your performance? Well, do your interviewer a favor, say in advance how you can acquire necessary data, and say it in a structured manner.
Our Prospective Candidate Starter Pack has a sheet containing all the possible sources of information in case interviews and consulting projects, among numerous other free resources; you can download and use it to answer these questions, by subscribing to our newsletter at the end of this article.
When you have to do the math, perform back-of-the-envelope calculations in a structured fashion, and say out loud what you’re writing. For one thing, it’s safe; for another, you show that you’re careful, organized, and reliable – just like actual consultants.
We have a Math Practice Tool right here! Use it every day, and you’ll be a master of mental calculations in no time flat!
We have a dedicated article on Consulting Math, which you should definitely read.
When dealing with solution questions, keep these four points in mind:
- Firstly, in case interviews as well as real consulting projects, solutions must always solve every root cause of a problem, so remember to check if your solutions are relevant and comprehensive.
- Secondly, every solution must be actionable – if your solutions are too expensive, too time-consuming, etc. for the client, they’re useless.
- Thirdly, the interview expects a highly-structured answer; so segment your solutions based on their characteristics (long-term vs short-term is the easiest segmentation)
Last but not least, deliver at least two solutions, preferably three to five. Otherwise, you’ll appear uncreative and lazy to the interviewer’s eyes.
Nailing these questions relies on having excellent business intuition; our Case Interview End-to-End Program has a dedicated Business Intuition package, but you should also train a habit of reading consulting and business articles daily, to sharpen your business mind.
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Interviewer-led cases, on one hand, consist of multiple, clear-cut questions in a larger business case context; the candidate navigates through these questions to arrive at the solutions.
Candidate-led cases, on the other hand, have one big problem, which the candidate must break down into small pieces to identify the root causes and deliver solutions.
This list, therefore, is much more relevant to the interviewer-led format; nonetheless, this guide is still quite beneficial for candidate-led cases, because when solving that big problem, you’ll have to tackle small issues similar to the 8 aforementioned question types.
Mastering the fundamentals is crucial to consistent performance
Although it’s good to study the case interview questions, it is no substitute for mastering the fundamental principles.
Learning the exercises without the basics is like building a house without a foundation. My poor neighbor’s house developed a huge crack right down the center because of its weak foundation, so make sure to build your case interview prep a strong one by knowing the basics first.
Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you’ll become much more flexible – this quality is getting increasingly important because case interviews are getting less predictable, and more realistic.
If you haven’t, I advise you to read these articles (especially the first 4) before practicing the question types:
Expect the unexpected
If you study those eight question types, rest assured that you’ve covered the majority of questions in case interviews.
However, these are not all the possible questions you might be given. In actual cases, there are always questions that cannot be categorized neatly. If you do not prepare for these questions, it’s easy to be thrown off-balance.
So, how do you prepare for “the unexpected”?
- Master the Basics: Focus your efforts on the basics, once you’ve mastered them it’d be comfortable to move on to higher, more sophisticated levels.
- Business Intuition: You need business intuition for a business-related job, it’s simple as that. Nearly every case concerns business in one way or another – even public sector cases. This is why we also teach business intuition in our Case Interview E2E Secret Program.
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