Three main differences between case interview and fit interview lie in the interviewer's assessment, the candidate's focus, and the timeline.
This article will help you explore the three differences and provide examples and tips to help you ace the consulting fit interview and case interview.
Fit interviews focus on your motivations and personality
Fit/Behavioral interview questions check whether your qualities, motivations, and personality fit the firm’s culture by assessing the necessary skills and personality traits based on your behavior in past situations, along with other questions on your motivations or personal side.
Four main types of questions in the fit interview are:
Motivation question: This question help interviewer rules out lazy candidates who cannot even bother to research about the firm/the job, or people who jump ship at the slightest chance.
Experience question: The interviewer asks for the candidate's past experience to assess the candidate's qualities, motivations, and personality traits.
Hypothetical question: The interviewer presents a hypothetical question that simulates an actual work situation to assess further the candidate's qualities, motivations, and personality traits through their response.
Personality question: The interviewers usually ask this question to explore who you are as a person.
Case interview focus on your current expertise
Case interview questions ask the candidate to solve a business problem, testing problem-solving and other “soft” skills required for a successful consultant. Those questions are the most challenging part of a consulting interview.
Aside from conventional questions that appear in every case interview, a candidate might encounter assisting questions and curveball questions. These two types are only for a few candidates that the interviewer is interested in testing further with harder questions.
Two common case interview types are candidate-led case interview and interviewer-led case interview.
In a candidate-led case interview, the candidate moves through the problem-solving process on their own, with the interviewer only as the “case operator”. The questions are integrated into a gradual flow.
In a interviewer-led case, the interviewer commands the problem-solving process. The questions are more disconnected but usually belong to the same case. You might have to use the insights from one question to answer another.
Three main differences between fit interview and case interview
Three main differences between case interview and fit interview lie in the interviewer's assessment, the candidate's focus, and the timeline. To be specific:
First, interviewer use fit interviews to assess cultural fit, while case interviews are used to assess analytical skills.
Second, fit interviews focus on the stories of candidates, while case interviews focus on their present skills.
Third, a fit interview is usually shorter (15-25 mins) than a case interview (20-30 mins).
In fit interviews, interviewers aim to assess whether your qualities are compatible with the consulting culture and the firm.
For example, a good answer for the motivation question should show that a candidate has researched on the firm, the job, and prepared to be dedicated to them for a long while.
For the experience question and hypothetical situation question, candidates have to show the potential traits of a consultant through their responses on how they have done things in the past and how they may act in the future.
In case interviews, interviewers aim to assess the consulting skills of candidates: data gathering, analytic, mathematic, and structuring skills.
Interviewers will give you a business case and ask you to solve it. They will not expect you to solve the case entirely, but they will expect you to follow a structured, logical process to deal with the problem effectively.
Fit interviews focus on the stories, while case interviews focus on the present skills of candidates
Fit interviews focus on the stories of past performances and hypothetical situations of candidates. Those stories not only help the interviewer see the achievements of candidates but also help the interviewer assess candidates’ personalities.
For example, a candidate might get this question: “Tell me about your biggest career achievement to date”. A good candidate will show stories that reflect their strong abilities, how they connect with people and overcome complicated problems, and their behavior in certain situations.
The key here lies in powerful and convincing storytelling, which also shows how good a candidate is when talking with other people.
On the other hand, case interviews test candidates’ present skills and expertise. Widely considered the most challenging part of a consulting interview, a candidate will have to take on a business case like a real consultant.
Case interviews aim to assess the critical skills of a consultant: clarify, structure, estimate, analyze, and synthesize.
Candidates should expect to encounter many question types:
Framework/Issue tree question
Guesstimate and Market-sizing question
Business valuation question
Value proposition question
Business math question
Elevator pitch: Usually asked at the end of the case interview part, this means you have impressed the interviewer enough to get this far.
Brain teaser: This was once very popular in case interviews but is now gradually fading from its fame.
Furthermore, if a candidate can spark the interest of the interviewer, then that candidate can get additional hard questions. Therefore, you should not worry if you suddenly encounter a hard question from the interviewer - it can be a chance to score a great mark.
Read more: Case Interview 101
A fit interview typically last 15 minutes.
Usually, in a fit interview, a candidate will encounter motivation question, experience question, and personality question. The hypothetical question is not popular in fit interviews, but is frequently encountered in online screening tests.
Long ago, consulting fit interviews were only a minor part of the consulting recruitment process. Sometimes, interviewers even regarded it as “just procedure”, and fit interviews can end quickly so the interviewer and the candidate can move on to the case interview.
However, today, consulting fit interviews are playing an important part of the recruiting process. This is due to the industry’s shift towards implementation, which raises the demand for people skills in consulting.
A case interviews typically last around 30 minutes.
A case interview is a simulation of an actual consulting session. The interviewer will act as the client, and the candidate will be a consultant.
In a simplified way, a typical case would go through nine phases: (1) Case question -> (2) Recap -> (3) Clarification -> (4) Timeout -> (5) Propose issue tree -> (6) Analyze issue tree -> (7) Identify root-causes -> (8) Solutions -> (9) Closing pitch
A candidate should expect to go through a series of questions and data, and only by showing all their strengths (which can also expose their weaknesses) can they have a chance to pass the round.
Now that you understand the key differences between fit interviews and case interviews, let’s examine example questions before exploring the best tips to answer them.
Fit interview sample questions (McKinsey, BCG, Bain)
When it comes to fit interview questions, it’s essential to understand what the interviewer is looking for at the end of the day.
The people who interview you are actual consultants, who would leave fit interviews asking themselves if they liked you as a person, if you can fit well into their team, whether you are presentable in front of senior clients, or whether you can handle problems in a highly political consulting world.
In management consulting, the most common fit interviews are:
Among MBB (Big 3) firms, commonly asked fit interview questions are:
Tell me about a time when you led the whole team through extraordinary hardship
Tell me about a time when you resolved disagreements within your team
Tell me about a time when you successfully changed someone’s mind
Tell me about a time you led your team to extraordinary achievements
Tell me about a time when you changed the direction of the team despite not being the leader
Tell me about your biggest failure until now
Tell me about how you resolved a big argument with your teammate
Tell me about a difficult/ambiguous decision you made recently
Case interview examples
In the article Case Interview Examples, I’ve compiled 35 real example cases, 16 case books, with example case videos containing useful feedback on tips and techniques. Regardless, here are some common case examples:
A major retailer of clothing and household products has been experiencing sluggish growth and less than expected profits in the last few years. The CEO has hired you to help her increase the company’s annual growth rate and ultimately its profitability.
A major producer of juice is in the business of processing and packaging fruit juice for retail outlets. Over the next couple of years, sales continued to grow on an average of 20% per year. Yet, as sales continued to increase, profits steadily decreased. The owner cannot understand why. He hires you to help out.
A cable TV company from Canada, World View, had recently entered the US market in the northeast to expand its market share. World View saw this move as an opportunity to capture a large part of the US market (4MM consumers) in a market with very little competition. However, in the last couple of years, much to the surprise of management, World View has been unable to make a profit. You have been hired to figure out why and advise them on their next move.
Your client is a gas station and the market is so competitive that they make no money on gasoline sales. All the profit is in convenience store sales. What is the profit-maximizing way to layout the convenience store and why?
A clear understanding of “what is a case interview” is essential for effective use of these examples. I suggest reading our Case Interview 101 guide if you haven’t done so. Alternatively, check out a case interview example below.
Three tips for the fit interview
Tip #1: Prepare stories, not questions
Prepare 3-4 detailed, all-round, refined stories exhibiting all the required traits, then tune the stories according to the interviewer’s question.
Many candidates make the mistake of preparing on a per-question basis, i.e listing out the possible questions and the corresponding answers/stories.
Wrapping your head around inflexible answers can throw you off-balance an unexpected question comes up. The resulting storytelling style is also somewhat robotic.
In our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, we will teach you a story-based approach: Select a few stories reflecting your best, all-round self and develop them in detail.
Tip #2: Never fake answers
Try to be as authentic as possible – if you lack stories to tell in fit interviews, either rack your memory even further, or get more experience. Don’t make up stuff for the sake of the interview.
It’s not difficult for interviewers to detect candidates who exaggerate their achievements. Once their bluffing is noticed, they have no chance of stepping into the firm’s office.
If you fake stories and manage to slip into a consulting firm, you will most likely be filtered out soon enough – either through work pressure, disillusion, or the company’s harsh up-or-out policy.
Tip #3: Avoid wasting time on context
Use enough context to enhance the impact of your action, but don’t dwell on it too much, because interviewers don’t care. If the interviewer frequently tells you to quicken up the pace, you’re probably making this mistake.
Practice telling stories in daily conversations with the Problem-Action-Result-Lessons structure and see if your audience slowly “disengage” towards the end of the Problem part – if that’s the case, you have a lot of “excess fat” to trim.
Three tips for the case interview
Tip #1: Learn the basics of case interview theory
Never start tackling cases without learning the basics first. Jumping right in runs the risk of developing bad habits, which eventually costs more time to unlearn. Beware, though, too much theory right off the bat can burn brain power very quickly.
My advice is to start reading this article: Case Interview 101, and then watch the video below for a more detailed visual breakdown.
Tip #2: Practice mock cases
The goal of practicing mock cases is to observe case interview skills and knowledge applied in action – and practice them. These are also good opportunities to improve behavioral skills – an increasingly important part of case interviews.
This can be done by either:
Find another partner to practice with. Watch this Guide on how to conduct a case. Remember, a bad coach/partner is always more harmful than not practicing at all.
See another example in our End-to-end Program. Try actively solving the case by yourself before listening to the candidate's answer and the coach's feedback!
Tip #3: Start training consulting math
Math is essential in management consulting due to the large amount of quantitative data involved in consulting projects. Consultants must be comfortable with mental calculations prevalent in brainstorming sessions and client meetings.
To practice case interview math effectively, follow these two steps:
Preparing for case interviews can be a long and arduous process. But it doesn’t have to be if you follow our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, which contains 10 case simulation videos covering 5 cases and 100+ feedbacks and best practices. Good luck with your prep!