Tips for Preparing for a Case Interview

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Have you been told that you have a case interview coming up? What is a case interview, anyway? A case interview is a job interview that includes questions about how to handle specific job scenario.

During a case interview, the interviewee is given a business situation and asked what he or she would do to manage the situation. The business scenario is usually one that the interviewee would likely encounter while working for the company.

However, the interviewer may also ask interview questions or ask you to solve brain teasers that don’t relate directly to the company. These types of questions may leave you feeling a bit flustered, so take a deep breath and think your way through them.

When Employers Use Case Interviews

Used most often in management consulting and investment banking interviews, case interviews allow interviewees to demonstrate their analytical ability and problem-solving skills. Most case interview questions do not have one "right" answer – there may be more than one acceptable way to manage the situation.

For example, you may be asked how to determine how big the market might be for a new type of tennis ball. That’s not much information so you’d need to ask questions such as who the target consumer is – professional tennis players or weekend tennis enthusiasts. Another question might be about how much the new tennis balls cost and how or where they are sold – in stores or online.

You could explain how you’d calculate the potential size of the market for this new tennis ball. In addition, perhaps you could offer ideas for expanding to additional consumers such as high school or college tennis players.

The case interview doesn’t have to be verbal only. You can draw up a few graphs, charts, or illustrations to help get your point across to the interviewer. One way to do this is to use an Issue Tree to outline and solve the problem.

Remember that answering a case interview question like this really isn’t about being right or wrong - the interviewer is more interested in how the applicant arrives at his or her solution.

As such, a case interview is back and forth dialog. The interviewee is expected to interact with the interviewer and ask clarifying questions in a logical, sequential order to solve the given problem.

Tips for Answering Case Interview Questions

Your case interview may be less stressful if you have an idea of what’s going to happen. Here are some tips for handling case interview questions:

Understand the question. Paraphrase the question before answering to make sure you understand the problem. If you’re not clear on the question be sure to ask for more information.

Be prepared to take notes. Most companies allow interviewees to take notes during the interview; if so, you should be prepared. Bring lined paper to the interview for notes and bring some graph paper as well, in case you need to draw any charts.

There’s no need to rush. Take your time answering each question; logically think through the problem before arriving at a solution.

Ask questions. Case interviews are interactive; feel comfortable asking your interviewer clarifying questions to gain more information. In fact, your interviewer will expect you to ask questions.

Always explain how you arrived at a solution, even if you are simply estimating a number. Remember that how you arrived at your answer is generally more important than the answer itself.

Stay professional. Although this is different from a traditional interview, it’s not the time to act too casually. Remain as professional as you would during a regular interview. Sit up straight, speak clearly, and make eye contact with the interviewer.

Have fun! Interviewers want to see that you are enthusiastic about solving business problems. After all, these are the types of situations you will manage every day if you’re hired.

Case Interview Practice

It’s very important to practice for a case interview, especially if this is your first one. Many universities and companies offer sample case questions on their website. Hunt for some of these case interview samples and use them to prepare yourself.

Practice answering case interview questions in front of friends, family, or a career counselor. If you’re lucky, maybe you know someone who has experience with these types of interviews and is knowledgeable about your field. He or she might be able to help you create a mock interview.

It’s also a good idea to grab a stopwatch and time yourself. Most case interviews last 15 to 30 minutes. That may seem like a long time if you’re not ready, so whether you practice with another person, or just speak out loud in front of the mirror, the more you prepare now, the more comfortable you’ll be at the real interview.