How to Ace the Case Interview

Many in the business industry are familiar with the “case” interview method, but are not quite sure the techniques on how to take on these questions. As a Career Intern who specializes in practice “mock” interviews at the Center for Career Development, I want to calm your nerves about these intimidating interviews and provide useful tips for you. My first recommendation is, of course, schedule a practice interview a good week before your scheduled interview! Practicing is the only way to receive constructive feedback on your performance, which is especially necessary for this type of interviewing.

Start with the basics: what is a case interview? It is “an interview where you are introduced to a business dilemma facing a particular company where you are asked to analyze the situation, identify key business issues, and discuss how you would address the problems involved” (MIT). Employers are using the case interviews to measure your problem solving ability, see how you think on your feet, and to asses not just your communication skills, but also your business skills. A few other skills they asses in these interviews are your creativity, interpersonal skills, professionalism, quantities skills, and analytical skills. Think about all you can prove to the employer in nailing these interviews!

The questions are not always business focused; it is fair game for the employer to ask a brainteaser or logical puzzle question, a probing case, a market sizing case, and even an estimation case. I will provide a few examples later on, but you can find countless others online! There is a specific method on how to go about answering these, no matter what exact type of question they ask:

  1. Listen: Listen carefully to the question and paraphrase it back to the interviewer. You may also want to take notes on the situation they are describing, so definitely bring a pad of paper and a pen in your padfolio.
  2. Ask questions: Asking questions to the interviewer after you have paraphrased it back to them will confirm your understanding of the case. Many questions will purposefully provide very little detail to test your ability to probe for additional details, requiring you to structure the problem around new facts.
  3. Think out loud: Make sure you are explaining you are thinking to the employer, they want to hear your entire thinking process! After all, that is the whole point of the case interview. You can, however, take a moment to collect your thoughts. So, some silence is okay. Do not be afraid to politely ask the interviewer for a moment to think.
  4. Confidence: Again, these interviews test your ability to work under pressure. If you do not show confidence in your thinking process or overall ability to answer the question, you are showing them you do not work well under pressure. Try your best to not let yourself get frustrated or flustered! It is just as important to show your confidence in your final answer as well. Please do not forget to smile and make enthusiastic eye contact!

Sample Case Interview Questions:

  1. Estimate the total number of dry cleaners in the city of Philadelphia.
  2. How many rounds of golf are played annually in the United States?
  3. Your client is a $300 million a year copper mining company. This year it has lost $50 million. How do you turn it around?
  4. The client is a leading food company that wants to develop a fresh prepared meal business. Assume the following facts:
  • Trend among customers is toward fresher food with no artificial preservatives or coloring
  • Consumers are currently purchasing $5 billion of frozen meals per year, and the trend is toward more upscale products
  • A fresh meal plate combining protein, vegetable and starch is delicately arranged in a sealed plastic dome package
  • Nitrogen gas flushing is used to extend shelf life
  • Product is currently in the limited consumer test stage at $5.50 to $8.50 per meal
  • Shelf life of product is 14 days; product will spoil in 21 days, potentially causing food poisoning
  1. Volvo claims it is the safest car in the world because fewer people die in a Volvo than in a car made by any other manufacturer in the world. What’s wrong with this conclusion?

How many planes are in the sky right now?