The Chilling Case Interview

I was completely caught off guard when I encountered my first case interview two years ago. I was feeling confident having thoroughly prepared for traditional and behavioral questions, only to be hit in the face with a case question. Needless to say, I left with my tail between my legs and a rejection email. Having no idea that case interviews existed, I raced to my computer to do some research.

Case interviews are becoming increasingly popular, and it is important that we understand what they are and how to navigate them. So…what the heck is a case interview?

A case interview is a job interview where you are presented with a hypothetical challenging business situation that you must investigate to develop a solution. These are usually anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long.

These interviews focus on one big question; these questions are usually real business problems that companies today face. Topics include market estimation, entering a new market, launching a new product, acquiring a company, improving profitability, growing revenues, etc. Here are four sample case questions…

  • How many automobiles are sold in New York each year?
  • XYZ firm is considering purchasing a competitor’s company. Would this be a smart business decision for XYZ form?
  • Suppose you work at a large financial services firm. Each division uses a different brand of computers, operating systems, and software packages. How would you go about convincing all the divisions to adopt a common standard if you do not have the authority to force the change?
  • Firm XYZ hired your consultant team. The firm is interested in the airline and baby food industry, but a limited amount of available cash allows investment in only one industry. Which industry would you advise the firm to invest their money?

Case interviews are intimidating; they are intended to make you think under pressure in a real-time environment. But the thing to remember about case interviews is that there is no one correct answer. The interviewer is simply assessing your ability to demonstrate an effective thought process. Are you able to analyze complex problems critically and break them down in a logical manner? Do you take all critical aspects into account? Do you avoid jumping to conclusions? Do you ask insightful questions?

Here are a few tips to prepare you for your first case interview…

  1. Take notes. Listen carefully as the interviewer explains the case.
  2. Ask clarifying questions. Be sure to understand the objective of the case. What does success look like in this situation? Define any unknown terms.
  3. Outline your approach. Ask for a minute to create a framework to break down the situation. Develop the initial hypothesis you intend to explore. Avoid using memorized frameworks because they are not tailored to your specific case.
  4. Think out loud. Take your time to compose your thoughts. Walk the interviewer through your thinking and explain your assumptions.
  5. Conclude. Provide a firm recommendation and 2-3 reasons for this decision. Identify next steps (what areas of your framework have you not explored yet? What other open questions do you have? What are the potential risks?)

Do you want to learn more about case interviews?? Check out these resources provided by the Center for Career Development:

By Jami Pandiscio
Jami Pandiscio