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Kearney: How to "Crack the Case" - Advice on approaching the most challenging part of the interview


In general, the best way to approach a case interview is to enter the interview as a consultant would enter a client’s office or board room—ready to use your imagination, gather and analyze information, arrive at solid conclusions, and communicate persuasively.

Kearney consultants who have conducted case interviews offer the following tips…

What to do

  • Approach the case logically. Rely on what your education has taught you to do: use your logic and knowledge to identify the essence of the problem and shape a solution that will produce tangible, measurable, lasting results.
  • Listen and clarify. The interviewer, like a real client, will offer you an initial set of facts. Be sure you understand those facts. Also, be sure you help the client clearly express the objectives his or her hypothetical company expects to accomplish as a result of your recommendations.
  • Think “top down.” As you analyze the information you receive, begin with the big picture. Understand the overriding issues, and use them to prioritize and organize issues that have lesser consequences.
  • Hypothesize. While you listen and ask questions, begin developing alternative solutions. Continue probing until you are confident which solution offers the greatest potential for impact. Test your hypothesis with more questions, and fine-tune your solution based on the answers.
  • Communicate. Present your solution in a way that is precise, clear, and concise. State your assumptions, and revisit them when the need arises. Be coachable, soliciting feedback and integrating it quickly. At the same time, be firm about the things you believe in. And most importantly, be yourself.
  • Know your limits. If things aren’t going well, don’t try to tough it out. Acknowledge that you are stuck, seek more information, or pursue a different logical path. Remember the simulation is designed to reflect the reality of consulting, including the fact that it can be complex and ambiguous.
  • Think creatively. In the consulting profession, it is not enough to be logical. You will also need to be creative. To do this:
    • Challenge conventions. Be willing to be different. Step outside the proverbial box. Resist the temptation to rely on frameworks. Instead, engage in free association.
    • Adopt the CEO or shareholder perspective. Remember, you are not simply solving a problem; you are solving it for someone else’s benefit.
  • Send the right signals. The success of an engagement often rests on the strength of the working partnership that develops between the consultant and the client. The same is true during the case interview. With this in mind, approach your interview not only as an audition but also as an opportunity to build a relationship. Maintain eye contact. Engage in dialogue, not a monologue. Express your ideas in ways that speak directly to the interviewer’s concerns or objectives. And be sure that your demeanour sends the right signals, demonstrating the following:
    • A passion for learning
    • A collaborative nature
    • Good business acumen
    • Confidence but not arrogance
    • Poise under pressure

What not to do

The above are some of the “do’s” that will help you during your interview. Here are some “don’ts” that will also help you:

  • Do not force your solution to fit a standard framework. The only things it needs to fit are the problem, the business, and the objectives.
  • Do not speak before thinking carefully.
  • Do not search for a silver bullet. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions.
  • Do not use buzzwords. Be simple and direct.

Some tips to get to the top

The case interview requires you to organize and analyze extensively. We’ve put together some tips and steps you can take to make the problem-solving process as productive as possible.

  • Organize data in advance to support your arguments
  • Where multiple data sources exist, think through the accuracy and relevance of each and be ready to make judgment calls on how to interpret and present them
  • Where data does not exist, form an initial hypothesis and be ready to share how you would go about testing it and sourcing the data
  • State any assumptions or hypotheses
  • Don’t lose sight of the objective or the question to be answered (prioritize!)
  • Take time to explain your logic—be thorough
  • Take suggestions if offered
  • Be yourself. Make it your own.
  • Be confident and breathe!
  • Remember—every person you’ll interview was once in your shoes, and understands the “interview jitters”
  • If all else fails, make sure you do it with a smile