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Preparing for Case Interviews

By definition, a case interview is a job interview where the candidate is given a challenging business scenario, or case, that they must investigate and find a solution for. There is usually no correct answer to a case interview and the job candidate is tasked with finding relevant information and using that information to generate a solution within the real-world business context.

Generally speaking, case interviews are role-playing exercises that may last several minutes. They measure strengths and weaknesses relating to problem solving, analytical aptitude, communication, presentation and performance under pressure. The goal is to understand how the job candidate thinks and how they approach a problem.

Case interviews can generally be grouped into 3 categories:

  • Business cases: These case interviews are the most common and involve a business scenarios given to a candidate to analyze and offer recommendations. Business cases can include market sizing, profitability, market studies, and mergers & acquisitions.
  • Guesstimate or consulting math cases: These case interviews assess a candidate's ability to make rough calculations. The candidate is not expected to get the correct answer, but they should come "close" to a feasible number.
  • Brainteaser cases: These case interviews are similar to logic puzzles or riddles and are designed to test analytical and creative thinking skills.

Basic Frameworks for Case Interviews:

  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Internal vs. external market factors
  • Fixed vs. variable costs
  • Opportunity cost

It is encouraged to have a solid understanding of basic financial statements

  • Balance sheet
  • Income statement
  • Statement of retained earnings
  • Statement of cash flows

Because of the various types and frameworks for case interviews, it is suggested that preparation begin well in advance of any upcoming interviews. Candidates should start preparing as early as 6 months in advance to have enough time to learn the frameworks and know what method is most appropriate for a given case. Practice is necessary good preparation, and time should consistently be spent reviewing and solving practice cases. 

To perform well on a standard case interview,  a candidate should be able to:

  • Take in information quickly and remember what you've heard
  • Identify important issues, prioritize and use logic to solve problems
  • Make quick, accurate decisions
  • Manage time efficiently
  • Perform well and remain composed under pressure
  • Be aware or resource constraints
  • Identify customer needs
  • Be original and creative in your thinking

Many great resources exist online and in print to help you prepare for case interviews. Most of the large consulting firms offer resources on their websites and Youtube contains a large amount of content dedicated to case interview preparation. Here are a few helpful books to read.

Vault Guide to the Case Interview by Laurence Shatkin, Mark Asher, Eric Chung, and the Staff of Vault

Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc P. Cosentino