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Introduction to Case Interviews September 12, 2005

Posted by Coolguy in IT Career.

The case interviewing style is particularly common among management consulting firms, law firms, counseling and social work organizations, police departments, and other organizations that place a premium on understanding your thought process.

The case interview consists of presenting you with a typical set of “facts” that you might encounter in a real-life work situation and observing how you analyze, conclude, and act or recommend actions to be taken.

The facts presented can range from a brief snapshot (“Suppose a client came anxiously into your office, hoping to find a solution to a desperate cash-flow problem caused by an unusually severe seasonal slowdown in his business”) or an elaborate maze of information including charts, graphs, numbers, and correlations—some relevant and some perhaps not.

Your job is to become the professional in the situation, making further inquiries to clarify the facts, developing and presenting a framework for thinking about the issues, and then working within the framework to come to conclusions.

What do we mean by a framework? In the cash-flow situation stated above, the framework might be an exploration of the bigger picture (“What has your sales history been over the past two years?”), then a look at potential causes, the testing of hypotheses, and finally consideration of short- and long-term remediation possibilities

If the case presented requires formulating actions in order to implement a strategy, the framework you use might be a two-by-two matrix, in which you classify possible actions in terms of their relevance to the strategy (high or low) and their difficulty of implementation (high or low). The high-impact, low-difficulty quadrant would be the first area to address.

The interviewer is generally more interested in how you explain your assumptions, your reasons for selecting the framework you use, and how you say you would go about operating within that framework than in whether you arrive at a “correct” answer (Tip: There usually is none).

Your objective should be to show how you think, and that you think in a clear and reasoned manner.

A fair number of case questions cover operations issues. Broadly speaking, “operations” refers to all the things involved in running a business and getting product out the door.

Tips to help you crack the case every time

Listen carefully to the material presented. Take notes if you want to, and be sure to ask questions if you are unsure about details

Take your time. You’re not expected to have a brilliant solution to a complex problem on the tip of your tongue. If you need a minute or two to collect your thoughts and work through your answer, say so

Offer a general statement or framework up front to serve as an outline for your answer. Although the framework can be something as elaborate as a 3C (customer, company, competition) model, it need not be anything more than something like: If you’re asking about declining profits, then I’d want to check into factors affecting cost, and factors affecting revenues. On the cost side…” As you proceed with your answer, draw on the outline of your framework.

Home in on key issues. Many interviewers will be checking to see if you operate by the 80-20 rule, which means you should first address the broader issues that will get you 80 percent of the way to a
good solution.

Orient your answer toward action. Theory is good for the classroom, but it won’t fly in a boardroom. Clients want to know what steps they can take to solve a problem, not pie-in-the-sky philosophy.

Think out loud. The interviewer is looking as much for evidence of a logical thought process as for a brilliant conclusion to the case problem.

Be conscious of resources. A lot of consulting work involves figuring out how you are going to collect the information you need to answer a question—without costing the client a fortune. If it relates to the problem, ask your interviewer about the budget, capital, and other resources that the client can allocate to the solution



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