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What Is a Case Study?
When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.
Deep Dive into a Topic
At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.
As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.
Study a Pattern
One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.
During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.
As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.
Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.
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Case Interview: Complete Prep Guide
The case interview: it’s the ultimate test of strategy and executive communication for the management consulting industry. When I first checked out how to become a consultant, I quickly discovered that the consulting case interview is a beast unlike any other.
To approach management consulting case interviews, you need 3 basic things:
- You should be structured and use frameworks, but not overly structured.
- You need to practice for the interviews in advance.
- You must be comfortable with mental math.
True, true, and true again. However, it’s essential to go beyond basics when preparing for case interviews. During consulting recruiting, your case interview performance drives around 80% of the first round pass/fail score and around 50% of the second round scoring, when a hiring decision is on the line.
Table of Contents:
In this article, we’ll cover the following critical points to put you in the best position possible to excel in management consulting interviews:
(Click to jump to section.)
Case Interview 101
- What Is A Case Interview? – With a full understanding of the case interview process, you’ll avoid early prep mistakes.
- Case Interview Process – Know what you’re getting yourself into and what to expect.
- Case Interview Frameworks – The 3 major case interview frameworks, 3 bonus frameworks, and a word of caution on robotic case interview structures.
- Mental Math for Case Interviews – You were probably better at mental math in 7th grade than you are now. Brush up on your skills to ensure you can ace the interview.
- Case Interview Examples – See what real consulting applicants experienced during the case interview process.
- Case Interview Prep – Ordered steps to prepare for your management consulting interview.
Case Interview 102
- What are Firms Looking for in Interviews? – First step: practice for case interviews to proficiently break down problems. Second step: Identify your X-Factor.
- Case Interview Differences at the “Big 3” or “MBB” (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) – How do you stand out to be the best of the best?
- How to Crack the Case Like a Real Consultant – Bring it all together.
- Case Interview Tips: Execution – The day of the interview has arrived. You’re prepared – but what else can you do to optimize performance?
- Top Case Interview Videos – We have a bomb YouTube channel about case interviews. Here are our top picks.
- Virtual Case Interviews and More – What do you do when you run across a virtual, chatbot, presentation, or group case interview? We have answers.
What Is A Case Interview?
Research a career in management consulting, and the case interview is THE issue. But if this is your first exposure to a case interview, you are probably wondering: what is it really like?
In short, the case interview is a critical piece of the hiring process. Applicants have to solve real-world problems live with an interviewer. The cases mimic the kinds of scenarios consultants work with daily – in fact, most are pulled directly from real-life client experiences.
The case typically consists of a problem or situation faced by an organization (company, NGO, or government agency). Applicants are given the problem verbally, and in a set amount of time must analyze the case, determine what data is needed, ask for the data, compute potential scenarios, and deliver a presentation on that solution.
While there is also a behavioral portion to the consultant hiring process, the case interview is the most significant filter. It’s make or break, and at firms like McKinsey it’s mostly break – under 10% of interviewees get an offer.
We’ve compiled a Complete Prep Guide to make sure you make it – no breaking here! Our in-depth preview of what to expect from the interview will help you know how to demonstrate you’re ready to be hired as a consultant.
Case Interview Process
Now you know what the case interview is, but that still doesn’t tell you what to expect in a case study interview . There are small variations between firms, but generally the case interview portion of the hiring process is quite consistent across the industry.
A typical new hire goes through 4-6 interviews in total, which are usually divided into two rounds occurring on separate days. (Superdays, with Round 1 in the morning and Round 2 in the afternoon of the same day, are possible but less common in consulting than in banking.) The interviews are each 30-60 minutes long.
The first 5-15 minutes of each consulting interview are usually spent on a “ Fit Interview .” In the fit interview, the firm’s screener/s—usually consultants themselves—ask you a variety of questions to better understand your sense of motivation, leadership, teamwork, and your general fit for the company.
After the fit interview, you’ll go straight into the case interview, which usually lasts 20-40 minutes. We’ll go into the 8 parts of a case interview in just a bit, but here is a kickstart:
- Capture the problem (take notes and ensure you understand it)
- Plan your attack and share your plan
- Ask for data and compute answers based on what you get
- Provide a recommendation
Sound easy? Read on.
There are important differences between the first and the second round of case interviews. The first round tests you on a variety of general skills, including time management. In most interviews, you have only 20 minutes – and the firms usually reject 75% of applicants in this round because they can’t digest and solve a problem in a short time.
In the second round, the material requires deeper analysis and applicants work with more senior interviewers. Further, interviewers in the second round sometimes play the role of “bad cop” or “devil’s advocate” along the way, asking you to rethink your methods and offering potentially misleading information to make your task more difficult and test conviction. If you want a more in depth understanding of this, check out our article: “ Structure of Three Case Interview Rounds “.
While the case interview is consistently challenging, firms do add nuance and individuality to the overall consulting interview process. Here are some exceptions:
- Most fit interviews are part of the overall interviews, but some fit interviews can be totally separate from case interviews and facilitated by different interviewers.
- Most case interviews are completed 1:1 with an interviewer, but some case interviews situate applicants in teams instead of working independently.
- Most case interviews are live and presented verbally, but for some you get a packet either overnight or for 1-3 hours prior to the interview and result in a presentation.
The good news? Prepping for a traditional out-loud case interview will ensure you are ready for all exceptions to the rules.
4 Hours Interview Coaching
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- Digital pass: 550+ cases, Case Interview video course, Mental Math video course
Black Belt Interviewer
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- All access pass: 550+ cases, 10K+ math/structure drills, 9 video courses, 12 chatbot cases
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Case Interview Frameworks
Case interview frameworks give you a helpful starting point to solving the case interview. These frameworks offer a systematic way to approach different kinds of business problems.
Case frameworks, however, are wildly misunderstood. Your goal is not to memorize a million frameworks and then apply the “right” framework to a particular problem.
The goal is to memorize a handful of core frameworks to give yourself a mental repository of categories that you can pick and choose from to create your own custom framework for the problem you’re facing.
Some frameworks we’ll take a look at in this next section:
- The “market entry framework” to help you decide if a client should enter a new market
- The Victor Cheng case interview framework – Cheng took the well-known 3 C’s framework (which stands for Company, Customers, and Competition) and added Products as a fourth category of consideration.
For an even deeper dive into frameworks, read our Ultimate Guide to Frameworks .
Market Entry Framework
Consultants often help clients decide whether to enter new markets. Therefore, you will see a scenario in your case interview where a market entry question is being proposed.
The market entry framework is the general framework for dealing with this kind of scenario. Relevant factors often include the situation of the market being entered, the state of the competition, and the process & strategy of first entering the market.
Maximizing profits is the essential purpose of any company or enterprise, and is an important consideration for non-profit and government organizations as well. 100% of consulting projects are bottom-line related, and thus many case interview questions involve considering ways to improve profitability.
The profitability framework is a basic approach for analyzing profit problems. There are always a variety of drivers to examine, but the first step is to separate cost and revenue. A deeper look into the profitability framework will familiarize you with the nuances of applying the framework.
Here’s an example of a generic profitability framework in action:
You can also watch a profitability case interview here .
M&A Case Framework (Mergers & Acquisitions)
How do you advise a company when they are considering merging with, acquiring, or being acquired by another company? Many aspiring consultants overlook the possibility of being assigned a mergers & acquisitions case and then are surprised to be confronted with one during their interview. Avoid that mistake by getting comfortable executing an M&A case framework .
In this framework, the question is simple: should one company invest in or buy another?
The primary directive in the M&A case framework is to drill down on your understanding of the acquiring company’s position. The acquiring company is motivated by either short-term or long-term considerations – a financial buyer buys to increase short-term value and sell, while a strategic buyer acquires to hold the target for the long-term.
Your response in an M&A situation will be binary: either a merger/acquisition is advisable or it isn’t.
Deciding how to price products & services may seem like a relatively banal activity in comparison with mergers & acquisitions. But in reality, pricing decisions are some of the most influential decisions any company makes, exerting a great influence on profitability. It’s no surprise that consulting applicants often rely on the pricing framework model in their interviews.
3 Cs Framework
The 3 Cs framework gives a bird’s-eye view of a company’s overall situation. The 3 Cs themselves refer to the categories of Company, Customers, and Competition. Separating information and inquiries into these three categories helps give a comprehensive sense of a company’s operation in a given moment.
Porter’s 5 Forces Framework
Sometimes a particular case or client scenario requires you to develop an understanding of a whole industry or sector, as well as how a particular company fits into that overall environment. This is what the Porter’s 5 Forces Framework is designed to help with. The 5 Forces to consider are: the threat of new entrants, competitive dynamics, supplier power, buyer power, and the threat of substitutes.
Case Frameworks Are Not a “Silver Bullet”
Remember – frameworks exist to help you figure out an approach to difficult problems. They are not a pre-written script to force-fit in response to a particular question you’re being asked. The framework serves the problem, not the other way around.
Think of a case interview more like a chess game, in which each framework represents one potential maneuver in a longer sequence of moves.
Also, remember that the case interview is not just a problem to be solved but an audition. You want to demonstrate to your interviewers that you have the ability to respond to a question fluidly, independently responding to new inputs and maintaining perspective as you think on your feet. It is not helpful to demonstrate a rote memorization of the frameworks .
Mental Math for Case Interviews
Solid fluency in mental math is essential to good case interview performance – and to the work of consulting in general. No calculators are allowed in case interviews, so if you’re rusty (and you probably are), it’s time to dust off the cobwebs. One thing we highly recommend is going off your calculator six months in advance of your case interview.
Honing your mental math skills is an essential part of case interview prep. Start with our free drills here .
If you really want to sharpen your abilities, we’ve designed an entire course on mental math for consulting . Doing things like calculating tips, analyzing your budget, etc., can help you get comfortable working with numbers in the way you’ll have to during the interview process.
Mental Math for Consulting
4 steps for case math.
When you’re working on a complex case, you can easily lose yourself in calculations. Thankfully, here’s a sneak peak of our simple four-step approach you can use to keep your math organized and on point. Get a more in-depth breakdown of case math.
Recap the Problem
These problems are delivered verbally. Some people are great at math but bad at listening, so the first step is to review the data and what you’re solving for. An out-loud recap gives you time to think and ensures you start with accurate information. The recap also gives the interviewer the confidence you will formulate a clear and coherent approach. And if you’ve misunderstood something about the problem, recapping it gives the interviewer the chance to intervene.
Structure Your Approach
After the recap, organize a systematic approach – out loud. Devise a step-by step algebraic approach to get an answer. Remember, you’re not just structuring the approach for your own sake—you’re also demonstrating to the interviewer that there is a logical methodology behind your work.
Run the Numbers
You have the right information and a process to solve for the answer. Now, perform the mathematical operations you laid out. Use your mental math and double-check to ensure your answer makes sense.
Develop and Deliver Insights
The first three steps produce an answer. This fourth and final step – sharing about what the answer means and what the organization should do next – separates top performers from amateurs, and is 100% required in second round interviews.
Case Interview Examples
We have prepared over 25,000 applicants for case interviews. So far, no one has come back and said “that was so much easier than I expected.”
That’s the bad news.
But here’s some good news – the case interviews you’ll encounter at different firms have a lot in common, and they will demand largely similar things from you as an applicant. For that reason, the first 80% of your case interview prep should be general (i.e., not firm-specific).
Our curriculum will prepare you for any case interview, from MBB firms to boutique firms. Still, there are some things that make every firm unique. In order to help you get a sense of what you’ll encounter at some of the consulting firms to which you’ll be applying, here are several case interview examples.
McKinsey Case Study Interview Examples
You can find many McKinsey case study interview examples on the McKinsey website , and in our Case Library, which contains over 500 cases (with solutions and guidance so you can learn as you go). Get instant access here .
BCG Case Interview Examples
Just like McKinsey, BCG also includes multiple BCG case interview examples on its website. Again, there are dozens of BCG case interview examples (including solutions) in our Case Library .
Bain Case Interview Examples
As with its competitors, Bain includes Bain case interview examples on its website . While practicing by yourself is fine if you’re a beginner, take the next step by working 1:1 with one of our MBB coaches. We’ll coach you through cases, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and build a plan for you to get interview-ready.
Boutique Firms Case Interview
The basic structure of a case interview is not very different at a boutique firm. Some boutiques specialize in certain industries or sectors, which will then be represented in the types of cases they give out.
Here’s an example called “ Promotional Planning ” from Kearney.
Compared to material from the MBB firms, boutique firms’ case interview examples are a little bit harder to come by, that is, if you look outside of our Case Library .
Case Interview Prep: Be Ready for Your Interview
The case interview is the hurdle in an entire management consulting career. The single biggest regret we hear? Under-preparing.
Here are key tips to avoid common interview prep pitfalls:
Case Interview Prep Timeline
In a perfect world, your case interview prep timeline should start 6 months before your interview – time for 1-2 out loud interviews a week and plenty of math and structure drills in between. Look ahead to the time you’ll start the interview process and build your prep schedule backward from there.
Of course, many people find themselves with less than six months before their desired interview time. Heck, I had 2 weeks. That doesn’t disqualify you – it just means you must be strategic to prepare on an accelerated timeline.
In our Black Belt program, one of our MBB coaches will build a personalized prep plan for you that is 1 week or 1 year long, and based on any background.
If you are in school, there are certain optimal times to apply.
Peak recruiting season for juniors and seniors begins in July. Start preparing for the case interview (and get your resume ready!) by March.
Application drop in October. Begin case interview prep by May.
Advanced Degree Candidates (ADCs):
We recommend applying for the competitive Bridge Programs in March, and full-time recruiting begins in July. For the best shot, begin preparing for the case interview in November or December of the prior year.
First year MBAs will interview in January for internship roles. However, diversity recruiting begins at conferences as early as September so you should begin interview prep in May, after matriculation but before even coming to campus.
Second years re-recruiting for full-time roles should begin to refine their casing skills as soon as February (after internship interviews). For second years who decide after a summer internship that consulting is the right career path for you, start prep as soon as you figure out you want to pursue consulting. Your best option? Join our accelerated Black Belt program .
If you’re not applying straight from an educational program, the firms offer rolling application deadlines. However, peak hiring season takes place from March-May and success is almost entirely dependent on networking referrals.
See detailed, current application deadlines here .
The case interview is an in-person out-loud process, and your communication and people skills are just as important as your technical know-how. This is a verbal as well as a mental test – if you don’t simulate the interview environment in your prep process by practicing out-loud, you won’t succeed.
We differ from the norm here, but we help make sure you’re more successful so we’re okay with that.
Don’t read books. If you must read, do it after you’ve listened to or watched case interviews, and tried at least 10 out loud on your own with a partner.
Start to get a sense of what the case interview looks and sounds like by watching our walkthroughs on YouTube .
Once you’ve gotten a sense of what a case sounds like, work with an expert coach to put it all together for yourself. Our coaches conduct mock case interviews and offer actionable feedback – this is the most effective way to get ready for the case interview.
Practice Out Loud
Left to their own devices, many aspiring consultants study as they would for any other test – by silently doing cases on their own. This presents a huge problem when you arrive on the day of the interview and discover that you have to talk, write, and think at the same time.
Even if you think you’re considering how to communicate the work you’re doing as you do practice cases, you’ll find that you sound much smarter in your head than you will out loud .
The reason the case interview is a verbal process is so that the interviewer can follow your thought process in real time. Practice out loud to build your confidence and identify weak spots that otherwise won’t surface until it’s too late!
Structure is everything. In fact, the most common feedback is “be more structured” and that starts the minute the case begins.
As you proceed through practice case studies, take 2 minutes to structure your approach and 2 minutes to read it out. Use a timer. End with your hypothesis.
Want info on structuring? Check out our Structure Video Walkthrough.
Want help with structuring? Dive in to structure drills and compare your answer to an MBB sample.
Do Your Homework
The average successful applicant does 30 to 50 practice cases – and yes, some people pass with 10 cases, and others need 100. How do you know what you need?
First – if you want to optimize your case prep, review every case you do right after you finish it and keep a log of your learnings. Repeat mistakes without fixing them is a recipe for disaster.
Practice with a Case Partner
Partner with other aspiring consultants who share your ambition to help keep you accountable. Get firsthand feedback on your performance is helpful – but in addition, providing feedback to other people helps improve self-awareness.
Use the practice for what it is – an opportunity to get over fear and build confidence. Be careful, though. If you decide NOT to hire an expert coach, don’t put too much weight on the feedback you get from amateur case partners.
Get Expert Help
We’ve said it already but it bears repeating: working with an expert coach will increase your odds of acing the case interview. Our coaches first succeeded as candidates, and then served as interviewers.
An expert coach can also cut the number of necessary practice cases in half. We recommend the Black Belt Interviewer package , which offers 8 hours of 1:1 coaching. A staggering 60% of our Black Belts earn offers from top 10 firms nationwide. Not too shabby, when you compare that to the industry average acceptance rate of 3%.
What Are Firms Looking For In Interviews?
Interviewers look for a wide range of problem-solving skills – including but not limited to business acumen, communication skills, and analytical ability. Let’s break down the 12 skills that will help you stand out in your case interview.
Consulting success depends on your ability to break down a problem into its component parts, and then prioritize the right component to find the key cause of a problem.
As a consultant, you possess influence without authority . Therefore, you must be able to develop a clear process that will gain buy-in from your peers, manager and potentially client.
Finally, you’ll be working with large quantities of data as a consultant. Being structured (or organized) in the interview conveys that you’ll be able to analyze large amounts of data on the job to arrive at insights that make a difference for your client.
One of the frequent challenges consultants face is that business situations involve not just large quantities of data but a variety of data. Maintaining the integrity of the data is critical to solving problems. Consider the Profitability Framework. First it separates profitability into revenues and costs, and the kinds of data proliferate from there into increasing levels of granularity.
In a case interview, you’ll have lots of numbers thrown at you – digital advertising costs and first quarter revenues and profit margins. If you can’t organize data, you’ll never be able to wrap your mind around a problem, let alone develop a solution.
MECE, which stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive, is core to a consulting mindset and is the optimal way to organize information.
Let’s start with the Mutually Exclusive part. This means that there should be no overlap in your data segments or framework categories. Here’s a simple example: let’s say Netflix is looking at subscriber data. If they have one category for North American subscribers and another category for English-language subscribers, a vast number of subscribers will be double-counted, once in each category. Therefore this categorization is not Mutually Exclusive, and thus isn’t “clean” data.
The second principle is Collectively Exhaustive . This means that all of the relevant data should fall within at least one category, with nothing left out. So in the example used above, if Netflix decided to organize subscriber information by continent, but failed to include Europe, they would not have an accurate picture of their subscriber base because European subscribers won’t be included anywhere.
Case interviews often involve not just one problem but a cluster of interrelated problems. One of the things you’ll have to demonstrate in your thinking is an aptitude for prioritizing the different issues in a coherent and logical fashion. Prioritization means creating a hierarchy of information, problems, opportunities, and responses, and recommending what to do next.
Draw On Practical Experience
It’s important that you don’t simply sound like you’re reciting memorized passages from a textbook as you complete your case interview. Draw from your practical experience when interacting with an interviewer. This is context that you can bring to the table that your peers potentially cannot, and will communicate your confidence and executive presence in the interview process.
Ace the Math
You don’t have access to a calculator in the case interview – your ability to do math and extract insights from the numbers will be tested extensively. There are 3 elements to pay attention to as you prepare for case interview math: your speed, your accuracy, and the business insights you communicate.
Focus on accuracy first, and then devote time to getting faster. Finally, make sure you always end your math by contextualizing the number for your interviewer.
Learn more about the different types of mental math for case interviews .
Lead the Interview
Following the guidance we’ve already laid out will ensure that you can organize problems and information in such a way that you can guide yourself and your client to a solution. Consultants are expected to be self-guided and independent. Show that you have the analytical and leadership skills necessary to develop a process and lead yourself through it to a solution.
One major red flag for an interviewer? When you bristle at their direction and feedback. Be hypothesis-driven yet teachable. When (not if) your interviewer pushes back on one of your assumptions or statements, respond to the direction they want you to go. “That’s a good question, let me go back and reexamine that” is an example of the kind of tone you want to display inside of a case interview.
Keep the “So What?” in Mind
One way to keep your footing as you proceed through the case interview is to keep the main question top of mind. As you progress through your initial structure, the math, and the brainstorming, make sure you tie each part of the case back to how what you’re doing will answer the initial question you were asked .
Stay Hypothesis Driven
Consultants are hypothesis-driven; they always come to the table with a point of view. You should demonstrate this same skill in your case interviews. Structuring your questions in terms of hypotheses positions you as an advisor. For example, instead of asking a clarifying question like: “When you say North American market, which countries does this include?” you should ask, “I’m assuming that in this case, the North American market refers to the U.S. and Canada – is this accurate?”
If consulting were simply about mechanistically applying frameworks, the industry would have a lot less use for human beings. Instead, the work is human-capital intensive and success is highly correlated to your communication abilities . Even when solutions seem technically straightforward, they still need to be delivered persuasively to clients. So, demonstrating your ability to communicate clearly and concisely is a huge part of success in the case interview.
Consultants don’t simply look for the right answer – they have to convince clients to believe that what they are proposing is the right answer. An effective consultant must demonstrate a sense of executive presence, gravitas, and confidence in the assertions they are making.
McKinsey Case Interview, BCG, Bain, vs Other Consulting Firms
The undisputed top consulting firms in the world are McKinsey , Bain , and Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Collectively, they are known as MBB . Each has a truly global footprint, clientele that include the world’s most powerful companies as well as government partners, and a reputation for consulting excellence. They are perpetually the most alluring employers for aspiring consultants.
All three of the MBB firms make rigorous use of the case interview as part of their hiring process. For the most part, each MBB interview is similar. They have similar structures, lengths, problem types, and degrees of difficulty. They also test for the same traits and skills. The first 80% of your case interview prep, therefore, does not need to be customized to one firm.
However, there are some differences between the MBB firms that you’ll want to be aware of to help in the final 20% of your prep process.
McKinsey Case Interview
McKinsey — the largest of the MBB firms — prides itself on being unique. The firm is known for putting its own spin on industry-standard practices, and this includes the McKinsey case interview. The McKinsey cases follow an “interviewer-led” methodology, where the interviewer leads the candidate through the case.
The McKinsey case interview begins, as all case interviews do, with a broad problem or scenario. But the McKinsey case interview includes a sequence of smaller questions to be answered along the way to solving the overarching problem. It’s more like a sequential test than a “choose-your-own adventure.”
It’s hard to get lost in a McKinsey case, but McKinsey compensates for it with the hardest math problems of the MBB firms.
McKinsey is also known for drilling down more on other components of the interview process. The personal fit portion is called the Personal Experience Interview at McKinsey and usually takes longer & goes deeper than at Bain or BCG. Likewise, there is a slightly unique format to McKinsey’s Problem Solving Test , which evaluates applicants’ fundamental problem-solving skills and has a pass rate of just 33%.
See a McKinsey Case Interview Example here .
BCG Case Interview
The BCG case interview has a lot of similarities with its MBB cousins and other large consulting firms across the industry, but there are some features that make the BCG case interview unique.
Notably, BCG interviewers are known for including “curveball questions,” which require the applicant to improvise and suddenly pivot to include new considerations. This tests an applicant’s flexibility and creativity, as well as speed, fluidity, and accuracy when confronting new challenges.
In addition, the BCG case interview is described as “candidate-led,” allowing the candidate to control the pace with which problems and the relevant information/complications are considered. Don’t be fooled, though – the responsibility of leading is a BIG DEAL. We consider BCG cases to be the hardest overall of the MBB case types.
Because case interviews are often adapted from real-world projects, the kinds of case interviews BCG conducts will reflect the company’s unique industry profile. All three of the MBB firms work with all kinds of companies, but BCG has a particular focus on strategic innovation, business growth, and corporate development.
See a BCG Case Interview Example here .
Bain Case Interview
Bain cases are a strong blend between BCG style (you begin with the illusion of full control and leadership), yet can shift quickly to McKinsey style if you lose your way.
The most unique component of the Bain case interview process is the so-called “pressure test.” The interviewer introduces time deficits, strategic criticism, and other headwinds to test the interviewee’s ability to maintain focus and clarity in the face of adversity.
The other factor that differentiates the Bain case interview from other MBB firms is Bain’s client portfolio. Bain works in virtually every industry and region, but they work with private equity funds and other principal investors more than other MBB firms do.
See a Bain Case Interview Example here .
Boutique Consulting Firms
Many aspiring consultants are not meant for one of the MBB firms – the pressure, even in case interviews, is excruciating. There are also disadvantages to working for one of the big three, including extremely long hours and seemingly impossible standards.
There is often more flexibility and variety when working at boutique consulting firms , where every employee is a larger component of the overall operation and your experience is more personalized.
Because of the smaller feel of a boutique firm, as well as the greater variety of tasks and communications to be done by each employee, boutique consulting firms rely more heavily on the behavioral/fit component of the interview process.
At the same time, case interviews for boutique consulting firms reflect the firms’ focus either on a key practice area or 1-3 industries. Be aware of the company’s client portfolio before your interview to tailor the final days and weeks of your case preparation.
How To Crack The Case Like A Real Consultant
There are as many possible case interview problems as there are business scenarios. Let’s take a walk through a sample case to give you a taste for one possible case interview type.
Case Problem: You are contracted to help San Zembla—a fictional South American country—improve its educational outcomes. San Zembla has a new democratic government elected on a platform of public education reform, a strategy that promises to give a long-term boost to the economy. Your firm is being asked to diagnose existing problems and limitations facing San Zembla’s education system and to help outline new strategies for improvement.
Case Interview Opening: Example
To start the case, recap the Case Problem out loud. Ask up to 3 clarifying questions about the organization, the data, and the business problem the organization is facing. Each question should start with a mini-hypothesis, for example:
“Referencing other South American countries, I’d assume San Zembla has between 10-25 million people. Is that a fair ballpark for estimation purposes?”
“These problems often take years to assess and implement. I would assume a 2-3 year timeline at a minimum would be sensible. Is that reasonable?”
Case Interview Structure: Example
After recapping the case, develop a plan to tackle this problem.
The primary problem you might identify with the San Zembla case is that it’s actually quite difficult to assess educational outcomes in a vacuum and without any context or comparison. Therefore you might decide that coming up with a reliable metric for evaluating educational outcomes and comparing them to other contexts is necessary.
If you’re having trouble identifying the problem/s you should be prioritizing, one of the most powerful and simple tools you can use is the issue tree . This is a simple way of organizing related problems into branches of causality.
In the San Zembla case, you might notice that obvious quantitative measures such as school spending and class sizes don’t seem to be the cause of the problem. Therefore you might consider that the problem has something to do with certain qualitative factors relating to the educational system. To start, you might come up with an issue tree like this:
As you drill down on your categories, you might notice one type of data would fit in multiple categories. Alternatively, you might notice one category in particular filling up with more data than the others.
If you want to make sure you’ve properly accounted for all the relevant issues, conduct a MECE review to make sure your categories are Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE). The above structure is ME, but needs some more information to be CE.
No sweat, but all of this structuring needs to take place in under 2 minutes – quietly, on paper.
Then, you have 2 minutes to explain it to your interviewer.
Case Interview Math: Example
After you’ve presented a solid, clear plan, you can ask for the information you’ll need to solve the problem.
Here, a chart offers additional information about some of San Zembla’s key education metrics in comparison to other countries in South America.
Describe your observations out loud as you begin to make sense of the chart. Do you notice any meaningful trends? Remember, suggest calculations you’d like to perform before performing them. Remember you can ask the interviewer questions to help clarify the data if need be.
Your goal in comparing San Zembla in neighboring countries is to decide how to improve educational outcomes. It would make sense to assess whether any of the included categories of data correlate with/predict the average standardized test score.
Intuition might tell you that having a lower number of students per teacher, or else a greater amount of money spent per student, might correlate with average standardized test score. However, the data doesn’t support this. Developed economies have similar class sizes but better test scores. Likewise, variations in spending within regions don’t seem to dictate a particular effect in test cores.
Changing budgets and class sizes are two rather obvious strategies to improve educational outcomes, so it’s very helpful to know that those solutions may not make a difference in this context. But we still need to drill down further if we want to find out what kinds of changes would actually have an impact on outcomes (as measured by standardized test scores).
Case Interview Creative: Example
Speaking of drilling down further, most case interviews involve some kind of brainstorming. Let’s imagine for a moment that the interviewer will push you on this, asking “What kind of changes can you think of that might have an impact on standardized test scores?” You’ll need to come up with a list of ideas – out loud, but writing them down at the same time so you can keep your thoughts organized.
Here are some ideas:
- Teach concepts, not “to the test”
- Teach problem-solving strategies to enable cognitive flexibility
- Incorporate 1:1 mentoring / coaching into standard curriculum
- Set a cap on number of students per class
Summarizing your recommendations puts a bow on all the work you’ve done so far. Remember that how you present your recommendations is as important as the solutions you actually recommend.
The simplest and most powerful way to structure an argument is using the Pyramid Principle. The Pyramid Principle organizes an overall message into a hierarchy of supporting arguments. Employing the pyramid principle to provide a recommendation to the San Zembla case might look something like this:
Case Interview Preparation Tips: Execution
Start every case strong.
Bring an energy and enthusiasm to the beginning of each case. Act like you enjoy the process and enjoy solving business problems. This is the “secret sauce” to the success of many candidates – if you can’t bring that joy to solving a simulated problem, you won’t be any fun to work with on an actual project.
Ask Clarifying Questions
We often aren’t aware of this, but our natural problem-solving skills typically involve isolating areas of uncertainty and drilling down on them. You’ll do yourself a big favor if you force yourself to start articulating what those uncertainties are as you go along. This will help you communicate your thinking during the case interview.
Stay Hypothesis-Driven Throughout the Case
Maintaining a consistently hypothesis-driven approach is one of the best general strategies you can implement. At the end of every case section, make an interim recommendation on what your client should do based on what you’ve examined so far, and what you’d want to examine next.
One of the easiest mistakes for an interviewer to spot is a candidate who is over-relying on pre-scripted frameworks. Frameworks are designed to give you a mental “pick list” of categories that you can use to create your own custom framework that specifically addresses the problem at hand.
Ask About Trends
The interviewers working alongside you will have access to potentially relevant data that is not necessarily given to you at the beginning of a case . But, the interviewer will only give you the information you ask for . As long as you ask in a hypothesis-driven way, it’s okay to ask.
Analyze Case Charts and Graphs
Recap what you see first. Then structure your math approach before you start calculating. Then do the actual calculations. Finally, drive to insights – what do the numbers mean for your client now and into the future?
Think Out Loud
The case interview is a test of your ability to communicate as you think. This allows the interviewer to see your problem-solving approach and communication skills at the same time.
Finish with a Strong Recommendation
Remember that the consultant’s job, as far as the consulting firm is concerned, is not simply to calculate the “correct” solution to a problem. The consultant’s job is also to sell that solution to the client. You’d be surprised how many people do a reasonably good job on the case, but then stop before wrapping it up with a strong recommendation (including an assessment of next steps and risks). To provide a clear recommendation, follow the Pyramid Principle . In a nutshell, give the answer first, then the “why” or supporting data.
Many cases don’t have single right answers. So if you fail to arrive at what seems like an open-and-shut conclusion, don’t let uncertainty infect your conclusion. You’ve arrived at one possible solution among many, and whatever that solution is, your job now is to convince the “client” (i.e., your interviewer) that you believe that solution adequately answers the question at hand.
Management consulting has been a hot industry for years, and shows no signs of slowing down (see the salaries if you don’t believe us). The consulting path offers intellectual stimulation as well as lucrative material rewards.
But in order to enter the industry, you’re going to have to make it through the case interview. We trust this guide has given you a thorough overview of what it will take to prepare for this crucial step in your career.
Remember, work 1-on-1 with an expert coach from our team. Learn more and schedule today.
Thanks for reading, and good luck with your prep process. We’re here for you!
Jenny Rae and the MC Team
- Case Interview Frameworks: Ultimate Guide
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Case interview prep (6 steps to an offer at McKinsey, BCG, etc.)
Today we're going to explain how to prepare for case interviews, step-by-step.
We've helped more than 8,000 candidates get ready for their consulting interviews, and below we've summarised the six most important preparation steps you should take to help you land an offer.
And here's one of the first things you'll want to know:
Memorising pre-made frameworks will NOT impress your interviewers. You need to learn to create custom frameworks that are tailored to the details of each individual case. We'll cover this in more detail in section 2.2 below.
Now let's jump straight into step 1!
- Understand the 7 question types
- Learn a repeatable method for solving cases
- Solve practice cases (14 free example cases)
- Prepare answers to fit and PEI questions
- Practice answering questions out loud
- Do 30+ mock interviews
1. Understand the 7 question types
We have analysed hundreds of case interviews over the past few years. And our conclusion is that case interviews are all made up of the same 7 types of questions:
The key to success is therefore clear:
If you learn how to consistently crack each type of question individually, then you will be able to consistently crack case interviews as a whole.
Now, in order for this to work, you’ll need to have a deeper understanding of what each question type looks like, so you can identify them.
2. Learn a repeatable method for solving cases
Understanding the question types is only the first step.
You'll also need to learn how to solve each one consistently, and that's what we'll cover in this section. Let's jump straight in!
The objective of a case interview is for you to solve a business problem. So, during the first few minutes of the interview, your interviewers will lay out the situation of the company you're trying to help.
Situation question example
Your client is a car manufacturer whose profits have been going down. The CEO hired you to help turn the situation around.
You should always begin this part of the interview by summarising the situation back to your interviewers to ensure you’ve properly understood the most important details.
Then you can begin asking follow-up questions.
In this example, you might want to ask follow-up questions like these:
- How much have profits been declining?
- When did the decline begin?
- What is the nature of the decline? Have they been declining at 1% per year for the past 5 years, or is it a recent and sudden 20% drop?
- What’s the CEO’s objective? For example, is she aiming to just stop the profit decline or does she want to reverse the trend?
The answer to these questions will significantly influence how you solve the case. This part of the case interview aims to test your listening skills and whether you are taking the time to make sure you understand a problem before trying to solve it.
Now here is a summary of the steps you can take to consistently solve any situation question:
Summary - IGotAnOffer method (situation questions)
- Step 1: Play back the company’s situation
- Confirm your understanding
- Emphasise key elements
- Step 2: Define and state the objective of the case
- In scope vs out of scope
To really understand these concepts clearly, it helps to work through a few full case examples. We were originally planning to add a full case with solutions to this article, but it would’ve been WAY too long for a blog post.
Instead, you can join our free email course that contains 4 example cases (with detailed solutions) if you’d like to enter your email below.
2.2 Framework development
Once the situation has been established, the second step is to develop a framework.
Framework development question example
What are the different areas you would look at to identify the cause of declining profits and turn the situation around?
In the car manufacturer example, your framework could have one branch on revenues and one branch on costs. By definition, profits will have gone down because of declining revenues, increasing costs, or both. And you need to look at both sides of the equation for your analysis to be comprehensive.
During a case interview, it often helps to literally draw your framework out on a piece of paper. This will help you organize your thoughts, and it will also help you explain your thinking to the interviewer, because you can simply show them the paper and walk them through the details.
A common mistake a lot of candidates make is to memorise specific frameworks and to reuse them as-is in their interviews. Interviewers immediately spot and penalise candidates who do this because the objective of the framework question is to test your creativity and business acumen – not your ability to memorise frameworks!
As a result, you should focus your energy on learning to develop customised frameworks that address the information you gather in each case interview.
This might sound a little bit intimidating at first, but it becomes easy with practice. And creating good frameworks is one of the many things we teach in our case interview training programmes .
Here’s an overview of the process you can use to solve any framework development question you encounter in your interviews:
Summary - IGotAnOffer method (framework development questions)
- Step 1: Ask for time to gather your thoughts
- Step 2: Create the framework
- Extract the main elements from the case question
- Break down the main elements into components
- Step 3: Communicate the framework
- Spin your paper around
- Begin with an overview
- Highlight 3-5 considerations for each branch
- Summarise your points
- Prioritise next steps
2.3 Framework exploration
Once you’ve set up your framework, your interviewer will sometimes ask you to identify the root cause of the issue faced by your client. This is what we call the framework exploration question.
It’s worth mentioning that McKinsey usually doesn’t use this type of question, but it is sometimes used at other firms, like BCG, Bain, etc.
This is one of a few differences between McKinsey’s “interviewer-led” approach and the “candidate-led” approach used at most other consultancies. To learn more about this distinction, check out section 2 of our McKinsey case interview guide .
Framework exploration question example
Can you explore your framework to find the root cause of the profits issue faced by the company?
The best method for identifying the root cause within a case is to explore your framework using a hypothesis-led approach.
For example, you might start by saying: “My initial hypothesis is that the profits issue faced by the company is driven by revenues.” You would then investigate the revenue side of your framework to identify if that’s where the root cause of the issue is. If revenues have been stable and are not the cause of the issue, you would then update your hypothesis and move on to the cost side.
Since this method is focused on identifying the root cause, there wouldn’t be framework exploration questions in cases without an underlying issue. For example, it wouldn’t come up in market entry or new product launch cases.
To summarise, here’s the repeatable process you can use for solving framework exploration questions:
Summary - IGotAnOffer method (framework exploration questions)
- Step 1: Make a hypothesis
- Pick a framework branch
- Hypothesise that the branch is the root cause of the problem
- Step 2: Ask for information to test your hypothesis
- If hypothesis is invalid: cross out the branch and update your hypothesis
- If hypothesis is valid: continue digging down
2.4 Quantitative question – data provided
In each case interview, you will likely have to solve quantitative questions. The aim of these questions is to assess how comfortable you are solving problems with data. Broadly speaking, there are two types of quantitative questions.
The first is quant questions where you will be provided with data. This data usually comes in the form of graphs and tables or can also be provided by your interviewer orally.
Quantitative question - data provided example
Data provided: table with volume and price for top cars sold by the company.
What do you think is happening with revenues based on the data available in this table?
This is the stage of case interviews where it becomes essential for you to be quick and accurate with mental maths.
Basically every candidate will need a mathematics refresher prior to their interviews. Plus, there are some handy shortcuts you can learn to help you make calculations more easily. Check out our free case interview maths guide to learn more.
Here’s the 4 steps that we recommend you take for each quantitative question you encounter:
Summary - IGotAnOffer method (quantitative questions)
- Step 1: Map out your calculations in advance
- Step 2: Do the calculations
- Make data assumptions (only if necessary)
- Step 3: Sense check your results (optional)
- Step 4: Relate back to the initial question and suggest next steps
2.5 Quantitative question - no data provided
The second type of quantitative question is where you are not provided with any data.
Quantitative question - no data provided example
Could you estimate the market size for cars in the US by making assumptions?
This is the other type of question that isn’t typically used by McKinsey (this one and framework exploration), but other firms like BCG and Bain do ask this type of question.
The process for solving a quant question without any data is exactly the same as solving a quant question with data, except now you’ll be using the sub-step under step 2 below:
If you’re not sure where to start with making data estimations, then we’d encourage you to study the process described in our market sizing question guide .
2.6 Creativity question
At some point during your interview, you will also be tested on your creativity. This type of question is very open-ended. There are no right or wrong answers.
Creativity question example
Now that we know that the profit decline is driven by a decrease in number of SUVs sold, what are some of the ideas you have to turn the situation around?
Creativity questions aim to test your ability to generate new ideas and solutions, but you don’t want to do this in an unstructured way.
Here’s the basic process for answering a creativity question systematically:
Summary - IGotAnOffer method (creativity questions)
- Step 2: Brainstorm within a mini-framework
- Step 3: Prioritise your ideas and highlight potential risks
The last step of every case interview is the recommendation question. As the name suggests, this is the part of the interview where you’ll be asked to summarise your findings and to explain what the client should do.
Recommendation question example
The CEO of the car manufacturer gives you a call and asks you for your final recommendation.
What would you say?
For instance, you might recommend that your client solves their profit issue by launching new products that increase revenues.
Regardless of what you recommend, there is a particular structure that you should use to deliver a thoughtful recommendation. Here it is:
Summary - IGotAnOffer method (recommendation questions)
- Step 2: Give your recommendation first
- Step 3: Provide 3-5 supporting arguments
- Step 4: Outline next steps and potential risks
3. Solve practice cases (14 free example cases)
The best way to master the case interview process we've outlined above is to practice with realistic example cases.
3.1 McKinsey case interview examples
- Beautify case interview (McKinsey website)
- Diconsa case interview (McKinsey website)
- Talbot Trucks case interview (McKinsey website)
- Shops Corporation case interview (McKinsey website)
- Conservation Forever case interview (McKinsey website)
- McKinsey case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- McKinsey live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See below
3.2 BCG case interview examples
- Foods Inc and GenCo case samples (BCG website)
- Chateau Boomerang written case interview (BCG website)
- BCG case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- Written cases guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- BCG live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See below
3.3 Bain case interview examples
- CoffeeCo practice case (Bain website)
- FashionCo practice case (Bain website)
- Associate Consultant mock interview video (Bain website)
- Consultant mock interview video (Bain website)
- Written case interview tips (Bain website)
- Bain case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- Bain live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See above
3.4 Other case interview examples
If your target firm isn't included above, or if you want even more practice cases, check out our list of 47 case interview examples . This list includes free cases for other firms like Deloitte, Accenture, Oliver Wyman, and PWC. There are several more McKinsey cases there as well.
4. Prepare answers to fit and PEI questions
During case interviews, you'll typically be asked a few behavioural questions in addition to the case-related questions we covered above. So, in order for your overall case interview to be successful, you'll need to be prepared to answer behavioural questions.
Behavioural interview questions can be categorised in two buckets:
- Fit questions . These are generic questions such as “Why consulting?” or “Why McKinsey / BCG / Bain?”
- Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions . These are questions such as “Tell me about a time when you lead a team through a difficult situation,” or “Tell me about a time where you had to manage a team conflict”
All firms ask a mix of these two types of questions, but some are more focused on one type than others. For instance, McKinsey almost exclusively asks personal experience interview questions . But Bain tends to put much more focus on typical fit questions such as “Why Bain?”
While case questions are used to assess your problem solving skills, fit and PEI questions are more focused on the three other attributes consulting firms look for: leadership abilities, entrepreneurial drive, and personal impact.
So what specific questions do you need to prepare for? We have analysed hundreds of interview questions on glassdoor.com for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain and have summarised the most common questions below.
4.1 Top 5 fit questions (and how to answer them)
Let’s walk through the top 5 fit questions you will come across in your interviews and briefly discuss each of them.
Please note that the percentages listed below are of total fit questions. For instance, for 100 fit questions 26 will be “Why firm X?” As mentioned above, the balance between fit questions and PEI questions varies from firm to firm.
#1 Why firm X? (26% of fit questions)
If you've applied to BCG (for example), they'll want to know why you prefer their firm, and not McKinsey, Bain, or another company (even though you may have applied to them also!).
It's important to prepare an answer to this question that is totally unique to your target firm. This can be challenging if you don't think through it carefully, because many consultancies (especially MBB) have a lot in common.
As a result, it's really useful to talk to consultants you've met about their firms, or to look at specific projects that your target firm has done. That will help you get more unique information that's not going to be the same across multiple firms. To learn more about preparing an answer for this type of question, visit our guides on the Why McKinsey / Why Bain / Why BCG questions.
#2 Why consulting? (24% of fit questions)
Consulting is an intense job. Consulting firms will therefore want to check that you have actually done your homework and that you have thought about why you want to be a consultant.
There are many great reasons to go into consulting . But here our three favourite ones:
- You will work for senior execs early in your career. This opportunity is unique. In most industry jobs you have to wait for many years to have the same level of exposure to CEOs / CFOs.
- You will learn a lot - very quickly. Changing industry and project every 3-6 months is one of the things that make the job challenging. But it also means your rate of learning will be much higher than in other industry jobs.
- You will work with bright people. Getting into consulting is hard and as a result your teammates will be extremely intelligent people. Consulting is one of the most stimulating environments you can be in.
#3 Introduce yourself / Walk me through your resume (14% of fit question)
This question is a great opportunity to summarise what you have done in the past in a way that illustrates how you would make a great consultant. For instance you could say something like:
“I’m Chris, I’m currently doing a master’s degree in economics at Cambridge. I think I’ve done three things in my studies / career so far that are relevant to consulting and motivated me to apply for this job. First, etc. ”
And you could then summarise the three most relevant points on your resume .
#4 Tell me something that’s not on your resume (6% of fit questions)
This question is particularly popular at Bain, and it helps your interviewers get to know you on a more personal level. They are trying to find out what kind of fun stuff you do outside of work. It could literally be anything: playing sports, being part of band, writing a book, etc.
Exactly WHAT you do outside of work doesn't matter as much as HOW you do it. Your interviewer will be looking for signs that you are pursuing that activity with passion, drive, and intensity.
For instance, answering that you are part of the national Northern Irish team for an obscure board game will get you noticed and your interviewer will think: “Cool, that’s pretty unique.” Whereas if you just say you play basketball once or twice a month your interviewer will probably think: “Ok, that’s not unheard of.”
#5 Tell me about your greatest accomplishment (4% of fit questions)
Unless your interviewer specifies that it’s ok to talk about an accomplishment outside of work / university, you should stick to these two areas.
A great answer will focus on a recent achievement that’s relevant to the skills you need to be a good management consultant.
The best thing to do for this question is to reuse one of the stories you will be preparing for Personal Experience Interview questions, which we will cover later in this guide.
#6 Other (26% of fit questions)
Finally, there is a long list of other fit questions that consulting firms ask, but they're not as common as the ones we've covered above.
If you have time towards the end of your preparation, after you've prepared thoroughly for case questions and the most common fit/PEI questions, we suggest coming back to the following additional fit questions:
- What are your strengths / weaknesses? (3% of fit questions)
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years? (3% of fit questions)
- What do consultants do in your opinion? (2% of fit questions)
- Why do you want to work for this specific office? (2% of fit questions)
4.2 Top 5 PEI questions
Personal experience interview questions are different to fit questions because they are less generic. They aim at testing the SPECIFIC skills you need to be a good management consultant.
Here are the main five themes that you're likely to encounter in these personal experience interview questions:
#1 Leading others (23% of PEI questions)
E.g.: Tell me about a time you led a team through a difficult challenge
#2 Managing a team conflict / situation (22% of PEI questions)
E.g.: Tell me about a time you worked in a team and had to manage a conflict
#3 Managing a personal conflict (21% of PEI questions)
E.g.: Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a colleague / your boss
#4 Influencing others (17% of PEI questions)
E.g.: Tell me about a time you changed the mind of a group of people / an individual
#5 Overcoming challenges (11% of PEI questions)
E.g.: Tell me about a challenge you had to push yourself hard to overcome
#6 Other (7%)
4.3 how to prepare pei stories.
People remember stories. On the day of your interview, your interviewer will see 6 to 8 other candidates, so you need to build memorable stories that will make you stand out.
There are multiple ways to tell a story, but we like to keep things relatively simple with the framework below:
- Situation : start by giving the necessary context
- Problem : outline the problem you / your team were facing
- Solution: explain the solution you came up with to solve the problem
- Impact : if possible, quantify the impact you had in solving the problem
- Lessons : conclude with any lessons you learned in the process
Using this framework as a guide, we recommend preparing 5 specific stories that you can use to answer PEI questions during your interviews.
By using this story-driven approach, you can typically use your stories for multiple different types of questions, which will help you be ready regardless of the specific PEI questions you encounter.
If you are preparing for McKinsey, we would also encourage you to read our article on McKinsey PEI questions . The same five themes we covered above are used by McKinsey, but in slightly different proportions. And we also share common mistakes to avoid in that article.
5. Practice answering questions out loud
Your answers to behavioural and case questions are important, but your interviewers will also be evaluating how you COMMUNICATE your answers. It's important to speak in a structured way and to avoid drifting off topic or spending too much time on each question.
We recommend that you practice by interviewing yourself out loud . Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking the questions and answering them, just like you would in an interview.
This may sound strange, but it will help you master the rhythm of case interviews. It will also help you to memorise the key details of your answers for behavioural questions, without any crutches (like notes, glancing at your resume, etc.).
Do your best to replicate the conditions of a real case interview as much as you can. It might help to look in a mirror while you're giving your answers. You may even find it helpful to practice in the same clothes you intend to wear to your interview .
As you go through this process, if you'd like a broader list of questions to practice with, you can check out our consulting interview questions article .
6. Do 30+ mock interviews
Practicing by yourself is critical, but we all have gaps that we won't be able to identify without a partner that can see our performance more objectively.
As a result, we recommend that you do as many mock interviews as possible before your interviews. In fact, we've found that most successful consulting candidates do 30+ mock interviews to prepare.
This probably sounds like a lot, and it is, but case interviews are a skill that is developed with experience. And there are two main ways you can get this experience before your interviews:
6.1 Do mock interviews with friends and family
First, you can practice case interviews with friends, colleagues, or family.
These are great ways to catch communication mistakes, but at some point you'll probably notice that the feedback you are getting isn't helping that much anymore.
Once you reach that stage, we recommend practicing with ex-interviewers from top consultancies.
6.2 Do mock interviews with ex-interviewers
If you know a consultant who has experience running interviews at a top consulting firm, that's fantastic. Practice with them as much as you can!
But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.
Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can practice 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from leading consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc. Book your consulting mock interview in a few clicks.
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Case Interview 2023 – Guide for Your Consulting Case Interview
A case interview is a type of job interview in which the candidate must analyze and solve a problematic business scenario (“ case study ”). It is used to simulate the situation on-the-job and to find out if the respective candidate meets the necessary analytical and communications skills required for the profession. Case interviews are commonly and globally used during the selection processes at management consulting firms such as McKinsey , Boston Consulting Group (BCG), or Bain & Company . It is the most relevant part of the process for consulting jobs, and they are usually based on projects that the hiring firm has delivered for a client. It is an exercise that requires a logical approach to finding the problem and an appropriate solution.
What to Expect in This Article
- 1. Case Interview Questions and Answers
- 1.1 What Is a Case Interview?
- 1.2 Who Uses Case Interviews and Why?
- 1.3 What Are the Skills Required in a Case Interview?
- 1.4 What Are the Differences Between …?
- 2. Case Interview Examples from McKinsey, BCG, Bain and Other Top Consulting Firms
- 3. How to Solve a Case Study in 10 Steps [Infographic]
- 4. Case Interview Secrets: 13 Final Tips for Your Actual Case Interview
- 5. PrepLounge: The Key to Your Success
- 6. Get Started Right Away and Practice Your First Cases
A case interview is part of the job interview process in which you as the candidate have to analyze and solve a problematic business scenario while interacting with the interviewer. The case study is often based on a problem the interviewer has worked on in real life. This part of the interview is intended to be more of a dialogue . You will need to be proactive and ask questions when attempting to close in on the correct conclusion. Oftentimes, the consultant will attempt to guide you in the correct direction by asking questions himself.
An example question might be : The CEO of Deutsche Bank has become increasingly concerned about their declining profitability over the last 36 months and has asked you to determine the factors causing the decline as well as recommend a strategy to reverse this trend.
During the entire application process, you will partake in up to six case interviews in two rounds or more. This is dependent on the position you are applying for. Most case interviews have the same underlying structure. An individual case interview may take up to an hour and usually consists of four parts:
- ~ 5 minutes: Introduction and small talk
- ~ 15 minutes: Personal Fit Interview
- ~ 30 minutes: Case Interview
- ~ 5 minutes: Your questions to the interviewer
Case interviews have always been a part of management consulting interviews. Nowadays, also marketing, strategy, operations, or retail positions tend to use similar formats because they are a great tool to probe the quantitative and qualitative skills of an applicant . It allows interviewers to get a deeper insight into how you present yourself as a candidate and apply the limited amount of information given to you.
The reason for the prevalence of the case interview format in management consulting is that the topics and themes handled in most cases reflect conditions close to the reality of the day-to-day activities of a consultancy. It requires the applicant to ask the right questions , apply structured frameworks , and think outside the box . As a consultant, you will spend a lot of time client-facing, and so soft skills are just as important as hard skills to the interviewer. The case interview allows hiring companies to ask the question "Would I be happy to put this candidate in front of a client?".
Due to the scenario set up in a case interview, it is also a test of general business acumen . Many consultant projects will be in industries where the consultants aren't experts, especially junior consultants . This is normal, but to be effective as a consultant business acumen is an important foundation for consultants to maintain effective strategy recommendations. Companies pay consultants for their minds rather than their industry expertise.
A case interview has no “correct” or “standard” answer. There are often many solutions to a single case and in the end, what counts is your train of thought and how you got to your solution . The interviewer will evaluate you across five main areas:
1) Problem-Solving Skills
The interviewer will analyze your ability to identify problems, isolate causes, and prioritize issues . During a case interview, you will be presented with a wide range of relevant and irrelevant data pieces. You must know how to use this data to make your recommendations and you have to prove that you are able to construct a logical argumentation without rushing to conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
2) Creativity and Business Sense Skills
As a consulting candidate, you should know the basic business concepts as well as show a certain amount of business sense and creativity . If the interviewer asks you to find innovative ideas to increase the profitability of a hotel chain, you will have to come up with a range of ideas that make business sense. You are not expected to have deep knowledge of the hospitality industry, but to be able to ask relevant and insightful questions on the aspects important for you to solve the client’s issue at hand.
Maintaining a structure means that you solve the question with a clear step-by-step approach that you communicate actively with your interviewer. A good structure is the most important part of a case interview, as it is the underlying base of your whole approach and argumentation. It is also the main reason why candidates fail their case interviews. A common mistake that candidates make is that they try to apply standardized frameworks to any case they are given. Instead, you should solve each case by creating a framework specifically tailored to its needs – as you would do as a consultant on the job. Practice your structure with our Structuring Drills .
4) Math Skills
As a consultant, part of your job is number-crunching and interpreting data. Therefore, it is important that you have a good feeling for numbers and have great mental math skills . You should be able to perform simple calculations in your sleep. You can practice your math skills with our Mental Math Tool .
5) Communication Skills
In times of digitalization, soft skills become more and more important for management consultants. On the job, you will be in contact with high-level CEOs, clients, partners, and colleagues. Strong communication is crucial for you to get your work done efficiently. Thus, your interviewer will pay close attention to the way you communicate and present yourself during your conversation. Always be professional, answer concisely, and communicate the key message first (see Pyramid Principle ).
First and Second-Round Interviews
While the format of the first and second-round interviews stays the same, the seniority level of the interviewer differs . The person interviewing you in the first round is usually more junior, having up to four years of consulting experience (Associates or Engagement Managers). The second round is led by Partners who have more than ten years of experience and tend to drill you to understand how you cope with challenges. Therefore, second rounds are perceived as more difficult by candidates. Since partners have a stronger voice when discussing an applicant, your performance during the second round of case interviews carries also more weight. For more information on the different positions, please read McKinsey Hierarchy: The Different Position Levels .
Candidate- and Interviewer-Led Case Interviews
In candidate-led cases, the interviewer expects the candidate to lead him/her through the case. As a candidate, you can do so by asking relevant questions, and by developing and testing your hypotheses. Candidate-led cases are the most common types of cases . You will encounter them at the majority of the big consulting firms such as BCG, Bain, and occasionally at McKinsey.
Interviewer-led cases are most frequently used at McKinsey. As the title suggests, the interviewer’s guidance through the case interview is firmer.
You can find more information on the two different interview styles in our BootCamp article: Interviewer-Led vs. Candidate-Led .
In the following, you can find some examples of initial case interview questions :
McKinsey Case Interview Examples
- Market entry for financial services in Mexico (McKinsey website)
- Product launch strategy for a soft drinks producer (McKinsey website)
- Market entry strategy for a major pharmaceutical company (McKinsey website)
- How to increase quality and quantity of education in European country (McKinsey website)
BCG Case Interview Examples
- Profitability of a low-cost airline (BCG website)
- Pricing strategy for a new drug (BCG website)
Bain Case Interview Examples
- Market analysis for old winery
- Market sizing and market entry strategy for a coffee shop (Bain website)
- Increase revenues for a Women's fashion retailer (Bain website)
- Consultant mock interview (Bain website)
Oliver Wyman Case Interview Examples
- Profitability of a Chinese theme park operator (Oliver Wyman website)
- Growth strategy for a small power boats (Oliver Wyman)
OC&C Case Interview Examples
- Growth strategy for health club provider
- Profitability of a Whiskey manufacturer in an emerging market
Deloitte Case Interview Examples
- Market sizing and growth strategy of a German shoe retailer
- Market entry strategy for a discount retailer entering mobile phone market (Deloitte website)
- Growth strategy of Ebola response program (Deloitte website)
Kearney Case Interview Examples
- Growth strategy for a national grocery chain (Kearney website)
Strategy& Case Interview Examples
- Market sizing retail cooking sauces
- Market sizing UK grocery retail market
LEK Case Interview Examples
- Case interview walkthrough (LEK website)
- Market sizing walkthrough (LEK website)
Roland Berger Case Interview Examples
- Growth strategy case Online Star
- Profitability of public transport operator (Roland Berger website)
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Step 1: Listen actively and take notes. Write down every piece of information, especially numerical data.
Step 2: Restate the question. Pause, paraphrase, and make sure you understand the problem statement by confirming with the interviewer.
Step 3: Clarify the objectives and identify the problem. Ask specific questions and double-check on objectives. Make sure you completely understand the problem.
Step 4: Write out your structure. Ask your interviewer for a minute to prepare your structure and organize your notes. Identify your case type and use an issue tree to customize your structure. The branches of your issue tree should be MECE .
Step 5: State your hypothesis. Now that you have set up the issue tree, your task is to test each branch to see if it is the root cause of the problem. Where to begin? A hypothesis based on an educated guess helps here. (e.g. "Since you have mentioned that revenues are more or less flat, my hypothesis is that the problem is mostly driven by the cost side of the business. If it is okay with you, I will start by […]")
Step 6: Think out loud. Sharing your thoughts allows the interviewer to interact. Refine or rebuild your hypothesis as you find out more.
Step 7: Gather more data in order to test your hypothesis. Proactively ask for relevant data and always segment it (e.g. using the ABC analysis ). Try to evaluate whether trends have been company-specific or industry-wide.
Step 8: Dig deeper while staying structured ( MECE !) throughout the case. Always refer to the structure you have set up at the beginning of the case, but be flexible as the case evolves. If you conclude that your hypothesis is false, eliminate that branch and go to the next one. Summarize findings when switching major branches. If your test confirms your hypothesis, go deeper into that branch, and drill down to the lower levels until you identify all proven root-causes.
Step 9: Choose a recommendation and use the Pyramid Principle to structure your conclusion. Ask for a minute to gather your thoughts and then state your recommendation. You need to deliver a one minute, top-down, concise, structured, clear, and fact-based summary of your findings.
Step 10: Stand by your conclusion. Your interviewer will likely challenge your recommendation (either to see if you can handle pressure or to assess if you really believe in what you are saying).
1. Focus on the task at hand
Don’t think too much about the approach your interviewer is taking. It should not matter much if the conversation is interviewer- or candidate-led . If you go into your interview with a profound understanding of how to handle even a difficult case, the format of the interview should not be an issue. Keep a cool head and structure your thoughts .
2. Ask the right questions
At the beginning of the case, your interviewer will present you with the situation of the client. Don’t rush into the analysis without developing a deep understanding of the problem first. Ask your interviewer questions to clarify the case . This is expected behavior that also takes place later with the client. Make sure you understand what the business model and your objective in the respective case are (regarding both money and the timeline). If there are any other possible limitations you are unsure about, ask your interviewer in a concise way. Asking unnecessary questions will raise doubts about your ability to work efficiently under pressure.
3. Buy time with repetitions
A common trick consultants use is the repeating of facts or overall goals . By doing this, you are showing a fundamental comprehension of the case and are emitting an aura of control, gradually heading towards a solution. This technique can give you more time to think. Articulating the facts of the case can also be a source of clarity and allow you to form solutions more quickly.
4. Only form a hypothesis with sufficient information
Do not state a hypothesis at the beginning, a stage in which you may still have incomplete information. Get a good sense of the case’s environment and ask sensible follow-up questions . Only then frame a structure and formulate a hypothesis.
5. Utilize data for your analysis
Taking wild guesses is a death sentence for your case interview. Make sure your claims are backed up by the facts, and remain calm when presented with new information. Consultancies will closely observe how you make use of new data and incorporate it into your hypothesis .
6. Take clear notes
Taking structured notes is a highly underrated skill when dealing with a case. Making sure your notes are coherent and clear will make your thoughts easy to navigate and ensure you do not lose your footing during the interview.
- Place your sheet horizontally to maximize your space, and jot down the case’s key question on the left side of the page. This way you will never lose sight of the main objective . The remaining portion will be dedicated to the issue tree, with your hypothesis included above the issue tree.
- Make sure that you highlight key pieces of information that add substance to your hypothesis.
- When it comes to calculations , use a separate page, but practice having it organized in case you need to go back through your assumptions or calculations.
- Try to limit the number of pages you use to a maximum of three sheets . Otherwise, you will stress yourself out while trying to find what you are looking for.
7. Structure is key
The most important aspect of a case interview is having a good structure. You can structure your case by following these four steps:
- Craft an issue tree as the overall foundation for your structure. This is a customizable framework used to analyze the root causes of problems in a case. It helps you to break a complex problem down into its components.
- Make sure that your issue tree is MECE to avoid inefficient dependencies between branches that will slow down your analysis. MECE is a way of segmenting information into sub-elements that are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.
- Prioritize and concentrate on high impact issues of your issue tree that will create value for your client. Always make sure you explain the reasons behind your choices to the interviewer.
- Use the Pyramid Principle to structure your conclusion , a three-step structure to present your synthesis in an effective and convincing manner. First, state the recommendation (What?). Second, provide three reasons supported by data (Why?). Third, provide information on how to implement the recommendation (How?).
To practice your structure, you can use our Structuring Drills .
8. Don't force-fit frameworks
Standard frameworks can be a source of inspiration, but should never be force-fitted to a case. They are very stiff and do not allow room for customization . If you use pre-defined frameworks, you run the risk of missing important elements of the specific problem you are trying to solve. A consultant would not just force-fit frameworks to their specific client’s problem, so you should not do this in your case interview, either. Each case is unique and requires an individually customized framework that is MECE as well as adapted to the problem you are trying to solve, the company, and the industry.
9. Don’t panic if you get stuck
If you ever get stuck, don’t freak out – it happens. What counts is how you deal with the situation. Here is what you can do:
- Take a deep breath or a sip of water if you have a glass of water nearby.
- Take a moment to grasp the big picture , to recap what you have learned so far and what you still need to find out to address the main question at hand.
- Outline how these sub-questions can be answered , and what kind of data or information you will need to do that.
- Double-check whether data or information provided by the interviewer at an earlier stage is now getting new relevance.
- Think out loud and take the interviewer along with your thinking process. If you are puzzled by some obvious contradiction, actively discuss this with your interviewer. Oftentimes, an interviewer will wait for you to explicitly verbalize your confusion before gently guiding you.
10. Sometimes there is no clear answer
Oftentimes, a case interview has no “correct” or “standard” answer. The case may encompass you exploring the issues and walking down several paths . There are often many solutions to a single case that may differ from the interviewer’s expectations. In the end, what counts is your train of thought and how you got to your solution . You are not expected to know everything about business, but demonstrate a logical judgment and a good approach to solve problems.
Nevertheless, you should always give a clear recommendation at the end of the interview, when the interviewer will ask for your conclusion. The trick is to use supporting arguments based on what you have learned during the analysis, to point out limitations, and to also highlight additional areas to explore to confirm that your current understanding is the right one.
11. Engage the interviewer
The interview should be a dialogue , so make sure to engage the interviewer and demonstrate not only your business judgment, but also your communication and people skills . This gives the first insight into how you might interact with future clients and colleagues. How can you do that?
- Explain. Share your thought process with the interviewer, and always let them know what your next steps are.
- Listen. During your case interview, the interviewer will usually give you hints and steer you in a direction. Notice that! If they ask a specific question, e.g. “Name three points about…”, answering in two or five points will mean that you didn’t pay attention.
- Ask questions. Create a discussion, initiate small talk, and use your chance to make a positive connection with the interviewer, especially at the end of every interview when you get to ask final questions. Find a point in common and try to stand out. Here is a list of the best questions to ask at the end of an interview .
12. Be confident
You don’t necessarily need to be extroverted to be a top management consultant, but you need to be confident. Consulting is a people job as much as it is an analytical job. It is important for the client to feel that you know what you are doing. Thus, this is something the interviewer will take into consideration. Here are five things you can do during the interview to come across as more confident:
- Try to enjoy the interview by focusing on the challenge, the satisfaction it brings you when you solve the case, and the joy of sharing your life experiences with someone else. If you have fun, chances are high that the interviewer has fun, as well.
- Find your own style and don’t try to pretend to be someone that you are not. It is fine if you are not the most outgoing person. Just be genuine!
- Sit up straight , but don’t be too stiff. Push your back against the back of the seat and don’t just sit on the edge of the chair.
- Make eye contact , but don’t stare, either.
- Speak in a clear , calm, and unrushed manner. Don't mumble or whisper, but equally don't shout. Think before you speak!
13. When in doubt, reschedule
If you’re not feeling confident about your chances, don’t hesitate to reschedule . If you take this course of action, take a few things into consideration. Make sure to suggest an alternative day and avoid rescheduling multiple times at all costs. The consultancy will be grateful for you to suggest an immediate alternative. Try to be transparent as to why you are rescheduling without going too deeply into details. However, rescheduling should only be used as a last resort.
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Table of content
Case interview 101 – The online guidebook
“Case Interview” is the cornerstone of consulting recruitment, playing a decisive role in final results. In 30 minutes, your “consulting” qualities will be tested to the limit as you cruise through a hypothetical “consulting project” with the interviewer. Yes, this is a BIG topic. The depth of content in this single article is HUGE with various chapters ranging from beginner’s topics to more advanced ones. You would want to bookmark this page and go back often throughout your whole preparation journey.
What is a case interview?
A case interview is a job interview where the candidate is asked to solve a business problem. They are often used by consulting firms, and are among the hardest job interviews, testing both problem-solving skills and “soft” skills. Case interviews often last 30-45 minutes each, and firms can utilize up to 6 case interviews, usually divided into 2 rounds. Example case questions:
Case interview are modelled after the course of actions real consultants do in real projects – so success in case interviews is seen by consulting firms as a (partial) indication of a good management consultant. Along the interview, the interviewer will assess your ability to think analytically, probe appropriate questions, and make the most client-friendly pitches. Be noted that the analytical thought process is more important than arriving at correct answers. Generally, there are 2 styles of conducting case: Candidate-led and Interviewer-led.
Candidate-led cases On this end, the interviewer rarely intervenes; the candidate will lead the approach from structuring the problem, drawing frameworks, asking for data, synthesizing findings, to proposing solutions. This format can be difficult for beginners but it provides you much control over the case.
Interviewer-led cases On this end, the interviewer controls the process in significant ways. He or she has the candidate work on specific parts of the overall problem and sometimes disregard the natural flow of the case. The game here is not to solve the one big problem, but rather to nail every question, every pitch, every mini-case perfectly. Because the evaluation is done on question basis, the level of insightfulness required is higher.
Most cases will fall somewhere in the middle section of that spectrum, but for education purposes, we need to learn case interviews from both extreme ends. Great details in each and every aspect of the case, as well as tips, techniques and study plans are coming in the chapters below. You may skip straight to Chapter 3 if you have business background and confident in your own understanding of the terminology used in case interviews. To better understand or practice candidate-led and interview-led cases, let’s book a personal meeting with our coaches . At MConsultingPrep, you can connect with consulting experts who will help you learn the ins and outs of both cases and the solving approach to each one. Get “real” practice now!
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Case interview starter guide for non-business students
All consulting firms claim that all educational backgrounds have equal chances. But no matter what, case interview reflects real-life business problems and you will, therefore, come across business concepts . Not everybody has the time to go to a full Business Undergraduate program all over. So through this compact Chapter 2, I will provide you, the non-business people, every business concept you need in case interviews.
Accounting and financial terms – The language of business
Accounting & Financial Terms are often called the language of business, which is used to communicate the firm’s financial and economic information to external parties such as shareholders and creditors. There are three basic financial statements : Balance Sheet, Income Statement, and Cash Flow Statement. Balance Sheet A snapshot of the current stage of the company’s property, debt, and ownership at one given point in time, showing:
The neat thing about the Balance sheet is that it’s always balanced. Every action, every transaction changes the three components but it’s always in harmony. Income Statement A record of the business performance through a period of time , given it a quarter or a year. The Income Statement directly tells you how the company is doing in terms of making money, the heart of any business. From the top to bottom, the Income Statement shows the Revenues, Costs, and Profits. That’s why often, Profits is referred to as the “bottom line”. There are a few types of cost to notice – see the two pictures below this table. One important thing to notice is that even though it may seem like, the Income Statement does NOT necessarily relate to cash. Many of the times, especially for B2B transactions, the selling happens before the money flow. Therefore, we may have to record revenue without having the cash. Cash Flow Statement There’s a famous saying that: Income statement is an opinion, Cash Flow statement is the fact. The Cash Flow statement just strictly monitors the cash flow in or out, categorized in different sections. Three of them are:
Upon completion this section, you should be able to read and interpret financial statements for business diagnosis and decision-making. More importantly, you possess the conceptual base to start solving case interviews on your own. Do not forget that, as with any other language, becoming proficient with accounting and financial terms require constant practice.
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Organizational structure – The heart of a company
When it comes to organizational structure, it is important to notice the fine line between the company’s ownership and management . Technically, at the highest level, there are shareholders . For private companies, the group of shareholders and their shares are not necessarily disclosed and publicly tradable. For public companies, on the other hand, shares are publicly traded on different stock exchanges. One of the most famous is the NYSE, which stands for New York Stock Exchange.
Below CEOs, there are two generally two ways of structuring the company. One way is through business lines and the other one is through functions. Think of business lines as mini-companies themselves inside the big company.
Within functions, here are a few most typical divisions most companies have:
Business strategy concepts
Even with business students, strategy is a challenging topic – especially with those without a strategy major. These fundamental concepts will get you started.
For example, let’s look at Kim’s family picnic process.
B2B vs B2C : stand for “business-to-business” and “business-to-customer”. These two terms refer to two types of transactions a company typically does: transactions with other companies and transactions with individual customers. Bottom-up vs Top-down: this refers to two opposite schools of thought or action. Top-down usually encompasses various general branches while bottom-up tends to narrowly focus.
Management consulting terms & concepts
These are the most common consulting terms you may encounter not just in case interviews but also in consulting tasks .
There are three parameters the consulting world uses in the categorization of businesses.
Normally two consultants ask each other “What do you work on?”, they need to give 3 pieces of information in all of those three parameters, such as “I worked on a Cement project, focusing on Finance, in Southeast Asia”. In fact, all of the McKinsey support networks are organized in this way. During my projects, I would need to speak to some Cement experts, some Finance experts, and some local experts as well. This chapter is relatively long, yet it is still way shorter than 4 years at business college. I hope this will act as a great prerequisite to your case interview study. Make sure that you have mastered all of these content before really tackling the Case Interview.
Case interview example – The typical flow
In a simplified way, a typical case would go through these phrases (we will talk about exceptions in great detail later): Case question -> Recap -> Clarification -> Timeout -> Propose issue tree -> Analyze issue tree -> Identify root-causes -> Solutions -> Closing pitch
Problem-solving fundamentals – Candidate-led cases
Though most cases will be conducted in mixed format, let’s dive deep and learn about each extreme end of the spectrum to get the full picture. Even though this is the harder format, it shows us the foundation of how management consulting works, i.e: the consulting problem solving logics! If you were exposed to case interviews, you have probably heard about some of these concepts: framework, issue tree, benchmark, data, root-cause, solutions, etc. But how do they all fit into the picture?
It all starts with the PROBLEM
Before getting into anything fancy, the first step is to define and be really clear about the problem. This sounds easy but can be quite tricky. Here are a few guidelines: 1. What’s the objective? 2. What’s the timeline required? 3. Any quantified or well-described goals? For example, one client can state a problem as: “I lost my car key”. In normal contexts, this is a perfectly simple and straight-forward problem. But a consultant tackling this would go ask clarification questions to achieve even more details: 1. Objective: the client in fact just needs to be able to use the car. 2. Timeline: this is an urgent need. He is happy only if we can help him within the next hour. 3. Specificity: help the client put his car into normal operation like before he lost the key.
Find the ROOT-CAUSE, don’t just fix the symptom
To completely wipe out the problem and create long-lasting impacts, consultants always search and find the root-causes. For example, fixing the symptom is like you breaking the door lock, getting into the ignition electrics behind the wheel, and connecting the wires to start the car. That does fix the surface symptom: the client can drive the car. But it does NOT create a long-lasting impact because without you there, the car can’t be started. The client will need to rely on you every single time. Plus, more problems even arise (now he needs to fix the broken door lock too). A much better approach is to find the root-cause. What is the bottom-line reason causing the problem? Once we trace, find, and fix it, the problem will be gone for good. In this example, the root-cause is “the lost key”. We need to find its location!
Use ISSUE TREE to isolate potential root-causes into groups
There could be thousands of possible root-causes. How do we make sure every possible one is examined? If we are to list out all thousands and test one by one, there is simply not enough time. On the other hand, if we just list out some of the most “possible” ones, we run a high risk of missing the true root-cause. This is where we need issue trees ! We would group possible root-causes into big groups. Those big groups will have smaller sub-groups and so on. All is done in the spirit of top-down and MECE. By doing this, we have an organized way to include all possible root-causes. Continue with the example: A “bottom-up” approach to search for the car key is to go straight to specific places like the microwave’s top, the black jacket pocket, under the master bed, etc. There can be thousands of these possible locations. The top-down approach is to draw an issue tree, breaking the whole house into groups and examine the whole group one by one. For example: first floor, second floor, and the basement.
Issue Tree only works if it’s MECE
What happens if we break down the search area into the First floor and East wing? The search area would not cover the whole house and there will be some overlapping which creates inefficiencies. So for an issue tree to work properly, it has to be MECE – Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive … which in simple language just mean 2 things: no overlap and no gap
How to draw MECE issue trees? Use FRAMEWORKS!
Each problem requires an unique issue tree. Coming up with MECE and spot-on issue trees for each problem can be really difficult. This is where “framework” helps. Think of frameworks as “frequently used templates” to draw issue trees in any particular context. Many people use the word “framework” to refer to “issue tree” but this is conceptually incorrect.
We will talk about frameworks in more detail in the below chapters. You can also check out this deep-dive article on Frameworks.
Choosing which branch to go to first? Use HYPOTHESES!
So let’s say you have an issue tree of First floor, Second floor, and Third floor. Now what? To make the problem solving process even faster and more efficient, we use hypotheses. In simple language, it’s the educated guess of where the root-cause may lie in. So we can prioritize the branch with the highest chance. So let’s say, the client spends most time on the first floor, it’s where he/she most likely leaves the car key. Any consultant would hypothesize that the root-cause is in the first-floor branch and go search there first. Notice: hypothesis and issue tree always go together. It doesn’t make sense to draw an issue of First, Second, and Third floor and hypothesize that the key is in the East wing. Many times, hypotheses are even the inspiration to draw issue trees.
How to test a branch? Use DATA and compare it with BENCHMARK
Now that we decide to test branch “First floor”, how do we do that? We prove or disprove our hypothesis by collecting DATA. That data is then compared with benchmarks to shed more meaning. Two main types of benchmarks are: historical and competitive. For example, let’s say by some magic, the client has a metal detection machine which can measure the metal concentration of any space. To test the “first-floor” branch, the consultant would come to the first floor, measure the metal concentration and compare it with the data before the car key is lost, a.k.a: historical benchmark.
If a hypothesis is true, drill down; if it’s false, go sideways
What happens when we test a hypothesis? Assuming that we have access to enough data, it either gets proven TRUE or proven FALSE. How do we proceed from here?
Test, Sleep, Test, Repeat … until the ROOT-CAUSE shows up!
Once identified the ROOT-CAUSES, go for SOLUTIONS
With all proven root-causes identified, the last step is to come up with solutions to kill the problem … and we are done! There can be multiple solutions to each root-cause. These solutions should attack straight to the root-cause.
Case interview questions – Interviewer-led cases
While candidate-led cases are all about the logical foundation of problem solving, interviewer-led cases are more about tackling each individual question itself. The structure of the whole case is relatively loose and flexible. In this chapter, we touch on some of the most popular ones. You can read in-depth about each in this designated article.
Framework/Issue Tree questions
This is one of the most popular question types in case interviews, often asked in the beginning. It comes with several shapes and forms, but the real meaning is always: “Give me the bloody issue tree!” So how do you tackle it? Just like in candidate-led cases. Take a timeout; brainstorm about the problem and how it should be broken down into; plug a few frameworks to see how it looks; and go for the most appropriate issue tree. Unlike in candidate-led cases where you only present the upper-most layer, here you should walk the interviewer through the whole issue-tree, covering at least 2 layers. Interviewer-led cases are much less interactive. It’s more like they ask you a question, you deliver a comprehensive and big answer. They ask you another one. And so on.
Market-sizing / Guesstimate questions
This is among the most popular question types and you will likely face a few of them throughout several interview rounds. These questions ask you to “guess” and come up with number estimations in non-conventional contexts. These questions are called “Guesstimate”. When a guesstimate question asks you to “guess” the size of a market, it’s called a “Market-sizing” question. Though this variation is very popular in consulting, the nature is nothing different from other Guesstimate questions. It can be intimidating to face a question like this. Where to start? Where to go? What clues to hold on to? The key is to understand that you don’t have to provide an exactly correct answer. In fact, nobody knows or even cares. What matters is HOW you get there. Can you show off consulting traits, using a sound approach to come up with the best “estimate” possible? Read the designated article on this for great details. Here, let’s walk through the 4-step approach that you can apply to absolutely every market-sizing question.
Almost all cases involve some math. So you will face math questions for sure. These “questions” can go at you either explicitly and implicitly. Sometimes, the case interviewer will ask out loud a math problem and have you solve. But sometimes, you have to do multiple calculations on the background to push the analysis forward. Either way, a strong math capability will help you a lot during cases and the future career in consulting. See this Consulting Math article for more details.
Chart insight questions
Consultant works with data and a big chunk of those data are presented by charts. Many times, the interviewer would pull out a sanitized exhibit from an actual project and have you list out insights you can see from it. There are many types of charts. Getting yourselves familiar with the most popular ones is not a bad idea.
Tips on tackling chart-insights questions: 1. Read labels first: from Chart titles, Axis title, Legend title, etc. Don’t jump straight to the content of the chart. It takes more time to get lost there and having to go back to read the label. Besides, you may also run a risk of mis-understanding the content. 2. Look for abnormalities: important insights always lie in those unexpected and abnormal data. Look for them!
Value proposition questions
In simple language, this question type asks you: what do the customers want? Understanding exactly this need will put any company into the best position to tailor products / service. Like any other questions, Value-proposition questions are not only about correctly identifying customer preferences (insights), but also about analyzing and delivering the answer in a structured fashion. Here are a few tips for you to do that: How to be more insightful:
How to appear more structured:
What kind of data do you need to test this hypothesis? How do you get data? Consulting is a data-driven industry. As consultants, we spent most of our time gathering and presenting data to clients ( see the What the heck does a consultant do video ). No surprise information questions are relatively popular in cases. The best way to tackle this question type is to understand inside out the types of data actual consultants use in real projects. Because almost no candidate knows about this. This is also a very quick way to build rapport. The interviewer will feel like he/she is talking to a real consultant.
Case interview example video – Pandora case
Enough theory! Enough cute little illustration here and there. Time to get our hands into a serious case interview example. Notice the following when watching the video:
Every case is unique in its own way but principles are universal. The more examples you see, the better. This video is extracted from our Case Interview End-to-end Secrets program, where you can find 10 complete examples like this and many other supplement contents.
How to prepare for case interviews
Case Interview preparation is a long and tough process. In an ocean of books, videos, programs, how do we navigate to maximize learning? Most materials floating around are quite good, at least in terms of substance. But the timing and the organization of them can be confusing.
So a good study plan is constantly switching between 3 activities: reading theory, watching examples, and practicing, with cases increasing difficulty level. It’s so crucial to start with super easy cases, be patient, and stay on that level until you are ready to move up. There are so many skills, habits, and scripts to develop and these take time. “The quickest way to do just about everything is … Step by Step” Even for candidates with cases coming up urgently, I still strongly recommend spending the most valuable time practicing cases that match your level. After all, cases are just the context. What you will be evaluated on is your approach, your skills, your techniques, etc. So, this is a sample study plan you can adopt for yourselves:
Case interview tips – With instant results
Imagine a case interview just falls out of the sky and into your lap, scheduled for tomorrow – how can you even prepare? The answer lies in a few “quick and dirty” tips, which I’ll share with you in a moment. I am a firm believer in the 80-20 rule – which states that 20% of the causes lead to 80% of the consequences. In the case interview prep context, 20% of your learning efforts will bring about 80% of the improvements – so the key to instantly and dramatically improve your case performance is to identify and focus on that 20%.
In the next 8 chapters, I’ll tell you the killer tips and tricks that helped me get a McKinsey offer, the majority of which were previously only available in the premium End-to-End Secrets Program , including:
One thing before you proceed: don’t forget to learn the fundamentals, the question types, and the frameworks. Remember, these 20% tips can only get you 80% performance; if you want 100%, there’s no substitute for hard work.
10 case interview Tips & Techniques videos +1,400 Consulting Math questions 60+ Business Intuition exercises PEI & Fit Interview deep-dive guide
How to deliver the perfect case opening
The result of a case interview is determined the first 3 minutes – and I’m not even exaggerating. Most people will be put off by this fact – indeed, with all those efforts spent on learning for the later part of the case, and the hiring decision is made when you’re not even properly warmed up yet. However, putting a spin on it, this is the 20% to focus on – if you nail the opening, you’ll make a better impression than most candidates; it’s also easier to perform well in 3 minutes than in 30 minutes, especially when the case hasn’t gotten tricky. Additionally, you can prepare the opening in a formulaic manner – essentially learning by heart until it becomes natural. There are 7 steps in the perfect case opening formula: 1. Show appreciation 2. Announce case introduction 3. Recap 4. Clarify 5. Announce case approach 6. Align 7. Ask for timeout In this chapter I’ll walk you through each of those steps.
Case opening – Example script
Now it’s time to see how you can put all those steps into action!
Does that correctly summarize the case? <assume the interview confirms that your playback is correct> Great, now I’d like to ask my three clarification questions:
<wait for answers> Thank you for the clarification. Is there anything else I should be aware of? <wait for answers> Thanks for all the insights. It’s great that we all agree on the key details. For the overall approach to this case, to completely wipe out the problem for a long-lasting impact, we will need to find out the root causes of this problem. To do that I will try to break the problem down into bite-size pieces with issue trees, in order to quickly isolate the root causes inside the branches, then drill down accordingly to gather information until we can draw actionable solutions. So before I go on to establish my first issue tree, does that approach sound reasonable to you? <assumes the interviewer agrees with your approach> It’s great to see that we’re on the same page regarding the key details as well as the overall approach to the case. I do need some time to gather my thoughts, so may I have a short timeout?
Being structured throughout the case
The high stress and large amount of information in case interviews make it easy for even the brightest candidates to derail from the objective or present in an unstructured manner. I’ll be sharing with you my 3 most impactful tips to keeping the structure in case interview: 1. The map habit 2. Numbering your items 3. Sticking to the big problem
The map habit
It means regularly and explicitly checking where you are, and where you’re doing next. I call it the map habit because it’s similar to using a map while traveling – pausing every once in a while to check your location, destination, and direction. This habit gives you a sense of direction and authority while making it easier for the interviewer to follow your case progress. It also makes you sound organized and systematic – a definitive mark of management consultants – and the interviewer will love it! You’ll see this habit a lot in our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, where candidates would often pause at each key step during the case. Do the same thing in your own case interviews, and you’ll greatly impress the interviewer.
Numbering your items
A very easy and effective way to make your pitches sound structured is to number each item. The formula is simple: “There are X items that I’m going to say; they are: No.1 … No.2 … No.3 …” By now you may have noticed that I use this structure many times throughout this guidebook – it’s already quite effective in written language, but it’s even more impactful in spoken communications! Having this numbering habit will make it very easy for the listener to follow your speech, and it creates an impression of MECE (even if content-wise it’s not MECE).
Sticking to the big problem
There are two ways to keep yourself on-track all the time in those high-stress case interviews 1. Occasionally check your position on the issue tree, and quickly get back on track if it seems you’re “derailing”. If this sounds like the previous map habit, you’re right, it is the map habit. 2. Take good notes, with the case question being written big and bold on top of your scratch paper. That way you’ll be reminded every few seconds. That last point brings us to the next issue: how to take notes.
How to take notes in case interviews
The best notes for case interviews are always clear-cut, structured, and relevant. Even the smartest candidates suffer from seemingly silly problems in case interviews – forgetting data, messing up the numbers, getting stuck with frameworks, losing sight of the original objective, etc. And in the true management consulting spirit, I set out to find the root causes. And looking back at hundreds of coaching sessions I did, I found one thing in common – none of those candidates could take good notes.
I’ll tell you precisely how I took notes to get a McKinsey offer; however, I hope that after this chapter, you can install the spirit of the method, not just the method itself. So here we are, with the 3 groups of sheets laid out for the ideal note-taking: 1. Data sheets 2. Presentation sheets 3. Scratch sheets
Data sheets are used to store and process every piece of incoming data . Try to draw tables for these sheets, because this not only makes the calculation process easier, but also gives the impression that you’re a careful and organized person. Also, remember to write only the results of calculations on this sheet, to keep it neat and tidy. Most of your calculations should be done mentally (see the article on Consulting Math Consulting Math for more details); if you really need to jot down the calculations, do it on the scratch sheets.
Presentation sheets are used to develop and present any “outgoing” contents. Your issue trees should be drawn on these sheets, along with the big-and-bold case question/objective right on top. When delivering your pitches, always turn around the presentation sheets so the interviewer can clearly read what’s on them. As with the data sheets, avoid any messy “mid-process” drawings. Put them on the scratch sheets instead.
Scratch sheets exist to keep other sheets clean. Ever felt irritated receiving a notebook full of correction marks? That’s exactly how the interviewer feels if you present with untidy notes. You should try your best to hide all the unorganized, messy parts of your thought process. The scratch sheets provide a sanctuary for that unstructured part of yours – it’s okay to go all over the place for brainstorming, as long as you can organize the incoming resources and present in a systematic manner. “I took the notes just as you instructed, but I still get stuck in cases. How can I avoid it?” – Well, that’s the subject for our next chapter – “Stuck” situations and how to get out of them.
Stuck in cases – What to do
We’ve all been there – that scarily awkward feeling when you don’t know what to do next in a case interview, that fear of being rejected. In every “stuck” situation, the most important thing is to remain calm and collected (you’ll lose points if you panic) – then methodically work your way out. I’ll teach you how to get out of those situations, with style. There are actually 3 different kinds of “stuck”, and for each, I have a different solution: 1. The “Framework” stuck 2. The “Data” stuck 3. The “I-Cannot-Find-The-Problem” stuck Let’s go through each in detail.
The framework stuck
This situation happens when the candidate does not know which framework to use, and the secret tool for it, is “segmentation”. Segmentation works just like any framework, and like a Swiss Army knife, it’s usually safe and easy to use. So if you’re unsure how to break things down, say these magic words: “At this point, I’d like to break down this X item, and one good way is to use the natural segmentation within this line of business. So may I ask how they break this X item in this industry?” If you get it right, the interviewer will reply with the most industry-relevant way to segment the item. You may be wondering why I’m not talking about issue trees and frameworks here, after all the theory at the beginning of the guidebook. The answer is that the textbook and “ideal” solution – learning the problem-solving fundamentals and deep-diving the frameworks to increase your flexibility – takes a lot of time, while the “cliched” solution – learning as many frameworks as possible, usually at the cost of depth – is inherently dangerous.
The data stuck
The “data stuck” happens when the candidate can’t extract relevant insights from the given data. And when this happens, ask for benchmarks. Comparing with benchmarks is the quickest way to put data into perspective, yielding useful insights. There are 2 kinds of benchmarks – if you remember from the chapter on Candidate-led Cases:
To ask for benchmarks, Just say the following lines: “For now, I hypothesize that the root cause of the problem comes from the X branch of this issue tree. However, to further break down the problem in a spot-on way, I do need some information on the context of our client’s problem. One of the quickest ways to grasp that context is to use competitor’s data; so can I have the X figure for our client’s competitors?”
The “I-Cannot-Find-The-Problem” stuck
This is the scariest “stuck” because there’s no obvious reason or solution – you’ve done your math right, your framework is suitable, and you’ve got a lot of interesting insights from data. Why are you still stuck? From my experience in coaching sessions, there are 2 scenarios where this happens: (1) your issue tree is not MECE, and (2) if your issue tree is MECE, it does not isolate the problem. You can try to avoid this in the first place by mastering the MECE principle, improving intuition, as well as aligning with the interviewer early and often. But what if you still get stuck? The answer is to calmly admit you’ve hit a dead-end, and ask for time to fix the problem; be it the first or second scenario, you have to redraw your issue tree. Literally use the following script: “My whole analysis seems going towards a dead-end, which means either part of my issue tree is not MECE or my method of breaking down does not isolate the problem. Either way, I would like to take a timeout to have a look at it.” You likely get stuck when practicing on yourself. That’s the reason why you need personal coaching. Veteran coaches at MConsultingPrep will give insightful feedback, propose actionable steps, and help you significantly enhance your performance. Find my coach! .
How to ask for data
Data is the fuel for the case interview engine. Without it , your analysis can’t progress. The problem is that interviewers don’t simply give out precious data for free. It has to be earned. There are 4 tips you can use to show that “worthiness”, and prompt the interviewer to supply you with the best information: 1. Create a good impression 2. Explain the purpose of the data 3. Explain the method of acquiring the data 4. Ask open-ended questions
What to do when receiving data
Suppose the interviewer agrees to give you data. Now what? Time to shine! If you do these following 3 steps, even just once, in the interviewer’s mind, you already pass: 1. Acknowledge the data and show appreciation 2. Describe the data, especially its notable features 3. State the implications of the data Let’s dive into each separately.
Example – Handling revenue data
Suppose you’re working on a profitability case (how to fix low profits), and you’re trying to dictate whether the root cause comes from the revenue side. The interviewer gives you this data:
How would you respond? Try to answer it yourself before revealing the sample answer.
Delivering the perfect closing pitch
“You have one minute to summarize all of your findings to the client CEO. What would you say?” Your answer must be short, to-the-point, action-oriented, and client-friendly. The closing pitch of the case interview is sometimes called the “elevator pitch” , where you supposedly meet the client CEO inside the elevator and must somehow deliver the results of the project before the elevator arrives at its destination floor (it’s even worded like that sometimes). Regardless of the wording, the principles remain the same, and your closing pitch must consist of these 4 parts: 1. Introduction / Lead-in 2. Summary of the root causes 3. Summary of the solutions 4. Next step
Develop personal interview scripts
Every tip I’ve mentioned in the previous 7 chapters are for recurring situations in case interviews, and they can be dealt with using formulaic responses. What that means for you – the candidate – is that you can make personal scripts and learn them by heart until they all become your second nature. That will save you a lot of brainpower to use on the issue tree. This approach has proven successful with all of my coachees, and it’s also a major part of our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program. You will find my own personal script I used back in the day, and I will also personally give feedback to scripts of members of the program. So open your document tool and start writing now. Once you’ve finished the scripts, learn them by heart one at a time. When you feel comfortable with every one of them, you can move up to a higher level and practice with whole cases.
Inside the case interviewer’s mind – Consulting culture
The best way to impress your consulting interviewer is to act like a consultant. And to do that, you need to know what goes on inside their mind – both the conscious and unconscious – then install it into your own personality. In this chapter, I’ll guide you through 15 ingredients that make up a consulting mind. However, I won’t tell you how to apply this in case interviews because it will sound fake – what you need is to immerse yourself in a consulting environment, and incorporate these “ingredients” into your own mindset.
Responsibility & proactivity
Everyone talks about responsibility and proactivity these days, but in management consulting, we have a much more powerful word – “ownership” . When you “own” the work, you deeply and sincerely care about it, and you always try to go beyond what is required. If you ever spend your efforts trying to improve a piece of work that your boss already approved, just because you know it is the right thing to do, because you feel so good seeing a job well-done, you have that “ownership” mindset. In management consulting, you are expected to possess that mindset. In my early days at McKinsey, I was almost thrown out the window for working on a cement project but not knowing where the aggregate mines were (which was outside my responsibilities, but my boss expected me to know it, since I “owned” that cement project).
If you fail to do your work, don’t ever blame anyone or anything. Your responsibility is to draw up contingency plans for the “worst-case scenarios”:
In short, if you want to be a consultant, don’t make excuses.
Result-oriented / Can-do attitude
“There’s nothing I can’t do” – that’s the mindset you need to work in management consulting. The result orientation inside a consulting firm is intense – saying that it’s “Mission Impossible” everyday would not be an exaggeration, but at the end of the day it’s always “Mission Accomplished”. The boss doesn’t pay much attention to how you do a task, or what resources it takes, as long as you get it done. The firm has enough resources of every kind to help you with that, so there’s no reason you can’t pull it off.
Communications made by consultants are always short, concise, to-the-point, action-oriented, and structured. We were all given full-on lectures by our parents back when we were kids, for wasting food or not exercising (or not studying, for Asians like me). If they were management consultants, most of those lectures would be replaced with powerful, action-oriented messages: “Go study. If you don’t get an A+ for the next test, I’ll have to discipline you”.
A consultant seeing something non-MECE is like your mom seeing your messy bedroom. It’s that discomforting. If you wish to be a consultant, train yourself to be MECE in everything you do. Once you can be MECE effortlessly, and you start spotting the annoying non-MECE-ness in everything around you, you know you’ve got it.
If you’re unstructured, you won’t get in the business. Being “structured” is a pretty vague concept, but everyone in the consulting industry knows when they see it. It’s about being organized, logical, top-down, MECE, etc.. Basically, if you can approach things the same way as real consultants, you will be deemed “structured”
If you can’t meet the deadline, you’re dead (of course, not literally). A consulting firm works like the perfect machine, where every part operates as intended. When consultants promise to help you with something, you can be nearly 100% sure that they’ll keep their word. This makes work management that much easier. Consequently, if you start missing the deadlines, you’ll be out of the game soon enough.
Manager from Day 1
You’ll get the idea right away if you watched this video on the job of management consultants: <insert link> In short, even as an entry-level associate, you’ll be managing a multitude of resources (experts, specialists, etc.), contents (reports, client data, expert knowledge,…), and stakeholders (the two most important being your client and your boss). Pulling all of these together to create impactful results would be an impressive feat, even for the best and brightest new hires.
Don’t. Ever. Piss off. The client. Management consulting is a special service industry – besides the usual “don’t disrespect the client” and “don’t leave a bad image of the firm”, there’s also “don’t make them hate you while telling them to do what they probably hate.” (which is a good way so sum up a consultant’s job). In case interviews and PEIs, the interviewer will be asking himself a big question: “Can I trust this guy to represent me and my firm before the client?” – if the answer is anything below a stellar impression, you won’t be receiving an offer.
A consultant will have valid reasons for everything they do. In both consulting work and case interviews, you need to be very explicit about the basis of your actions – every conclusion must have backing data, every idea must be explained, and every request must serve a purpose. Don’t ever assume that you’re justified. Being fact-based is part of the foundation for the trust people place on consulting firms, so people who draw ideas out of thin air and act impulsively will never get into the industry.
Effective time & resources management
Every consultant works hard, so the only way to stand out is to work smart. Yes, I know it’s a buzzword, and I know it’s cliched, but the 80-20 rule really does apply in this line of work. The best performers are always the ones to identify the most important lever and focus on it. With the intense workload and up-or-out policy at major consulting firms, this skill is vital. Don’t be surprised if you pull all-nighters and work hard all the time but still get fired, while that one guy who goes home at 5 gets promoted. If you want to survive, learn from him.
Key take-aways & key messages
To a management consultant, everything has a key takeaway. Consultants are efficient people, they don’t simply waste time, effort, and resources on irrelevant things. Things are only worthy of their attention if they have an interesting, helpful “so what”:
If you already think like this, trust me, the interviewer will love you.
Think on your feet first
You should only ask leadership assistance only after you’ve thought well about the problem. Just pause for a second and think: would you be more ready to help someone who really tries their best at the job, or someone who does nothing and relies solely on you? The same thing is true in consulting work, and even in case interviews: the interviewer will assist you if you can deliver well-informed opinions. With that said, “asking without thinking first” is a very common mistake in case interviews, which you can see in the numerous examples from our End-to-End Secrets Program.
Align early, align often
Always try to reach and maintain a consensus with co-workers and your boss, from the most mundane tasks to the largest projects. Nobody wants to spend a whole week building a model that the team doesn’t need; it’s a huge waste of time and resources. As such, consultants have this aligning habit very early and often – a little time spent on reaching an agreement now will save a lot of trouble later. Remember to align in case interviews as well – at the start of the case, and every important step.
Consultants are very action-oriented people who always think about the next step. Every meeting, phone call, even random catch-ups must end with everybody being explicitly and absolutely clear about what to do next. So what’s YOUR next step, after reading this guidebook? Leave a comment below, show your consulting mindset, and I’ll personally reply with advice on your case interview prep.
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Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program
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Consulting Interview Preparation
What is a Case Interview?
The problems you will encounter are not designed to be brainteasers, or theoretical problems designed to stump you, but rather to reflect the challenges that our clients face. We love this format because we get to discuss cases based on our own client work.
All consulting role candidates (and some non-consulting roles) can expect a case interview, regardless of which office they apply to.
What We Look For
- The approach you take to solving a problem
- How analytical and creative your thinking is
- Your usage of data to quantify and make your recommendations
- Your communication skills in conveying your ideas
- How you would suggest implementing these proposals
Associate Consultant Case Library
We want to help you prepare. practice with one of our cases below., coffee shop co.
Your friend needs our help. They're thinking of opening a coffee shop in a new city and wants our business advice before they proceed. Should they do it?
FashionCo's CEO, a player in the women's fashion market wants us to figure out how they can drive more revenue since they've been in decline for the past couple of years.
Video: AC Mock Video
Get to know what it's like to sit down and see how we run through a case interview.
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Case Interview Prep - McKinsey / BCG / Bain (March 2023 Update)
This is the ultimate guide to maximizing your case interview prep. Completely updated for March 2023.
And let us be clear about something.
You’re going to learn case interview secrets, the top tips for success, and a case grading cheat sheet that you won’t find anywhere else.
We offer exclusive MBB ex-interviewer content. It’s not from ex-consultants who never gave cases.
Yes, we’ll cover consulting interview questions and answers, case interview frameworks, and realistic case interview examples.
But even better, you’re going to learn a proven 5 step prep plan that is the #1 reason our readers get triple offers from McKinsey, BCG, and Bain.
So if you’re looking to get the most out of your consulting interview preparation this year, you’ll love this guide.
Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?
Let us send you a copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you.
Just let us know where to send it.
(takes 5 seconds):
If you only have 25 minutes, WATCH THIS!
Case Interview Basics
Case Interview Questions
Interviewer-Led vs. Candidate-Led Cases
Consulting Fit & PEI Questions
Case Interview Preparation Plan
Case Interview Examples
At Pass The Case, we’ve helped thousands of candidates prepare for their consulting interviews at McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and other top consulting firms.
Preparing for case interviews does NOT have to be complicated.
Over the years, we’ve designed a system to get you from "What’s a case interview?" to "Now I need to choose which offer to accept, McKinsey, BCG or Bain.”
Several of our readers land all three.
We’ve summarized all the key things to know in this guide.
What are case interviews?
McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and other strategy consulting firms use case interviews in their recruiting process.
Case interviews are about 30 minutes long during which you will analyze and solve a business problem.
These cases are typically inspired from actual consulting projects.
The point of a case interview is to simulate conditions you’ll face in a real consulting project so your interviewer can see how you’d perform on the job.
Here are three realistic examples of case interviews you could come across in your consulting interviews.
Example #1: Lowe's has a profit problem
Your client is the new SVP of appliances for a home improvement retailer.
He's noticing something odd happening in the dishwasher category.
The category had sales of $1.2B last year.
While the category is profitable, it’s margin is below the industry average.
The client wants to know why the category isn't as profitable as he expects. Also, how can the company improve its profitability in this area?
Example #2: FoodSaver wants to enter a new market
Your client is a manufacturer of food storage bags with $400M in revenue.
Its business is slowing and the company wants growth in new areas.
Management believes that the vacuum sealer bag market may be an attractive opportunity.
Vacuum sealer bags are used to keep food fresh much longer in either the refrigerator or freezer.
These bags are fed into a vacuum sealer machine, which sucks air out of the bag to remove all moisture and oxygen.
Users need to have a vacuum sealer machine in order to use these vacuum sealer bags.
The client wants to know if the vacuum sealer bag market is attractive to enter. And if you would recommend entry. If so, how?
Example #3: Southwire sees more competition entering
Your client is a manufacturer of copper electrical wiring for commercial building applications.
They also sell plastic piping and lighting.
They have a leading share of the copper electrical wiring market.
For many years, this market had just a handful of large players, including our client.
Within the last year, many small competitors entered.
Our client wants to know why these smaller competitors suddenly entered this market. Also what, if any, action should the client take in responding?
Some consulting firms give a few good examples of case interviews on their website.
Here are some case interview examples from McKinsey , BCG , and Deloitte . In addition, you can also take a look at our Free Case Interview Prep .
Now that you know the purpose of case interviews, let’s understand the key skills that the top consulting firms and we interviewers are looking to test.
What skills are the top consulting firms looking for?
Consulting firms are all looking for similar skills.
If you take a look at McKinsey’s , BCG’s , and Bain’s sites, you’ll see that although they describe the skills they look for differently, they are essentially the same:
Problem solving Personal impact Entrepreneurial Leadership abilities
Problem solving Impact Initative Leadership
Problem solving Results delivery Passion Ability to lead
Problem solvers Achievers Initative takers Leaders / Collaborators
It’s important to keep these four attributes in mind because top consulting firms will grade you along these dimensions at each step of their recruiting process.
Firms typically use four tools to make their assessment:
Resume and Cover letter
Math and logic tests
Behavioral interview / fit questions
Case interview questions
Below, we describe how each assessment tool is used to test a set of key skills:
The Resume and Cover Letter screen assesses:
The Math & Logic tests (i.e., McKinsey PST and BCG Potential Test ) assesses:
The Behavioral / Fit interview tests:
The Case Interview tests:
The first step of the recruiting process is the consulting resume and cover letter screen.
During that step, consulting firms will assess your strength across all four attributes.
Even before the first step, the resume screener and others from the firm may have an impression of you from firm networking events.
If you’re interested in learning about the questions to ask when networking for consulting , check out our Definitive Guide.
Depending on the region you’re applying for, if you pass the resume and cover letter screen, you may be invited to take a math and logic test.
McKinsey uses the McKinsey PST and BCG uses the BCG Potential Test . Not all firms use these tests but many of them do.
These tests assess if you can pass above the minimum Problem Solving “bar”
Internally, this is sometimes referred to as having enough “horsepower.”
If you pass that bar, you’ll be invited to an interview.
During these interviews you will need to answer two types of questions: behavioral / fit interview questions and case interview questions.
Behavioral interview questions include ones like “Tell me about a time you had a difficult team experience..”
or “Tell me about a time where you had a significant impact on an organization.”
Questions asked during the behavioral interview are geared to test your problem solving, personal impact, entrepreneurial drive, and leadership skills.
Our page on a comprehensive list of consulting behavioral interview questions is coming soon.
Case interview questions test your ability to solve tough business problems based on previous consulting projects.
Your case interviewer will test your consulting skills across seven key question types. You’ll learn about each of these in the next chapter of this guide.
Now that you know the skills being tested during the consulting recruiting process, let’s learn how interviewers make their offer or reject decisions.
How do case interviewers decide who gets an offer?
As you’ve seen, the consulting recruiting process is rigorous.
First, you need to get selected for an interview after you pass the resume and cover letter screen.
Second, depending on which region you’re applying for, you may need to pass a math and logic test (e.g., McKinsey PST or BCG Potential Test ).
After that, you will typically have to pass two rounds of interviews (assuming you pass the first round).
That’s a whole lot of things you have to pass! The top management consulting firms need a way to whittle down a pool of lots of high caliber candidates.
Each round of interviews involves behavioral interview questions and case interview questions.
In the first round you will typically meet with 2 interviewers
In the second round (also called the “Decision Round” or “Final Round” you will typically meet with 3 interviewers
Here’s a common question we get: Is the second round of interviews different from the first one?
The format is the same, but the people interviewing you will be different.
First round interviewers are typically manager-level or higher with 3+ years of experience.
At McKinsey, this is an Engagement Manager or an Associate Principal.
At BCG, this is a Project Leader or a Principal.
At Bain, this is a Manager or a Principal.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Consultant-levels are typically NOT permitted NOR trained to conduct behavioral or case interviews.
Be wary about what you read online as the majority of materials are created by ex-consultants with no actual recruiting or real life interviewing experience.
You wouldn’t believe how many materials from popular sites we’ve seen give misinformed and poor advice that can lead to you sabotaging your efforts.
Second round interviewers are typically with Partners or Senior Partners.
At the end of the first round interview, your two interviewers will get together in a room and make a decision on whether or not to move you to the final round.
In order to make their decision, they will use a mental model of “good vs. great” scoring that you’ll learn about in the next chapter.
Here’s another common question we get: What’s harder? Passing the first round or passing the final round?
Statistically, it is harder to pass the first round, than it is to get an offer once you’ve made it to the final round.
At the end of your final round interview, the Partners will get together in a room and make a decision about whether or not to extend you an offer.
So how can you make sure you impress both managers in the first round and partners in the second round? You’ll find out in the next chapter of this guide!
In this chapter you are going to learn the seven types of case interview questions to be prepared for.
No matter which consulting firm you may interview with, you can always expect to see these seven case interview questions come up during your case interview.
Want to know the secret to doing well on the case interview?
Simply outperform on each case interview question type and do it consistently.
To outperform, you need to know the key principles, use a consistent method, and be aware of what case interviewers need to hear in each question type.
To find out, read on!
The seven types of case interview questions
(and what we case interviewers REALLY want to hear in each of them)
All case interviews from the top consulting firms consist of the same 7 types of case interview questions.
Here they are:
Case Interview Clarifying Questions
Case Interview Frameworks - Question
Case Interview Analysis - Question
Case Interview Charts - Question
Case Interview Math - Question
Case Interview Brainstorming - Question
Case Interview Recommendation - Question
Lastly, there is the occasional: Case Interview Market Sizing - Question
So what makes the great candidates (who land offers) different from all the other merely good candidates (who get rejected)?
The ones who land offers simply learned and internalized how to consistently outperform in each type of case interview question .
In other words, if you know how to outperform during each type of question, you by virtue end up outperforming on the overall case.
It’s this reason why many of our students have landed offers not just at McKinsey, not just at BCG, not just at Bain, but have landed offers from ALL three firms.
What we call hitting the “MBB Trifecta!”
Here’s a recent quote from one of our students:
I ended up getting offers from all three firms - McKinsey, Bain, and BCG.. Now just have to choose! Thanks Brian!
This particular student was actually a consulting club officer at a top 5 MBA program.
Despite the amount of career service and consulting club resources, students often get lost in separating the signal from the noise.
More importantly, the majority of these resources will not push you to great.
So now, let’s dive in and understand what each of these 7 types of questions are in more detail. You’ll also learn what we case interviewers look for in each.
As mentioned in the first chapter of this guide, the objective of case interviews is to assess how you solve a business problem.
Therefore, at the start of the case, the interviewer will talk about the situation of the company you are trying to help.
Your job in that part of the interview will be to make sure you understand the situation by listening carefully and asking relevant follow-up questions.
Example Your client is the new SVP of appliances for a home improvement retailer. He's noticing something odd in the dishwasher category. The category had sales of $1.2B last year. While the category is profitable, it’s margin is below industry avg. The client wants to know why the category isn't as profitable as he expects. How the company can improve their profitability in this area?
After listening to the case situation, you may summarize what you’ve heard and clarify a few questions.
For instance, you may want to ask if the client has any specific profitability targets and understand how long the problem has been going on.
Another potential clarification you could ask may be the geography in which the company operates (i.e., are they national or regional).
Here’s how a case interviewer will assess you in this section:
A good response:
You ask some generic clarifying questions
A great response:
You ask relevant clarifying questions to better understand the scope of the problem
Case Interview Frameworks
Once the situation has been established, the second step of the case interview is for you to develop a framework.
This is also called structuring the problem, developing a framework, or creating an “issue tree.” They all mean the same thing.
The framework is a visual list of areas you plan to analyze to solve the problem the company is facing.
To answer the client’s questions, I would like to start by looking at our company and the competition Within our company, I’d like to first understand our financials – namely revenue and costs -For revenue , I’d like to see if volumes have declined or pricing may have changed -On cost, I’d like to understand if either fixed or variable costs may have increased Next, I’d like to understand the types of dishwashers we’re selling - What is our mix of dishwasher brands - And have we seen any changes in our product mix Perhaps our client is too focused on selling less profitable products or brands than the competition is Lastly, I’d like to look at our similarities and differences to the competition - Is our pricing and/or costs out of line with our competitors? - Is our benchmark a fair comparison to our client? Are they also a mass-market home improvement retailer like us? Are they in similar size to us? After understanding the above, I’d like to think of options to improve profitability – which may include revenue based strategies like changing price or increasing our mix… or cost-based strategies like lowering our costs
Identifies 1st level issues (also known as "key issues")
Mentions some 2nd level drivers (also known as "sub-issues")
Shows that you have a good grasp of the problem
Identifies more relevant 1st level issues
Identifies most 2nd level drivers
Shows that you have a deep understanding of the problem
A common mistake many candidates make is memorizing frameworks and reusing them as-is in their interviews.
Interviewers will immediately spot and penalize candidates who do this. They call this using a “canned” or “templated” framework / approach.
The objective of this question is to test your structured thinking, logic, and business acumen, given your initial understanding of the problem.
It’s not to memorize or regurgitate frameworks.
Instead, you should focus your energy on learning to adapt your own frameworks using the information you have gathered from your interviewer when talking about the situation and any clarifying questions you had.
You also want your framework to be relatively MECE, which stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive.
Simply put, it means that your framework is one that has no overlaps and no gaps. Click here for the definitive guide on how to be MECE (coming soon).
This might sound a little bit intimidating at first but becomes quite easy with the right practice.
How to create great, relevant frameworks is one of the many things we teach in our Free Case Interview Prep Program .
You can read more about how to craft great frameworks in our upcoming Definitive Guide: Case Interview Frameworks (coming soon).
Case Interview Analysis
Once you have your framework setup, the interviewer will sometimes ask you to explore the areas you identified to find the root-cause of the client’s issue. This is what we call the Examining and Uncovering question.
Example Interviewer prompt: What would you like to understand? Revenue -I'd like to understand if declines in the client's volume or changes in its pricing have led to the below-target profitability Costs -I’d like to understand if there have been any increases in the client’s fixed costs or variable costs -I’d also like to understand if the competition has a cost advantage over us -Does the competition offer similar products and similar pricing as us? Product Mix -I’d like to understand our product mix – maybe we are focused on less profitable products and not selling enough profitable ones
You sometimes probe at the driver level
You occasionally states the reason behind asking for information
You often probe at the driver level (aka you ask more relevant questions vs. generic question asking)
You mostly state the reason behind asking for information (aka you use a hypothesis-driven approach)
This part of the case interview tests whether you’re able find the root-cause of an issue in a structured way.
The best method is to explore your framework using what’s called a hypothesis-driven approach.
For example, you might start by saying: “My initial hypothesis is that the profit issue is driven by revenues.
Specifically, this could be due to price declining, costs increasing, or a shift in our product mix.”
You’d then investigate the revenue side of your framework to identify if that’s where the root-cause of the issue is.
If you learn revenues have been flat, you’d update your hypothesis and explore mix or cost issues.
For an example of how to use a hypothesis-driven approach in case interviews you can watch the case interview examples in the bonus chapter of this guide.
IMPORTANT ! When you are in the Examining and Uncovering question, you are asking questions to learn more about the key issues and sub-issues you laid out in your framework.
In a profitability type of case, you are in search of the “root-cause” of the profitability decline.
However, in other case types like market entry or a new product launch, there is not necessarily a “root-cause” issue.
Here, you can think of it as looking at the problem from different “angles.”
Nevertheless, you’ll still explore and ask questions around the key issues and sub-issues that you laid out in your framework.
Case Interview Charts
The aim of this question is to assess how comfortable you are with drawing insights from data. This data usually comes in the form of graphs and tables or can also be provided by your interviewer orally.
Example Interviewer prompt: What are your preliminary observations and takeaways? Data provided: table with mix of revenue and EBIT % broken down by brand; Data is shown for both client and that of an avg. competitor
I see the margins on GE are quite low, and we’re over-indexed, so should potentially consider shifting our mix to higher margin brands like Whirlpool We should also potentially create a store branded dishwasher – since the margins are quite high However perhaps there are other costs not captured here that we should investigate like the cost to develop the product Additionally we’d have to consider our customer’s receptiveness to buying a store-branded dishwasher
You mostly just read off the exhibit
You identify some of the key insights
You identify most of the key insights (also known as the "so what")
You think about implications
You proactively think about the "now what"
Case Interview Math
In this question, you will be asked to perform math calculations. Sometimes not all data will be provided to you upfront, and you need to know to ask for it to complete your calculations.
You’ll also want to put your answer in the context of the case question.
Interviewer prompts a math question: The client wants you to calculate the impact of profit in dollar terms if they shift 20 of the 60 percentage points from GE. Assume 10 of those points go to Whirlpool and 10 of those points to a new store brand. Candidate then provides answer of incremental profit amount.
You make a few minor errors
You’re a bit slow / take the long way
You got to right / close to right answer
You get to the right answer and put it in context
You use math shortcuts
You are quick and accurate with your calculations
Case Interview Brainstorming
At some point during your case interview, you’ll also be tested on your creativity. This type of question is very open-ended. This part tests your ability to generate new ideas or solutions.
Example Interviewer prompt: Let's take a moment to discuss store brand. What factors may impact the decision on how to proceed, if at all, with creating our own store-brand dishwasher? Economics Store brand margins are high However, there may be other costs not captured, such as upfront product development, and headcount considerations for someone to oversee this Vendor Relationship Risk We may anger GE, who may feel we are trying to undercut them with a our own store brand line. So we’d need to manage our communications with them carefully. Customer I’d want to better understand if our store-branded dishwasher would be well received by customers. Since they likely wouldn’t have heard of the brand, we’d need to make sure we can earn their trust with perhaps a better than average warranty backed by the name of our store.
You mention a few obvious ideas
You sometimes mention considerations / trade-offs / implications
You mention several relevant ideas
You often mention considerations / trade-offs / implications
Case Interview Recommendation
The last step of the case interview is the recommendation question. This is the part of the interview where you’ll be asked to summarize what you’ve found out and what the client should do.
Example - Recommendation question Interviewer prompt: Lets say that the Senior VP walks in and wants a quick overview of your findings and recommendations – what would you tell him? We explored why dishwasher profitability was low and how to fix it We found that we’re selling too much of GE, which is a lower margin product – and this is what’s driving down our profitability Shifting 20 percentage points away from GE to and split equally to Whirlpool & our own store brand increases profit by $60M As a next step, we should shift some product mix to Whirlpool as well as investigate the business case for launching our own store branded dishwasher
You answer the question
You provide next steps
You succinctly recap the question
You answer the question incorporating the key insights found
You discuss risks and next steps
Case Interview Market Sizing
This question sometimes shows up, but not always. It’s a quantitative question but when you’re not provided with any data.
This type of question tests similar skills as Calculating Math does, but you’ll need to make assumptions to solve the problem.
Example - Market sizing / estimation question:
Could you estimate the market size for dishwashers in the US making assumptions?
You make some relevant and reasonable assumptions
You are somewhat effective with calculations
You make mostly relevant and reasonable assumptions
You are mostly effective with calculations
Variations in questions asked
The majority of the time, the flow of the case follows the order of these questions. However, there are occasions when these seven questions will not always get asked in the same order.
Keep in mind that no matter the flow of the particular case, you’ll always be able to classify a particular question as one of these seven question types.
Now that you know what type of questions to expect in case interviews, you need to know about the important differences between McKinsey cases and cases at other firms such BCG and Bain.
Let's dive in and explore the top 3 differences between McKinsey interviewer-led cases vs. BCG & Bain candidate-led cases.
Much of it is the same, but there are a few nuances that are important to understand.
McKinsey interviewer-led case nuances
#1: Active interviewer leading the case
In McKinsey cases, you’ll find the interviewer is more active than at other firms. Most of the time they’ll lead you from one question to the next.
They will also challenge your answers a bit more than at other companies.
The interviewer will control the pace of the interview and sometimes even interrupt you to go to the next question.
This is why McKinsey interviews are sometimes called interviewer-led cases.
#2: Very structured case interviews
Second, McKinsey case interviews are a lot more structured than other case interviews and the flow of questions you will get is usually quite standard.
In fact it closely follows the list that was previously laid out in the case question types part of this guide.
BCG and Bain candidate-led case nuances
#1: Candidate “drives” the case
Now let’s turn our attention to case interviews at firms other than McKinsey.
We loosely refer to these firms as BCG and Bain, but this applies to ALL other consulting firms you could be applying for including for instance: LEK, Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger, Monitor Deloitte, etc.
First, cases at BCG, Bain and other firms are also called “candidate-led” cases.
This is because you’ll be expected to play a much more proactive role in the case interviews at these firms than at McKinsey.
Your interviewer will let you decide in which direction to take the case.
The interviewer will provide you with clues and will want to see you “drive” the case. They’ll intervene if you are going off-base.
#2: Need to be hypothesis-driven
Second, the fact that you are “driving the case” means you’ll often want to take a hypothesis-driven approach.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, being hypothesis-driven is very helpful in framework exploration questions when you need to find the root-cause.
This is a technique you will need to use at BCG, Bain and other firms but not as much at McKinsey.
Get a feel for the differences between the two case formats
When candidates learn about the difference between McKinsey cases and cases at other firms, a lot of candidates ask us to help them tailor their preparation to each type of firm.
This is why we have put together the McKinsey Case Interview Training Program and the BCG & Bain Case Interview Training Program.
Each program is tailored to master the nuances of the firms it targets.
One of the components of these programs is live case interviews where you can watch a best-in-class candidate (top 1% performer) solve cases.
As mentioned previously, this is a great way to train to solve cases by yourself using a consistent method.
And remember, using a consistent method is the key to getting a top consulting firm offer.
If you would like to get a feel for McKinsey interviews, as well BCG & Bain interviews, watch the case interview example videos in the bonus chapter .
Consulting Fit & PEI Questions
Consulting interviews are typically split into two parts - the fit / behavioral interview and the case interview.
This part of the guide is all about the fit / behavioral interview portion.
Fit questions are focused on all four attributes that top consulting firms look for:
Problem solving skills
Leadership / collaboration skills
Types of consulting behavioral interview questions
Consulting behavioral interview questions can be categorized in two buckets:
Fit questions : These are generic questions such as “Why consulting?” or “Why McKinsey / BCG / Bain?”
Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions : These are questions such as “Tell me about a time when you lead a team through a difficult situation.” Or “Tell me about a time where you had to manage a team conflict.”
All firms ask a mix of these two types of questions but some are more focused on one type than others.
For instance, McKinsey and BCG almost exclusively ask personal experience interview questions.
Bain tends to put a little more focus on typical fit questions such as “Why Bain?” or “Walk me through your resume.”
So what specific questions do you need to prepare for?
While the firms continually change their approved question banks, we’ve analyzed hundreds of questions on glassdoor.com for McKinsey, BCG and Bain.
We’ve summarized our findings below.
These questions are also consistent with the type of questions the candidates we work with are currently getting in interviews.
Top 5 consulting fit questions
Here are the top 5 most common consulting fit questions:
Why firm X?
Introduce yourself / walk me through your resume.
Tell me something that’s not on your resume.
Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.
Now let’s step through each of the top questions so you’ll be prepared for them.
#1 Why firm X?
We’ve covered the " Why McKinsey / BCG / Bain? " question in detail in the past. Almost all consulting firms will ask you that question at some point.
Note: At McKinsey and BCG, this question is more likely to be asked during a networking or firm event than it is to be asked during the behavioral interview.
This is to check that your interest in their firm is genuine and not only based on their reputation.
As you prepare for consulting interviews, try to grasp what sets each of the firms apart by talking to consultants in your network or at recruiting events.
For more information, be sure to check out our Definitive Guide on questions to ask when networking for consulting .
#2 Why consulting?
Consulting is an intense job.
Consulting firms will therefore want to check that you have actually done your homework and that you have thought about why you want to be a consultant.
There are many great reasons to go into consulting. But here are our three favorite ones:
You will learn a lot in little time : Changing to a new industry, project, and team, every few weeks or months makes the job provide so much learning.
In other words, consulting makes you constantly come up a learning curve.
You will work with bright people . Consulting firms are selective and as a result your teammates will be extremely smart people.
Consulting is a very intellectually-stimulating environment.
You can find yourself working with a wide variety of backgrounds including liberal arts, business, PhD’s, lawyers, and medical doctors.
You will work get early exposure to senior executives . This opportunity is unique.
In most industry jobs you have to wait for many years to have the same level of exposure to the CEO, CFO, and other C-suite executives.
#3 Introduce yourself / walk me through your resume
This question is a great opportunity to summarize what you have done in the past in a way that highlights why you’d make a great consultant at their firm.
For instance you could say something like: “I’m Kevin, I’m currently doing my MBA at the Kellogg School of Management.
I’ve done three things in my career so far that are relevant to consulting and motivated me to apply for this firm.
First, etc. “And you could then tell brief stories around the three most relevant points on your resume.
#4 Tell me something that’s not on your resume
Some interviewers will also want you to tell them something that’s not on your resume.
This might be surprising if you have not prepared for it so it’s worth thinking about ahead of your interview.
This question is particularly popular at Bain.
When your interviewer asks that question they are trying to get to know you on a more personal level.
They are trying to find out what kind of fun stuff you do outside of work.
It could literally be anything: playing guitar, being part of volunteering group, writing a book, etc.
WHAT you do outside of work does not really matter. In fact the more differentiated or unique the better (it makes it more memorable).
What’s more important is HOW you do it. Your interviewer will be looking for signals that you are pursuing that activity with passion, drive, and intensity.
For instance, answering that you create board games on the side or have applied to Shark Tank will get you noticed more than saying “I like basketball.”
#5 Tell me about your greatest accomplishment
Unless your interviewer specifies that it’s okay to talk about an accomplishment outside of work / academics, you should stick to these two areas.
A great answer will focus on a recent achievement that’s relevant to the skills you need to be a great management consultant.
The best thing to do for this question is to re-purpose one of the stories you’ll prepare for Personal Experience Interview questions which we’ll cover next.
Top 5 PEI Questions
Here are the top 5 most common Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions:
Tell me about a time when...
You led a team through a tough situation
You worked in a team and had to manage conflict
You had a disagreement with a colleague / boss
You had to change someone's / a group's mind
You overcame a really difficult challenge
Expect to get mostly, if not exclusively just PEI questions at McKinsey and BCG.
Personal experience interview questions are different than “fit” questions because they are less generic.
They aim at testing the specific skills you need to be a great management consultant. Not your motivations for joining their firm or the consulting industry.
Here are the main five themes that will be covered in these personal experience interview questions:
#1 Leading others
E.g.: “Tell me about a time you led a team through a difficult challenge.”
#2 Managing a team conflict / situation
E.g.: “Tell me about a time you worked in a team and had to manage a conflict.”
#3 Managing a personal conflict
E.g.: “Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a colleague.”
#4 Influencing others
E.g.: “Tell me about a time you changed the mind of a group of people.”
#5 Overcoming challenges
E.g.: “Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a big obstacle.”
People remember stories.
On the day of your interview, your interviewer will typically meet with 8 to 12 other candidates. That’s a lot of people when you think about it!
Therefore, you need to build strong stories that they will remember to make sure you stand out.
In fact the way the question is asked (“Tell me about a time …”) is really an invitation to tell a story.
There are multiple ways to tell a story.
We suggest the simple SCARF framework below. We encourage you to use it to create five stories for your interview:
Situation : start by giving the necessary context
Complication : outline the problem you and your team were facing
Action : explain the key actions you took to solve the problem
Result : if possible, quantify the impact you had in solving the problem
Future Lessons : conclude with any lessons learned in the process
Once you’ve written down your five stories, rehearse telling them out loud.
Getting into this habit will help you tremendously on the actual day of your interviews.
Finally, if you are preparing for McKinsey, we’d also encourage you to read our article on McKinsey PEI questions (coming soon).
The same five themes are used by McKinsey but in a slightly different rank order. We also share the common mistakes to avoid in that article.
So how do you make sure you succeed at case interviews and land your dream job at McKinsey, BCG, Bain, or another top consulting firm?
In our experience, the following five-steps is a proven, battle-tested approach for a great case interview preparation plan:
Learn a consistent method to outperform in each case question type
Know your baseline level of performance in each of the seven case areas
Do practice drills for each case question type
Practice realistic case interviews with a case interviewer's grading rubric
Impress your interviewer on fit / PEI questions
A battle-tested case interview prep plan for success
This is the approach we take in our Case Interview Prep Course and the majority of people who use it end up being successful with their target firm.
But even if you don't end up using this program, we still encourage you to take this five-step approach. Trust us, it really works!
Let's step through each stage of the preparation plan to give you more details about what you should do in each.
#1: Learn a consistent method for outperforming in each of the seven case interview question types
The first step of your case interview preparation should be to learn a consistent method for outperforming in each of the seven case interview question types.
As we mentioned in the second part of this guide, there are 7 different types of questions in case interviews.
In our experience, the best way to outperform on the overall case is to learn how to consistently outperform on each type of question in isolation first.
This makes the learning process more effective.
You can more easily measure your progress and focus your preparation on the specific areas of the case interview that you’re less comfortable with.
We’ve created a comprehensive free case interview prep course that will teach you a proven step-by-step method for each of the 7 question types.
#2: Know your baseline level of performance in each of the seven areas of the case
The second step of your case interview preparation should be to know your performance baseline.
Think of this as a “diagnostic” for your current case interview skills. Discovering your baseline is important so that you know what areas you need to focus on.
We’ve created a free case score video that’ll take you through a realistic case interview and grade you as either “good” or “great” in each of the seven areas.
After discovering your case score, you’ll know exactly what areas of the case you need to focus the most on.
#3: Do practice drills for each case question type
The third step of your case interview preparation should be to do focused practice drills on the specific areas of the case that you’re not yet “great” on.
This way you can focus your energy on the specific areas that need the most improvement and get rid of the “weak links” in your overall case performance.
You can do case question drills for each of the seven areas of the case. We recommend focusing on no more than your top 1 or 2 weakest areas at a time.
#4: Practice realistic case interviews with a case interviewer’s grading rubric
The last step of your preparation should be to apply the step-by-step methods you learned in the free case interview prep course and the case question drills you’ve done to now practice case interviews .
One way to do this is to find peers to practice with either at your school (if you’re a student) or online (if you’re an experienced hire candidate).
In addition, it will also be helpful to practice case interviews by yourself. This is one of the top reasons people use our REALISTIC practice case interviews .
They include live case interview videos which are structured so that you can listen to the interviewer's question, hit pause, and answer the question as if you were in a real interview.
This is an extremely efficient way to progress quickly. And here is a small selection of the case interview tips ( coming soon) we provide in our program.
After you go through a case, it is very important that you assess your feedback in each of the seven areas of the case.
Whether you are practicing with peers or by yourself, you should ALWAYS use a good vs. great grading rubric to track your performance trends:
Download the case interviewer’s grading rubric
For a limited time only, get access to a free download of the Grading Rubric. This will give you the cheat sheet on how to systematically win points in each part of your case.
In the real world, case interviewers need to make quick judgments on your performance.
This is the "mental model" they use to type each of the aspects of your case as either "good" or "great."
Once you pickup the grading rubric, you’ll want to go ahead and practice case interviews using the rubric in each practice case that you do.
You always want to make sure that the cases you practice are as realistic as possible.
That’s why we modeled our practice case interviews against realistic cases that you’ll experience at McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and other top consulting firms.
#5: Impress your interviewer on fit / PEI questions
Finally, it’s also important to prepare for the fit / personal experience interview as well.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend putting about 20% of your preparation time aside to prepare good answers to common fit and PEI questions.
We are currently working on adding a section about this specific topic to this guide.
In the meantime, we suggest reading this blog post on frequent McKinsey PEI questions how to answer them (coming soon).
If you would like to fast track your case interview preparation and maximize your chances of getting an offer at McKinsey, BCG or Bain, come train with us.
Candidates training with our Case Interview Prep Course typically end up getting an offer at their target firm.
Practice with other people: There are two popular platforms sites that let you to practice with other people.
There are some others but these are the biggest ones.
We do not recommend the practice materials on either of these websites for two reasons:
They are overused, so will not lead to a competitive advantage
They are often not modeled on realistic cases of McKinsey, BCG, or Bain
But they are good places to find online practice partners if you don’t have enough friends or peers to practice with.
Case interview prep books: There are two popular books on case interview prep.
You can see our comprehensive guide to case interview prep book reviews (coming soon).
Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng
Case In Point by Marc Consentino
Case interview coaching / mock case interview: These are resources to put you in touch with an ex-McKinsey, BCG, or Bain consultant or case interviewer.
You can see our guide to case interview coaching here (coming soon).
Case Interview Coaching (coming soon)
Case interview frameworks: There are two popular frameworks that circulate on the internet. These are the:
Victor Cheng business situation framework
Market entry case framework
However, you should not blindly use either one.
In fact, it’ll likely lead to you getting rejected. To learn why, read our definitive guide on case interview frameworks ( coming soon).
Common questions about case interview prep
Case interview preparation time.
One of the most common questions we get is how much time is needed to prepare for case interviews?
Our response is that proper preparation gives you a significant advantage.
Your competition is not the case, it is simply other very smart and very-well prepared people.
This means you need to outperform in as many of the sub-areas of the case as possible, consistently, and while under pressure.
Here’s our suggestion on how to best allocate your time, given the amount of hours you have to dedicate to case interview preparation:
If under 10 hours of time:
Review our Case Interview Tips and Techniques (1 hour)
Practice our ten Case Interview Prep Course videos (1 hour each, incl. feedback)
If 10-20 hours of time:
Practice ten realistic case interviews with peers (1 hour each, incl. feedback)
If 20-40 hours of time:
Practice twenty realistic case interviews with peers (1 hour each, incl. feedback)
If 40+ hours of time:
Review my Case Interview Tips and Techniques (1 hour)
Practice thirty realistic case interviews with peers (1 hour each, incl. feedback).
How do I know when I’m ready?
Wouldn’t it be great if you a way to virtually know that you’d get an offer with McKinsey, BCG, Bain or other top consulting firms, rather than merely hope so?
The best indication of this is to practice our ten Case Interview Prep Course videos and ensure you’re scoring “great” overall on the interview grading rubric.
If you can get overall great scores on 5 cases in a row, you are in outstanding shape for your real case interview with the top consulting firms.
McKinsey interview timeline
Below is a general timeline of McKinsey’s interview timeline from application to offer.
It’s important to note that every office will have some variation in the timeline. However, the below is what a typical one looks like:
McKinsey’s interview timeline
Submit the application by the deadline
1-6 weeks following your application, if you have been selected, you will receive an interview invitation
2-4 weeks from invitation, you will have your first round interview (typically with an Engagement Managers or Associate Principals)
2-48 hours following first round interview, you will be notified of the second round interview
1-4 weeks following the notice, you will have your second round interview (typically with a Partners or Senior Partners)
2 hours to 4 weeks following the second round interview, there will be a call from a partner or senior partner extending you an offer
There a variety of factors that influence the timeline and it may differ between offices, positions, candidate types, and application cycles.
BCG interview timeline
Below is a general timeline of BCG’s interview timeline from application to offer. You will note that it is quite similar to the interview timeline of McKinsey.
The slight nuance is that BCG typically follow-ups with candidates faster than McKinsey in both rounds based on field reports we receive from our readers.
As mentioned before, every office will have some variation in the timeline. However, the below is what a typical one looks like:
BCG’s interview timeline
1-4 weeks following your application, if you have been selected, you will receive an interview invitation
1-4 weeks from invitation, you will have your first round interview (typically with Project Leaders or Principals)
2-36 hours following first round interview, you will be notified of the second round interview
1-4 weeks following the notice, you will have your second round interview (typically with Partners or Senior Partners)
2 hours to 2 weeks following the second round interview, there will be a call from a partner or senior partner extending you an offer
Again, there are a variety of factors that influence the timeline and it may differ between offices, positions, candidate types, and application cycles.
Any other questions?
The purpose of this page is to be the most comprehensive and updated resource for case interview prep online.
If you have any questions about case interviews or believe topics should be included in this case interview preparation guide, please e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll review and update accordingly.
Now it’s time for us to show you full case interview examples in action.
The best part?
These have all been expertly modeled against realistic McKinsey, BCG, and Bain cases, so you can skip those old casebooks.
And another bonus, these practice case examples allow you to actively practice along vs. just being a passive listener.
Consulting Case Interview Examples
If you’re looking for REALISTIC McKinsey, BCG, or Bain case interview examples or even general business case interview examples, then this section is for you.
Here’s why these case interview examples are going to be better than 99% of the stuff of the internet:
These are all modeled on realistic cases
You get to be an active participant instead of just a passive listener
You'll see the nuanced difference in answers showing good vs. great (this translates to “almost passing” vs. definitely passing). This feature is only available in our full Practice Case Interviews program.
Profitability case interview example #1
Profitability case interview example #2, profitability case interview example #3, new market entry case interview example, new product launch case interview example, operations case interview example, m&a case interview example, growth strategy case interview example, pricing strategy case interview example, competitive threat case interview example.
Case Interview Prep FAQ
How do you ace a case interview?
‘A case interview can be aced by incorporating a 4-step approach. First, seek to understand the foundational elements of the case interview: problem structuring, problem solving, quantitative analysis, insights generation, and creativity. Second, know your baseline by taking a case interview performance diagnostic. Third, hone your skills in the areas you need to focus on by practicing specific drills. Lastly, practice full case interviews that have a corresponding grading rubric.
How do I prepare for a McKinsey case interview?
A McKinsey case interview is considered to be an interviewer-led format. This means that the interviewer is more active than at other firms, and most of the time they’ll lead you from one question to the next. Additionally, McKinsey case interviews are generally more structured than other case interviews and the flow of questions you will get is usually quite standard.
How do I prepare for a BCG or Bain case interview?
A BCG or Bain case interview is considered to be a candidate-led format. This means you’ll be expected to play a much more proactive role in the case interviews at these firms than at McKinsey. Your interviewer will let you decide in which direction to take the case. The interviewer will provide you with clues and will want to see you “drive” the case.
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A Comprehensive Guide to Case Interview Prep [tips updated 2022]
- Last Updated March, 2023
Former McKinsey Engagement Manager
What Are the Best Ways to Prepare for Interviews with Management Consulting Firms?
If you’re on this page, you’re probably considering a career in management consulting or are already in the middle of the interview process.
We’re here to help.
We’re a team of more than 20 former McKinsey, Bain, and BCG consultants and recruiters (our average time in consulting is 13 years each) and we put together this guide to help you prepare for getting your consulting offer.
After reading this, we hope “congratulations” is also what you’ll hear when you leave your final interviews.
Management Consulting Jobs Are in High Demand
Management consulting jobs are among the most sought-after positions in on-campus recruiting, whether you’re applying as an undergraduate or from a business school.
Consulting firm recruits also include law school students, Ph.D. program candidates and people who’ve already started their professional careers in other industries.
Management consulting firms are filled with smart, driven people working to solve hard business problems.
This work is a great launching pad for your career.
Top consultancies offer competitive salaries and also invest significantly in employee development. A job at a management consulting firm will expose you to multiple different industries and types of business problems.
There’s a lot to like about a career in consulting!
Competition for Jobs with Top Consulting Firms Is Fierce, so Preparation Is Essential.
But attractive jobs are usually highly competitive, and that’s definitely the case in management consulting.
Top firms typically make offers to only about 1% of the people who apply. It’s not impossible to get a job with firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG (also known as the MBB firms), but it requires preparation.
In particular, successful candidates know that consulting firms use a particular type of interview question — the case study interview — and they know what recruiters are looking for in answers.
In this article, we’ll help you prepare for management consulting interviews by answering the following questions:
- What is a case interview?
- How do I answer a case question?
- What is the best approach for case interview prep?
We’ll also provide tips and tricks that will help you to ace your case.
Whether you’re aiming for a job at one of the MBB firms (McKinsey, Bain, or BCG), with other consultancies such as AT Kearney, L.E.K. or Oliver Wyman, or with the consulting arms of the large accounting firms such as Deloitte, Accenture, PwC, Ernst & Young, or KPMG, we can help you get there.
What Is a Consulting Case Study Interview (also known as the “Case Interview”)?
A Case Study Interview is a real-time problem-solving test used to screen candidates for their ability to succeed in consulting.
The case is presented as an open-ended question, often a problem that a specific type of business is facing, that an interviewer asks a candidate to solve.
Sample Case Interview Questions
Sales of drinks in Coffee Bean cafes are decreasing. What is causing the sales decrease?
Turnover of store employees at Burgers R’ Us restaurants has increased over prior years. What would you advise the company to do?
Donations to Caring Hands are decreasing, straining the non-profit’s ability to help the families it targets. What should the organization do to turn this around?
Case Interview 101 – The Basics for Beginners
You don’t need an MBA or an undergraduate degree in economics to land a job in consulting. But you will need to learn some business basics to be able to crack case interviews.
This section covers the concepts non-business students need to become familiar with, such as:
- The income statement – an overview
- Common formulas used in case interviews
- Business concepts you need to know
- Common types of case interviews
Case Interview 101, Part 1: The Income Statement
To solve cases, you first need to understand broadly how companies make money. For any specific case, you’ll want to make sure you understand how that company makes money.
The most common way companies make money is by selling a product or service for more than it costs to produce, thereby earning a profit .
Companies use three major financial statements to monitor and report their financial performance:
(1) The income statement (2) The balance sheet (3) The cash flow statement
An income statement (or profit and loss statement or statement of revenue and expenses) is a record of a company’s profit or loss over a specific period of time . The profit or loss is calculated by taking the revenues generated and subtracting the expenses incurred over the same period of time. The income statement has 3 major categories: Revenue, Expenses, and Profit or Loss .
Revenue is the total amount of money generated by a company from selling its products or services. It is also referred to as gross sales or “top line” as it sits at the top of the income statement.
Costs are expenses incurred by a company to make its products or services. In the income statement there are three types of costs:
- Costs of goods sold (COGS) or cost of sales are the direct costs of making products or providing a service. For a burger restaurant, for example, the COGS would include things like the meat, bun, and hourly labor of cooks, cashiers, and shift supervisors.
- Operating expenses are costs that are indirectly tied to the making of products or services. These include selling, general and administrative (SGA) expenses, management salaries, depreciation and amortization. Depreciation and amortization are non-cash expenses that reflect the value of big assets like machinery or buildings going down over time. For example, if our burger restaurant buys a grill to cook burgers on for $1,000 and expects it to last for 10 years, it would spread out the cost over that time period, $100 per year. Other operating expenses for our burger restaurant would include things like advertising, the rent on the company’s headquarters, and the salary of the CEO.
- Costs incurred from non-operating activities such as interests paid on loans. These costs are rarely part of case interviews.
Profit or Loss :
Income statements generally show 3 levels of profit (loss) or earnings: Gross Profit; Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA); and Net Profit.
Gross profit or loss
This is calculated by subtracting COGS or the cost of sales from the total revenue generated. If the costs are higher than the revenue generated, then the company has made a loss.
EBITDA and EBIT
EBITDA is calculated by subtracting operating expenses from the gross profit. EBIT is calculated by subtracting depreciation and amortization from EBITDA.
As mentioned above, depreciation and amortization are non-cash expenses. So if the amount of cash generated by selling a product or service is important to your analysis, you should look at EBITDA. If looking at a more fully-loaded cost is the focus of your analysis, use EBIT.
Net Profit or Loss
This is calculated by subtracting interest and tax from EBIT. It is also known as Net Income and refers to the profit (or loss) for the period. This is also known as the “bottom line” as it sits at the bottom of the income statement. This is the ultimate measure of whether a company’s activities are profitable during a certain time period when all costs are considered.
Case Interview 101, Part 2: Common Formulas Used in Case Interviews
Here is a look at common formulas used in case interviews.
The profitability formula is used in profit (or loss) related cases. The profit or loss can be calculated using the following formula:
Profit (or Loss) = Revenue – Costs
As mentioned above:
- Revenue is the money generated from selling a product or service. It can be broken down into price per unit and number of units sold .
- Costs are the expenses incurred to make the product or service and can be broken down into cost per unit and number of units sold .
The formula can further be broken down into:
Profit (or Loss) = (price per unit x number of units sold) – (cost per unit x number of units sold)
There are other ways to break down revenue and cost depending on the case question.
- Revenue can be broken down by product or service line, customer type, or geographic region (e.g., North American, Europe, Asia)
- Costs can be broken into fixed costs and variable costs, or components such as overhead, salary, etc.
It is often helpful to break costs down into fixed and variable to solve consulting cases, and understanding the difference is important. Fixed costs, like rent for a store or the cost of equipment, are incurred regardless of how many units a company sells; whereas variable costs are only incurred with the production of each additional unit. Because of this, it can be helpful to sell incremental units even at a loss for a short period of time if it helps cover fixed costs.
So the profitability formula can also be written as:
Profit (or Loss) = (price per unit x number of units sold) – (fixed + variable costs)
P rofitability example:
Your client, a manufacturer, is facing a decline in profits. Your client wants your help solving this problem. We’ll use this example to demonstrate all the formulas in this section.
The first step you could take is to calculate the past year’s profit given the following information:
- Number of units sold = 1 million
- Price per unit = $10
- Cost per unit = $8
Profit (or Loss) = ($10 x 1 million) – ($8 x 1 million)
Profit = $2 million
Profit margin formula:
Profit margin indicates how many cents of profit the company generated for each dollar of sale. It’s typically used to measure the financial health of a company . You can compare the profit margin of a company against its historical margins to evaluate whether its current performance is better or worse than past performance. You can also compare it against companies in the same industry to evaluate whether its financial performance is stronger or weaker.
Profit margin can be calculated using the formula:
Profit margin = (Profit / Revenue ) *100%
Profit margin example:
To calculate the profit margin, first, you need to calculate company revenues as follows:
Revenue = 1 million x $10
Revenue = $ 10 million
You can now calculate the profit margin as follows:
Profit margin = ($2 million / $10 million) x 100%
Profit margin = 20%
Note you can combine both the formulas for faster calculation.
Market share formula:
Market share is the size of the company in relation to the size of the industry in which it operates, where size is typically measured in annual revenues. It is used to compare the size of a company to its competitors and the industry as a whole. It can be used in market entry cases because industries with a lot of small competitors are generally easier to enter than ones with only a few big competitors. It’s also used in profitability cases because, in general, companies with a large market share also have more market power to do things like set prices.
Market share can be calculated using the following formula:
Market share (%) =total company revenue / total industry revenue
Market share example:
Using the example from above, say you decide to determine the company’s market share as part of your analysis. In this example, the industry has annual revenues of $ 200 million.
Market share (%) = $ 10 million / $ 200 million
Market share = 5%
Growth Rate Formula:
This refers to the specific change of a variable within a specific period of time. Growth rates can be used in assessing the financial performance of a company over time. For example, high revenue growth rates would likely be a sign of strong financial performance. High cost growth rates may be a sign that a company is having financial trouble.
The growth rate is calculated using the formula:
Growth rate (%) = (New – Old) / Old
Growth rate example:
To calculate the manufacturer’s revenue growth rate. Last year’s revenue was $ 9.5 million therefore the revenue growth rate is:
Revenue growth rate = ($10 million – $9.5 million) / $9.5 million
Revenue growth rate =5%
You can assess whether a company’s growth rate is strong by comparing it to other growth rates such as:
- The company’s growth in the prior year.
- The growth of the market or of competitors.
- The rate of inflation.
Mature companies are likely to see single-digit growth rates unless they launch a very successful new product or they acquire a company. On the other hand, startup investors typically expect double- or triple-digit annual growth during a company’s early years.
Return on investment formula:
Return on investment (ROI) is a profitability metric that indicates how well an investment performed (or will perform). It can be used to compare the profitability or efficiency of an investment or decide which of alternative investments to make.
ROI is calculated using the following formula:
ROI (%) = Profit / Cost of investment
Suppose our manufacturer mentions that they purchased state-of-the-art machinery to make their product. It cost $8 million. You decide to calculate the ROI on this investment.
ROI = $2 million / $8 million
Break-even is the point at which the total revenue and total costs are equal, meaning there is no loss or profit at that point. Break-even is typically used to help companies determine the minimum number of units that need to be sold to cover all the costs used to produce those units.
An executive might want to know that they could break even at 100,000 units sold because if she thought they could sell more than that, it would be profitable to enter the market. If she thought they’d sell less, they wouldn’t enter the market.
Break-even can be calculated using the following formula:
Breakeven (units) = Fixed costs / (sales price – variable cost per unit)
If a product required a $50,000 investment in equipment (a fixed cost), sold for $5, and cost $4 per unit in variable costs, its breakeven would be:
Breakeven (units) = $50,000 / ($5 – $4)
Breakeven= 50,000 units
Payback period formula:
Managers may also look at the payback period on an investment or, in other words, how long it would take to earn back the cash required to enter a new business. This investment could be a new piece of equipment or a marketing campaign needed to create customer awareness of a new product. This is a different way of looking at the same question that the breakeven formula asks: is it worth my while to make this investment?
The payback period can be calculated using the following formula:
Payback (years) = Investment cost / annual profit
Payback years example:
Using the same example, you decided to calculate the payback years of the new state-of-art machinery
Payback (years)= $8 million / $2 million
Payback = 4 years
Capacity of equipment:
The capacity of equipment is the maximum output or units a piece of equipment can produce with the available resources over a set period of time.
Capacity can be calculated using the following formula:
Capacity (units) =Total capacity / Capacity required to make one unit
To calculate the capacity of our manufacturer’s machinery, we’d need to know that it can produce a unit every 10 minutes and that the client operates 12-hour shifts.
Capacity (units) = 12 hours x (60 minutes per hour) / 10 minutes
Capacity = 72 units / day
The utilization rate of equipment:
Utilization rate is the percent of available time the equipment or machinery is actually used. It measures efficiency and can be used by companies to make informed decisions on timelines and inventory, or whether additional equipment is needed.
The utilization rate of equipment can be calculated by the following formula:
Utilization rate (%) =Actual output / Maximum output
Utilization rate example:
Using the same example, imagine that the management tells you that in a 12-hour shift, the machine produces 50 units and there are two 45-minute breaks.
First, you would need to calculate the potential output.
Actual hours of operation = 12 hours – 1.5 hours = 10.5 hours
Potential output = (10.5 hours / 12 hours) x 72 units
Potential output = 63 units
Then, calculate the utilization rate.
Utilization rate = 50 units / 63 units
Utilization rate = 79%
Utilization rates raise interesting issues in a case. It raises questions such as:
- If potential output is 63 units, why are only 50 being produced (e.g., machine downtime, worker errors), and what can be done to solve these problems?
- Could the company stagger employee breaks to get potential output up to 72 units from 63?
Case Interview 101, Part 3: Business Concepts You Need to Know
Here are some common business concepts that you need to know as you prepare for your interview.
Process : This is a set of actions or operations that lead to results (products or services). This typically describes how a company makes its products or services. The steps can be performed by workers, equipment, or computers. In a case, this is mostly used in situations where a client would like to make their processes more efficient. For example, a client who is in logistics would like to reduce the cost of its operations by improving the efficiency of its processes, such as by reducing equipment downtime or scheduling deliveries according to time-saving routes.
Best practices: Best practices are methods or techniques that are considered to be the working standards and guides in a given situation . In a business situation, best practices are used to benchmark companies against the standard and can serve as a roadmap on how to improve the efficiency of their operations.
Hypotheses: Tentative answers to a problem or an assumption based on some evidence. The hypothesis-driven approach is a common approach to solving problems in the consulting world because consultants don’t want to waste time fully researching all possible solutions. They want to move quickly to the most likely answer and then test whether it is or is not the best answer. This approach can be used to solve case interview questions where you first assume an answer to the case problem and check whether this is true or not through analysis. If it is not true, you revise your hypothesis.
Issue tree: This is a common approach in consulting used to solve complex problems . An issue tree is used to break down complex problems into key components in a structured manner. In a case interview, you can use the issue tree to break down the client’s problem into manageable chunks or to break down a formula such as the profitability formula into key components.
Read our article for more information on Issue Trees .
MECE: MECE stands for mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive . It is a way of bucketing problems, ideas, or solutions with no overlapping between the buckets and with each item having a place in one bucket only (mutually exclusive), and with the buckets including all possible items relevant to the context (collectively exhaustive). In a case interview, you can use MECE with the issue tree when breaking down problems or when identifying solutions for the client. MECE issue trees are considered the gold standard for problem-solving so this concept is very good to know.
You can also use the concept of MECE when segmenting a market – for example, if you are sizing a market and intend to lay out different purchasing behavior assumptions for different customer segments. For example:
Customer segment Purchase frequency for items from coffee shops
Women under 30 4 times per week, purchase includes food item plus beverage Men under 30 2 times per week, purchase includes only beverage Women 31 and over 4 times per month, purchase includes only beverage Men 31 and over 3 times per month, purchase includes only beverage
Note how in this example, everyone would fall into one customer segment and only one customer segment. Read our article for more about MECE problem-solving .
Root causes: This is the core issue or main reason for a problem . It is used in problem-solving to identify solutions that appropriately address the problem. The term root cause is used to distinguish between symptoms of a problem, which may be obvious, and the underlying issue that needs to be solved, which may not be obvious. For example, a decline in sales volume is a symptom. The root cause could be high prices, poor product quality, product unavailability, or any number of other issues. You can’t fix the symptom of declining sales volume until you identify the root cause behind the problem.
In a case interview, you’ll need to identify possible causes of the client’s problem and then ask questions and do analysis to identify the root cause. Once you do, you can make the most appropriate recommendations for the client.
Break-even analysis: This is the calculation used to determine the point at which the total revenue and total costs are equal meaning there is no loss or profit. In business situations, it helps determine at which point the business, investment, or new product or service will become profitable. In case interviews, you can use the break-even analysis to determine whether a client should make a certain investment, say in machinery or a new product line, based on how likely it is that they’ll exceed the break-even threshold.
Case Interview 101, Part 4: Common Types of Case Interviews
In this section, we will review 4 common types of case interviews.
Market-sizing questions typically appear in cases where clients want to grow or expand their business such as market entry or profitability cases. The client either wants to understand the market size of the current business or of a potential new product line or geography or customer group to understand whether it is big enough to be interesting.
Sample case questions
“How many cups of coffee does Starbucks sell in a day?” “Estimate the fleet size of Delta Airlines.” “Estimate market size for air-conditioners in New York.” “Estimate market size for an anti-smoking pill in the U.S.”
You are not expected to know the exact answer to market-sizing questions. Instead, the interviewer wants to see that you can use simple math and logical deduction to build out an answer. For these questions, it is good to memorize a few facts that will help you make assumptions. For example, a good place to start is the population of the U.S. or the population of a U.S. city (or country and city that you live in).
For more information and examples, read our article on Market-sizing Cases .
Revenue Growth Case Interviews
In revenue growth cases, the client typically wants to grow their business. This can be done by increasing revenue of the current product/service line, by adding a new product/service line, or by selling to a new type of customer or in a new geography.
They could do this by building a new offering, buying another company, or partnering (joint venture) with another company that already offers what they want to sell.
“A manufacturer sees its revenue stagnating. It wants to know whether raising price or selling more units is a better path to growing revenue, and how to pursue it.”
“A local theater house thinks there is an opportunity to expand their current offerings to the very loyal client base. What new product or service could they offer their customers? What would be the impact on revenue from expanding their offerings?”
“A regional fast-food chain, serving hamburgers and fries, is experiencing increasing demand outside of its main regions of operation and wants to expand. What regions would have the biggest impact on its revenue?”
You should remember that there are multiple ways to achieve revenue growth. One thing to consider is the client and industry context when tackling revenue growth questions. For example, does the client have a good market size in the industry? Does the client have the capability to offer new products/services? Is the industry highly competitive?
For more information, read our article on Revenue Growth Cases .
Market Entry Case Interviews
In market entry cases, the client wants to know if they can enter a market and be profitable. For example, entering a different geography, new demography, or new product/service line. (Note, there can be overlap between revenue growth cases and market entry cases.)
“A U.S.-based consumer electronics manufacturer is thinking of expanding into emerging markets. What is the potential revenue growth if they choose to expand into India?”
“A telecom operator is looking to diversify their presence in the U.S. and wants to enter the video streaming market. How can they capture a significant market share?”
“A renewable energy company that specializes in large equipment such as windmills wants to enter the retail market and sell smaller equipment directly to individual homes. They would like to know if this is a good idea.”
There are a number of frameworks you can build off of to tackle a market-entry case. For example, Porter’s Five Forces, Business Situation Framework or 3C&P (customer, competition, company, and product), and Supply & Demand among others. It is key to consider the “new” market context as well as the client context to enter this market.
To find out more on this, read our article on The Market Entry Framework .
Cost Optimization Case Interviews
Cost optimization cases or questions can be part of a profitability case where a client is experiencing declining profitability or when a client wants to improve efficiency.
“A national hotel chain has seen its operational costs significantly increase over the last year and would like you to figure out why.”
“A juice manufacturer has been experiencing a steady increase in revenue over the past 5 years however their cost has been increasing at a faster rate, meaning the profits have not grown as expected. What is the root cause of the significant increase in cost?”
“A tour company would like to reduce their costs due to the falling number of tourists over the past few years. What ways would you recommend for them to reduce their costs?’
For cost optimization cases, remember to break down the cost components. For example, you can break them down into fixed and variable costs or cost of goods sold and operational costs and then brainstorm the categories of each that will likely apply to the company at hand. This will make it easier to identify what costs should be reduced or eliminated.
Check out Types of Case Interviews article for more detail on these types of cases and more.
Why Do Top Consulting Firms Use Case Interview Questions?
Management consultancies are not the only types of firms that use case interview questions to evaluate candidates.
Investment banks, consumer marketing companies, and others use the case interview structure in their interview process.
Because case interviews show how a candidate would problem solve in real time.
Solving complex, ambiguous problems is at the heart at what consultants do every day.
This type of interview question mimics the analytic process a consultant might go through in a 3-month project, but it does it in 30 minutes, the time allowed in a typical interview.
The interviewer can probe whether a candidate’s approach is well-structured, creative, and displays good business sense.
How Do Consulting Recruiters Evaluate Candidates?
The main thing that recruiters are looking for in case study interviews is whether or not they’d feel comfortable putting a candidate in front of a client. To assess that, they ask themselves these questions:
- Is this person able to do the job? Do they have the analytic skills to solve tough business problems?
- Is this person client-ready? Are they knowledgeable, professional, and confident enough to work effectively with client staff and leaders?
- Is this someone I’d want to work with? This interview question is sometimes referred to as the airport test. It comes down to, “Would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person if the weather was bad and our flight was delayed?” It assesses whether an individual is smart, fun and passionate about the projects they take on.
- Is this person coachable? No one expects a recruit to know the answer to every thorny business issue right out of undergrad, or even right out of business school, but they do want someone who is willing and able to take suggestions and improve their analysis. Show you are coachable by listening for feedback as you answer a case study interview question and using suggestions to steer you toward the right solution.
Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.
Consulting Case Prep Takes Time – So Start Early
If you walk into your first consulting interview without having practiced case study interviews beforehand, you’re in for a painful experience. Case questions can cover any industry and multiple different types of business problems, so you’re unlikely to get lucky and know the answer.
We suggest your start your consulting case prep a few weeks before your interview. Starting with more lead time is even better. This will allow you to watch/read through a few consulting cases to get a sense for what to expect (continue to our case videos below for one example!) It will also give you time to find a couple friends or classmates who are also applying to consulting firms. You can give each other mock case interviews and be even more prepared.
Learn How to Case Quickly by Mastering Each of the 4 Parts of the Case
When you’re starting your consulting interview prep, it’s important to remember that the “right answer” is not simply a conclusion, but the methodical, the well-structured process used to reach the conclusion.
To answer a case question correctly, you must:
Step 1: Understand the question you are being asked.
After your interviewer describes the client this case interview will involve and the problem they face, you should repeat this information back to them in your own words.
This can feel awkward when you practice your first case, but it will help you in the long run.
If you don’t have the client and their problem straight, you could spend a lot of time answering the wrong question. If that happens you will not be moving forward to second round interviews no matter how elegant your analysis is.
Example: Our client is a fast-food retailer that has seen decreasing sales revenue over the past couple of years. They want your help in understanding what they can do to improve sales.
Step 2: Take time to think through all the key aspects of the problem.
Ask for a moment to consider your approach to solving the client’s problem. During this time, write down what you want to learn about the client’s situation before you answer the interview question.
Your approach can lean on business frameworks you’re familiar with during your case interview preparation.
For instance, in the example of a fast-food chain with declining sales, you should break sales down into price and unit volume to understand whether the client is not selling enough units of their products or whether prices have fallen (or both!)
But you don’t need to use familiar frameworks. In fact, it’s best to develop your own structure for breaking down the problem as it shows you can solve a case without forcing a standard framework on the problem.
For more information on business frameworks, you might want to become familiar with during your case study preparation, see Case Interview Frameworks .
Step 3: Ask pertinent questions and use information from the interviewer to form hypotheses about the problem and explore potential options.
After you brainstorm key aspects of the case problem and structure your approach to solving it, share your approach with your interviewer.
If the interviewer suggests a place to start your analysis, follow their lead.
Otherwise, suggest the best place to start digging into the case.
Make sure the questions you ask the interviewer touch on all the key aspects of the problem you identified including the client’s internal organization, the market for their product, and their competition.
Step 4: Summarize your case interview conclusion in a persuasive manner.
Once you’re confident you have enough information to understand the case and what needs to be done to solve the client’s business problem, you’ll conclude the interview with a logical summary outlining the problem, key conclusions you’ve reached, and providing a persuasive recommendation on how you’d help the client resolve it.
Below, we’ll go into more depth on how to address each of these 4 points in a case.
Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Diving Deeper into Case Interview Preparation
Right now, you may be thinking to yourself that consulting interviews sound impossibly difficult. Or you may think that they sound like interesting business problems that you’d enjoy solving.
Perhaps you’re not sure.
If you think that answering case interviews is not something that would come naturally to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone!
Getting good at consulting interviews requires a lot of preparation.
Before you commit to putting in the time required to prepare for the management consulting interview process, you should ask yourself if a career in management consulting is right for you.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself Before Pursuing a Career in Consulting
- Do you enjoy solving the types of business problems asked in case interviews?
- Do you have a background in business principles or are you willing to invest the time it will take to develop one?
- Are you passionate about pursuing consulting as a career?
Management consulting jobs might pay well and provide the opportunity to pursue attractive careers, but if you don’t like solving business problems, you probably won’t like the work you’ll do as a consultant. If you don’t enjoy analyzing business cases, save yourself a lot of preparation time and frustration.
Focus on career options that better meet your interests.
Or, perhaps solving business problems with smart, driven professionals sounds like it’s your dream job.
If so, move onto the deeper dive into case interview prep below!
Case Interview Prep – Diving Deeper
If you’re here, we’re assuming you’re serious about investing time in preparing for a career in management consulting.
The best way to get smarter about answering case interview questions is to master this four-part approach.
How to Answer a Consulting Case Interview – a 4 Part Approach to Practice During Interview Prep
The 4 parts to answering a consulting case interview are:
- Opening – This is where you make sure you understand the client’s problem.
- Structure – This is where you brainstorm all factors relevant to the problem and organize them to ensure you address them in a complete and logical manner.
- Analysis – This is where you gather data to identify which of the factors related to the business case are the most important. You’ll use this data to create a recommendation for your client.
- Conclusion – Here, you present your recommendation to “the client” (your interviewer), in a well-structured and persuasive manner.
Case Interview Prep Part 1: The Opening
As we saw in the video above, the opening of a case question is a description of a client and the problem they’re facing. Davis repeated back to the interviewer the type of business the client was in and and their business problem.
Remember, this clarification is an important step in the process.
If you did not remember that the client was a top-three beverage producer and answered the question as if the client was a start-up, your answer would ignore the manufacturing and distribution infrastructure the company already had in place to launch its new product.
That would make your answer completely wrong.
During this portion of the interview, you can ask any clarifying questions you need to. If something is not clear—the client’s product or industry, or the problem they want to solve —ask !
Nailing the opening is probably the easiest part of case interview preparation. Get this right, and you’ll start each case off strong.
Case Interview Prep Part 2: Structure
Once Davis clarified the problem, he asked for a moment to prepare her response. In the structure phase of the case interview, there’s silence for several moments.
As with clarifying the question, this can feel awkward.
But asking for this time will show the interviewer that you’re carefully structuring your problem-solving approach.
It will also ensure that you are not quickly addressing a couple of aspects of the business problem but ignoring others, potentially ones that are critical to solving the client’s problem.
Some quick brainstorming is useful here, but also take a step back to maker sure you consider all aspects of the client’s business, its customer demand, and the competition.
Organize your questions into a comprehensive approach to address all key aspects of the problem.
Mastering the structure phase of the interview is not as easy as the opening, but it’s critical to ensure you have the structured problem-solving approach that will lead you to the right answer to the case.
Focus on this aspect of case interview preparation until you can structure almost every case right.
Case Interview Prep Part 3: Analysis
In the third part of the case study interview, you’ll dig in and analyze the problem.
After Davis outlined his problem-solving approach, the interviewer told him that the client wanted to understand the beverage market and customer preferences to assess the potential success of the product launch.
The interviewer then provided a chart with helpful data.
This part of the interview is important because gives you the data that will help you close down aspects of the case that aren’t at the heart of the problem you need to solve and to better understand key drivers that will point to the solution.
But you’ll also need to do some consulting math .
You should also refer back to the problem-solving structure you laid-out earlier in the interview to make sure your analysis is comprehensive. You don’t want to get lost down one rabbit hole and ignore other important aspects of the problem.
During this portion of the interview, you’ll be assessed on whether you asked relevant questions, have well-reasoned insights into the client problem, and whether you could lead a case like this if you were hired by the firm.
Many consulting candidates find that the analysis phase of the interview is the toughest of the 4 parts.
You need to balance doing consulting math calculations with interpreting data and make sure you cover all aspects of the problem you identified in the structure phase of the case.
Stick with this aspect of case interview preparation until you’re an expert at it–it will pay off in your interviews.
Case Interview Prep Part 4: Conclusion
Davis concluded the case with a direct answer to the case study interview question as it was initially asked.
This answer should be both persuasive and logical based on all the information gathered over the course of the interview. Your answer should also include the next steps your client should undertake.
During the conclusion, you’ll be assessed on whether you present a well thought-out solution based on the relevant facts of the case.
Like the opening, mastering the conclusion is not difficult. Take you time to nail this aspect of case interview preparation anyway as leaving your interviewer with a strong impression of your casing capabilities is important.
The Bottom Line for Effective Case Interview Prep
The case study interview is not as complex as it seems if you break it into 4 parts.
Practicing each part of the case on its own will make your consulting interview preparation both more efficient and more effective.
Now that you’re familiar with the 4-part approach to a case interview, the next thing to learn is the 4 different formats case interviews can take.
4 Formats for Case Interviews
There are four formats a consulting case interview can take:
- Candidate-led – This is the most typical case study interview format. A candidate is given an open-ended business problem to solve by an interviewer. The candidate will break down the question into key parts and decide which part to probe first. The interviewer is looking to see that you know how to drive the analysis of a problem. This case format is typically used at firms like Bain, BCG and Oliver Wyman.
- Interviewer-led – In this case interview format, a candidate will still be expected to identify and structure the key elements of a thorny business issue, and then present them to the interviewer. But after they do, the interviewer will direct them to first address a particular aspect of the case. This interview format is typically used in McKinsey cases.
- Written interview – This is not a common interview format but can be common for particular companies and offices. You will be given a packet of PowerPoint slides and time to review them. During this time, you’ll prepare a presentation using the slides you choose from the ones provided as well as others you create, and you’ll then present it to a panel of interviewers. Written interviews are frequently used by boutique consulting firms and regional offices of larger firms such as Bain’s China offices. For more information, see this article on written case interview.
- Group interview – Multiple candidates are brought in to discuss a case together and then present their solution to an interviewer. The group case is also not a frequently used interview format. For more information, see this article on group case interview.
While the candidate-led consulting interview is the most frequently used format, you’ll probably see more of the interview-led interview format in McKinsey interviews.
You should also be aware of the written and group interview formats so that if you get one during the interview process, you’re not caught by surprise. But don’t spend a lot of time on preparation for that type of interview unless you’re informed you’ll have one.
You’ve made it to the end of our crash course on case interview prep. By reading this article, you now have a strong understanding of:
- What a consulting case interview is,
- How to answer case studies using the 4-part approach, and
- What the 4 different formats for case interviews are.
You are well on your way toward preparing for your first case interview and entering the exciting field of management consulting.
Still have questions?
If you still have questions on case interview prep, leave them in the comments below. We’ll ask our My Consulting Offer coaches and get back to you with answers.
Also, we have tons of other resources to ensure you get an offer from a top management consulting firm. Check out these topics:
- Case Interview Workshop Video,
- Case Interview Examples , and
- Case Interview Practice .
Help with Case Prep
Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on case interview prep. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 89.6% of the people we’ve worked with get a job in management consulting. For example, here is how Brenda was able to get a BCG offer when she only had 1 week to prepare…
8 thoughts on “A Comprehensive Guide to Case Interview Prep [updated 2022]”
In the math calculations of the analysis portion, why was it that there were 8 cans per gallon? Where did that number come from?
Hey, Tonia! Thanks for your question.
In the case, we’re given that the size of the market for US sports drinks is 8 billion gallons. Electrolyte drinks are 5% of this total or .4 billion gallons which equals 400 million gallons.
We’re also given that the product size for drinks in this market are 16 ounces. And in our breakeven analysis, we find out we need to sell 400 million bottles (or cans) to break even. We need to do a conversion to compare our breakeven point of 400 million bottles to the 400 million gallon market size to see what market share we would have to achieve to break even.
Conversion: 1 US gallon = 128 ounces. 128 ounces/ gallon divided by 16 ounces/ bottle = 8. We can fill 8 bottles for each gallon of electrolyte drink we produce. So 1 gallon is 8 bottles (or cans) manufactured by our client.
We divide the 400 million bottle (or can) breakeven point by 8 to get to 50 million gallons. We compare the 50 million gallon breakeven point to the 400 million gallon market size to see that we need to capture 12.5% market share.
Note: In answering this question, I noticed that a UK gallon = 160 ounces, so if you are using UK gallons you will get a different answer!
I hope that helps! Sorry about the confusion between US ounces/gallon and UK ounces/gallon!
Hi, what resources are you typically allowed to use during (virtual) case interviews? Such as a pen, paper, calculator etc.
You’re typically allowed a pen and paper in a virtual case interview but NOT a calculator. Part of what your interviewer is testing for is your quantitative skills, so they want to see that you can do calculations in your head or on paper. See our article on virtual case interviews , for more info. Also, we have an article on practicing your case interview math .
Best of luck!
Can you please explain the ROI formula? I do not understand why (2m-8m)/8m = 25%. That calculation gets a result of -75%
Shouldn’t the formula just be (net profit)/(cost of investment)?
George, thanks for pointing this out! The formula was incorrect, and should be Profit/cost of investment. The correct answer is 25%.
All the best, MCO
thanks for information
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- Case Interview: A comprehensive guide
- Pyramid Principle
- Hypothesis driven structure
- Consulting math
What is a case interview?
How to crack any case interview like a mckinsey, bcg or bain consultant would, 4 steps for an effective case interview preparation.
Case interviews are the core of the selection process right across McKinsey, Bain, BCG, the consulting wings of the Big Four, and any other high-end consultancies. To land a job at any of these firms, you will have to ace multiple case interviews. Before we can figure out how to prepare for a case interview, we will first have to understand in detail what you are up against . What format does a consulting case interview take, what is expected of you and how will you be assessed? Let's dive right in and find out!
Case interview format
Case interviews take very similar formats across the various consultancies where they are used. Before landing an offer at McKinsey, Bain, BCG or any similar firm, you will have to complete between four and six case interviews, divided into two rounds, with each interview lasting approximately 50-60 minutes . Here is the typical case interview timeline:
First 15-30 minutes: Fit Interview , assessing your motivation to be a consultant in that specific firm and your leadership and teamwork traits. Learn more about the fit interview in our article here .
Next 30-40 minutes: Case Interview
Last 5 minutes: Fit Interview , again. This time it’s about your questions for the interviewer.
Both the Case and Fit interviews play crucial roles in the finial hiring decision . There is no “average” taken between case and fit interviews: if your performance is not up to scratch in either of the two you will not be able to move on to the next interview round or get an offer.
Prep the right way
Difference between first and second round interviews.
Despite interviews in the first and second round following the same format, seniority of the interviewer, time pressure (with usually three interviews in a row), and value at stake make a second round consulting case interview potentially one of the most challenging moments of your working life . There are three key differences between the two rounds:
Time pressure : the Final Round of case interviews test your ability to perform under pressure, with three interviews in a row and often very small breaks between them
Focus : Since interviewers in the Second Round tend to be more senior (usual partners with 12+ years experience), they will be more interested in your personality and ability to handle challenges independently. Some partners will drill down into your experiences and achievements to the extreme. They want to understand how you react to challenges and your ability to identify and learn from past mistakes.
Psychological pressure: while case interviews in the first round are usually more focused on having you simply crack the case, second round interviewers often use the "bad cop" strategy to test the way candidates react to challenges and uncertainty.
Is there a difference between McKinsey and other firms?
McKinsey case interviews are not overwhelmingly different from those given by Bain, BCG, and other firms, with the McKinsey interview timeline breaking broadly the same as the one set out above. However, there are some differences in the specifics of how McKinsey administers both their case and fit interviews which it will pay to be aware of if you are applying to that firm.
McKinsey Case Interviews Most consulting case interview questions test your ability to crack a broad problem, with a case prompt often going like: " How much would you pay for a banking licence in Ireland? ". You, as a candidate, are expected to identify your path to solve it (structure), leveraging your interviewer to collect the data and test your assumptions.
However, a McKinsey case interview - especially in the first round - is slightly different, with the interviewer controlling the pace of the conversation much more than in another case interviews. At McKinsey your interviewer will ask you a set of pre-determined questions , regardless of what your initial structure is. For each question, you will have to understand the problem, come up with a mini structure, ask for additional data (if necessary) and come to the conclusion that answers the question.
Essentially, interviewer-led case studies are large cases made up of lots of mini-cases. he method you have to follow is basically the same as in the standard (or candidate-led) cases; with the main difference simply being that, instead of solving one big case, you are solving several mini-cases sequentially.
McKinsey Fit Interview - the McKinsey PEI As with their cases, McKiney take a slightly more structured approach to the fit component of their interviews than do other firms. Indeed, the fit component of a McKinsey interview is sufficiently formalized that it has its own name - the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview, or McKinsey PEI for short .
There are two to three rounds of PEI and is typically more intense than the fit interviews of other firms, with each interview focusing on only one topic , but drilling down to an extreme.
As with case studies, the McKinsey format is slightly different - and it is good to know this in advance - but this doesn't actually affect your prep . You should be fully prepped and ready for an intense fit interview from Bain or BCG as well! See our section on the fit interview below and our article here to get started .
The McKinsey PST and Other Differences It is also worth noting here that McKinsey will require you to pass a written problem-solving test - The McKinsey PST - before you will be invited to interview at all. This is broadly similar to the tests administered by Bain and BCG , but has its own unique format and other details that you will need to be aware of.
Since the general pass rate for this test is only 33% , it is something you are going to have to take seriously and prepare for thoroughly. Start with our free comprehensive McKinsey PST Guide .
If you are curious, you can read more about the differences between McKinsey, Bain, and BCG in our blog post on that subject.
Case interview topics
Several self-proclaimed consulting gurus have made fortunes out of creating notionally comprehensive lists of a dozen or so case types and then selling ready-made recipes for each - apparently able to solve all instances of each case type. All business problems can be reduced to one of these case types and each type of case can be solved by using generic frameworks. If you believe the hype, Case in Point or Case Interview Secrets hold within their pages the solutions to all of the world’s business conundrums!
Straight off the bat, this should strike you as suspect . If all business issues really could be reduced to a finite number of case types, with sufficiently regular structures that we really could apply the same simple frameworks, then why would anyone pay to hire management consultants? Would they not just pick up a copy of one of these books from Amazon and save themselves tens of thousands?
The truth is both simpler and more complex . Cases are profoundly more varied than these frameworks can hope to take account of. However, we can still group cases into a set of recurring, common topics which they tend to be built around.
These topics are not as distinct as those promoting frameworks might have it. and we can expect to see more than one in the same case question. For example, taking a handful of the categories below, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that a pricing decision could impact a company’s competitive position in the market, which could then impact profits and thus the firm’s valuation.
We give a brief run through of each topic below — including example case interview questions for each. We will also return to the same ideas in our section on “Building Blocks”.
Estimation is a central theme in both day-to-day consulting work and in case interview questions. . When we estimate, we make educated guesses to establish values in the face of incomplete data . Consulting estimations will combine such a guessed factor with a quantitative factor to come up with reasonable estimates of unknown facts.
It is important to note that, when an interviewer asks you to make an estimation, it is not because they particularly care what the correct answer is (they could find out without asking you), but rather that they want to assess that you can move towards an answer in a structured, rational manner . The watchword in your approach to all estimations should be to be “ reasonable ”. Even if answers end up being factually incorrect, what is important is that they can be supported by a compelling rationale.
- How many bank branches are there in Italy?
- How many cars are sold in Berlin in one year?
- How many people will buy the latest high-tech smartphone on the market?
Remember that, for all these different flavors of case study, we have plenty of example case questions for you to work through in our free Case Bank .
The fundamental goal of any normal business is to maximize profits — nobody is getting up and going to work with the object of losing money. As such, business problems around profitability are bread and butter issues for management consultants. .
Clients will very often tell broadly the same story. The business was doing in well in recent years, with strong profits. However, some recent turn of events has upset this state of affairs and led to concerns around profit levels. Consultants are thus engaged, as businesses are often sufficiently complex that it can be difficult to figure out precisely where and why the company is losing money - let alone how to then reverse the situation and restore healthy profits. .
Despite steady growth in customer flow, the Walfort supermarket chain has seen falling profits in the past year. What is the reason for this decline?
For a company to be profitable at all, it is a pre-requisite that it charges the correct price for whichever products it sells. However, establishing what price to charge for any one product — or indeed a whole suite of related products — can be a highly complex business . Consultants are often engaged to negotiate the many salient variables, with their complex interdependencies, which need to be accounted for in pricing. Correspondingly, then, pricing questions are a also common theme in case interviews .
- A company launches a new smartphone with a significantly improved camera. How much should they charge?
- A doughnut chain wants to start selling coffee in their shops. How much should they charge per cup?
The valuation will be essential to underpinning any investment decision. In short, if we want to know how much we should be willing to pay to acquire a company or asset , we need to understand how much it is worth to us. Thus, you can expect the valuation to be at the heart of case questions on mergers and acquisitions .
- Our client is a steel producer who wants to expand by acquiring its competitor. The competitor offers to sell its plant for $1m. Should our client accept this deal?
- How much should a restaurant chain bid in an auction for the rights to run a restaurant in the British Museum for one year?
OOf course, profit levels, the values of companies, and the prices of products can all change with time. Generally, these will fluctuate because of changes in the competitive landscape of the relevant marketchanges in the competitive landscape of the relevant market . Thus, Nokia and Kodak dominated the mobile telephone and photography markets until new companies with new products dramatically shook things up. In such circumstances, company profits and valuations slide rapidly and prices are often slashed in attempts to maintain sales.
Newmarket entrants or old competitors with new ideas can throw a company’s whole business model up in the air overnight , with consultants often called in to advise on the potentially major changes which might be required to survive (and ideally prosper).
You are running an airline and a low-cost competitor like Ryanair decides to start operating on your routes. You are rapidly losing customers to their lower fares. How do you respond?
Skills required in a consulting interview?
In Cases there is no right or wrong answer, what really matters is the way you think the problem through, how confident you are with your conclusions and how quick you are with the back of the envelope arithmetic. If you visit McKinsey , Bain and BCG website pages on case interviews, you will find that the three firms look for very similar traits. Broadly speaking, your interviewer will be evaluating you across 5 areas:
One: Probing mind
Showing intellectual curiosity by asking relevant and insightful questions that show show critical thinking and proactive nature. For instance, if we are told that revenues for a leading supermarket chain have been declining over the last 10 years, a successful candidate would ask:
We know revenues have declined. This could be due to price or volume. Do we know how they changed over the same period?
instead of a laundry list of questions such as:
Did customers change their preferences?
Which segment has shown the decline in volume?
Is there a price war in the industry?
Structuring means creating a framework, i.e. a series of clear consecutive steps in order to get to a solution to the problem. The focus of case interview frameworks (and of the whole case in general) is not on reaching solution themselves, but rather on how to get there.
This is the trickiest part of the case interview and the main reason for candidates failing their case interviews. Millions were made by selling books such as Case in Point describing 10 or 12 standardized frameworks, which were said to be the passkey to solve virtually any case on earth. As we noted above, if we believed all the claims made of these frameworks a simple case interview frameworks cheat sheet might solve all the world's business problems and/or land you a job in McKinsey every time.
Unfortunately, this approach to case interviews simply does not work in practice, for a few reasons. First Consultants are not naïve enough to hire people who are just good at memorizing 12 schemes. Second, because you are expected to think exactly in the same way a real consultant would do in a real case. Since no consultant uses pre-packaged frameworks in real projects (feel free to ask all your friends in consulting), do you think they expect you to use them in an interview which is set to represent as closely as possible their work?
This is why we created the Problem-driven Structure . As ex-consultants, we aim to teach candidates what real consultants do in real projects. That is, crafting a tailored framework for every case. The key pieces of your structure should be:
Proper understanding of the objective of the case. Ask yourself: "What is the single crucial piece of advice that the client absolutely needs?"
Identification of the drivers : Ask yourself: "What are the key forces that play a role in defining the outcome?"
At first sight this case cracking concept looks pretty intuitive. However, this is a radically different approach from the typical one-size-fits-all method of trying to force-fit one or more generic frameworks (such as the Case in Point frameworks) to a case. Let’s understand why with a simple case question.
Our client is PharmaCorp, a Dutch pharma company specialized in researching, developing, and selling “small molecule” drugs. This class of drugs represents the vast majority of drugs today, including aspirin and blood-pressure medications. PharmaCorp is interested in entering a new, growing segment of drugs called “bionics”. These are complex molecules that can treat conditions not addressable by traditional drugs. R&D for Bionics is vastly different from small molecule R&D. PharmaCorp wants to jumpstart its biologicals program by acquiring BioHealth, a leading bionics startup from the Silicon Valley with a promising drug pipeline. Should PharmaCorp acquire BioHealth?
Check out the difference between the standard framework-based approach and our Problem-driven Structure.
Three: Problem solving
You’ll be tested on your ability in identifying problems and drivers, isolating causes and effects, demonstrating creativity, and prioritizing issues. In particular, the interviewer will look for the following skills:
Prioritising : Can you tell a relevant from an irrelevant fact?
Connecting the dots : Can you connect new facts and evidence to the big picture?
Establishing conclusions : Can you establish the right conclusions without rushing to conclude facts not supported by evidence?
Four: Numerical agility
In case interviews, you are expected to be quick and confident with (precise and approximated) numbers. This translates into:
Performing simple calculations quickly: essential to solve cases quickly and impress clients with quick estimates and preliminary conclusions.
Analysing data: extract data from graphs and charts, elaborate it, and draw insightful conclusions.
Solving business problems : translate a real world case to a math problem and solve it.
Our article on consulting math is a great resource here, though the math lecture and other math content in our MCC Academy is the best and most comprehensive material available.
As in real consulting work, coming up with the best ideas in a consulting case interview is necessary, but not enough: you must be able to turn your answer into a compelling recommendation . Otherwise, your days and nights of hard work spent on case interview prep have been totally wasted.
So, how do you make sure that your recommendations come across as relevant, smart, and engaging? By mastering CEO-level communication . It sounds easier than it is since speaking like a CEO often entails presenting your case interview answers by doing exactly the opposite of what you would do when telling a story to your mum. Here are three key areas to focus on in your communications:
Top down : A CEO wants to hear the key message first, and then - if and only if they find it useful - they'll ask you to provide details. Always think about what is absolutely critical for the CEO to know, and start with that. You can read more in our section about the Pyramid Principle .
Concise : This is not the best time for boiling the ocean or going through an endless number of possible solutions. Consultants want a structured, quick, and concise recommendation for their business problem they can implement the next day.
Fact-based : Consultants share CEOs' hatred of opinions based on gut feel rather than facts. They want facts first, to make sure you are in control. Always back up your conclusions with the relevant facts.
Forget outdated, framework-based guides...
The MyConsultingCoach team, a group of seasoned McKinsey, Bain, and BCG consultants with experience on both sides of the interview table, has developed a new, proprietary approach to case cracking which replicates how top management consultants approach actual engagements.
The key is decoupling problem solving, business concepts and analysis tools to achieve the necessary modularity to apply the same overarching method to solve any case. The synergic action of these three elements will allow you to tackle any case interview question. Let's look at these elements in more detail.
The problem driven structure
MyConsultingCoach’s Problem Driven Approach is a universal problem solving method that can be applied to any business problem irrespectively of its nature. It works by generating a bespoke framework for each individual case question and is a simplified version of the roadmap McKinsey consultants use when working on engagements . The canonical seven steps from McKinsey are simplified to four as the analysis required for a six-month engagement is clearly different from that of a 45-minute case study. However, the underlying flow is the same. Let's take a look.
Identify the problem
Many candidates will manage to irretrievably mess up their cases within the first few minutes of starting off . Often, these candidates will not realize what they have done until they are getting near the end of their analysis. It is then that they suddenly see that they have misunderstood the case prompt — and have effectively been answering the wrong question all along! With no time to go back and start again, there is nothing to do. Even if there were time, making such a silly mistake so early on will also make a terrible impression on your interviewer, who might well have written them off already. The interview is scuppered and all their preparation has been for nothing.
This error is so disappointing as it is so readily avoidable . In this context, it is an inherent advantage that our case method places huge importance on laying the foundations for analysis by ensuring a full understanding of the case prompt. Once we have identified the fundamental, underlying problem our client is facing, we focus our whole analysis around finding solutions to this specific issue.
Now, some prompts are easy to digest. For example, “Our client, a supermarket, has seen a decline in profits. How can we bring them up?” However, many of the prompts given in management consulting case interviews are much more difficult and might come from unfamiliar business areas or industries . For example, “How much would you pay for a banking license in Ghana?” or “What would be your key areas of concern when setting up an NGO?”
Don’t worry if you have no idea how you might go about tackling some of these prompts! In the lesson on identifying the problem in our MCC Academy course, we teach you how use a structured, hypothesis-driven approach to quickly circumscribe the key issue facing the client. We provide you with a systematic, four step approach to identifying the problem as well as running through common errors to ensure that you start off on the right foot every time!
As a final point, it goes without saying that showing this level of diligence early on where so many other candidates do not is a great start in terms of impressing your interviewer!
Frame a solution
After you have fully understood the problem, it is time to move to draw up a bespoke structure to capture all the unique features of the case and to guide your analysis . This is precisely the same method used by real consultants working on real engagements.
Of course, it might be easier to simply roll out one old-fashioned framework or another — it is true that it would be faster (at least at this stage) and requires less thought than the problem-driven structure approach. We are honest that our approach requires more work from you . However, our method comes with the crucial advantage of being able to accommodate the most difficult and irregular of cases (exactly the kind you can expect at an MBB interview). Since we start from first principles every time, we can tackle any case with just the same overarching method . As we note in the relevant section here, is a huge advantage over frameworks, which cannot be relied upon to work in any case which departs from their very rigid schemes .
In practice, structuring a problem in line with our method will generally mean - either an issue tree or a hypothesis tree, depending on how you are trying to address the problem. These trees break down the problem into a set of smaller problems , which you can solve individually. Representing this on a diagram makes it easy for both you and your interviewer to keep track of your analysis.
To see how this is done, let’s look at an issue tree breaking down the revenues of an airline . These can be segmented as the number of customers multiplied by the average ticket price. The number of customers can be further broken down into a number of flight times the number of seat times average occupancy rate. The node corresponding to the average ticket price can then be segmented further.
A good structure meets several requirements , including MECE-ness , level consistency, materiality, simplicity, and actionability. It is worth noting, though, that the same problem can be structured in multiple valid ways by choosing different means to segment the key issues. It is important to master segmentation so that you can choose a scheme which is not just valid, but actually useful in addressing the problem.
After taking the effort to identify the problem properly, an advantage of the problem driven structure is that it will help ensure that you stay focused on that same fundamental problem throughout. This might not sound like much, but a large number of candidates get lost in their own analysis and end up taking huge tangents, ending up with an answer to a question they weren’t asked .
One issue which occurs quite often — and tends to be an issue with certain frameworks — is that the candidates come to the end of their analysis and, even if they have stuck to the initial question, have not actually reached a definite solution ; perhaps generating a laundry list of pros and cons with no single recommendation for action. Clients employ consultants for actionable answers and this is what is expected in the case interview . The problem driven structure excels in ensuring that everything you do is clearly related back to key question in a way that will generate a definitive answer. Thus, the problem driven structure builds in the hypothesis driven approach so characteristic of consulting practice.
You can learn how to set out your own problem driven structures in our article here and in our MCC Academy course.
Lead the analysis
Now, a problem driven structure might ensure that we eventually generate a solution, but how do we actually get there? We call this step " leading the analysis ", and is the process whereby you systematically navigate your structure, identifying the key factors which are driving the issue we are addressing.
Generally, this will mean continuing to grow your tree diagram, further segmenting what you identify as the most salient end nodes to drill down into the most crucial factors causing the client’s central problem. Once you have gotten right down into the detail of what is actually causing the company’s issues, solutions can then be generated quite straightforwardly .
To see this process in action, we can return to our airline revenue example . Let’s say that we discover the average ticket price to be a key issue in the airline’s problems. We then look closer at the drivers of average ticket price and find that the problem lies with Economy Class ticket prices. We can then further segment that price into the base fare and additional items such as food. Having broken down the issue to such a fine-grained level, solutions occur quite naturally. In this case, we can suggest incentivizing the crew to increase onboard sales, improving assortment in the plane, or offering discounts for online purchases.
Our article on leading the analysis is a great primer on the subject, with our video lesson in the MCC Academy providing the most comprehensive guide.
You might have arrived at a solution, but you aren’t finished yet! Now you need to deliver that solution as a final recommendation. This should be delivered as if you are briefing a busy CEO and thus should be a one minute, top-down, concise, structured, clear, and fact-based account of your findings.
The brevity of the final recommendation belies its importance. In real life consulting, the recommendation is what the client has paid thousands for - from their point of view it is all that matters. In an interview, how you perform this final summing up of your case is going to significantly color your interviewer’s parting impression of you - and thus your chances of getting hired!
So how to we do it right? Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle elegantly sums up almost everything that required from a perfect recommendation. The answer comes first , as this is what is most important. These are the then supported by a few key arguments - which are in turn buttressed by supporting facts . Across the whole recommendation, the goal is not simply to summarise what you have done, but rather to synthesize your findings so as to extract the key "so what?" insight that will actually be useful to the client going forward.
All this might seem like common sense, but it is actually the opposite to the way we relay results in academia and other fields ; where we typically move from data through arguments and eventually to conclusions. As such, making good recommendations is a skill that will take practice to master.
We can see this principle illustrated in the diagram below:
To this scheme, we suggest candidates add a few brief remarks on potential risks and suggested next steps . This helps demonstrate the ability for critical self-reflection and lets your interviewer see you going the extra mile.
In the final recommendation in particular, the combination of logical rigour and communication skills which are so definitive of consulting is on full display. Despite it only lasting 60 seconds, to deliver a really excellent recommendation and leave your interviewer with a good final impression of your case solving abilities, you will need to leverage a full set of key consulting skills. Our specific article on final recommendations and the specific video lesson on the same topic withing our MCC Academy are great, comprehensive resources, but our lesson on consulting thinking and our articles on MECE and the pyramid principle are also very useful.
Now, the whole case cracking method we have set out thus far emphasises starting from first principles to develop a fresh approach to each and every case question you are presented with. However, since we have also identified a number of common topics popping up in case interview questions, you might well ask if we really need to spend the time required to work up from first principles in every single case. Indeed, this is what the case interview frameworks promoted elsewhere will claim to do for you – to save you precious time by zeroing in on the kind of question you have been asked.
This is where we introduce our Building Block concept . We have devised modular building blocks to capture the commonalities between cases identified in each of the five key topics outlined above. These building blocks are designed as modular, off-the-peg elements which allow you to leverage the symmetries between different cases to structure problems more quickly and effectively .
Now, building blocks might ostensibly sound a lot like the case interview frameworks we have railed against above. “Generic solutions to a small set of case types? Sounds just like Case in Point!” However, this is not so. Indeed, we can introduce the unique features of building blocks by considering exactly how they differ from old-fashioned frameworks .
Framework-based approaches identify a set of strictly-defined case types and then provide a single generic scheme for each — apparently able to solve all instances of that case type. By contrast, building blocks embrace the infinite variety and complexity of cases and the fact, as noted above, that the different question themes we have identified can all run into one another.
Building blocks do not claim to capture the entirety of any one case and intend only to provide a strong starting point when you encounter each of these question topics , rather than to dictate your approach right from A to Z. Think of frameworks as a flatpack, fibreboard coffee table from Ikea. It might be quick to assemble, but it’s only good for one thing and might get shaky under pressure. Our building blocks are more like standard planks of wood. You can use them to make multiple different structures and the end product is going to be sturdy and reliable.
We noted above how different topics can easily overlap in the same case interview question — with the example that a pricing decision might affect how a company competes with other market players, which will in turn affect profitability and valuation. Overlapping topics mean that it is quite natural to structure a case with the deployment of two or more building blocks. . Thus, we might well address a company’s profitability concerns by analysis of that company’s pricing strategy, making use of both corresponding building blocks as we structure our approach to the overarching problem. In particular, we can expect to have to make estimations as part of pretty well any case interview question , so this is a building block which we will leverage constantly.
Frameworks would not have survived for so long if they didn’t latch onto something useful. Our Our Building Blocks allow you to retain the time-saving benefits of frameworks, but without inheriting their fatal flaws in terms of inflexibility .
Let's take a look at our five key building blocks below, with a brief introduction to how you might use each.
Join thousands of other candidates cracking cases like pros
Estimation questions can often seem very daunting on the first impression. Where would we even start in working out how many cars are sold in Berlin, for example? The key to estimation case questions is the ability to logically break down the problem into more manageable pieces . . In consulting case studies, this will generally mean segmenting a wider population to find a target group . For example, starting from the total population of Berlin and narrowing down on the cohort of individuals who will buy a car that year.
There are many ways to segment the same starting population. However, whilst several different segmentation schemes might be equally valid, it is crucial to choose the specific method best suited to the question you have to answer and to leveraging the data you have available.
Segmentation must be allied with assumptions in order to arrive at an estimation. These assumptions are the “guessed” element of estimations we mentioned above. Assumptions cannot just be plucked from thin air, but must always be reasonable .
The example below showcases both the segmentation and assumptions made in an estimation of the size of the wedding planning market in London:
Our articles here on the MECE concept and estimation are great starting points in learning the relevant skills to make estimations in consulting case questions. However, the best place to learn how to make estimations is with the dedicated building block video lesson in our MCC Academy course.
Understanding profitability ultimately means understanding the various components which go to determine the profit of a company. Thus, you will learn to decompose profit first into the revenues and costs of which it is the synthesis and then — crucially — to further segment , distinguishing different revenue streams and separating various fixed and variable costs.
To take an example, just to take revenues as a fraction of profit, the incoming revenues for an insurance firm might be broken down as follows:
Taking steps to improve profitability will inherently mean increasing revenues and/or decreasing costs . To solve profitability problems, we will thus have to understand the various means at our disposal to minimize different forms of cost as well as ways to drive sales or optimize pricing to increase revenue. Importantly, you must be able to judge which of these options is best suited to address different scenarios .
The key to tackling the complex kind of profitability questions given by MBB-level consultancies lies in proper segmentation . Many old-fashioned case interview frameworks will simply have you look at aggregate cost and revenue data and then simply have you recommend generic cost-cutting or revenue-driving measures based on that. However, this will often lead to negative outcomes, making matters worse for our client company.
For example, it might well be that a company makes a loss when it serves a certain cohort of customers . An airline, for instance, might be losing money on economy class customers but making a healthy profit on each business class customer. Attempts to boost revenue by increasing sales generally might actually have suppressed profit further by increasing the number of economy class customers. What is required is targeted measures to increase focus on business class and/or mitigate economy class losses.
You can start to learn more about how to segment these questions properly, as well as getting to grips with the other ideas mentioned here, in our article on profitability , with the best way to master profitability being our full lesson on the subject in the Building Blocks section of our MCC Academy course.
To understand pricing, you will need to begin from the fundamentals of ideas like the customer’s willingness to pay, the value captured by the company, and the value created for the customer. These basics are shown in the diagram below:
This might seem simple enough, but the exact level at which prices are set is determined by a whole host of factors , including product availability, market trends, and the need to maintain a competitive position within the market. If we are changing the price of an existing product, we must consider how the price elasticity of demand might cause sales to fluctuate in the face of altered prices.
Our four-step method for pricing starts from establishing the customer’s next best alternative, working out the value added by our own product, and working from there. A summary of this method is given, along with an overview of pricing in general, in our article on the subject . The most complete resource, though, is our pricing building block lesson in the MCC Academy .
There are multiple different ways of calculating value. These include asset-based valuations and the multiples method. In consulting case interviews, though, you will generally refer to Net Present Value (NPV) . Thus, you will need to master the NPV equation:
CF = Cash Flow r = Discount Rate
However, NPV is far from the last word in valuation. The fact is that the worth of any asset will be different for different buyers , depending upon what the buyer already owns. In just the same way spare clutch for a 1975 Ford will hold much more worth to someone restoring the relevant classic car than to a cyclist, so a courier business will be more valuable to an online retailer than to an airline.
As such, what we call the Total Enterprise Value (TEV) of an asset is calculated as a function of that asset’s NPV and of the potential cost and revenue synergies that pertain to making any acquisition. This is shown in the useful structure below:
In order to grasp valuation and investment, you will also need to develop a feel for interest/discount rates . This will be essential, as you will often have to estimate rational values for these rates for different investments (and then plug those values into the NPV equation).
You can learn more about all aspects of valuation in our article here and in our dedicated video lesson in MCC Academy . These include guides to the kind of interest rates which would typically be required for financing different kinds of investment.
Your eventual solutions as to how a company should react to a changing market might be highly creative and sweeping in their prospective effects. However, the process by which we understand competitive interactions and thus move towards such solutions is typically highly systematic — indeed, algorithmic - as we move through the limited dimensions in which it is possible for a company to take action. The following structure neatly encodes the general options open to responding to new sources of competition:
Of course, we would never suggest that you blanket-apply any strict, inflexible methodology to a whole swathe of case questions - this is precisely the approach that causes so much trouble for candidates using old-fashioned frameworks.
This structure is only a starting point — a shortcut to a bespoke framework, specific to the case question in hand. You might have to alter the details of the structure shown and you will almost certainly have to expand it as you lead the analysis . How you lead the analysis and the solutions you provide are necessarily going to depend wholly upon the specific details of the case question.
Thus, in order to deal with competitive interactions, you will need to put in the time understanding how the different strategies available function — as well as how competitors might then react to implementing such strategies . With enough practice, though, soon you won’t be fazed by even the most complex cases of competition between firms. Learn more in our article here and in our dedicated video lesson on competitive interaction in the MCC Academy case interview course.
Companies hire consulting firms for their problem solving and communication skills. These are the same skills which in turn will get you hired by McKinsey, BCG, or Bain! This is the reason why consulting thinking is a pillar of our method. Principles such as MECE or the 80/20 rule are ubiquitous in consulting, and mastering them makes the difference between an average and a top candidate. The distinctive characteristic of a management consultant is that they have a problem-solving mentality. In particular, they focus on generating solutions to problems using a fact-based approach . This approach relies on 5 key elements:
- MECE structures
- Root cause analysis
- An Hypothesis driven mentality
- Fact based "so what's"
These elements are intrinsically linked; our course elaborates on each in detail.
Problem driven structure vs frameworks
As we have noted previously, old-fashioned case interview frameworks (as found in Case in Point and Case Interview Secrets ) are unreliable and will not impress your interviewer . This might be a bitter pill to swallow if you have already waded through the relevant books and devoted time to rote learning these frameworks.
However, on reflection, the simple fact that using frameworks is indeed a matter of rote learning should be a huge red flag in itself . We can think about this from a couple of angles — let’s take a closer look!
Frameworks are inflexible
Rote learning solutions pre-supposes that the cases you encounter in the future will conform to the same basic mold as the previous cases those solutions were derived from. When you use a framework to tackle a case study, you typically begin by selecting a case type with regards to a few variables such as topic (profitability, M&A, market entry) interviewer stance, company, etc. You then select the relevant framework and do the calculations recommended. Crucially, the frameworks are very fixed and do not allow for significant customization to accommodate unique features of problems . Frameworks rely on cases neatly dividing into distinct types, where each instance of a particular type is very much like the others.
However, and very unfortunately for the candidates that rely on them, this means that case interview frameworks will struggle with precisely the kind of question which are likely to come up in consulting interviews . There is a reason no working consultant ever uses frameworks!
As is well known, consulting case interview questions tend to be based on a real project the interviewer has been working on recently . Consultants are engaged by their clients to solve unique problems, which have proved resistant to standard solutions (otherwise the client would have saved tens of thousands and dealt with the issue in-house). Thus, consulting case interview questions are going to be based on precisely the kind of unique problems that have refused to fit into standard frameworks or other off-the-peg solutions. Since frameworks do not have the flexibility to cope with these more complex scenarios , the unlucky candidates making use of them will simply be stumped. Despite all their hard work in preparation — and hours of rote learning — they will wash out of their case interview and will not be hired.
Case interviews assess individual reasoning
So, we have considered the demands of the question, but we should also consider the intention behind posing case questions . Remember that the whole point of case interviews is to assess the candidate's ability to think on their feet and come up with creative solutions to new problems . If consultancies wanted to simply test memorised knowledge, it would be a lot cheaper for them to set written tests, rather than divert working consultants to act as interviewers.
Given all this, an interviewer is not going to be impressed by you parroting the same script they have already heard from the past five candidates who were also using the same framework (doubly so as that framework probably hasn’t worked for the case they set). Consulting firms are simply not interested in hiring candidates who distinguish themselves only by learning a dozen generic recipes!
Flexible problem solving: working from first principles
Our innovative problem-driven structure approach takes a radically different approach to old-fashioned frameworks. For one thing, there are no generic sets of instructions to be precisely applied. Rather, we teach a set of skills with guidelines on how to apply those skills flexibly to any new problem. Indeed, our method was derived as a streamlined version of the seven-step system used by McKinsey consultants on real engagements.
The first step of our method is always to understand the case you have been given in detail and on its own merits . From here you draw up a unique problem driven structure — which you can think of as building your own new framework for each individual question .
Clearly, this solves the problem of inflexibility which lets down candidates attempting to apply old-fashioned frameworks to unique, irregular cases. By contrast to such limitations, problem-driven structures - as a method for approaching issues from first principles - is sufficiently general that it can even be applied well outside the realms of business problems.
With the MCC approach, rather than rote learning a set of generic scripts, you learn genuine consulting skills and how to apply those to novel problems in just the same manner as would a working consultant . Far from being frustrated by watching a candidate operating on autopilot, your interviewer will be genuinely impressed to see you clearly tackle the case they have set using the same methods they would themselves. As an indicator of the value of our approach, not only does prepping our way increase your chance of being hired, but it also let's you hit the ground running on day one of the job itself , as you are already with the fundamental skills leveraged in real consulting work. No real consultant uses frameworks, but all are united in applying those same methods and principles built into the problem-driven structure approach and taught in our MCC Academy course .
You can learn more about why frameworks are unreliable and how our method works in this video:
Now, let’s take a break from all this theory and learn more about how case interviews work in real life.
What is it like in practice? Putting it all together...
Of course, all this theory is well and good, but a lot of readers might be concerned about what exactly to expect in real life . It’s perfectly reasonable to want to get as clear a picture as possible here - we all want to know what we are going into when we face a new challenge!
Indeed, it is important to think about your interview in more holistic terms. One theme here is that getting the mechanics of analysis and getting the exact right answer is less important than the approach you take to reasoning and how you communicate — candidates often lose sight of this fact.
In this section, then, we’ll run through the case interview experience from start to finish, directing you to resources with more details where appropriate. As a supplement to what we say here, the following video from Bain is excellent. It portrays an abridged version of a case interview , but is very useful as a guide to what to expect - not just from Bain, but from McKinsey, BCG, and any other high-level consulting firm.
Though you might be shown through to the office by a staff member, usually your interviewer will come and collect you from a waiting area . Either way, when you first encounter them, you should greet your interviewer with a warm smile and a handshake (unless they do not offer their hand). Be confident without verging into arrogance . You will be asked to take a seat in the interviewer’s office where the interview can then begin.
In reality, your assessment begins before you even sit down at your interviewer’s desk. Whether at a conscious level or not, the impression you make within the first few seconds of meeting your interviewer is likely to significantly inform the final hiring decision (again, whether consciously or not). Your presentation and how you hold yourself and behave are all important. If this seems strange, consider that, if hired, you will be personally responsible for many client’s personal impressions of the firm. These things are part of the job! Much of material on the fit interview is useful here, whilst we also cover first impressions and presentation generally in our article on what to wear to interview .
As we have noted above, your interview might start with a fit segment — that is, with the interviewer asking questions about your experiences, your soft skills, and motivation to want to join consulting generally and that firm in particular. Basically, the kinds of things which a case study can’t tell them about you. We have a fit interview article and course to get you up to speed here.
Down to Business
Following an initial conversation, your interviewer will introduce your case study , providing a prompt for the question you have to answer. You will have a pen and paper in front of you and should (neatly) note down the salient pieces of information (you should keep this up throughout the interview).
It is crucial here that you don’t delve into analysis or calculations straight away . Case prompts can be tricky and easy to misunderstand — especially when you are under pressure. Rather, ask any questions you need to fully understand the case question and validate that understanding with the interviewer before you kick off any analysis. Better to eliminate mistakes now than experiencing that sinking feeling of realizing you have gotten the whole thing wrong halfway through your case!
This process is covered in our article on identifying the problem and in greater detail in our MCC Academy lesson on that subject.
Once you understand the problem, you should take a few seconds to set your thoughts in order and draw up an initial structure for how you want to proceed. You might benefit from utilizing one or more of our building blocks here to make a strong start. Present this to your interviewer and get their approval before you get into the nuts and bolts of analysis.
We cover the mechanics of how to structure your problem and lead the analysis in our articles here and here and more thoroughly in the MCC Academy. What it is important to convey here, though, is that your case interview is supposed to be a conversation rather than a written exam . Your interviewer takes a role closer to a co-worker than an invigilator and you should be conversing with them throughout.
Indeed, how you communicate with your interviewer and explain your rationale to them is a crucial element of how you will be assessed. Case questions, in general, are not asked to see if you can produce the correct answer, but rather to see how you think . Your interviewer wants to see you approach the case in a structured, rational fashion. The only way they are going to know your thought processes, though, is if you tell them!
To demonstrate this point, here is another excellent video from Bain, where candidates are compared. Note that multiple different answers to each question are considered acceptable, but that Bain is concerned with the thought processes of the candidate’s exhibit. .
Another reason why communication is absolutely essential to case interview success is the simple reason that you will not have all the facts that you need to complete your analysis at the outset. Rather, you will frequently have to ask the interviewer for additional data to allow you to proceed .
Don’t be let down by your math!
Note that your ability to quickly and accurately interpret these charts and other figures under pressure is one of the skills which is being assessed. You will also be required to make any and all calculations hat are required quickly and accurately (and without a calculator!). As such, you should be sure that you are up to speed on your consulting math .
Finally, you will be asked to present a recommendation. This should be delivered in a brief, top-down "elevator pitch" style format , as if you are speaking to a time-pressured CEO. Again here, how you communicate will be just as important as the details of what you say . Speak clearly and with confidence and take a look at our articles on the pyramid principle and providing recommendations , as well the relevant lesson within MCC Academy , for more detail on how to give the perfect recommendation.
After your case is complete, there might be a few more fit questions — including a chance for you to ask some questions of the interviewer . This is your opportunity to make a good parting impression — we deal with the details in our fit interview resources.
It is always worth bearing in mind just how many candidates your interviewers are going to see giving similar answers to the same questions in the same office. A pretty obvious pre-requisite to being considered for a job is that your interviewer remembers you in the first place . Whilst you shouldn't do something stupid just to be noticed, asking interesting parting questions is a good way to be remembered.
Now, with the interview wrapped up, it is time to shake hands, thank the interviewer for their time and leave the room .You might have other interviews or tests that day or you might be heading home. Either way, if know that you did all you could to prepare, you can leave content in the knowledge that you have the best possible chance of receiving a call with a job offer . This is our mission at MCC — to provide all the resources you need to realize your full potential and land your dream consulting job!
Too many candidates try to steam ahead into their preparation without having made any kind of plan to guide their efforts. As a result, they will spend their time inefficiently and end up with a patchy case interview prep.
Impress your interviewer
To plan effectively, you first need to know what you are preparing for. As noted, consulting interviews have two sections: Fit and Case. Both are equally important, and to get hired you must be successful in both.
1. Learn the theory
The MCC Academy is a comprehensive, all-in-one package, teaching you everything you need to know about the case interview. We designed the course around a sensible suggested structure for a candidate with little business background. While following that structure is the simplest course of action, a more experienced candidate can easily adapt it to their specific needs. Your case interview preparation approach depends on:
Background : whether you are new to consulting case interviews or not will affect the amount of background reading you need to do. In any case, you will need to learn about our problem driven structure approach.
Timeframe : clearly time will affect your preparation. We usually advise our clients to prepare for around 60 hours, obviously the more practice you get the better it is. For the mathematically inclined, time invested vs return approximates an S-curve.
2. Solo practice
For solitary preparation, perhaps one of the best uses of your time is to work on your mental mathematics . This skill is neglected by many applicants - much to their immediate regret in the case interview. Find our mental math tool here or in our course and practice at least 10 minutes a day from day one to the day before the interview. Once you covered our Building Blocks (week 2), then you should start working through the cases in My Consulting Coach's case bank alongside your work on the course. This is a large and frequently updated source of case interview questions and answers. To build your confidence, start out on easier case questions, work through with the solutions, and don't worry about time. As you get better, though, you can move on to more difficult cases and try to get through them more quickly. You should practice around 8 case studies on your own to build your confidence.
3. Practice with a case partner
Regardless of your background, you will need to put in significant time practicing cases. The solitary practice is useful, but your case interview prep will only progress so far without actually simulating the case interview. As such, finding good case partners is perhaps the single most important aspect of your preparation. To help you out here, My Consulting Coach offers an intuitive, user-friendly, and - importantly - - FREE meeting board , where you can get in touch with fellow consulting applicants from across the globe with whom to practice case studies. Candidates are listed along with their background and case experience and the board has easy-to-use tools for both direct invitations and scheduling open meetings.
We recommend you to practice 1-3 cases per day with peers depending on your available time. You can start doing so once you have covered our Building Blocks (week 2), to then ramp up your practice when you have completed the course and have more time (week 4 onwards according to our schedule). My Consulting Coach provides 45+ interactive consulting case interview questions and answers for you to crack with your partners, so you will have plenty to keep you busy! Two tips:
Practice with as many different case partners as possible : the more different perspectives you get on how you work, the more you’ll be able to get feedback and fine-tune your performance
Don’t neglect the part of the part of the session where you play the interviewer role : stepping into the interviewer's shoes will help you get their perspective and help you understand both what they are looking for and how they assess it.
4. Expert help
This step is optional, but profoundly useful. The most effective way to conduct your consulting case interview prep will always be to get help from someone who has worked as a consultant for a top firm. Nobody else will be able to spot your weaknesses so quickly or offer better advice to deal with them.
Of course, you will never be able to secure the time of these individuals for free. However, it is worth considering the difference in your salary over even a just few years between getting into a top-tier firm versus a second-tier one. In the light of thousands in increased annual earnings (easily accumulating into millions over multiple years), it becomes clear that getting expert help is one of the best investments you can make for your own future.
Should you decide to make this step, My Consulting Coach can help, offering the highest quality case interview coaching service available . Each MCC case coach is selected as an ex-MBB consultant with two or more years of working experience and strong coaching expertise.
Case interview coaching is hugely beneficial in itself. However, for those who want to genuinely maximize their chances of securing a job offer - and especially for time-poor, busy professionals who want to take the guesswork and wasted time out of their case interview prep - we also offer a much more comprehensive service .
With one of our " springboard " bespoke mentoring programs , you are paired with a mentor from your target firm , who will then oversee your whole case interview preparation from start to finish. After an initial consultation to assess your existing capabilities, your mentor draws up a fully personalized plan to get you interview-ready as efficiently as possible . This plan will leverage material from right across the full gamut of learning resources MCC produces - to which you will have complete access (including our MCC Academy course). Your mentor will then arrange all the case interview coaching sessions needed to get you fully up to speed. All the while, your mentor will monitor your progress, ammending your preparation plan as neccessary and generally never being more than a phonecall or an email away to answer questions and provide recommendations.
The outcome is that you will be able to throw yourself into your case interview prep in the knowledge that you are moving towards your goal as quickly as possible. Rather than the typical case interview prep experience of trawling dodgy websites, forums, Reddit, etc for whatever advice you can find and then trying to work out which pieces of mutually contradictory information are actually true, you will be able to devote all that time and mental energy to successful preparation.
The results of our mentoring service speak for themselves. Candidates completing our Springboard program enjoy an unparalleled 75%+ success rate . If you are a busy student, balancing exams with consulting applications, or a hard-pressed professional who already works long hours, then check out our mentoring programs as the best way to walk out ouf your consulting interviews without regrets.
A final note: track your progress
At My Consulting Coach, we strongly believe that mistakes can be your most valuable source of progress. After every case interview coaching session with us, you will receive our Performance Radar. This written report combines your case coach's feedback with scores generated via our statistical modeling which break down your performance across all the key area of Problem Solving, Structure, Communication, Numerical Agility. These scores allow you to track your progress quantitatively; pinpointing those areas where you should focus your efforts as well as those where you have improved. This advanced feedback system ensures that you are always in control.
Most candidates spend their time on case interview preparation and neglect their fit interviews . This is a major problem, as both these components of the selection process are accorded equal importance by recruiters and good performance in one will not make up for a poor showing in the other. The bottom line is that consultancy firms simply will not employ someone who they doubt will be a good fit with the company, regardless of how many cases they can crack.
The fit interview will be especially important if you are coming into consulting via a less standard route . You will need to be able to provide a compelling narrative to explain why, even though you are coming from elsewhere, consulting is the right move for you at this point in your career, as well as how your previous experiences have furnished you with the relevant skills for consulting.
Even if you're not specifically targeting consulting, preparing for case interviews will significantly improve your problem-solving, business and analytical skills . These skills are transferable to any industry , which is why more and more companies - among which Google and Facebook - use case studies in their interview process. Case interviews present a unique upskilling opportunity , allowing you to develop new skills quickly and in a more targetted way than many traditional educational programs (such as MBAs, for example). They prepare you better for most business-related or analytical roles because they simulate real scenarios where you are confronted with difficult problems under the constraint of time and require you to act quickly and decisively.
So, if you're asking yourself: 'Should I invest so much time and preparation for just one interview?' the answer is that you're not only getting ready for an interview - you are improving your overall efficiency and critical thinking , attributes which are useful in any job, but also generally in life.
Find out more in our case interview course
Ditch outdated guides and misleading frameworks and join the MCC Academy, the first comprehensive case interview course that teaches you how consultants approach case studies.
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Demonstrate your problem solving skills.
Our case interview prep tool gives you the chance to practice demonstrating your problem-solving skills, analytical ability, and strategic and logical thinking. And, you’ll learn more about what we do at Deloitte.
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Our interactive case site gives you the opportunity to practice a number of cases as you prepare for case interviews. Visit our case interview prep tool and start building your case interviewing skills today!
More case interviewing tips Learn a few more ways to stand out in your case study interview .
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When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to lear...
Case studies are important because they help make something being discussed more realistic for both teachers and learners. Case studies help students to see that what they have learned is not purely theoretical but instead can serve to crea...
Examples of a case study could be anything from researching why a single subject has nightmares when they sleep in their new apartment, to why a group of people feel uncomfortable in heavily populated areas. A case study is an in-depth anal...
In a perfect world, your case interview prep timeline should start 6 months before your interview – time for 1-2 out loud interviews a week and
Step-by-step case interview preparation guide to help you get offers from top ... to the skills you need to be a good management consultant.
A case interview is part of the job interview process in which you as the candidate have to analyze and solve a problematic business scenario
Case interview are modelled after the course of actions real consultants do in real projects – so success in case interviews is seen by consulting firms as
Associate Consultant Case Library. We want to help you prepare. Practice with one of our cases below. Coffee Shop Co.
McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and other strategy consulting firms use case interviews in their recruiting process. Case interviews are about 30 minutes
A Case Study Interview is a real-time problem-solving test used to screen candidates for their ability to succeed in consulting. The case is presented as an
Case interviews help you experience the type of work we do and show off your problem-solving skills. Explore BCG's case interview preparation tools today.
then why would anyone pay to hire management consultants?
Practice a case interview; Additional resources; Search for consulting jobs.
Most management consulting firms use a “case interview” format. These cases are interactive, scenario-based discussions.