Tips for Preparing for a Case Interview

job interview
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Have you been told that you have a case interview coming up? What is a case interview, and why do employers use them? A case interview is a job interview that includes questions about how to handle a specific job scenario.

What is a Case Interview?

During a case interview, the interviewee is given a hypothetical business situation and asked what they would do to manage the situation. The business scenario is usually one that the interviewee would likely encounter while working for the company.

However, the interviewer may also ask interview questions or ask you to solve brain teasers that don’t relate directly to the company. These types of questions may leave you feeling a bit flustered, so take a deep breath and think your way through them.

When Employers Use Case Interviews

Used most often in management consulting and investment banking interviews, case interviews allow interviewees to demonstrate their analytical ability and problem-solving skills.

Types of Case Interview Questions

Most case interview questions do not have one "right" answer—there may be more than one acceptable way to manage the situation.

For example, you may be asked how to determine how big the market might be for a new type of tennis ball. That’s not much information so you’d need to ask questions such as who the target consumer is—professional tennis players or weekend tennis enthusiasts. Another question might be about how much the new tennis balls cost and how or where they are sold: in stores or online.

You could explain how you’d calculate the potential size of the market for this new tennis ball. In addition, perhaps you could offer ideas for expanding to additional consumers such as high school or college tennis players.

Solving the Problem

The case interview doesn’t have to be verbal only. You can draw up a few graphs, charts, or illustrations to help get your point across to the interviewer.

One way to do this is to use an Issue Tree to outline and solve the problem. An issue tree graphically outlines the issue to break the problem down into smaller ones.

Remember that answering a case interview question like this really isn’t about being right or wrong. The interviewer is more interested in how the applicant arrives at his or her solution.

As such, a case interview is back and forth dialogue. The interviewee is expected to interact with the interviewer and ask clarifying questions in a logical, sequential order to solve the given problem.

Tips for Answering Case Interview Questions

Your case interview may be less stressful if you have an idea of what’s going to happen. Here are some tips for handling case interview questions:

Understand the question. Paraphrase the question before answering to make sure you understand the problem. If you’re not clear on the question be sure to ask for more information.

Be prepared to take notes. Most companies allow interviewees to take notes during the interview; if so, you should be prepared. Bring lined paper to the interview for notes and bring some graph paper as well, in case you need to draw any charts.

There’s no need to rush. Take your time answering each question; logically think through the problem before arriving at a solution.

Ask questions. Case interviews are interactive; feel comfortable asking your interviewer clarifying questions to gain more information. In fact, your interviewer will expect you to ask questions.

Always explain how you arrived at a solution, even if you are simply estimating a number. Remember that how you arrived at your answer is generally more important than the answer itself.

Stay professional. Although this is different from a traditional interview, it’s not the time to act too casually. Remain as professional as you would during a regular interview. Sit up straight, speak clearly, and make eye contact with the interviewer.

Have fun! Interviewers want to see that you are enthusiastic about solving business problems. After all, these are the types of situations you will manage every day if you’re hired.

How to Practice for a Case Interview

It’s very important to practice for a case interview, especially if this is your first one.

Review Sample Questions

Many universities and companies offer sample case questions on their website. Hunt for some of these case interview samples and use them to prepare yourself. For example, Bain & Company has case interview questions, along with tips for a successful interview.

Search Google for the name of the company you're interviewing with and "interview questions" to get the scoop on what you may be asked.

Practice Responding

Practice answering case interview questions in front of friends, family, or a career counselor. You may know someone who has experience with these types of interviews and is knowledgeable about your field. He or she might be able to help you create a mock interview.

Keep Track of the Time

It’s also a good idea to grab a stopwatch and time yourself. Most case interviews last 15 to 30 minutes. That may seem like a long time if you’re not ready, so whether you practice with another person or just speak out loud in front of the mirror, the more you prepare now, the more comfortable you’ll be at the real interview.