Management consulting is one of the top industries business school students and grads target, meaning there’s guaranteed to be stiff competition. Interviewing with the top strategy consulting firms can be daunting.
But with the right preparation you can really stand out, and case study interview prep is a good place to start. These five tips will boost your performance from good to great, so you can stand out from the crowd.
1. Understand what’s being asked
This might seem like common sense, but it can’t be emphasized enough.
Many candidates make assumptions when they’re first given the case interview question, and end up spending their time solving the wrong problem.
For example, an interviewer might ask you how you would help a company grow. If you assume ‘growth’ means more revenue, but the interviewer actually meant increased profits or market share, you end up with the wrong solution.
2. Structure your approach
Before you dive in, take a moment to think about how you would solve the problem you're given.
Your interviewer isn’t looking for the perfect answer to the case. If tough business problems could be solved that easily, the management consulting industry wouldn’t exist. Instead, your interviewer is assessing your ability to break the case into its key components and then to go through these components step-by-step to identify the source of the business problem and its solution.
This is the same skill that you'll use day to day as a consultant, so interviewers want to see that you can demonstrate this skill.
For more on how to structure your approach to a case interview question, see My Consulting Offer’s Guide to Case Study Interview Prep.
3. Make the interview conversational
As a consultant, you’ll be working directly with other consultants and your clients to solve problems. This problem solving will take the form of discussions, so the interviewer wants to know you can be a great problem solver while still being conversational.
In consulting, we call this being ‘client-friendly,’ which means being someone a client can trust, not just someone they hire to solve a problem.
You can set a conversational tone right from the beginning of your case by asking pertinent questions when you’re first given the case question. This will draw your interviewer into the case with you. It will also get you some great information to inform your problem-solving.
As you work through your structure and begin to make assumptions,it’s also a good idea to ask whether your assumptions are reasonable. For example, if you’re given a profitability case and need to make an assumption about how much revenues might improve in response to a price cut, make a logical assumption and ask your interviewer for feedback on it.
Again, this engages your interviewer in the problem-solving process. It will also provide you with useful feedback.
4. Address any implementation risks in your recommendation
At the end of your interview, you need to tie up your case neatly, with a well-reasoned and persuasive recommendation for the ‘client’—your interviewer.
What most applicants don’t realize is that you should also address risks that are inherent in your recommendation.
For example, if you’re recommending the client goes forward with a new product launch, you should note that competitors will see the marketing for the new product and defend their market share.
They might do this by launching a new product of their own or, perhaps, competing on price. Noting these risks doesn't make your recommendation weaker. It shows you're aware of the competitive environment and allows you to deepen your recommendation by brainstorming ways to fool-proof the implementation plan—thinking through likely scenarios that the client will face.
5. Be ready to be challenged—if you are it’s a good sign
What if you present the results of your analysis or your recommendation and your interviewer tells you she thinks your logic is flawed?
It might be tempting to think it’s a crisis, or that you’ve just bombed the interview.
But often, that’s not the case. If you screw up, there’s no need for the interviewer to make the interview more difficult. It’s just awkward. But if you’ve done well, your interviewer wants to make sure you can hold up under pressure in front of a client. That’s when you’re likely to get the stress test. The key here is to have confidence.
Think through the objection they raise. If they have a point, acknowledge it and talk through how you’d modify your analysis or recommendation to address it. If you think that your recommendation is still solid, say so, and why you think that’s the case.
By doing your case study interview prep, and actively incorporating these five tips naturally in your interviews, you’re sure to move to the top of the strategy consulting firms’ applicant pool and get closer to landing an offer.
This article was written by Davis Nguyen, founder of My Consulting Offer, which helps people land their dream jobs in management consulting.
Davis was raised by a single mother who didn’t finish elementary school, in one of the most impoverished communities in the United States, before graduating from Yale University and starting a career at Bain & Company. Davis started My Consulting Offer as a weekend side-business in 2017 and, within a year, grew it into a six-figure side business.
After becoming a full-time entrepreneur in 2018, Davis has helped over 500 people launch careers in consulting, grown his business to seven figures, and was featured at TEDx.
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