If you’re a business-school student — at the undergraduate or MBA level — chances are you already know something about how to handle a very specialized kind of job interview — the case interview. Many business-school courses revolve around case analysis, and many business students have become pros at picking business cases apart. Still, the thought of doing so within a tight time-frame (usually 15-20 minutes) in the already highly pressured situation of a job interview can be daunting — if not downright terrifying.
The case interview is employed primarily by management-consulting firms, as well as investment-banking companies, and is increasingly being used by other types of corporations as at least part of the job-interviewing process. Some firms use case interviews only for MBA-level job candidates, while others use them for undergraduates, as well.
Business students who are not totally comfortable with case analysis and liberal-arts students with little or no exposure to the case method can take comfort in knowing that a vast collection of resources is available, both on and off the Internet, to tell you everything you need to know to succeed in a case interview. We’d be foolish to try to reinvent any of that great resource material, so the purpose of this article is to give you a brief overview of the case-interview process. We then provide a sampling of excellent resources to help you delve further into this tricky interviewing mode. Perhaps most helpful are the resources provided by companies who actually conduct case interviews. There’s nothing like going to the source when you want to know what your interview will be like.
To invoke a definition of the case interview offered by MIT’s Careers Handbook, it’s an interview in which “you are introduced to a business dilemma facing a particular company. You are asked to analyze the situation, identify key business issues, and discuss how you would address the problems involved.”
Case interviews are designed to scrutinize the skills that are especially important in management consulting and related fields: quantitative skills, analytical skills, problem-solving ability, communication skills, creativity, flexibility, the ability to think quickly under pressure, listening skills, business acumen, keen insight, interpersonal skills, the ability to synthesize findings, professional demeanor, and powers of persuasion.
Above all, the firm will be looking for someone who can do the real work at hand. Management-consulting companies, for example, want to know that you are the kind of person who can make a good impression on clients. Describing a presentation on case interviewing given at Columbia University by representatives of McKinsey and Company, Jim Oh notes that consulting firms value case interviews because “there is no right background for consulting. Consulting requires working in unfamiliar territories, thinking on your feet, and performing in situations where you never have enough time.”