Case Study Interview Guide (2023) With Sample Questions and Answers
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- The World of Consultants, Their Clients and Business Cases
- What Is a Case Study Interview and Why Do Consultancies Like to Use Them?
- At What Stage of the Application Process Can You Expect the Case Study?
- What Skills Are Case Studies Looking to Test?
- What to Expect on the Day of the Case Study Interview in November 2023
- Common Types of Case Study Questions
- Case Study Example Topics
- How to Prepare and Practice Effectively for a Case Study Interview in 2023
- Tips on How to Perform Well During the Case Study Interview
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
The case study interview is a critical piece of the employee selection process for professional service firms. For consultancies, its specific purpose is to assess aptitude for partner-track roles.
Historically, the case study interview has been used to hire associate-level employees – those who are expected to work directly with business clients and produce a stream of billable services.
In recent years, case study interviews have expanded to analyst-level employees, in organisations that are usually the target clients of consultancies, especially in tech, healthcare, eCommerce and even NGOs.
Such analyst-level employees provide internal support to senior management, researching and vetting strategic opportunities.
The case study interview typically consists of a single session, in which the candidate is presented with an authentic business scenario similar to one the firm regularly handles with its clients.
The candidate is asked to study the problem, perform analysis and render advice on how to handle the scenario. Depending on the industry the consultancy serves, the candidate may be asked to demonstrate how that advice might be implemented, and show specialized technical proficiency.
The session most commonly takes place onsite, in person, and one-to-one with the interviewer, but may be conducted remotely, or in a group setting.
No particular formal training is required to 'ace the case'. Yet most candidates find they need substantial preparation to get into the consulting mindset and sharpen the skills that interviewers are most looking for.
Consultants are hired by senior managers of client organisations to advise on business strategy.
An effective business strategy drives competitive advantage, which in turn creates economic efficiencies that sustain multiple periods of cash generation, ultimately boosting the business value of the client organisation.
A business strategy is often characterised by a range of possible decisions, each having a unique set of risks and rewards. Deciding which path to pursue is highly momentous. Everything the client does hence comes at the expense of some opportunity it does not pursue.
The primary job of senior managers is to craft business strategy, determine the best course of action, and direct its execution. It is extremely difficult work requiring great focus, assimilation of tremendous amounts of information, intensive analysis, and serious reflection on all possible consequences.
The reality of senior managers’ jobs, however, is often much different. Their days are usually spent shuttling from one meeting to another, putting out fires, answering emails and phone calls, and in general, dealing with matters that are more urgent than important.
Time and attention are their scarcest resources, and there is never enough of either to devote to all the important aspects of business strategy.
Senior managers are fond of saying something to the effect of: “If I had just two weeks when I didn’t have to do anything else, I could do it myself”.
While that might be true, the fact is they aren’t ever likely to get even two hours, much less two weeks. Consultants provide that additional capacity senior managers so desperately need.
In some cases, that extra capacity comes in the form of expertise that the client firm doesn’t have readily available.
In others, consultants provide independent validation of business strategies, thereby assuring governing boards and executive committees that they aren’t committing their company’s fortune to a cleverly articulated hunch.
In short, successful consultants are trusted advisors and partners of their client firms’ senior managers, doing much of the work they would do if not so time-constrained.
Consultants perform research and analysis, evaluate business cases, and help manage the pipeline of business opportunities for their senior manager clients.
Over time they learn to complement their clients’ business intuition and anticipate future consulting needs.
A case study interview is a miniature simulation of a typical client engagement, centred on a business problem that a client has likely contended with.
The interview is usually conducted in a single session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, though sometimes it can be considerably longer.
During this time, candidates are briefed on a strategic decision similar to one a client has faced and will be asked to analyse the situation, interact with the interviewer, and devise a solution.
The case study interview may also include the candidate outlining a PowerPoint presentation that would be delivered to the client, and giving a verbal summary of each slide.
Most case study interviews are conducted in-person by the interviewer, with ample opportunity for interaction with the candidate.
Some case study interviews are less structured, and in these cases, it is up to the candidate to drive the interview.
Some may even be conducted remotely using a video-conferencing app, with the interviewer absent most of the time, and the candidate left alone to work on the case.
Consultancies favour case study interviews for several reasons. First and foremost, case studies represent an authentic work sample of the often fiendishly difficult work of business strategy, and the attendant tasks consultants deal with every day.
That includes gathering and analysing information, prioritising findings and determining what’s missing, creating structures to make things understandable, putting results into a greater context, understanding trade-offs, creating blueprints for implementation, and delivering presentations.
How candidates interact with the interviewer also provides insight into what sort of relationship they will have with senior managers who are paying hefty rates for the firm’s services. They are looking for evidence that candidates can communicate effectively with executives, and build durable, trusting business relationships with them.
Consultancies also like case study interviews because, as work samples, they are a valid predictor of future job performance. Additionally, the cases used in interviews are often standardised so that they can be used to compare multiple candidates according to the same criteria.
Finally, most applicants for consulting roles have high grades from top schools, a background of overachievement, and impressive work experience, and therefore cannot be differentiated on that basis. Case studies are an effective way to distinguish the best among a pool of the best.
If you need to practice consulting case interviews, try out this preparation pack from JobTestPrep.
The selection process for consultants always involves multiple stages, with the case study interview occurring later in the process, after you’ve successfully completed the so-called 'fit interviews'.
During the fit interview stage, candidates need to demonstrate that they have the temperament of a successful consultant, which is established mostly through behavioral interviewing. They also need to demonstrate that they’ll fit in well with the culture of the firm and its clients. In short, if you’ve made it this far, you have laid the groundwork to do the job.
But can you really do it? The case study interview seeks to determine whether you can apply your background, skills and achievements to future consulting work, day after day, client after client. No two consulting engagements are the same, and the work is often gruelling.
Much of the time you will find yourself stretched to the limit of your abilities. Your world will be full of unsolved problems, with no easy way to get answers. You will come to rely on the ingenuity of your colleagues as much as your own.
At the case study interview stage, the major questions the consultancy will want to answer include:
- Are you someone they would want on their team, and can depend on for insight, energy and contributions?
- Are you inherently curious, a quick learner, and eager to learn about things even if they aren’t particularly interesting to you?
- Can you think on your feet and adapt to a changing conversation?
- Do you come across as presentable, poised and confident in front of clients, most of whom are senior managers?
- Can you make presentations that are clear, relevant, logical and actionable?
Specific skills they are wanting to see are:
Analytical thinking. Especially in framing issues, breaking situations down into a range of discrete alternatives, structuring complex situations, and rendering findings into concrete business language.
Asking appropriate questions. Interviewers want to see that you respect where the limits of available information are, and can quickly determine remedies. More practically, they want assurance that you are always mindful that both you and your client are understanding one another.
Business intuition. That includes focusing on relevant areas, avoiding getting hung up on trivia, and anticipating challenges in the absence of hard data.
Communicating effectively. That includes building rapport with clients and their staff, active listening, giving clients the confidence they’ve been heard, and speaking in the language of the client.
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The case study interview session will likely begin like a standard interview, with introductions and a small talk to help put you at ease. The location will usually be an interviewing room or a vacant conference room.
The interviewer will introduce the business situation and provide exhibits, which often include an excerpt from a financial statement, and perhaps a bullet-point summary of the facts of the case. The interviewer will ask if you have any questions, and then you will be prompted to begin working on the case.
Cases are usually self-contained, so it is unlikely you will need internet access to do research. However, you will likely have to perform calculations, and will either be provided with paper and pens or allowed to use the calculator on your mobile phone or the whiteboard in the room.
During the case, the interviewer may stay in the room to address any questions you have. The interviewer may also offer prompts, guide you to the next step, or provide hints.
Many interviewers will offer verbal or tacit feedback along the way, and it is important to pay attention to it. You may occasionally find yourself getting stuck, and it is entirely appropriate to ask questions of the interviewer to help get back on track.
At the conclusion, you may be given feedback on your overall performance, or an opportunity to debrief with the interviewer.
Case study questions usually fall into one of the following four categories:
- Estimation questions
- Actual or theoretical client questions
- Brainteaser questions
- Graphic interpretation questions
JobTestPrep offers practice packages to prepare for assessment centre case studies.
This type of question requires you to think on your feet and work out the solution to a problem with only your own limited knowledge. Such questions include:
- How many cars are there in England?
- How many children are born each year in Europe?
- How many mobile phones will be sold in 2023?
- How many night buses are there in London?
This type of question requires candidates to analyse an actual or possible client issue. Examples include:
- A well-known business wants to develop itself online. What is your advice?
- A well-known high-street cafe chain is doing badly. How do you suggest they improve?
- A company has found that its revenues are higher than ever, but the company is still operating at a loss. Why is this?
- You have been contacted by a sushi chain to help them develop a plan to enter the home delivery market in a community where another sushi chain already has a market-dominant position. You are the lead consultant for this client, what do you suggest they do?
This type of question requires candidates to interpret data from some kind of chart or graph. The data may be actual company data, data that has been made up or data that refers to something else entirely.
Case study questions are most likely to cover general business strategy topics. Candidates can expect any of the following during their case interview:
Build a business case for developing a major new product, service, technology solution, or customer experience
Build a business case for a developing new line of business, spinning off an existing one, or creating a subsidiary business
Recommend whether to pursue a purchase, divestiture, acquisition, merger, joint venture, strategic alliance, or major partnership
Recommend whether to enter a new market and if so, by what competitive strategy (for example, cost, service, quality)
Determine how best to improve company or business unit growth, and how it might affect critical areas of the company’s financial statements, especially revenue, gross margin, EBITDA, or profitability
Determine how best to price or segment a new product or service offering Determine whether to rehabilitate a brand
Determine how to respond to a major competitive threat (for example, “Google / Amazon / Microsoft just entered our space”)
How to Prepare and Practice Effectively for a Case Study Interview in 2023
When preparing for the case study interview, it is important to keep things in perspective. You are not being assessed on your mastery of business strategy. Rather, the interviewers are looking at whether you take a critical approach to complex business problems, and can break them down into components logically, thoroughly and clearly.
They want to see whether you apply a structure to those components, one that highlights meaningful differences in choices a client may face. And they are especially interested in whether you ask insightful questions that increase everyone’s knowledge and drive the conversation toward a solid conclusion.
In light of that, here are some practical ways you can prepare for the case interview:
There are numerous online resources to help familiarise you or refresh your understanding.
Keep in mind these frameworks are not hacks and must be applied appropriately if you decide to use them during your case study interview.
Especially financial ratios, so that you can make comparisons or decisions quickly.
Harvard Business Review or MIT Sloan Management Review articles contain particularly good examples of consulting solutions told as compelling stories.
Most of the top consulting firms offer online guidance, worked examples and actual cases.
Another good resource is your university’s careers services department. Many have extensive case interview preparation materials, and staff who can conduct a practice case study interview with you.
Listening is a highly cultivated skill among senior managers. You will come across as very junior if you cut them off or act too eagerly when it’s your turn to speak.
Note that if you are answering a question in your head while the interviewer is still talking, you are not listening!
To develop your consulting case interview technique, consider practising further using online resources such as this preparation pack from JobTestPrep.
Actively engage with the interviewer. Ask questions to make sure you are both understanding matters, and being understood.
Demonstrate that you are enjoying the challenge. Consulting is gruelling work. Show that you can bring energy to a consulting engagement, and that you’re the kind of person clients would want to work with, especially when the going gets tough.
Treat the interviewer as you would one of the firm’s most valued clients. Communicate using the language of the client where appropriate.
Keep the conversation moving forward. At every step make sure that you are bringing structure to the business problem, and keeping all the issues in proper context.
Case study interviews are used in the latter stages of the application process for top-level roles, especially in the professional services or consultancy industry.
Candidates are presented with a case study based on a realistic and relevant scenario and must study the problem, analyze the provided data and information, and present a conclusion or a recommendation.
Case study interviews are about your ability to effectively understand and analyze a business problem to produce a solution, but they are also about your thought processes and ability to communicate decisions and recommend appropriate solutions.
The case study interview will normally take place in a ‘typical’ interview environment – in-person, at the office and with either a single interviewer or a panel. In some cases, it might happen remotely or as part of a group exercise with other applicants.
In the case study interview, you are being assessed on your strategy, how adaptable and fast learning you are, and how you use critical thinking and logic to analyze information. You will also be evaluated on your general business acumen and your knowledge of the company and wider industry, alongside desirable characteristics like insight and curiosity.
When presenting your findings, the interviewer wants you to come across as confident, presentable, and poised, while being able to distill complicated ideas and solutions in the simplest form to make them both understandable and easy to implement.
Case study interviews have been traditionally used as a part of the application process for associate-level jobs in the consultancy industry. These roles are usually directly involved in generating income for the business by collaborating with clients in a consultant capacity, so the case study interview is an in-depth work sample.
In recent times, case study interviews are also being used in the recruitment of analysts, where strategy and business acumen are needed alongside analytical skills for success in a job that provides detailed support for senior management in terms of internal problem solving and external profit growth.
You might also expect to deal with a case study interview if you are looking for a role in IT, especially at higher levels with some level of business-wide decision making. Managers in many industries might be provided with an employee-related case study to deal with as part of the interview process to assess leadership style and understanding of typical HR processes and procedures.
The case study interview is not as much about getting the ‘right’ answer as it is about the process of getting there, so it is a difficult one to prepare for. However, the more you know about what to expect in the interview, the better you will be able to perform. Articles like this one on Wikijob will give you an extensive overview of the structure of a case study interview, as well as what to expect on the day.
One of the best sources of information about the case study interview is likely to be the business for which you have applied. This is especially true with the Big Four consultancy firms (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) as they use the case study in many recruitment processes and have lots of resources on their recruitment site to help candidates to get prepared.
You will also be expected to have a good working knowledge of the wider industry that you are a part of, and the company you have applied for in relation to that. Knowing more about the consultancy space, for example, will give you an idea about what the business values are, and you can use this when considering the right course of action to suggest.
You can also get excellent preparation advice from JobTestPrep, with guided practice cases and revision resources to help you get used to different types of questions, how to approach the problem, and different strategies and structures to use to answer.
The case study interview is not just about how effectively you can analyze the problem – it is also about selecting and recommending a course of action. You will need presentation skills to be able to give this information to the relevant clients if you get the job, and this means that you need to hone your skills to perform well in the interview, too.
Practice active listening, speaking clearly, and using popular presentation software like PowerPoint because you might be expected to put together and talk about a slide show to make your recommendation.
The case study that you will be given in your interview is likely to be realistic and relevant to the role you have applied for. In some cases, it will be a fictitious problem based on something that you might need to do if you get the job, while in others it might be a real customer problem that you are being asked to solve.
The case studies are usually based around different strategy issues and topics that a consultant or analyst might be asked to help with, including things like:
- Acquisitions – Whether to complete a merger or create a partnership or strategic alliance
- Creation – New business, new product line, enter a new market
- Growth – How to grow a business unit or the company as a whole
- Threat – Dealing with a big company entering the space
- Development – New technology, product, or service
- Pricing – How to price and segment a new product or service
The common case study questions that you might be asked in a case study interview are about strategy, but they are also usually relevant to the role you have applied for. There are three main types of questions that you might be asked:
- Graphic interpretation – Ability to read and understand data presented in a graph or table
- Estimation – A question that challenges your ability to extrapolate from your limited knowledge to find an answer to a question like “how many cars are in England.”
- Client questions – This is the most used type of question and is based on theoretical or genuine issues that a customer of the business might have. You might be asked to help a customer achieve a move into a new market, for example.
When you are applying for a job with a company that uses case study interviews as part of the recruitment process, you will often find the best free resources to help you prepare on their career site. Making use of the resources the company provides is the best way to be prepared because you will be using the information they have provided, which is usually closely aligned to the actual content of the assessments and interviews.
For a more broad view of case study interviews including techniques and definitions, articles like this Wikijob resource will provide you with a lot of information that will help you prepare, including tips.
We recommend that anyone facing a case study interview gets access to the free resources available at JobTestPrep, with practice case studies. The Prep Packs are a paid-for source of invaluable information that includes techniques, frameworks and extra ideas that will help you work to your absolute best in the interview.
It is highly likely that as part of the case study interview, you will be expected to create a presentation of your results.
In some cases, this might be through an informal discussion with the interviewer, but in many cases, you will have to present your recommendation more formally so that you can be assessed on your presentation skills, communication, and confidence.
In this case, you should prepare for the presentation by practicing presentations. Some case interviews will expect you to create a slideshow of your findings and speak about them, so knowledge of software like PowerPoint will help here.
The most important preparation you can do is about how you present yourself. The interviewer wants you to be poised, confident and comfortable with what you are saying, so you can get the best results by practicing speaking clearly, taking complicated ideas, and simplifying them, and actively listening when you are asked a question. Think of any topic – work-related or not – and create a short presentation on it that could be understood by anyone, and then present it to a friend or a relative.
When you undertake a case study interview, you will be provided with some source material and the facility to make notes – and these notes will be pivotal in your performance, ensuring that you can make the best recommendation through detailed analysis.
The way you approach the case study will depend on several factors, but you should always create some form of ‘issue tree’ that considers the problem that needs to be solved and can be branched out into smaller questions and problems.
To do this effectively, take a good couple of pages of notes related to the data and information that is provided by the interviewer. There will likely be some extraneous information provided that could muddy the waters of your thinking but making notes will help clarify it. It is especially useful to keep numbers in mind, whether that is related to staffing, profit, or stock – this is important.
You will then need to use a couple of pages to create the issue tree structure and begin to answer some of the questions.
The final part of your note-taking should be the recommendation and the preparation that you need to do to present your findings to the interviewer.
Don’t forget that you are expected to make notes through the process, but you should also speak to the interviewer and let them know what your thought processes are – and ask for more data if you have any gaps. When they are speaking, make sure you are listening and you understand what they are saying before taking any notes – active listening is an important skill in a consultant or analyst.
In the case study interview, you are not necessarily going to be given a specific amount of time to think about your answer because the whole interview is about your thinking process.
What this means in practice is that you will be reading and analyzing the information, devising a structure and a strategy and concluding in a live environment, consulting with the interviewer to ask questions and get clarity.
By thinking aloud and making notes, you will have enough time to contemplate how you are tackling the question.
A typical case study interview can last as little as 30 minutes, but many are considerably longer at half a day or even a full day (depending on the role, the company, and the industry you have applied for).
One of the first things that you need to study for the case study interview is the material that is provided by the company you have applied for – or ones in the same industry.
As many of the major consultancy firms use case study interviews for associate-level recruitment and analysts, the case studies tend to be similar enough that the resources provided will be useful even for a job at a competitor.
You also need to be au fait with the company and the wider industry, identifying trends across businesses and the specific values of the organization you have applied for.
In terms of the case study itself, knowledge of analysis techniques and the frameworks used in consulting will be useful – even if you don’t use them in that particular case, you might need them later in the role (once you ace the interview).
Aside from confidently creating issue trees and ensuring your data gathering is Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive (MECE), some things you will need to know include:
- Porter’s Five Forces (barriers to entry, competitive dynamics, supplier power, buyer power, threat of substitutes).
- 3 C’s (Company, Competitors, Clients)
- BCG Growth-Share Matrix
- McKinsey 7S Framework
- Affinity Diagram
- 4 Ps of Marketing (Product, Price, Promotion, Placement)
- Force Field Analysis
- Product Market Grid
- SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats
Think about what is important to analyze for a business too, like profit margins, expenses, and ROI, as well as consumer metrics like User Lifetime Value and demographics.
The case study interview is usually the last step in a recruitment process for top-level roles and will have taken place after the more traditional ‘fit’ interview where you will be asked competency-based and motivational questions.
You will have already surpassed other applicants through the initial paper sift, any aptitude or psychometric testing, and interviews to get to the case study.
This means that if you are successful in the case study interview, the next step will be a job offer or a salary discussion.
You can’t cram for a case study interview. But you can prepare in such a way that your analytical acumen, communication skills, and business intuition are all razor-sharp on the day of the interview. Furthermore, you can show that you are one of the few who can take on the consultant mindset, and appear natural doing so.
In summary, here are the steps you can take that will show you grasp the fundamentals of consulting, and have the aptitude to master them over your career:
Get familiar with the most common business case scenarios, and the important differences between them.
Develop a working method for breaking down business cases into components, and for structuring these components.
Get knowledgeable about analysis frameworks, how they can be used as problem-solving tools, and where it is appropriate to use them.
Cultivate a narrative style that gets people interested and excited about your work.
Use a conversational style that begins with asking good questions, and is driven by wanting to be the best listener in the room – not the best talker.
This article was written in partnership with LiveCareer. Since 2005, LiveCareer has been developing tools that have helped over 10 million users build stronger resumes and CVs, write persuasive cover letters, and develop better interview skills. These tools include their free resume builder and CV builder.