Consulting Blogs: How to Ace the Case (with Examples)

Andrew Savage

This blog will:

  • Describe what a case interview is and why it’s used in consulting

  • Offer tips on how to best prepare 

  • Go through the structure of a typical case interview

  • Provide consulting case examples

  • List additional resources to use for more practice with casing

 

What is the case interview and why is it used?

The case interview may seem like a daunting part of the recruiting process, but with preparation and the right amount of practice, you will begin to feel a lot more confident when casing.

The case interview is important because it helps the interviewer understand how you problem-solve in a consulting context. Candidates must 1) prove their organization by structuring a comprehensive framework, 2) demonstrate analytical abilities by performing simple problem-related computations, and 3) showcase logic and creativity through their proposed solutions. 

Case interviews can either be interviewee-led— where the candidate asks most of the questions to get the information needed—or interviewer-led—where the interviewer asks more targeted questions to the interviewee Below is a graphic that lists more details about each of these interviews and provides examples of some firms that use that type in their recruitment processes.

 

The interviewer may present you with a case based off of a real-life problem that they encountered themselves, or the case may be an entirely made-up scenario. For this reason, cases can go in any direction imaginable, so it’s up to you to use your reasoning skills or ask the right questions to move forward in solving the case. 

Additionally, note that the interviewer will be evaluating not only your rationale and critical thinking abilities but also how you handle yourself. Communication skills, poise, flexibility, and coachability are all important attributes that your interviewer will be taking note of as the case progresses.
 

How should I practice?

You should aim to case at least once a week over the few months leading up to the recruiting season. Then, as interviews near, case at least a few times a week to really sharpen your skills. After about 10 cases, you should start feeling pretty comfortable with this type of interview. 

It really helps to find at least one buddy to go through the recruiting process with! Together, you can create a spreadsheet to keep track of important information session dates, application deadlines, and contact information you collect as you begin networking. Additionally, you can take turns casing each other, helping ensure that you both get enough practice with casing. 

Consider joining a CIO like Virginia Case Club (VCC) or Virginia Consulting Group (VCG), or attend other consulting-related events to meet potential recruiting buddies.

 

Let’s Break Down a Typical Case!

1. The Overview

The first thing that the interviewer will do is provide you with an overview of the business problem. It’s important to be taking notes, specifically writing down the most important details of the problem. When the interviewer is finished, you should restate the main ideas of the business problem, checking with the interviewer to make sure you understood it correctly.

Before proceeding, feel free to ask any clarifying questions. These questions could regard the objective of the case, the scope of the case, clarification on any details or processes you’re unfamiliar with, etc. Make sure your questions are only meant to clarify the information that has already been given and that you’re not asking for additional details that will likely be discussed later in the case.

Here’s an example of the overview of a McKinsey case entitled “Electro-Light.”

 

Our client is SuperSoda. SuperSoda is a top-three beverage producer in the United States and has approached McKinsey for help in designing a product-launch strategy. As an integrated beverage company, SuperSoda leads its own brand design, marketing, and sales efforts. In addition, the company owns the entire beverage supply chain, including production of concentrates, bottling and packaging, and distribution to retail outlets. SuperSoda has a considerable number of brands across carbonated and non-carbonated drinks, five large bottling plants throughout the country, and distribution agreements with most major retailers.

 

SuperSoda is evaluating the launch of a new product, a flavored sports drink called Electro-Light. Sports drinks are usually designed to replenish both energy (sugars) and electrolytes (salts) in the body. However, Electro-Light has been formulated to focus more on the replenishment of electrolytes and has a reduced sugar content compared to most other sports drinks. The company expects this new beverage to capitalize on the recent trend away from sugar-rich products.

 

For the full case, visit: https://www.mckinsey.com/careers/interviewing/electrolight

 

2. The Framework

Unless the interviewer says otherwise, you’ll likely need to craft your framework at this point. You’ll use this framework to guide you through the rest of the case, so it’s important for you to plan carefully. At this point, feel free to ask the interviewer for a minute or two to “gather your thoughts” so that you can structure your framework.

Consultants like to use the term “buckets” to describe the main categories you want to focus on in the case. Some examples of buckets include financial performance, market sizing, competitive landscape, environmental effects, etc. You want your framework to be MECE, or in other words, “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.” When deciding on which buckets to include, remember that the topics of these buckets should not overlap, and at the same time, you should include enough buckets to capture the main areas of focus in the case.

 

 

Remember to tailor your framework to the case. If you stick to the same four buckets and try to use those in every case you do, the interviewer will see right through that. Think about the objective of the case and what exactly is being asked of you, and then devise your buckets accordingly.

In that same McKinsey Electro-Light case, this would be an example of a framework you could use:

 

 

3. Consulting Math & Interpreting Exhibits

Most cases will require you to showcase quantitative abilities. Having a candidate interpret an exhibit is a great way to evaluate the candidate’s analytical, communication, and mathematical skills. These exhibits can take almost any form from bar graphs to survey results to a bank statement. The interviewer isn’t looking for you to understand everything right off the bat. Rather, they want to hear you talk out your reasoning and make conclusions about the data provided.

With that being said, make sure you’re always saying exactly what you see aloud. That way, if you make any incorrect assumptions, the interviewer can steer you in the right direction. When you get to the math, you can usually use pencil and paper, but again, make sure to say what you’re calculating aloud. This helps the interviewer follow along and minimizes the chances of you getting lost if you make any missteps.

Also, contextualize everything! Once you do get a final answer to your math problem, don’t just leave it at that. Say what that number means in relation to the objective defined at the beginning of the case.

Here’s an example of an exhibit from the National Logistics case in the 2018-2019 Darden Case Book:

 

For the full case, visit: https://economics.virginia.edu/sites/economics.virginia.edu/files/Darden...

 

Here, the interviewer wanted the candidate to compare the annual costs of operating a standard truck to that of operating a hybrid truck. 

 

The math would look like this:

 

Standard Truck: 

Maintenance + Insurance = $7,000

Depreciation = $100k / 10 years = $10,000

Fuel = 60,000 Miles / 10 MPG = 6,000 x $3.00 per gallon

= $7,000 + $10,000 + $18,000 = $35,000 Annually per truck

 

Hybrid Truck: 

Maintenance + Insurance = $11,000

Depreciation = $150k / 10 years = $15,000

Fuel = 60,000 Miles / 20 MPG = 3,000 x $3.00 per gallon

= $11,000 + $15,000 + $9,000 = $35,000 Annually per truck

 

After setting up your equation, talking through the math, and saying your final answers aloud, this is an example of how you could contextualize it:

 

It looks like both the standard truck and the hybrid truck have the same annual costs. Since we’re trying to figure out whether to actually replace our fleet with hybrid trucks, it does not make much sense without any cost savings.

 

For more examples of consulting math problems, please see the blog entitled “Consulting Blogs: Master Consulting Math.”

 

4. “What Else?” Questions

At this point in the case, the interviewer will usually move on to some conceptual questions to test your creativity. The interviewer will likely ask you for some ideas related to how the client should proceed moving forward. This brings us to the notorious “What else?” questions.

When you first answer the interviewer, don’t give them every single idea you came up with right away. Start with two or three of your best ideas, and then stop there. It’s likely that the interviewer will respond by asking, “What else?”

This is to test how quickly you can think on your feet and generate new ideas. They want to see that you respond to pressure without getting flustered.

Let’s go back to the Darden National Logistics case. Here’s an example of a conceptual question you might be asked where the interviewer may follow up with: “What else?”

 

The client also wants to get our thoughts on how they can reduce their shortage of truckers. What are some ways National Logistics can reduce their shortage?

Internal

Pay & Benefits (call out that these reduce profitability)

• Offer starting bonuses

• Increase salaries

• Offer more vacation

• More Flexible hours

• Better healthcare coverage

Reduce employment restrictions

• Lower education restrictions

• Low work experience

Get help internally

• Have overhead employees drive during peak

seasons

External

• Hire contract drivers part-time during peak seasons

• Sponsor international drivers with visas

• Invest in autonomous truck technology

• Form delivery partnerships with competitors

• Look into heavy duty drones for short routes

 

Again, you’d want to list off a few of these ideas in detail, but be careful to save some just in case you get pummeled with multiple “What else?” follow-up questions.

 

5. Recommendation

Finally, you’ve reached the end of the case, and it’s time to wrap up. You can usually ask the interviewer for about 30 seconds or so to formulate a recommendation. The best way to structure this is as follows:

1. Final Recommendation (BLUF)

2. Restate the Case

  • 1 Quantitative Observation

  • 1 Qualitative Observation

3. Risks

4. Next steps

 

Your final recommendation should be a one-sentence summary addressing the objective discussed at the beginning of the case. BLUF is an acronym that stands for “Bottom Line Up Front,” meaning that the main takeaway should be said at the start. Make sure this is a decisive statement that doesn’t leave room for ambiguity. In other words, this recommendation should start with either “the client should” or “the client shouldn’t”; there should be no “well, maybe the client could...”

 

After your BLUF-style statement, you should restate some of the main findings from the case. It may help to just state one quantitative observation from the math portion and one qualitative observation from the more conceptual parts of the case. However, if there are other important takeaways, you definitely don’t have to stick to just one of each.

 

With the recommendation you propose, it’s important to consider the key risks. These risks could address the opportunity cost of the choice you made and any other important issues to think about given the current or future business environment. Addressing these risks will show the interviewer that you think about the implications of your ideas and consider any problems that may arise.

 

Finally, mention one or two next steps. Interviewers like to see that you’re forward-looking, always thinking a few steps ahead. Ultimately, the goal in consulting is to help a client come up with an actionable solution, so these next steps will prove that you are thinking of ways to actually implement your recommendation.

 

A Few Reminders

Remember that every case is different. A case may not have all of the aforementioned components, and you may even get thrown a few curveballs. Practicing is the key to getting better at thinking on your feet and becoming a more confident case interviewee.

 

Below are some additional resources that will help you practice for case interviews:

 

For a broader overview of the consulting industry, see Consulting Blogs: An Overview of the Consulting Career

For some additional help with consulting math, see Consulting Blogs: Master Consulting Math