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Have a Consulting Case Interview Soon? Read This First

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Published:
July 20, 2022
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11 minutes
Leo
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.

You’re heading for a consulting case interview soon? Then you will probably feel excitement, mixed with a little, or sometimes a lot of anxiety.

First, congratulation for having received an interview for a consulting case interview. Not many people pass this threshold. If you did, it means you already have what it takes. However, the waves will only get steeper from here, and you must know how to sail through.

In this article, you will learn what an interviewer looks for in a candidate. This way, you will be able to demonstrate the skills and traits that they’re looking for. Besides, to truly prepare you for this interview, we have added a practical example. This includes a complete question and answer of a potential case interview question.

Sounds good? Let’s go!

What Interviewers Look For in a Case Interview

In a consulting case interview, it’s necessary that you show the interviewer that you have what they’re looking for in a candidate. Unlike ordinary interviews in most other professions, consulting case interviews require you to showcase some specific traits. Let’s find out what these attributes and skills are.


1. Your ability to structure your answer

The way consultants solve problems is different from the way normal people do it. Consultants break larger problems into smaller parts in a very organized and strategic way. This is when the MECE principle comes into play. As you may already know, MECE is routinely used in the consulting world. Let’s give you a quick recap on this handy consulting tool.

MECE stands for mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. In a case interview, you should break a problem into smaller pieces in such a way that every possible part of the problem is covered, and no parts are similar to another part. When you follow the MECE principle to structure your problems, it enables you to look at the case from every single possible angle. Thus, you will be able to come up with a full, detailed solution.


2. The level of creative thinking you’re capable of

A big part of consulting consists of data collection and analysis. In fact, there are so many numbers involved, that you may even start to think like an accountant. However, consulting is more than just numbers. You will also need to be creative and innovative. In a case interview, you could use an issue tree to explain all possible solutions to your interviewer. Let’s consider a quick example to understand this point.

If the question is: How can company X reduce their production cost? You could come up with the following creative solutions:

  • Find reliable suppliers who offer cheaper raw materials.
  • Buy new, state-of-the-art machinery that requires lesser electricity to operate.
  • Restructure the workforce to improve efficiency.
  • Create a new process to manage operations using fewer resources.

Presenting all the above solutions shows that you can think outside the box. It proves that you’re not just an average consultant who only knows how to collect data.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Hiring managers look for specific traits and skills in a candidate during a case interview. Thus, it’s crucial that a candidate demonstrates these attributes.
  • The interviewer will expect you to structure your answer well, potentially by using a MECE issue tree.
  • A candidate must be able to do calculations comfortably without using a calculator. To improve analytical skills, you can play brain games like Sudoku, Chess, etc. Better yet, go through the calculations in numerous consulting case interview answers online.
  • It’s not just about numbers, you must also be capable of creative thinking and offering innovative solutions.
  • A strong business acumen and the ability to use top-down communication should also be demonstrated by the candidate.

3. Your analytical skills

Even though a case interview and the consulting case study that’s presented to you is not just about numbers, numbers do play a significant role in the interview. Also, a key aspect to remember is that you will have to calculate without using a calculator.

In order to improve your analytical skills, you can try the following:

  • Try your hands on some math problems. Even high school math problems will do the trick. The idea here is to train your brain to calculate on the go.
  • You can also play brain games like Sudoku, Chess, Crossword, etc. Doing so can help you train the part of the brain that handles calculations.
  • Read consulting case study questions and answers to understand how the pros do it. This is a must because you won’t be solving Sudoku puzzles in the case interview. Even though they help, you must go through consulting case study questions.

4. A strong business acumen

Simply put, business acumen refers to one’s ability to understand and respond to business-related situations in a way that brings the best outcomes. There is a reason why top consulting firms are willing to pay top dollar for MBA graduates and even spend their money to send their employees to business seminars.

When people say “Consultants are problem solvers”, the problems they refer to are usually business problems. However, consultants can also be hired by governments to create policies or by non-profit organizations to help create a better world. Still, business problems are at the core of consultancies and consultants must demonstrate great business acumen during case interviews.


5. Your ability to speak like a consultant

Yes, there is a specific way in which consultants are supposed to speak and present their ideas. It’s called top-down communication (Pyramid Principle). Generally, people start discussing ideas in the “Once upon a time…” format. This means that the moral of the story comes at the end.

However, this is not how consultants do it. They begin with the conclusion. This means the main idea is expressed in the beginning, for example, “Expanding into Belgium may result in massive losses.” Then, the reasons behind the main idea are expressed. In the end, if necessary, those reasons can also be elaborated.

Practical Example of a Consulting Case Study Question (With Answer)

Now you know what an interviewer looks for in their next rockstar consultant. Now let’s discuss a practical example to help you understand how to impress the hiring managers.

Here’s the question: ​​The client is a vegan gourmet burger chain that wants to expand into Irvine, a small city in California. The client wants to earn a revenue of $1 million within a year, and they want to know whether it’s a good idea to open an outlet in Irvine.

Is it a good idea to pursue this venture? Explain.


consulting case interview, Have a Consulting Case Interview Soon? Read This First

Step 1: Ask questions and collect more data

You don’t have to jump to conclusions from the get-go. So, take some time and ask a few questions to get more clarity. For example, you can ask the following questions:

  • Does the client have more outlets in California or the U.S. in general?
  • Are there any major competitors?
  • How long has the client been in business?

Feel free to take a couple of minutes and understand the consulting case study thoroughly. Don’t act merely on instinct, grab some information and think logically.


Step 2: Analysis

Let’s assume that the average cost of a burger meal is $10. Then, let’s assume that 10,000 burgers are sold every day in Irvine. Just so you know, it’s okay to make reasonable assumptions regarding parameters like cost, population, etc. As Irvine is a small city, it’s reasonable to assume that 10,000 vegan and meat-based burgers are sold every day.

Multiplying $10 by 10,000, we can presume that $100,000 worth of vegan and meat-based burgers are sold every day in Irvine.

Even though we don’t need this figure for calculations, it’s still a good piece of information to have.

Now, assuming that the cost of establishing an outlet in Irvine is $250,000, the cost of managing it every year is $250,000, and the cost of producing one vegan burger is $5, let’s calculate the breakeven point.

(Price x Quantity) - (Fixed Costs + Variable Costs) = 0

($10*Quantity) - ($250,000 + $250,000 + [$5*Quantity] ) = 0

5*Quantity = 500,000

Quantity = 100,000

The break-even point is 100,000, this means that the company will have to sell 100,000 vegan burgers to reach the break-even point and start generating profit afterwards for every burger sale after that. With that pace, the company will need to sell around 274 vegan burgers every day for 365 days in order to break even and generate a revenue of $1 million.


Step 3: Recommendations

This is the part every client waits for. After collecting all relevant data and analyzing it thoroughly, a consultant gives recommendations. Let’s discuss how to approach it.

In this particular case, since Irvine is a small city, we can assume that the number of vegan food lovers in the city is 50,000.

It’s also safe to assume that at least 1000 of these 50,000 vegan food enthusiasts will eat outside every day.

However, selling an average of 274 burgers every day for 1 year may be challenging if there are better vegan food options. Also, initially, the marketing and advertising campaigns will need to be strong to attract customers, and that may result in extra expenditure.

So, the recommendations are as follows:

If the company is willing to stay the course for another year, it will have more time to build a relationship with customers and have regular customers who will contribute to the sale of 274 burgers daily. Yet, achieving it in just one year may or may not work. Although being profitable as a vegan burger outlet in Irvine is possible, it may not be possible within just one year.

Conclusion

This brings us to the end of this article. Remember, this case study can be further elaborated with more ideas in the issue tree. However, for the sake of this article, we kept things short and sweet. You’re encouraged to go through more case studies and get used to answering questions like an experienced consultant—not just a university student. Good luck with your case interview. Keep learning!

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