“I have an interview in three days and the recruiter said it’s going to be three case interviews!”
Many of us have traditionally thought of case interviewing as only something that consulting firms do to torture potential candidates.  However, over the last decade or so, case interviews have become a part of the interview process for many more industries and employers.  The style of case interviews may be different, but the purpose is the same: to give a real time test to see how you approach, analyze, and decide a business problem in a simulated client-like environment.

If you are currently searching for a position and are invited to interview, it is appropriate to request the interview format from the recruiter coordinating your interviews.  If he notifies you that you will have case interviews, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm! As a Darden grad, you did hundreds of cases during your time at school and a case interview is usually just a mini 30-45 minute version of one of those cases.

It is incredibly important, however, to do some case interview preparation and practice because so much of the case interview process depends upon knowing the cadence and “script” of a case interview.  Unfortunately, if you are stumbling through the process or uncomfortable with the format, it won’t matter how well you solve the problem presented. The firm will assume that you aren’t interested enough in the position because you didn’t prepare well for their interview process.  The script includes things as simple as confirming the major facts and objective of the case after the interviewer reads you the case prompt.

For most interviewees, the most common fear with case interviewing involves mental math.  It has been years since many of us did math without the assistance of a calculator or Excel.  Fortunately, most interviewers want you to do “back of the envelope analyses” to simulate a conversation with a client or senior executive. There are two tricks to keeping the math manageable in a case interview.  First, while it seems obvious, remember to round to whole easy numbers and pick easy numbers (when given a choice).  Second, make sure you know some major benchmarks to use as reference (U.S. population, world population, average U.S. life expectancy).  In addition, if you can spend some time refreshing your basic high school math (e.g. multiplying zeroes, calculating percentages) almost all interviewees end up passing the math portion just fine.

The final thing to realize about case interviewing is that there are many styles.  They range from market sizing (how many mailboxes are in Manhattan) to brainteasers (fortunately these seem to have gone out of favor) to interviewer led cases (McKinsey & Co.) to interviewee led cases (most other major consulting firms) to marketing cases (CPG) to written cases, group cases, and presentation of cases.  If your recruiter specifies that there will be case interviews, make sure you understand the number of cases, the timeframe for the cases (is this a 30 minute case or a 2 hour case with written reports and white board presentations at the end?), and the style of cases that will be conducted. In addition, it’s always helpful to check www.glassdoor.com to see what other interviewees who have interviewed recently with the firm have said.  Just make sure you sort by “recent” only because firms are notorious for changing their interview style from year to year as they gauge the success of their hiring and recruiting processes.

The good news is that there are some excellent case resources available to help with your preparation.  Within our Case Interviewing page, we have a list of books and websites that can assist with your case interview process.   In addition, a quick Google search can often turn up case workbooks from various other business schools that have posted sample cases online.  Most major consulting firms also have interactive cases on their website that can guide you through the process.  Finally, we are always available in Alumni Career Services to do a mock case interview with you to help you prepare; contact us to set up an appointment.

Lindsay Guthrie MBA ‘04, Career Consultant for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business