Are you an aspiring management consultant? Do you plan on interviewing with top management consulting firms such as Mckinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Bain, Booz Allen Hamilton, Mercer, L.E.K Consulting, A.T. Kearney, Roland Berger or others? If you answered yes to both these questions then you are guaranteed to face several rounds of case interviews. So how do you answer consulting case interview questions?
When answering consulting case interview questions the most important thing above all else is to demonstrate to the interviewer your intelligence and ability to solve problems. There is a good chance that you will not even generate an answer nor will it be correct. Often case interviews can simply end up being an exploration of issues with the interviewer guiding you down one of many possible paths allowing you to formulate a solution to a problem, give recommendations or ‘ball park’ an estimate.
With this in mind never go too quick because you may overlook important elements of the problem and take too narrow a focus. Be sure to work at a steady pace however, to ensure you can at least give a final answer if required by the interviewer.
Interact with the interviewer and ask any questions to gauge the scope of the problem or fill in missing gaps of information. Often certain details of the case will be withheld purposely to see if you can determine what extra information would be useful. This demonstrates that you are both inquisitive and thorough.
Don’t be afraid to be creative because management consulting requires a large element of ‘thinking outside the square’ and innovative ideas. Be enthusiastic, confident and comfortable. Always let your personality come through. You may get way off track in a case interview and think that there is no way you will make it to the next round, however your personality is what often will get you over the line.
A good point to make here is the importance of bringing structure to your problem solving. Common methods and frameworks such as Porters 5 forces, the BCG Matrix, SWOT Analysis, Revenue and Cost modeling, business life cycle analysis, Mind Mapping, key issues grouping and problem decomposition are great ways of bringing structure to your thoughts, however feel free to structure your solution anyway you can keeping in mind what feels appropriate given the nature of the case question. There is nothing worse than attempting to apply some kind of method framework to a problem when it is off context or inappropriate. It is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
The last point that should be made is in regard to the appearance of your key strengths. Consulting firms hire from a variety of backgrounds and degrees including engineering, science, law, business, economics, management and commerce. They take anyone who shows the right attitude and mind for the job. Management consulting firms look for the most intelligent individuals, ‘all-rounders’ with competencies and interests in a range of disciplines and despite your education or experience being in only one or two areas they will provide the best training and education to bring you up to speed. It is important, therefore, that if you are a business or commerce oriented individual you must be sure to demonstrate creativity, problem solving skills and a level of thinking outside of the traditional number crunching economist or accountant mind set. Conversely someone like an engineer needs to demonstrate a level of business acumen with at least some knowledge or interest in the commercial world. Play to your strengths but don’t show the interviewer that you are only strong in solving problems from one particular approach or based on one educational style. In saying all this, number and math skills are a must, so make sure you can add, subtract, multiply and roughly divide large numbers in your head or on paper without the use of a calculator.