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September 30, 2020

Capital One Case Interviews: How to Prepare in 2020

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So, you’re trying to get a job at Capital One.

Great choice – but great jobs don’t come easy and the selection process for Capital One is particularly intense.

To get an offer, you will have to get through screening tests and culture fit interviews like any similar banking role.

However, Capital One significantly ups the ante by requiring applicants to also solve a case interview.

In this article, we will show you what to expect in a Capital One case interview. We compare this to the more typical a management consulting case interviews and advise you on how to prepare optimally.

Who are Capital One?

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of how the selection process works and how you can prepare, it will help to understand what sets Capital One aside from other players in their sector and what has driven their expansion. This is what has ultimately driven Capital One’s adoption of case interviews and determines the qualities they look for in applicants.

Of course, despite their interview style, Capital One remains a bank. And not just any bank: it is the fifth-largest consumer bank and eighth-largest bank of any kind in the US, with total assets of 396 billion dollars !

Apart from credit cards (of which it is the 3rd largest issuer), Capital One offer retail banking and commercial banking services.

It was founded in 1994 as a spin-off to Signet Financial Corp, focusing on credit cards, with Richard Fairbank as a CEO (he remains CEO to this day), and operate in the US, Canada and the UK.

Importantly for you, the applicant, Capital One have also been consistently considered amongst the best places to work for (no. 17 on Fortune's 100 ‘Best Companies to Work For’ as well as in multiple Glassdoor reports).

What Makes Capital One Unique?

So far, Capital One sounds much like any other bank – if a particularly large and successful example.

However, Capital One’s rapid rise to prominence can largely be attributed to the fact that it does not function like any other bank. This is ultimately what drives its atypical recruitment practices.

In practice, Capital One operates as something like a hybrid between a bank, a tech company and a consulting firm.

Let’s see how:

1) The importance of data

In their own words, Capital One believe that banking can be revolutionized through technology and information, which explains their initial focus on credit cards.

They have fueled their success with an “information-based strategy”, using tech tools that allow them to identify the most profitable borrowers and come up with a targeted marketing strategy that differentiates them from their competitors’ generic, blanket marketing operations.

This “data oriented” approach defines Capital One’s whole approach to business. In the words of a Capital One analyst, a phrase that they often use is “truth seeking”. According to her, this means “looking at as much data as possible, talking to customers and having a real understanding of the situation before making the best decision”.

2) A consulting firm in disguise?

Capital One also effectively have an in-house consulting firm, embodied by their strategy division and employing many former consultants from top firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. In fact, Capital One’s CEO was previously head of the banking practice at Strategic Planning Associates (now Mercer Management Consulting)!

This strong consulting influence within the business extends to recruitment practices, where Capital One have appropriated the famously effective (if intense!) methods used by McKinsey and others to find the talent they need to keep driving innovation.

Of course, this is what is relevant to you the applicant, so we will take a closer look at why Capital One have borrowed from the consulting selection process. Understanding this lets us begin to understand how we can prepare.

What is a case interview?

The most important thing Capital One have borrowed from a consulting interview process is the case interview.

A case interview means the interviewer will present you with a business problem. It is structured as follows:

  • you will be presented with a business problem and expected to employ efficient problem-solving, analytical and communication skills

  • you will be asked to make calculations pertaining to the problem based on data provided

  • you will be asked to make a recommendation to deal with the problem

Why does Capital One use case interviews?

Like most top companies, Capital One receives many applications from people with a variety of backgrounds. Therefore, quantifying and comparing their experience can prove difficult.

Case interviews present them with the opportunity to directly test the skills that will be required for a position. Capital One stresses that they look for:

  • problem-solving skills

  • communication skills

  • analytical skills

  • creativity

  • positivity

  • flexibility

No one qualification is going to prove meet these criteria. In practice, then, there is no better way to test for this skillset skills than simply to give an applicant a relevant problem and watch how they deal with it.

This allows the interviewer to see the applicant’s thinking process, what solutions they come up with and – most importantly – how they communicate and support them. But in order to showcase all these skills, you will have to know what to expect and prepare thoroughly – this is what we’re going to tackle next!

What can I expect in a Capital One interview?

Before the case interview, there are other hoops you must jump through first:

  1. Application Screening

The majority of applicants will be cut based simply on their resume and cover letter, so you need to take these very seriously. A perfect place to start is our free resume and cover letter guides.

  1. Online Assessments

This includes both verbal reasoning and math components. GMAT or PST resources should be useful to prepare.

If and only if you make it through these initial filters, you will proceed to the real challenge of case interview. Let’s zoom in on the requirements there:

Format of a Capital One case interview

Capital One prefers an interview scenario that is interviewer led. This means the interviewer will often steer you in the direction in which they want the conversation to go.

A case interview is an opportunity to prove your skills rather than just talk about them. The important thing to remember is Capital One isn’t particularly interested in your resume or your previous experience in the case interview itself – this will be discussed in a fit interview. You should expect the interviewer to move quickly into the case itself.

1) A case interview can be any business problem

Remember – just because you’re interviewing at a bank doesn’t mean the case will have to do strictly with the financial or banking sector.

Capital One deal with issues well outside banking, as they point out in their video on how to prepare for a case interview . As such, they want to see how potential employees cope with these kinds of problems.

As with any time the case interview format is employed, the emphasis is strongly on how you think through a problem as opposed to how much you know about a certain industry. So be prepared to be taken outside your comfort zone and be ready to encounter any business scenario.

2) How are Capital One case interviews different?

However, Capital One remains a bank rather than a consultancy and there are differences in its selection process.

The primary difference between other case interviews and Capital One case interviews is that the data-driven nature of Capital One’s business in turn drives the interview process, resulting in far more emphasis on the quantitative portion of the interview.

2.1) More quantitative analysis

Unlike a consulting interview, Capital One allows the use of a calculator, which means you will be dealing with trickier, more complex mathematics.

In turn, this will mean your math skills will have to be razor sharp and – crucially – there will be much greater onus on you to generate precisely correct answers.

It is expected that your final recommendation will heavily depend on the precise data. As such, Capital One recommend that if you make a calculation error, you should aim to rectify it as soon as possible.

2.2) Creativity

As a relatively young and fast-growing business operating at the frontiers of its sector, Capital One needs to maintain its innovative edge. As such, the bank strongly emphasizes creative thought within its case interviews.

Capital One strongly believes in the importance of adaptability and using your own experience and thinking, which means there isn’t only a right way to solve a problem.

Therefore, while calculations are important, candidates should remember that there is more than one way to reach a certain result, and should use the one that suits them best.

2.3) More difficult concepts

You shouldn’t expect all your calculations to be as easy as, say, calculating the profit of a company.

Capital One’s business is not just data-heavy, but also structurally complex. As such, you can expect questions to be conceptually difficult, with all kinds of complications to account for as you move through your quantitative analysis – crucially, whilst always getting the right answer.

This might sound daunting but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarifications from the interviewer if you don’t understand these concepts. Remember, Capital One is trying to see how you think, not what you know.

Join thousands of other candidates cracking cases like pros

At MyConsultingCoach we teach you how to solve cases like a consultant Get started

How can I prepare for a Capital One case interview?

Despite the differences in format and content we have discussed, the higher-level process of actually preparing for a Capital One case interview is much the same as for their management consulting counterparts.

Let’s go through some major tips for how to approach you Capital One interview prep. As you will see, there is a lot to get on top of, so we’ll then move on to look at what resources are available to help you out.

1) Start early and get a lot of practice!

Case interviews are not something you can prepare for the night before – you need to practice A LOT! 

However, practicing without understanding the basic principles of case interviews is like trying to learn a language by immersion with no textbook! First, you need to grasp the fundamentals of approaching and solving cases.

The best places to start are our comprehensive guide on case-interviews and MCC Academy course .

We also provide you with a free extensive case bank which can be tailored to find exactly the type of problems you’ll encounter in a Capital One interview.

2) Make sure your math is in top shape

Make sure your math is razor sharp. Don’t simply review the principles, but make sure you can practice working through problems quickly and elegantly.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but despite the fact you will have a calculator, you shouldn’t neglect your mental math.

Of course, nobody is going to be impressed if you have to reach for the calculator for very basic arithmetic. Beyond this, though, having solid mental math allows you to constantly “sense check” your work as you go along, having a better idea if the figures you are generating seem reasonable and thus helping to ensure you reach those crucial correct final answers.

3) Take notes

Get in the habit of staying organized and writing down the information you are given. Capital One emphasizes the importance of being able to quickly call to mind information from previous stages of the interview.

Being organized in this way also helps you to avoid forgetting things and getting lost in your own analysis and ensures that you work in a structured way.

4) Communicate efficiently

Make sure you are also organized in the way you structure and communicate your arguments.

Get used to talking the interviewer through your work and ideas, especially calculations as in this way you’re more like to spot errors! Keep the interviewer onboard with your reasoning, so they understand what you are doing and why at every step in your process.

If you make use of technical concepts, make sure to break them down and explain them in a way that can be understood by anyone - Capital One values mutual understanding and the ability to explain concepts as if to someone from outside your own industry!

This is crucial – remember that case interviews fundamentally evaluate how you solve problems, so you need to convey your method as clearly as possible.

5) Ask questions and clarifications

Make sure you’re getting as much data out of the interviewer as you need to solve your problem. This means not being afraid to ask questions and clarifications to obtain important new information.

If the interviewer introduces a concept that you’re not familiar with, ask them to clarify. Understanding and then immediately using new concepts confidently in a case interview is essential to Capital One.

However, you should avoid asking questions that are not relevant or redundant, as you will come off as disorganized or unstructured. Our articles on Identifying the Problem , MECE and the Hypothesis Driven Approach will help you structure your thoughts and questions in the best possible manner.

6) Build fundamental skills

Perhaps the most fundamental case interview skill is being able to logically break down complex issues into smaller problems. This is an area where we can learn a great deal directly from the consulting world. In particular, consultants’ use of issue trees and similar structures to logically break down problems will directly translate to Capital One’s case studies. You can read more in our article on the Problem Driven Structure method.

7) Back-up your final recommendation with data

At the end of your analysis, you’ll be asked to make a recommendation. Just like we emphasized before, make sure that this is primarily based on data but also your judgement.

Whilst they do care about your calculations being correct, Capital One doesn’t care so much about getting the right specific recommendation from you. For one thing, there might not be a single correct answer in that case, but generally they really want to see you come up with a creative solution and effectively back it up with data from the quantitative portion of the interview.

Always expect to be challenged on whatever recommendation you give and be able to show that you’ve carefully considered the risks and rewards.

8) Avoid frameworks and generic answers

The majority of case interview candidates will turn to frameworks to solve any given problem.

However, Capital One greatly values the ability to produce a unique solution directly and specifically leveraging the data at hand. One of the biggest mistakes you could make is trying to fit the problem you are given in a pre-existing, generic framework to try and spit out a generic answer.

We have explained the dangers of generic frameworks in case studies in our article on the famous resource Case in Point.

Remember: Capital One values original thinking! Don’t try to reproduce generic information that isn’t applicable - learn how to approach problems like a consultant!

Prep the right way

Learn how to think like a consultant instead of outdated frameworks Learn more

One-Stop Case Interview Prep

We’ve established that practice makes perfect when it comes to case interviews, but you might think that you can’t be expected to be left in the middle of the ocean and be expected to find the Americas.

In other words, how do you start practicing case interviews when you’re not sure exactly where to start?

My Consulting Coach can provide you with everything you need to crack cases like a professional:

  • course material that will give you the comprehensive skill-set any Capital One analyst needs

  • coaching with case interview experts

  • an all-encompassing mentoring package that will give you the best chance of securing the job you want

1) Your first stop: MCC Academy

The best place to acquire the required background knowledge and reasoning skills – that is learn how to use the winds and navigate by watching the stars – is with our MCC Academy case interview course.

This is a comprehensive, structured course of full-length, high quality, animated video lessons. It guides you through the rough oceans of case interviews by steering you through finance and accounting basics to advanced reasoning skills, consulting math and our Problem Driven Structure case method .

Our method, devised as a streamlined, four-step version of the seven-step roadmap used by McKinsey consultants on real engagements, will keep you away from the pitfalls of unreliable frameworks and over-standardization.

Learn more about MCC Academy here.

2) Practice with a real consultant

Naturally, the best way to practice case interviews is to simulate the real interview situation with another person. You might do so with another interview candidate, using our free meeting board and case library However, there’s only so much you can get out of each other when neither of you have actual consulting experience!

The single best way to simulate a case interview is with an experienced professional. There, you will receive the kind of detailed, actionable feedback which takes your skillset to the next level and greatly increases your chances of landing a job.

MyConsultingCoach offers the best quality coaching experience on the market . All of our coaches have at least two years consulting experience with either McKinsey, Bain or BCG, combined with well as extensive coaching expertise. In short, these are case interview experts.

Synergizing with the MCC Academy, our coaching experience provides not only the skills necessary to successfully complete a case interview, but also detailed feedback on what skills you need to focus on in the process.

Learn more about coaching here .

3) Mentoring: the optimal path to your dream job

Finally, the most time-saving and efficient way to prepare is to sign up for our comprehensive mentoring program.

Let an experienced MBB consultant take personal charge of planning and overseeing your whole case interview preparation!

From editing your resume and cover letter, to advising on networking and guiding you through our course material, mentoring gives you the best possible chance of getting the job!

Find out more about mentoring here.