Shortlisted candidates for a case study interview must have shown a lot of promise, at least, on paper. However, it is the way they handle small details that often separate the best candidates from “the very best” who manage to get the job. Let’s consider one of them.
After an interviewer gives out a case study question, it is a usual practice for candidates to confirm that they have captured all of the details of the case correctly. Some candidates will simply restate everything the interviewer had earlier said, as though they were replaying a recorded tape. An intelligent candidate who is thinking ahead of others will showcase her information processing capabilities by only highlighting the key pieces of information that are truly relevant to solving the case. The case study question that an interviewer would give the candidates are similar to what they encounter on a daily basis, on the job. These questions are meant to test the information processing speed of candidates and their ability to filter out irrelevant information. Every partner would rather pick someone who can think on their feet, understand what the question is all about and can readily bring out the most relevant information. Nobody is interested in a candidate who isn’t flexible, and who is merely repeating facts like a robot.
Applicants often emphasize stress the importance of not overlooking an information or data as the reason why they felt it was better to ask interviewers to give a verbatim account. But then, there is still a way that a question could be structured intelligently while capturing every information that is uncertain. For instance, you may start by confirming the critical question of the case (often the final part the prompt) and then circling back to address the situation the client is facing. After you have established that you are thinking about the case correctly, you are free to confirm some of the detailed data that was provided to ensure that you have captured everything and ask any clarifying questions you may have. Let's see it with an example.
Case question prompt
M/B/B has been hired by Hotelopia, an small, affordable hotel chain with properties around London. Hotelopia prides itself on offering affordable luxury rooms with a price range of $80-100/night, about 25% lower than the main competitors in the market. After hitting record revenue two and a half years ago, top line has been declining in the past 18 months. However all their major competitors have been experiencing steady growth over the same period. The client does not know what is driving the revenue decline and has tasked M/B/B with identifying the root cause and helping them to turn the situation around.
STEP 1: KEY QUESTION
“Thank you. Let me just confirm with you that I understand the objectives and situation of the case. We have been hired by an hotelier to figure out the causes of the dwindling revenue and help them find ways to turn the situation around.. And while our client’s pricing is lower than competitors’ they have seen a steady revenue growth while our client has experienced a decline. Did I get that right?
STEP 2: CONFIRMING DETAILS
Great! Let me just confirm the additional details you mentioned and ask one or two clarifying questions before jumping in. You mentioned that our client is an “affordable luxury” hotel with prices in the $80-100 range and that sales peaked about an year ago– did I capture that correctly?
STEP 3: CLARIFICATIONS
Two quick questions before we move on –as there a major sporting event like the Olympics or a major world event like the UN general assembly around two to three years ago when they experienced the growth? Also, was there an upsurge of room-sharing services like Airbnb in the area where the hotel is located?”
The above summary shows that you are focusing on the important points, starting with the critical strategic question the client is facing and then moving on to outlining key details about the situation. The key point is the start: instead of restating the problem in a narrative way as the interviewer did, you distilled all the information and extrapolated the main problem the client is facing. This is exactly what consultants are expected to do in their work everyday.
Of course there are many other aspects to nailing a case interview, including showing strong analytical, communication and interpersonal skills. Just remember that sometimes it can be the little things that really sets you apart.