Consulting-style case interviews are highly effective and the same format is being adopted more and more widely. The major consultancies have converged on a largely-identical interview style, precisely because it excels in picking out the most genuinely capable candidates from the huge pools of applications received by top firms.
However, consultancies are not the only oversubscribed employers who need to find the individuals to cope with demanding jobs. As such, we increasingly see case interviews being used to recruit for business roles in all sectors from tech to pharma to automotive – the list grows longer every year. Even outside the business world, some high-end civil service roles require case-style interviews.
Now, case interviews for non-consulting industries have a tendency to really spook candidates . The assumption is that they will be of a very different kind to their consulting cousins. Accordingly, candidates then worry over where they will find appropriate prep material – there is plenty around for consulting interviews (though quality varies a lot), but not a great deal for other sectors.
However, the main message from this article is that case interviews in other sectors really are very similar to the consulting interviews from which they derive . Of course, there are some differences which you do need to be aware of, and we will run through them below. However, the key takeaway here will be that good quality material for consulting interview prep will be perfectly well-suited to preparing you to face case interviews in other industries as well.
If you are prepping for a non-consulting case interview and have found MyConsultingCoach, then don’t worry – we have everything you need on this site!
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Why are case interviews so similar across industries?
If you think it through, it makes a lot of sense that case interviews are
so fundamentally similar. We can approach this realisation from a few
Each industry is a subset of the interests of general consulting
Let’s start with the most obvious reason the for similarities between consulting and non-consulting cases. Simply put, whatever industry you are in will also be one where consultants will potentially operate . Consultants are often generalists and their candidates can expect to receive cases from literally any industry. As such, pretty well any business problem you might be asked to deal with within a specific industry could also fall within the purview of general consulting (after all, if the company can’t solve an issue in-house they will call in the consultants!). In fact, whatever industry you are interested in, you will find relevant cases in our free case bank .
A fundamental skillset
Now for the deeper reason why case interviews are largely the same in all places: case interviews are fundamentally an assessment of basic reasoning skills and a specific problem-solving mindset . These are universals. You will need to adopt the same logical, rigorous-but-efficient approach to solve a case for McKinsey as you will in a case interview for Google or an investment bank. Indeed, the same foundational principles and skills will be crucial to day-to-day success for pretty well any high-end professional.
Concepts like the MECE rule are really just elaborations of the fundamental logical principles which underpin any kind of rigorous thought. Indeed, they will be just as vital to a philosopher or a mathematician as to a consultant or an executive - though these groups might know the same ideas by different names.
Our articles on this site, and particularly our lessons on subjects like segmentation and logically structuring problems in our MCC Academy course are equally relevant to addressing business problems in any area . Think of learning to crack cases like learning to crack a safe. You need to work the same way regardless of what is being kept inside. Similarly, cracking a case deploys the same basic process independent of its specific content .
Higher Level Commonalities
Now, all this talk of logic is necessarily a bit abstract and might seem a somewhat meaningless if you’re new to case studies. However, even at a higher, more “practical” level, many of the more specific “concrete” skills required to tackle cases will overlap right across different industries. For example, whether your case is dealing with a digital transformation project in a tech interview or optimising manufacturing in a management consulting interview, you are going to have to interpret accounting information and various charts and graphs as well as do things like make valuations and use discount rates. As we explain below, our MCC Academy course teaches you all of these foundational skills required to understand cases fully.
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Now, as similar as case interviews are across consulting and other industries, there are still some differences which candidates will need to be aware of during their preparation. We'll take a closer look:
Zooming in on a single sector
Let’s start with the most glaring difference. Consulting cases can be in any industry, but elsewhere they will be confined to the particular industry you are applying to. If you are applying to tech, you will have a tech case. If you are applying to pharma you will have a pharma case.
Now, this might all seem obvious and somewhat trivial so far, but this “zooming in” does have some genuinely salient implications . In particular, the narrower focus means that the same kinds of cases will recur more often than in general consulting interviews . For example, for those applying to the automotive industry, lean manufacturing cases will be common. For those moving into pharma, drug launch cases will come up frequently.
Obviously, recurrence brings with it the potential for specialisation . Certainly, you should make sure to be razor sharp on any frequent case-types. However, a common error made by candidates is to learn and/or practice only how to deal with these kinds of cases . This is a huge mistake and we’ll take an aside to discuss why:
The problem with over-specialisation
Just as with candidates who only prepare using generic frameworks for consulting interviews (see our discussion below), those who learn to deal only with the most common case types for their industry inherently run the risk of being completely stumped by cases which don’t conform to their ready-made solutions. Indeed, given that interviewers are trying to identify genuinely quick, adaptable candidates, you can expect to be given cases which don’t fit into standard moulds .
If you want to be able to solve cases reliably – which you are going to need to do to make it through multiple rounds of interviews – you need to know how to solve cases in general, not simply a few common examples. These are good to go over in detail towards the end of your prep (there will be plenty in our case bank ), but we strongly recommend that the overwhelming majority (85%+) of you time should be spent on learning to crack all kinds of cases – that is, learning general principles and practicing varied examples.
Now, it is not quite accurate to say that the kinds of cases you will receive in all other industries are simply a subset of the cases which might be given to a general consulting candidate. Another symptom of zooming-in on a certain sector is that there will often be some requirement for specific background knowledge about the industry , which it would be unreasonable to expect within general consulting.
To take a couple of examples from tech, if you are applying to a cybersecurity role, you might be expected to know what an internet protocol is. If you have a case about how a company might better utilise its digital assets, you might need to know something about network architectures. However, you will almost certainly not need to go into deep technical detail on these topics. Industry specific aspects will be more about understanding the context of the problem, and your solution will still be reached primarily through basic reasoning rather than textbook knowledge.
To be clear, the whole point of the case interview format is to test general reasoning skills as opposed to depth of knowledge on a certain subject, so it would be pointless to use a case study for the latter purpose.
As a final note here, don’t let this requirement for specific knowledge worry you unduly. Generally, recruiters will make the demands on previous experience/knowledge for roles crystal clear . As we have noted above, case studies will not typically require a great deal of that specific knowledge beyond the basics. If you have a background in the field, you don’t have anything to worry about .
How do I prepare, then?
As we have alluded to above, the deep degree of commonality across case interviews for all sectors means that good quality consulting interview prep material also makes a perfect resource to build your preparation around for interviews in other sectors .
You should spend the overwhelming majority of your prep becoming a solid case interview generalist. Thus, you will spend time ingraining key concepts like the MECE principle , honing your mental math and learning fundamental economics, finance and accounting ideas.
To cement what you learn, you should practice with a wide variety of cases – not necessarily limited to your sector and certainly not limited only to common scenarios within that sector. You can practice cracking a safe the same whether it’s gold bars or paperwork inside. Once you have a robust foundation in place and are confident you can make a good go at tackling anything you are given, you can spend the last 15% of your prep can be spent honing in on any case-types which are particularly common within your chosen industry .
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Learning to Crack Cases
So, how do you learn to crack cases? We have already mentioned in passing that the quality of consulting case interview prep material varies significantly and this is something you need to be aware of right from the beginning.
In particular, it is crucial that you avoid old-fashioned sources teaching “frameworks” . These various books and sites put forward the idea that all business cases can be solved with the application of one or more generic sets of instructions – that is, frameworks. However, the effect is much the same as it would be for a non-consulting candidate who prepped only for the most common kinds of case in their own industry. These candidates might be fine if they get exactly the kind of case they have memorised. However, they are left with no ability to respond if they are pitched even the slightest of curveballs .
Diligent candidates pour many hours into preparation based around systems of frameworks, putting in the time to learn books like Case in Point cover to cover. However, more often than not, they then strike out in interview when they receive a case that doesn’t fit any of their frameworks. The fault is not with these hard-working candidates. They are let down by their resources.
Nobody working in real-world industry uses frameworks . So how, should you go about solving cases? The answer is just like a professional.
To be able to solve cases reliably, you need to be able to approach each new, unique problem on its own merits . Consultants and those trusted to make major decisions in other industries will invariably start by fully understanding the unique details of a problem, before structuring their analysis in rigorous, logical fashion and eventually generating a bespoke solution to accommodate all the idiosyncrasies of the issue they are faced with.
At MyConsultingCoach, we are honest about the fact that learning how to crack cases like a professional requires real work on both your part and ours. However, results are what matter and we give you the very best chance of impressing in interview and getting hired .
Our Case Interview Course
Our MCC Academy course dispenses with frameworks and starts from the ground up, teaching you to think in the same methodical, logical, hypothesis driven manner that characterises how consultants and top executives work. The infinitely-adaptable, four-step Problem Driven Structure Approach we teach is effectively a distillation of the seven-step method used by McKinsey on real consulting engagements .
As well as teaching fundamental skills like rapid mental math , our course also contains what we like to think of as a “mini MBA” covering all the fundamental skills across things like accounting, finance, economics and areas like valuation which will be an “entry requirement” to being able to engage with case studies for any sector. Our modular “ building blocks ” also allow you to take advantage of commonalities between cases to speed up your analysis. Thus, we capture what benefits there are in frameworks without inheriting their fundamental flaws .
Done properly, you will not only be much better equipped to ace your case studies, impress your interviewers and land your dream role, but also better prepared to actually hit the ground running on day one of the job .
The MCC Academy itself is designed to make learning easy and enjoyable . Teaching is delivered via full-length, fully-animated video lessons (no boring dude rambling in front of a white board…) and we make sure you are always consolidating your knew knowledge and skills via appropriate practice exercises.
You can read more about our approach to case cracking in our intro to case interviews . We also have introductions to our MCC Academy course . and to our Problem Driven Structure method . You can take a look at a sample of some of the MCC Academy video lessons here.
Coaching from the Pros
As a final note, if you go to the trouble of building skills and learning how to crack cases the right way, you will probably want to practice properly as well, with a real coach . We offer everything from single sessions to full mentoring packages with experienced coaches from the consulting world. These are the best possible people to fast track you to case interview mastery, regardless of your target profession!