Case study interviews

Work through a business case in real-time

Case study interviews put you in the driver’s seat: you’re given a real business problem to work through and solve. The logical reasoning you use to work through the case is just as important as the conclusions you reach.

Case study interviews are common in recruitment for management consulting roles but can be used in other industries as well. They’re different to standard ‘question and answer’ interviews, as case study interviews involve working through a business problem or scenario with the interviewer to reach a logical conclusion. This situation mimics the work management consultants do for their clients, giving the interviewer an insight into how you might perform on the job.

Example case study interview formats and scenarios

Most case interviews are conducted face-to-face with the interviewer or a panel. Your case will be given to you either verbally or in writing, and you’ll be required to describe the assumptions, strategies and steps you’re using to solve the case out loud within a designated time frame. Most interviewers will provide pen and paper or a whiteboard and marker so you can record important information, perform mathematical calculations, or visually demonstrate your thinking process by using flow charts or diagrams. Less common case interview formats include written exercises or role plays.

The type of case or problem will vary depending on the employer and the role. Common types of cases include: 

  • Real or theoretical business scenarios: ‘LMN is a medium-sized grocery chain wishing to expand its online presence and services. What issues will need to be examined to decide whether this is a viable opportunity?’. You may be provided with some basic numerical and/or statistical data in these cases.
  • Numeracy scenarios asking you to estimate figures: ‘How many people do you think will vote in the next New South Wales Government election?’
  • Lateral thinking scenarios: ‘What creative suggestions and methods can you suggest to further decrease the number of smokers in Australia?’
  • Interpretations of pictorial information such as graphs or charts.
  • Corporate and business strategies examining profitability, growth opportunities, business mix, customer service improvements, investment strategy (viability of acquisitions) or performance improvement (e.g. effective management structuring, performance measurement, staff rewards systems and process improvements).

It’s not necessary for you to have in-depth knowledge of the industry on which the question or scenario is based, but it’s useful to have a reasonable grasp of basic business principles and some knowledge of current affairs in the corporate sector. Research your target company prior to the interview to find out more about their clients and the scope of their work. 

What do case study interviews assess?

Working through a case gives you the opportunity to display problem-solving skills, quantitative reasoning skills, analytical skills, logical reasoning, communication skills, creativity, and the ability to think on your feet and work through a problem in real time.

The interviewer may also be assessing the personal qualities you display during the process of solving the case, like your ability to stay calm in a stressful situation and your general interpersonal skills.

Structuring your response

There may not be a single ‘correct’ answer to any case study interview question or scenario, as your thought processes used to reach a conclusion are as important as the conclusion itself.

When you are given your case, it can be useful to go through the following steps to ensure that your response is clear and well structured:

  1. Have a clear understanding of the case and what’s required: do you need to solve a problem, make a recommendation or help a company make a decision?
  2. Synthesise and filter the information provided as necessary. Identify the key issues and decide which information is most pertinent to the case. It’s possible that not all the information provided will be equally relevant.
  3. Develop a structure for how you will approach your answer and talk this through with your interviewer.
  4. Make sure your approach is organised – take it step by step.
  5. Explain your thinking and decision-making processes to the interviewer. Do not assume that they know why you are proceeding in a certain way.
  6. Ask for more information or clarification. The case interview is a two-way street and the interviewer may reveal further information if you ask (just be clear about why you are asking).
  7. Anticipate concerns or objections as the interviewer may ask questions to highlight weaknesses in your argument.
  8. Support your conclusions with evidence, particularly in scenarios where you have been given figures or statistics.

Tips for handling case study interviews

  • Visit the web pages of any of the major management consulting firms and look for the section on careers and interview preparation for good tips. Practice talking through the cases as you would in the interview room.
  • Listen carefully to what the interviewer says, take notes and refer to them if necessary to summarise the scenario, analysis and solution.
  • Make use of any resources in the room, such as a whiteboard, pens and paper.
  • Use visual aids to document and demonstrate your structure or response. Depending on the question, you could use organisational charts, pie charts, timelines, graphs, flow charts or any other project management methodology.
  • Be realistic. The interviewer is looking for real-world solutions to the problem so be wary of proposing unrealistic budgets, risky endeavours or other solutions that would be excessively difficult to implement.
  • Showcase your communication and interpersonal skills. Treat the interviewer as you would treat a client in the workplace. Use positive body language and try to explain your reasoning clearly.
  • Ensure your conclusions flow logically from the steps you have taken throughout the interview.