UCR CAREER CENTER
Successfully Managing The Case Interview
A critical step in getting a consulting job
A case interview helps employers assess your problem-solving skill. Management consulting
firms and corporations find them an effective tool for gauging strategic thinking, creativity, interpersonal
communication, and analytical and organizational skills. The case interview begins with the interviewer
describing a business problem from the perspective of a client. The interviewer then asks you to solve the
The case interview is conversational. You have to be comfortable with details and numbers. Take
the strategy class for preparation and read the first 5 chapters of Michael Porter’s, Competitive Strategy.
Other good sources of information are the Wall Street Journal, The Economist or other business journals.
Focus on articles discussing specific companies.
WHAT COMPANIES ARE LOOKING FOR
• the ability to quickly develop a hypothesis
• the ability to reason and articulate a response
• ability to prioritize correctly
• the ability to ask good questions
• creativity in your response, a curious nature, and comfort with ambiguity
• solid facility with numbers; analytical rigor
• to understand how you think—talk out loud so they will know you have good
• a basic business instinct with ability to draw conclusions
• how you order your thoughts and ideas to address the question
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
1. Familiarize yourself with introductory microeconomics
2. Research the company and identify why you want to work there
3. Practice answering typical questions in a mock interview with a fellow student,
career coach or alum. Practice cases with peers who have had/given case interviews.
Rehearse, memorize, and internalize your answers.
4. Take a leather pad, pen, and an extra resume to the interview.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
1. Let the recruiter lead.
2. Listen to the questions being asked & observe nonverbal cues. Silence is okay.
3. Organize your thoughts; ask for clarification if you're not sure
4. Answer the question:
a. Explain your thought process, talk it out, state your assumptions, talk it
out, and push to conclusion.
b. Aim for an organized pattern of thought to attack the problem.
c. Draw on personal experiences. Use any information from previous
experiences that would be helpful to you in solving this problem, just as
you normally would.
d. Answers should be accomplishment-based and positive.
e. Be concise and specific. Answers should rarely be longer than one
f. Do not over-disclose. Recruiters ask if they want more detail.
5. Mirror the recruiter: warm-to-warm, tough-to-tough, etc.
6. Take notes if necessary
7. Ask a few good questions, remember it is dialogue
8. Know the next step after the interview.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Within 24 hours send a thank you letter to interviewer.
Reflect on and jot down points of the interview you felt good about and/or need improvement.
Learn from each interview and prepare for future ones.
• Listen and clarify: Take notes, restate the problem.
• Develop a framework: Organize your thoughts, identify key issues, and create
• Synthesize: Test your hypotheses, drill down on facts, and organize your
• Drive to your conclusions: Make a recommendation and identify other areas for
• Think big picture first.
• Don't panic.
• Remember that the process is more important than the right answer.
OTHER USEFUL TOOLS
Porter's Five Forces
Profitability Analysis: Profits = Revenues - Costs
Three C's (company, customer, competition)
Four P's (product, price, place, promotion)
TYPICAL CASE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
• A tobacco company has noticed a decline in profitability for the last 3 quarters.
How would you explore the causes?
• What is the market for personal computers likely to be in 15 years?
• How many tombstones were sold in the U.S. last year?
• A major American financial institute wants to improve their credit card business.
The card, 'Pure Gold,' has been successful in the USA by offering frequent flyer
mileage. They want to expand to China. How feasible is this?
• A local grocer is thinking of providing Internet shopping services. What factors
do they need to consider?
• How many gallons of paint would it take to paint a 747?
• Why are manhole covers round?
• If you were considering moving an insurance company's location from City A to
City B, what factors would you take into account to make the decision? City A is
an urban area on the East Coast, while City B is in a rural area on the East Coast.
Sample of a Case Scenario
Demand for Batteries
You are on a flight home from London and find yourself seated next to the new CEO of the AA
Battery Company. He will be meeting with a group of important stockholders as soon as the
plane lands and asks you o help him estimate the total U.S. market for his new company’s
flagship product (i.e. AA batteries).
You try to use the AirFone to call your office’s library, but the flight attendant informs you that
it is out of service. How would you estimate the U.S. annual demand for AA batteries?
The best candidates will start with some macro-measure, such as the US population, and then
estimate the number of batteries used per capita. For example, they might first identity the types
of tools or appliances that use AA batteries then estimate the number of batteries sued by each
appliance, and then consider the different lifetimes or replacement cycles of batteries used by
each appliance. The best candidates apply a “reality check” to their final answers, e.g. “that
would mean that everyone buys 100 batteries per year – which sounds too high.”
Alternately, a candidate could work this problem from a supply rather than demand perspective.
The candidate might start by identifying the number of battery manufacturers, estimate their total
revenues, and divide by retail price to estimate the number of batteries sold. This approach is
generally less intuitive, and candidates are more likely to “pull a number out of the air” for
values like total revenue. If a candidate struggles with this approach the interviewer may suggest
the demand-driven approach and see how he or she responds.