• Case Interview: A comprehensive guide
  • Pyramid Principle
  • Hypothesis driven structure
  • Fit Interview
  • Consulting math
  • The key to landing your consulting job
  • What is a case interview?
  • What do I need to learn to solve cases?
  • How do I practice for case interviews?
  • Fit interviews
  • Interview day - what to expect, with tips
  • How we can help

1. The key to landing your consulting job.

Case interviews - where you are asked to solve a business case study under scrutiny - are the core of the selection process right across McKinsey, Bain and BCG (the “MBB” firms). This interview format is also used pretty much universally across other high-end consultancies; including LEK, Kearney, Oliver Wyman and the consulting wings of the “Big Four”.

If you want to land a job at any of these firms, you will have to ace multiple case interviews.

It is increasingly likely that you will also have to solve online cases given by chatbots etc. You might need to pass these before making it to interview or be asked to sit them alongside first round interviews.

Importantly, case studies aren’t something you can just wing . Firms explicitly expect you to have thoroughly prepared and many of your competitors on interview day will have been prepping for months.

Don’t worry though - MCC is here to help!

This article will take you through a full overview of everything you’ll need to know to do well, linking to more detailed articles and resources at each stage to let you really drill down into the details.

As well as traditional case interviews, we’ll also attend to the new formats in which cases are being delivered and otherwise make sure you’re up to speed with recent trends in this overall part of consulting recruitment.

Before we can figure out how to prepare for a case interview, though, we will first have to properly understand in detail what exactly you are up against. What format does a standard consulting case interview take? What is expected of you? How will you be assessed?

Let's dive right in and find out!

Professional help

Before going further, if this sounds like a lot to get your head around on your own, don't worry - help is available!

Our Case Academy course gives you everything you need to know to crack cases like a pro:

Case Academy Course

To put what you learn into practice (and secure some savings in the process) you can add mock interview coaching sessions with expereinced MBB consultants:

Coaching options

And, if you just want an experienced consultant to take charge of the whole selection process for you, you can check out our comprehensive mentoring programmes:

Explore mentoring

Now, back to the article!

2. What is a case interview?

Before we can hope to tackle a case interview, we have to understand what one is.

In short, a case interview simulates real consulting work by having you solve a business case study in conversation with your interviewer.

This case study will be a business problem where you have to advise a client - that is, an imaginary business or similar organisation in need of guidance.

You must help this client solve a problem and/or make a decision. This requires you to analyse the information you are given about that client organisation and figure out a final recommendation for what they should do next.

Business problems in general obviously vary in difficulty. Some are quite straightforward and can be addressed with fairly standard solutions. However, consulting firms exist precisely to solve the tough issues that businesses have failed to deal with internally - and so consultants will typically work on complex, idiosyncratic problems requiring novel solutions.

Some examples of case study questions might be:

  • How much would you pay for a banking licence in Ghana?
  • Estimate the potential value of the electric vehicle market in Germany
  • How much gas storage capacity should a UK domestic energy supplier build?

Consulting firms need the brightest minds they can find to put to work on these important, difficult projects. You can expect the case studies you have to solve in interview, then, to echo the unique, complicated problems consultancies deal with every day. As we’ll explain here, this means that you need to be ready to think outside the box to figure out genuinely novel solutions.

2.1. What skills do case interviews assess?

Reliably impressing your interviewers means knowing what they are looking for. This means understanding the skills you are being assessed against in some detail.

Overall, it’s important always to remember that, with case studies, there are no strict right or wrong answers. What really matters is how you think problems through, how confident you are with your conclusions and how quick you are with the back of the envelope arithmetic.

The objective of this kind of interview isn’t to get to one particular solution, but to assess your skillset. This is even true of modern online cases, where sophisticated AI algorithms score how you work as well as the solutions you generate.

If you visit McKinsey , Bain and BCG web pages on case interviews, you will find that the three firms look for very similar traits, and the same will be true of other top consultancies.

Broadly speaking, your interviewer will be evaluating you across five key areas:

2.1.1.One: Probing mind

Showing intellectual curiosity by asking relevant and insightful questions that demonstrate critical thinking and a proactive nature. For instance, if we are told that revenues for a leading supermarket chain have been declining over the last ten years, a successful candidate would ask:

“ We know revenues have declined. This could be due to price or volume. Do we know how they changed over the same period? ”

This is as opposed to a laundry list of questions like:

  • Did customers change their preferences?
  • Which segment has shown the decline in volume?
  • Is there a price war in the industry?

2.1.2. Two: Structure

Structure in this context means structuring a problem. This, in turn, means creating a framework - that is, a series of clear, sequential steps in order to get to a solution.

As with the case interview in general, the focus with case study structures isn’t on reaching a solution, but on how you get there.

This is the trickiest part of the case interview and the single most common reason candidates fail.

We discuss how to properly structure a case in more detail in section three. In terms of what your interviewer is looking for at high level, though, key pieces of your structure should be:

  • Proper understanding of the objective of the case - Ask yourself: "What is the single crucial piece of advice that the client absolutely needs?"
  • Identification of the drivers - Ask yourself: "What are the key forces that play a role in defining the outcome?"

Our Problem Driven Structure method, discussed in section three, bakes this approach in at a fundamental level. This is as opposed to the framework-based approach you will find in older case-solving

Focus on going through memorised sequences of steps too-often means failing to develop a full understanding of the case and the real key drivers.

At this link, we run through a case to illustrate the difference between a standard framework-based approach and our Problem Driven Structure method.

2.1.3. Three: Problem Solving

You’ll be tested on your ability to identify problems and drivers, isolate causes and effects, demonstrate creativity and prioritise issues. In particular, the interviewer will look for the following skills:

  • Prioritisation - Can you distinguish relevant and irrelevant facts?
  • Connecting the dots - Can you connect new facts and evidence to the big picture?
  • Establishing conclusions - Can you establish correct conclusions without rushing to inferences not supported by evidence?

2.1.4. Four: Numerical Agility

In case interviews, you are expected to be quick and confident with both precise and approximated numbers. This translates to:

  • Performing simple calculations quickly - Essential to solve cases quickly and impress clients with quick estimates and preliminary conclusions.
  • Analysing data - Extract data from graphs and charts, elaborate and draw insightful conclusions.
  • Solving business problems - Translate a real world case to a mathematical problem and solve it.

Our article on consulting math is a great resource here, though the extensive math content in our MCC Academy is the best and most comprehensive material available.

2.1.5. Five: Communication

Real consulting work isn’t just about the raw analysis to come up with a recommendation - this then needs to be sold to the client as the right course of action.

Similarly, in a case interview, you must be able to turn your answer into a compelling recommendation. This is just as essential to impressing your interviewer as your structure and analysis.

Consultants already comment on how difficult it is to find candidates with the right communication skills. Add to this the current direction of travel, where AI will be able to automate more and more of the routine analytic side of consulting, and communication becomes a bigger and bigger part of what consultants are being paid for.

So, how do you make sure that your recommendations are relevant, smart, and engaging? The answer is to master what is known as CEO-level communication .

This art of speaking like a CEO can be quite challenging, as it often involves presenting information in effectively the opposite way to how you might normally.

To get it right, there are three key areas to focus on in your communications:

  • Top down : A CEO wants to hear the key message first. They will only ask for more details if they think that will actually be useful. Always consider what is absolutely critical for the CEO to know, and start with that. You can read more in our article on the Pyramid Principle .
  • Concise : This is not the time for "boiling the ocean" or listing an endless number possible solutions. CEOs, and thus consultants, want a structured, quick and concise recommendation for their business problem, that they can implement immediately.
  • Fact-based : Consultants share CEOs' hatred of opinions based on gut feel rather than facts. They want recommendations based on facts to make sure they are actually in control. Always go on to back up your conclusions with the relevant facts.

For more detail on all this, check out our full article on delivering recommendations .

Prep the right way

2.2. where are case interviews in the consulting selection process.

Not everyone who applies to a consulting firm will have a case interview - far from it!

In fact, case interviews are pretty expensive and inconvenient for firms to host, requiring them to take consultants off active projects and even fly them back to the office from location for in-person interviews. Ideally, firms want to cut costs and save time by narrowing down the candidate pool as much as possible before any live interviews.

As such, there are some hoops to jump through before you make it to interview rounds.

Firms will typically eliminate as much as 80% of the applicant pool before interviews start. For most firms, 50%+ of applicants might be cut based on resumes, before a similar cut is made on those remaining based on aptitude tests. McKinsey currently gives their Solve assessment to most applicants, but will use their resulting test scores alongside resumes to cut 70%+ of the candidate pool before interviews.

You'll need to be on top of your game to get as far as an interview with a top firm. Getting through the resume screen and any aptitude tests is an achievement in itself!

For readers not yet embroiled in the selection process themselves, let’s put case interviews in context and take a quick look at each stage in turn. Importantly, note that you might also be asked to solve case studies outside interviews as well…

2.2.1. Application screen

It’s sometimes easy to forget that such a large cut is made at the application stage. At larger firms, this will mean your resume and cover letter is looked at by some combination of AI tools, recruitment staff and junior consulting staff (often someone from your own university).

Only the best applications will be passed to later stages, so make sure to check out our free resume and cover letter guides, and potentially get help with editing , to give yourself the best chance possible.

2.2.2. Aptitude tests and online cases

This part of the selection process has been changing quickly in recent years and is increasingly beginning to blur into the traditionally separate case interview rounds.

In the past, GMAT or PST style tests were the norm. Firms then used increasingly sophisticated and often gamified aptitude tests, like the Pymetrics test currently used by several firms, including BCG and Bain, and the original version of McKinsey’s Solve assessment (then branded as the Problem Solving Game).

Now, though, there is a move towards delivering relatively sophisticated case studies online. For example, McKinsey has replaced half the old Solve assessment with an online case. BCG’s Casey chatbot case now directly replaces a live first round case interview, and in the new era of AI chatbots, we expect these online cases to quickly become more realistic and increasingly start to relieve firms of some of the costs of live interviews.

Our consultants collectively reckon that, over time, 50% of case interviews are likely to be replaced with these kinds of cases. We give some specific advice for online cases in section four. However, the important thing to note is that these are still just simulations of traditional case interviews - you still need to learn how to solve cases in precisely the same way, and your prep will largely remain the same.

2.2.3. Rounds of Interviews

Now, let’s not go overboard with talk of AI. Even in the long term, the client facing nature of consulting means that firms will have live case interviews for as long as they are hiring anyone. And in the immediate term, case interviews are still absolutely the core of consulting selection.

Before landing an offer at McKinsey, Bain, BCG or any similar firm, you won’t just have one case interview, but will have to complete four to six case interviews, usually divided into two rounds, with each interview lasting approximately 50-60 minutes .

Being invited to first round usually means two or three case interviews. As noted above, you might also be asked to complete an online case or similar alongside your first round interviews.

If you ace first round, you will be invited to second round to face the same again, but more gruelling. Only then - after up to six case interviews in total, can you hope to receive an offer.

2.3. Typical case interview format

Before we dive in to the nuts and bolts of case cracking, we should give you a bit more detail on what exactly you’ll be up against on interview day.

Case interviews come in very similar formats across the various consultancies where they are used.

The standard case interview can be thought of as splitting into two standalone sub-interviews. Thus “case interviews” can be divided into the case study itself and a “fit interview” section, where culture fit questions are asked.

This can lead to a bit of confusion, as the actual case interview component might take up as little as half of your scheduled “case interview”. You need to make sure you are ready for both aspects.

To illustrate, here is the typical case interview timeline:

  • First 15-30 minutes: Fit Interview - with questions assessing your motivation to be a consultant in that specific firm and your traits around leadership and teamwork. Learn more about the fit interview in our in-depth article here .
  • Next 30-40 minutes: Case Interview - solving a case study
  • Last 5 minutes: Fit Interview again - this time focussing on your questions for your interviewer.

Both the Case and Fit interviews play crucial roles in the finial hiring decision. There is no “average” taken between case and fit interviews: if your performance is not up to scratch in either of the two, you will not be able to move on to the next interview round or get an offer.

NB: No case without fit

Note that, even if you have only been told you are having a case interview or otherwise are just doing a case study, always be prepared to answer fit questions. At most firms, it is standard practice to include some fit questions in all case interviews, even if there are also separate explicit fit interviews, and interviewers will almost invariably include some of these questions around your case. This is perfectly natural - imagine how odd and artificial it would be to show up to an interview, simply do a case and leave again, without talking about anything else with the interviewer before or after.

2.4. Differences between first and second round interviews

Despite interviews in the first and second round following the same format, second/final round interviews will be significantly more intense. The seniority of the interviewer, time pressure (with up to three interviews back-to-back), and the sheer value of the job at stake will likely make a second round consulting case interview one of the most challenging moments of your professional life.

There are three key differences between the two rounds:

  • Time Pressure : Final round case interviews test your ability to perform under pressure, with as many as three interviews in a row and often only very small breaks between them.
  • Focus : Since second round interviewers tend to be more senior (usually partners with 12+ years experience) and will be more interested in your personality and ability to handle challenges independently. Some partners will drill down into your experiences and achievements to the extreme. They want to understand how you react to challenges and your ability to identify and learn from past mistakes.
  • Psychological Pressure: While case interviews in the first round are usually more focused on you simply cracking the case, second round interviewers often employ a "bad cop" strategy to test the way you react to challenges and uncertainty.

2.5. Differences between firms

For the most part, a case interview is a case interview. However, firms will have some differences in the particular ways they like to do things in terms of both the case study and the fit component.

As we’ll see, these differences aren’t hugely impactful in terms of how you prepare. That said, it's always good to know as much as possible about what you will be going up against.

2.5.1. Candidate led vs interviewer led case formats

Most consulting case interview questions test your ability to crack a broad problem, with a case prompt often going something like:

" How much would you pay to secure the rights to run a restaurant in the British Museum? "

You, as a candidate, are then expected to identify your path to solve the case (that is, provide a structure), leveraging your interviewer to collect the data and test your assumptions.

This is known as a “candidate-led” case interview and is used by Bain, BCG and other firms.

However, a McKinsey case interview - especially in the first round - is slightly different, with the interviewer controlling the pace and direction of the conversation much more than with other case interviews.

At McKinsey, your interviewer will ask you a set of pre-determined questions, regardless of your initial structure. For each question, you will have to understand the problem, come up with a mini structure, ask for additional data (if necessary) and come to the conclusion that answers the question.

McKinsey’s cases are thus referred to as “interviewer-led”. This more structured format of case also shows up in online cases by other firms - notably including BCG’s Casey chatbot (with the amusing result that practising McKinsey-style cases can be a great addition when prepping for BCG).

Essentially, these interviewer-led case studies are large cases made up of lots of mini-cases. You still use basically the same method as you would for standard (or candidate-led) cases - the main difference is simply that, instead of using that method to solve one big case, you are solving several mini-cases sequentially.

2.5.2. The McKinsey PEI

McKinsey brands its fit aspect of interviews as the Personal Experience Interview or PEI. Despite the different name, this is really much the same interview you will be going up against in Bain, BCG and any similar firms.

McKinsey does have a reputation for pushing candidates a little harder with fit or PEI questions, focusing on one story per interview and drilling down further into the specific details each time. We discuss this tendency more in our fit interview article. However, no top end firm is going to go easy on you and you should absolutely be ready for the same level of grilling at Bain, BCG and others. Thus any difference isn’t hugely salient in terms of prep.

2.6. How are things changing in 2023?

For the foreseeable future, you are going to have to go through multiple live case interviews to secure any decent consulting job. These might increasingly happen via Zoom rather than in person, but they should remain largely the same otherwise.

However, things are changing and the rise of AI in recent months seems pretty much guaranteed to accelerate existing trends.

Even before the explosive development of AI chatbots like ChatGPT we have seen in recent months, automation was already starting to change the recruitment process.

As we mentioned, case interviews are expensive and inconvenient for firms to run. Ideally, then, firms will try to reduce the number of interviews required for recruitment as far as possible. For many years, tests of various kinds served to cut down the applicant pool and thus the number of interviews. However, these tests had a limited capacity to assess candidates against the full consulting skillset in the way that case interviews do so well.

More recently, though, the development of online testing has allowed for more and more advanced assessments. Top consulting firms have been leveraging screening tests that better and better capture the same skillset as case interviews. Eventually this is converging on automated case studies. We see this very clearly with the addition of the Redrock case to McKinsey’s Solve assessment.

As these digital cases become closer to the real thing, the line between test and interview blurs. Online cases don’t just reduce the number of candidates to interview, but start directly replacing interviews.

Case in point here is BCG’s Casey chatbot . Previously, BCG had deployed less advanced online cases and similar tests to weed out some candidates before live case interviews began. Now, though, Casey actually replaces one first round case interview.

Casey, at time of writing, is still a relatively “dumb” chatbot, basically running through a pre-set script. The Whatsapp-like interface does a lot of work to make it feel like one is chatting to a “real person” - the chatbot itself, though, cannot provide feedback or nudges to candidates as would a human interviewer.

We fully expect that, as soon as BCG and other firms can train a truer AI, these online cases will become more widespread and start replacing more live interviews.

We discuss the likely impacts of advanced AI on consulting recruitment and the industry more broadly in our blog.

Here, though, the real message is that you should expect to run into digital cases as well as traditional case interviews.

Luckily, despite any changes in specific format, you will still need to master the same fundamental skills and prepare in much the same way.

We’ll cover a few ways to help prepare for chatbot cases in section four. Ultimately, though, firms are looking for the same problem solving ability and mindset as a real interviewer. Especially as chatbots get better at mimicking a real interviewer, candidates who are well prepared for case cracking in general should have no problem with AI administered cases.

2.6.1. Automated fit interviews

Analogous to online cases, in recent years there has been a trend towards automated, “one way” fit interviews, with these typically being administered for consultancies by specialist contractors like HireVue or SparkHire.

These are kind of like Zoom interviews, but if the interviewer didn’t show up. Instead you will be given fit questions to answer and must record your answer in your computer webcam. Your response will then go on to be assessed by an algorithm, scoring both what you say and how you say it.

Again, with advances in AI, it is easy to imagine these automated interviews going from fully scripted interactions, where all candidates are asked the same list of questions, to a more interactive experience. Thus, we might soon arrive at a point where you are being grilled on the details of your stories - McKinsey PEI style - but by a bot rather than a human.

We include some tips on this kind of “one way” fit interview in section six here.

3. What do I need to learn to solve cases?

If you’re new to case cracking. You might feel a bit hopeless when you see a difficult case question, not having any idea where to start.

In fact though, cracking cases is much like playing chess. The rules you need to know to get started are actually pretty simple. What will make you really proficient is time and practice.

In this section, we’ll run through a high level overview of everything you need to know, linking to more detailed resources at every step.

3.1. Business fundamentals

Obviously, you are going to need to be familiar with basic business concepts in order to understand the case studies you are given in the first instance.

If you are coming from a business undergrad, an MBA or are an experienced hire, you might well have this covered already.

However, many consultants will be entering from engineering or similar backgrounds and the major consulting firms are hiring more and more PhDs and non-MBA master's graduates from all subjects. These individuals will need to get up to speed on business fundamentals.

Luckily, you don’t need a degree-level understanding of business to crack interview cases, and a lot of the information you will pick up by osmosis as you read through articles like this and go through cases.

However, some things you will just need to sit down and learn. We cover everything you need to know in some detail in our Case Academy course. However, some examples here of things you need to learn are:

  • Basic accounting (particularly how to understand all the elements of a balance sheet)
  • Basic economics
  • Basic marketing
  • Basic strategy

Note, though, that learning the very basics of business is the beginning rather than the end of your journey.

Once you are able to “speak business” at a rudimentary level, you should try to “become fluent” and immerse yourself in reading/viewing/listening to as wide a variety of business material as possible, getting a feel for all kinds of companies and industries - and especially the kinds of problems that can come up in each context and how they are solved.

The material put out by the consulting firms themselves is a great place to start, but you should also follow the business news and find out about different companies and sectors as much as possible between now and interviews. Remember, if you’re going to be a consultant, this should be fun rather than a chore!

3.2. How to solve cases like a real consultant

This is the really important bit.

If you look around online for material on how to solve case studies, a lot of what you find will set out framework-based approaches. However, as we have mentioned, these frameworks tend to break down with more complex, unique cases - with these being exactly the kind of tough case studies you can expect to be given in your interviews.

To address this problem, the MyConsultingCoach team has developed a new, proprietary approach to case cracking that replicates how top management consultants approach actual engagements.

MyConsultingCoach’s Problem Driven Structure approach is a universal problem solving method that can be applied to any business problem , irrespective of its nature.

As opposed to just selecting a generic framework for each case, the Problem Driven Structure approach works by generating a bespoke structure for each individual question and is a simplified version of the roadmap McKinsey consultants use when working on engagements.

The canonical seven steps from McKinsey on real projects are simplified to four for case interview questions, as the analysis required for a six-month engagement is somewhat less than that needed for a 45-minute case study. However, the underlying flow is the same.

This video has more information on how frameworks can be unreliable and how we address this problem:

Otherwise, let's zoom in to see how our method actually works in more detail:

3.2.1. Identify the problem

Identifying the problem means properly understanding the prompt/question you are given, so you get to the actual point of the case.

This might sound simple, but cases are often very tricky, and many candidates irretrievably mess things up within the first few minutes of starting. Often, they won’t notice this has happened until they are getting to the end of their analysis. Then, they suddenly realise that they have misunderstood the case prompt - and have effectively been answering the wrong question all along!

With no time to go back and start again, there is nothing to do. Even if there were time, making such a silly mistake early on will make a terrible impression on their interviewer, who might well have written them off already. The interview is scuppered and all the candidate’s preparation has been for nothing.

This error is so galling as it is so readily avoidable.

Our method prevents this problem by placing huge emphasis on a full understanding of the case prompt. This lays the foundations for success as, once we have identified the fundamental, underlying problem our client is facing, we focus our whole analysis around finding solutions to this specific issue.

Now, some case interview prompts are easy to digest. For example, “Our client, a supermarket, has seen a decline in profits. How can we bring them up?”. However, many of the prompts given in interviews for top firms are much more difficult and might refer to unfamiliar business areas or industries. For example, “How much would you pay for a banking license in Ghana?” or “What would be your key areas of concern be when setting up an NGO?”

Don’t worry if you have no idea how you might go about tackling some of these prompts!

In our article on identifying the problem and in our full lesson on the subject in our MCC Academy course, we teach a systematic, four step approach to identifying the problem , as well as running through common errors to ensure you start off on the right foot every time!

This is summarised here:

Four Steps to Identify the Problem

Following this method lets you excel where your competitors mess up and get off to a great start in impressing your interviewer!

3.2.2. Build your problem driven structure

After you have properly understood the problem, the next step is to successfully crack a case is to draw up a bespoke structure that captures all the unique features of the case.

This is what will guide your analysis through the rest of the case study and is precisely the same method used by real consultants working on real engagements.

Of course, it might be easier here to simply roll out one an old-fashioned framework, and a lot of candidates will do so. This is likely to be faster at this stage and requires a lot less thought than our problem-driven structure approach.

However, whilst our problem driven structure approach requires more work from you, our method has the advantage of actually working in the kind of complex case studies where generic frameworks fail - that is exactly the kind of cases you can expect at an MBB interview .

Since we effectively start from first principles every time, we can tackle any case with the same overarching method. Simple or complex, every case is the same to you and you don’t have to gamble a job on whether a framework will actually work

In practice, structuring a problem with our method means drawing up either an issue tree or an hypothesis tree , depending on how you are trying to address the problem.

These trees break down the overall problem into a set of smaller problems that you can then solve individually. Representing this on a diagram also makes it easy for both you and your interviewer to keep track of your analysis.

To see how this is done, let’s look at the issue tree below breaking down the revenues of an airline:

Frame the Airline Case Study

These revenues can be segmented as the number of customers multiplied by the average ticket price. The number of customers can be further broken down into a number of flights multiplied by the number of seats, times average occupancy rate. The node corresponding to the average ticket price can then be segmented further.

It is worth noting that the same problem can be structured in multiple valid ways by choosing different means to segment the key issues.

That said, not all valid structures are equally useful in solving the underlying problem. A good structure fulfils several requirements - including MECE-ness , level consistency, materiality, simplicity, and actionability. It’s important to put in the time to master segmentation, so you can choose a scheme isn’t only valid, but actually useful in addressing the problem.

After taking the effort to identify the problem properly, an advantage of our method is that it will help ensure you stay focused on that same fundamental problem throughout. This might not sound like much, but many candidates end up getting lost in their own analysis, veering off on huge tangents and returning with an answer to a question they weren’t asked.

Another frequent issue - particularly with certain frameworks - is that candidates finish their analysis and, even if they have successfully stuck to the initial question, they have not actually reached a definite solution. Instead, they might simply have generated a laundry list of pros and cons, with no clear single recommendation for action.

Clients employ consultants for actionable answers, and this is what is expected in the case interview. The problem driven structure excels in ensuring that everything you do is clearly related back to the key question in a way that will generate a definitive answer. Thus, the problem driven structure builds in the hypothesis driven approach so characteristic of real consulting practice.

You can learn how to set out your own problem driven structures in our article here and in our full lesson in the MCC Academy course.

Join thousands of other candidates cracking cases like pros

3.2.3. lead the analysis.

A problem driven structure might ensure we reach a proper solution eventually, but how do we actually get there?

We call this step " leading the analysis ", and it is the process whereby you systematically navigate through your structure, identifying the key factors driving the issue you are addressing.

Generally, this will mean continuing to grow your tree diagram, further segmenting what you identify as the most salient end nodes and thus drilling down into the most crucial factors causing the client’s central problem.

Once you have gotten right down into the detail of what is actually causing the company’s issues, solutions can then be generated quite straightforwardly.

To see this process in action, we can return to our airline revenue example:

Lead the analysis for the Airline Case Study

Let’s say we discover the average ticket price to be a key issue in the airline’s problems. Looking closer at the drivers of average ticket price, we find that the problem lies with economy class ticket prices. We can then further segment that price into the base fare and additional items such as food.

Having broken down the issue to such a fine-grained level, solutions occur quite naturally. In this case, we can suggest incentivising the crew to increase onboard sales, improving assortment in the plane, or offering discounts for online purchases.

Our article on leading the analysis is a great primer on the subject, with our video lesson in the MCC Academy providing the most comprehensive guide available.

3.2.4. Provide recommendations

So you have a solution - but you aren’t finished yet!

Now, you need to deliver your solution as a final recommendation.

This should be done as if you are briefing a busy CEO and thus should be a one minute, top-down, concise, structured, clear, and fact-based account of your findings.

The brevity of the final recommendation belies its importance. In real life consulting, the recommendation is what the client has potentially paid millions for - from their point of view, it is the only thing that matters.

In an interview, your performance in this final summing up of your case is going to significantly colour your interviewer’s parting impression of you - and thus your chances of getting hired!

So, how do we do it right?

Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle elegantly sums up almost everything required for a perfect recommendation. The answer comes first , as this is what is most important. This is then supported by a few key arguments , which are in turn buttressed by supporting facts .

Across the whole recommendation, the goal isn’t to just summarise what you have done. Instead, you are aiming to synthesize your findings to extract the key "so what?" insight that is useful to the client going forward.

All this might seem like common sense, but it is actually the opposite of how we relay results in academia and other fields. There, we typically move from data, through arguments and eventually to conclusions. As such, making good recommendations is a skill that takes practice to master.

We can see the Pyramid Principle illustrated in the diagram below:

The Pyramid principle often used in consulting

To supplement the basic Pyramid Principle scheme, we suggest candidates add a few brief remarks on potential risks and suggested next steps . This helps demonstrate the ability for critical self-reflection and lets your interviewer see you going the extra mile.

The combination of logical rigour and communication skills that is so definitive of consulting is particularly on display in the final recommendation.

Despite it only lasting 60 seconds, you will need to leverage a full set of key consulting skills to deliver a really excellent recommendation and leave your interviewer with a good final impression of your case solving abilities.

Our specific article on final recommendations and the specific video lesson on the same topic within our MCC Academy are great, comprehensive resources. Beyond those, our lesson on consulting thinking and our articles on MECE and the Pyramid Principle are also very useful.

3.3. Common case types and the building blocks to solve them

You should tackle each new case on its own merits. However, that’s not to say there aren’t recurring themes that come up fairly reliably in cases - there absolutely are. Business is business and case studies will often feature issues like profitability, competition etc.

Old fashioned framework approaches would have you simply select a defined framework for each kind of case and, in effect, just run the algorithm and wait for a solution to fall out.

We’ve already explained how frameworks can let you down. In this context, too many candidates will fall into the trap of selecting a framework for that case type that simply won’t work for their specific case.

The counterpoint in favour of frameworks, though, is that they are at least fast and prevent you having to start from the ground up with a common kind of case.

Ideally, you should have the best of both worlds - and this is why, in our articles on this site and in our MCC Academy course, we have developed a set of “building bocks” for common case themes.

As they name suggests, building blocks give you modular components for different kinds of case to help build out your own custom structures faster. These then allow you to leverage the symmetries between cases without inheriting the inflexibility of frameworks.

Let’s take a look at five different case types and get a brief idea of how our building block approach helps you with each. You can find more detail on each in the full length articles linked, as well as in the full-length video lessons in our MCC Academy course.

3.3.1. Estimation

Consultants need to push forward to provide definitive recommendations to clients in a timely manner despite typically not having access to full information on a problem. Estimation of important quantities is therefore at the heart of real life consulting work.

Estimation is thus just as fundamental to case cracking.

A case interview might centre on an estimation question, and this might be quite common for a first round interview. However, estimation is also very likely to be a crucial part of pretty well any other kind of case question you receive is likely to include estimation as a crucial component of your analysis.

The kinds of estimation you might be asked to make in a case interview can be very daunting:

  • How many bank branches are there in Italy?
  • How many cars are sold in Berlin in one year?
  • How many people will buy the latest high-tech smartphone on the market?

You might have no idea where to begin with these examples. However, tempting as it might be, your answer cannot ever be a simple guess .

A decent estimation does have a guessed element - though this should really be an educated guess based on some pre-existing knowledge. However, this guessed element is always then combined with a rigorous quantitative method to arrive at a reasonable estimation.

In context of a case interview, it’s important to realise that your interviewer doesn’t really care about the right answer (they don’t need to ask you to find out, after all). What’s important is showing the rational process by which you get to your answer.

A guess that was somehow exactly correct is no good compared to a “wrong” answer that was reached by a very sensible, intelligent process of estimation. In cases, this method will often be a matter of segmentation.

So, where would we start in working out how many cars are sold in Berlin, for example?

The key to estimation case questions is the ability to logically break down the problem into more manageable pieces. In consulting case studies, this will generally mean segmenting a wider population to find a particular target group. For example, starting from the total population of Berlin and narrowing down to the cohort of individuals who will buy a car that year.

There are usually many ways to segment the same starting population, and several different segmentation schemes might be equally valid. However, it is crucial to choose the specific method best suited to the goal in answering the question and allowing you to best leverage the data you have available.

Segmentation must be allied with assumptions in order to arrive at an estimation. These assumptions are the “guessed” element of estimations we mentioned above. Assumptions cannot just be plucked from thin air, but must always be reasonable .

The example below showcases both the segmentation and assumptions made in an estimation of the size of the wedding planning market in London:

Estimation Example Structure

Our articles on estimation and the MECE concept are great starting points in getting to grips with consulting estimation. However, the best place to learn how to make estimations is with the dedicated building block video lesson in our MCC Academy course.

Those of you from physics or engineering backgrounds will probably see a lot in common with Fermi questions . We have plenty of estimation cases for you to work through in our free case library. However, Fermi questions are a great way of getting a little extra practice and you can find a lifetime’s supply online.

3.3.2. Profitability

The fundamental goal of any normal business is to maximise profits - nobody is getting up and going to work to lose money. Even Silicon Valley tech start-ups are supposed to be profitable some day!

Profitability problems are thus bread and butter issues for management consultants.

Clients often tell consultants broadly the same story. The business was doing in well in recent years, with strong profits. However, some recent turn of events has upset the status quo and led to concerns around profit levels. Consultants are brought in as businesses are often sufficiently complex that it can be difficult to figure out precisely where and why the company is losing money - let alone how to then reverse the situation and restore healthy profits.

Despite steady growth in customer flow, the Walfort supermarket chain has seen falling profits in the past year. What is the reason for this decline?

Understanding profitability ultimately means understanding the various components that determine a company’s profit. You will need to learn to decompose profit first into revenues and costs (profit being the synthesis of these two factors). Crucially, you then need to segment further, distinguishing different specific revenue streams and separating various fixed and variable costs.

To take an example, just examining the revenue side of profit, the incoming revenues for an insurance firm might be broken down as follows:

Insurance Revenues

Improving profitability will inherently mean increasing revenues and/or decreasing costs. To solve profitability problems, we thus have to understand the ways we can minimise different costs, as well as ways to drive sales and/or optimise pricing to increase revenue. Importantly, you must be able to judge which of these options is best suited to address specific scenarios.

The key to tackling the complex kind of profitability questions given by MBB-level consultancies lies in this proper segmentation.

By contrast, old-fashioned case interview frameworks will simply have you look at aggregate cost and revenue data before recommending generic cost-cutting or revenue-driving measures. However, this will often lead to negative outcomes in more involved cases, making matters worse for the client.

For example, it might well be that a company actually makes a loss when it serves a certain cohort of customers. An airline, for instance, might lose money on economy class customers but make a healthy profit on each business class customer. Attempts to boost revenue by increasing sales across the board might actually reduce profit further by increasing the number of economy class customers. What is required is targeted measures to increase focus on business class and/or mitigate economy class losses.

You can start learning to segment these kinds of cases properly in our article on profitability , whilst the best way to really master profitability questions is our full lesson on the subject in the Building Blocks section of our MCC Academy course.

3.3.3. Pricing

For a company to be profitable at all, it is a pre-requisite that it charges the right price for whatever it sells. However, establishing what price to charge for any one product - or indeed a whole suite of related products - can be a highly complex business.

Consultants are often engaged to negotiate the many variables, with all their complex interdependencies, at play in pricing. Correspondingly, then, pricing is a common theme in case interviews.

  • A company launches a new smartphone with a significantly improved camera. How much should they charge?
  • A doughnut chain wants to start selling coffee in their shops. How much should they charge per cup?

Clearly, lot of different factors can influence the answers to these questions, and it can be difficult to know where to start. To get a handle on all this complexity, you will need to take a methodical, structured approach.

To really understand pricing, you must begin from fundamentals like the customer’s willingness to pay, the value captured by the company, and the value created for the customer. These basics are shown in the diagram below:

Pricing Basics

This might seem simple enough, but the exact level at which prices are ultimately set is determined by a whole host of factors, including product availability, market trends, and the need to maintain a competitive position within the market. In particular, if we are changing the price of an existing product, we must consider how the price elasticity of demand might cause sales to fluctuate.

Our four-step method for pricing starts from establishing the customer’s next best alternative, calculating the value added by our own product, and working from there. A summary of this method is given, along with an overview of pricing in general, in our article on the subject . However, the most complete resource is our pricing lesson in the MCC Academy .

3.3.4. Valuation

Valuation is fundamental to any kind of investment. Before allocating capital towards a particular opportunity, an investor must understand precisely what value it holds and how this compares to the other available options.

In short, valuation tells us how much we should be willing to pay to acquire a company or an asset.

There are many ways to value an asset - indeed the finer points are still subject to research in both the academic and private sectors.

Standard ways to assign value include asset-based valuations (notably the Net Asset Value or NAV) and the various multiples so widely used by market traders.

However, in consulting case interviews, you will only usually need to be familiar with Net Present Value (NPV) . This means you need to learn and master the NPV equation:

NPV Equation

CF = Cash Flow r = Discount Rate

Whilst this is a pretty simple equation on the face of it, in order to make proper use of it, you will also need to develop a feel for interest/discount rates appropriate to different cases. This will be essential, as you will often have to estimate rational values for these rates for different investments before plugging those values into the NPV equation. Our Case Academy course has more detail here.

Note, though, that NPV is only really half the story.

NPV provides a kind of “absolute” value for an asset. However, the fact is that the worth of any asset will be different for different buyers , depending largely upon what the buyer already owns. In just the same way a spare clutch for a 1975 Ford will be a lot less valuable to a cyclist than to someone restoring the relevant classic car, so a courier business will be more valuable to an online retailer than to an airline.

As such, what we call the Total Enterprise Value (TEV) of an asset is calculated as a function of that asset’s NPV and of the potential cost and revenue synergies resulting from an acquisition. This is shown in the useful structure below:

TEV

You can learn more about all aspects of valuation in our article here , as well as in our dedicated video lesson in MCC Academy . These include guides to the kind of interest rates typically required to finance different kinds of investment.

3.3.5. Competitive Interactions

Most of what we’ve discussed so far in terms of case themes and our building block approach to them will all depend upon the prevailing competitive landscape our client exists within. Product prices, profit levels and ultimately valuations can all change over time in response to competition.

What is more, the zero sum dynamics of competitive interactions mean that these things can change quickly .

Companies enjoying near monopolies for years or even decades can quickly see their values go to zero, or near enough, in the face of some innovation by a competitor coming onto the market.

Nokia and Kodak thoroughly dominated the mobile phone and photography markets respectively - until new companies with new products pulled the rug out from under them and led to precipitous collapses.

New market entrants or old competitors with new ideas can throw a company’s whole business model up in the air overnight . Complex decisions about profound changes need to be made yesterday. Firms trying to save themselves will often slash prices in attempts to maintain sales - though this can actually make things worse and result in a corporate death-spiral. Consultants are then frequently called in to help companies survive - with this type of engagement carrying over to inform case interview questions.

You are running an airline and a low-cost competitor, like Ryanair, decides to start operating on your routes. You are rapidly losing customers to their lower fares. How do you respond?

Your eventual solutions to competitive interaction problems will likely need to be novel and unique to the situation. However, the process by which we understand competitive interactions and move towards those solutions is usually very methodical, moving through the limited dimensions in which a company can take action.

The following structure neatly encodes the general options open to responding to new sources of competition:

Competitive Interaction Structure

Of course, we would never suggest that you blanket-apply any strict, inflexible methodology to a whole swathe of case questions – this is precisely the approach that causes so much trouble for candidates using old-fashioned frameworks.

This structure is only a starting point - a shortcut to a bespoke framework specific to the case question in hand. You might well have to alter the details of the structure shown and you will almost certainly have to expand it as you lead the analysis . How you build out your structure and the solutions you provide are necessarily going to depend upon the specific details of the case question.

Thus, in order to deal with competitive interactions, you will need to put in the time to understand how the different strategies available function - as well as how competitors might then react to implementing such strategies. With enough practice, though, soon you won’t be fazed by even the most complex cases of competition between firms.

You can learn more in our article here and in our dedicated video lesson on competitive interaction in the MCC Academy case interview course.

3.4. Mental mathematics

Almost every interview case study will feature some mental mathematics and this is an area where many many candidates let themselves down.

As such, it makes sense to out in the time and make sure you are fully proficient.

Nothing beyond high school level is required, but you probably don’t do much mental arithmetic day to day and will likely need to practice quite a lot to get good enough to reliably perform at pace, under pressure.

We give a high-level overview of what you need to know in our consulting math article , but devote a whole section of our MCC Academy course to a deep dive on consulting math, with plenty of practice material to get you up to scratch.

4. How do I practice for case interviews?

As we said above - case interviews are much like chess. The rules are relatively quick to learn, but you need to practice a lot to get good.

If you’re working through our MCC Academy course, we recommend getting through the core Problem Driven Structure section. After that, you should be practising alongside working through the remainder of the course and beyond. However you do things, you need to get up to speed with the fundamentals before practice is going to do much more than confuse you.

Of course, if you’re enrolled in one of our mentoring programmes , your mentor will let you know precisely when and how you should be scheduling practice, as well as tracking your progress throughout.

4.1. Solo Practice

For solitary preparation, one of the best uses of your time is to work on your mental mathematics . This skill is neglected by many applicants - much to their immediate regret in the case interview. Find our mental math tool here or in our course, and practice at least ten minutes per day, from day one until the day before the interview.

Once you've covered our Building Blocks section, you should then start working through the cases in My Consulting Coach's case bank alongside your work on the course. This is a large library of case interview questions and answers in different formats and difficulties.

To build your confidence, start out on easier case questions, work through with the solutions, and don't worry about time. As you get better, you can move on to more difficult cases and try to get through them more quickly. You should practice around eight case studies on your own to build your confidence.

4.2. Peer practice

One you have worked through eight cases solo, you should be ready to simulate the interview more closely and start working with another person.

Here, many candidates turn to peer practice - that is, doing mock case interviews with friends, classmates or others also applying to consulting.

If you’re in university, and especially in business school, there will very likely be a consulting club for you to join and do lots of case practice with. If you don’t have anyone to practice, though, or if you just want to get a bit more volume in with others, our free meeting board lets you find fellow applicants from around the world with whom to practice.

4.3. Professional practice

You can do a lot practising by yourself and with peers. However, nothing will bring up your skills so quickly and profoundly as working with a real consultant.

Perhaps think about it like boxing. You can practice drills and work on punch bags all you want, but at some point you need to get into the ring and do some actual sparring if you ever want to be ready to fight.

Of course, it isn’t possible to secure the time of experienced top-tier consultants for free. However, when considering whether you should invest to boost your chances of success, it is worth considering the difference in your salary over even a just few years between getting into a top-tier firm versus a second-tier one. In the light of thousands in increased annual earnings (easily accumulating into millions over multiple years), it becomes clear that getting expert interview help really is one of the best investments you can make in your own future.

Should you decide to make this step, MyConsultingCoach can help, offering the highest quality case interview coaching service available . Each MCC case coach is selected as an MBB consultant with two or more years of experience and strong coaching expertise.

Case interview coaching is hugely beneficial in itself. However, for those who want to genuinely maximise their chances of securing a job offer - and especially for time-poor, busy professionals or hard-pressed students who want to take the guesswork and wasted time out of their case interview prep - we also offer a much more comprehensive service .

With one of our bespoke mentoring programmes , you are paired with a 5+ year experienced, ex-MBB mentor of your choosing, who will then oversee your whole case interview preparation from start to finish - giving you your best possible chance of landing a job!

4.4. Practice for online cases

Standard preparation for interview case studies will carry directly over to online cases.

However, if you want to do some more specific prep, you can work through cases solo to a timer and using a calculator and/or Excel (online cases generally allow calculators and second computers to help you, whilst these are banned in live case interviews).

Older PST-style questions also make great prep, but a particularly good simulation is the self-assessment tests included in our Case Academy course . These multiple choice business questions conducted with a strict time limit are great preparation for the current crop of online cases.

5. Fit interviews

As we’ve noted, even something billed as a case interview is very likely to contain a fit interview as a subset.

We have an article on fit interviews and also include a full set of lessons on how to answer fit questions properly as a subset of our comprehensive Case Academy course .

Here though, the important thing to convey is that you take preparing for fit questions every bit as seriously as you do case prep.

Since they sound the same as you might encounter when interviewing for other industries, the temptation is to regard these as “just normal interview questions”.

However, consulting firms take your answers to these questions a good deal more seriously than elsewhere.

This isn’t just for fluffy “corporate culture” reasons. The long hours and close teamwork, as well as the client-facing nature of management consulting, mean that your personality and ability to get on with others is going to be a big part of making you a tolerable and effective co-worker.

If you know you’ll have to spend 14+ hour working days with someone you hire and that your annual bonus depends on them not alienating clients, you better believe you’ll pay attention to their character in interview.

There are also hard-nosed financial reasons for the likes of McKinsey, Bain and BCG to drill down so hard on your answers.

In particular, top consultancies have huge issues with staff retention. The average management consultant only stays with these firms for around two years before they have moved on to a new industry.

In some cases, consultants bail out because they can’t keep up with the arduous consulting lifestyle of long hours and endless travel. In many instances, though, departing consultants are lured away by exit opportunities - such as the well trodden paths towards internal strategy roles, private equity or becoming a start-up founder.

Indeed, many individuals will intentionally use a two year stint in consulting as something like an MBA they are getting paid for - giving them accelerated exposure to the business world and letting them pivot into something new.

Consulting firms want to get a decent return on investment for training new recruits. Thus, they want hires who not only intend to stick with consulting longer-term, but also have a temperament that makes this feasible and an overall career trajectory where it just makes sense for them to stay put.

This should hammer home the point that, if you want to get an offer, you need to be fully prepared to answer fit questions - and to do so excellently - any time you have a case interview.

6. Interview day - what to expect, with tips

Of course, all this theory is well and good, but a lot of readers might be concerned about what exactly to expect in real life . It’s perfectly reasonable to want to get as clear a picture as possible here - we all want to know what we are going up against when we face a new challenge!

Indeed, it is important to think about your interview in more holistic terms, rather than just focusing on small aspects of analysis. Getting everything exactly correct is less important than the overall approach you take to reasoning and how you communicate - and candidates often lose sight of this fact.

In this section, then, we’ll run through the case interview experience from start to finish, directing you to resources with more details where appropriate. As a supplement to this, the following video from Bain is excellent. It portrays an abridged version of a case interview, but is very useful as a guide to what to expect - not just from Bain, but from McKinsey, BCG and any other high-level consulting firm.

6.1. Getting started

Though you might be shown through to the office by a staff member, usually your interviewer will come and collect you from a waiting area. Either way, when you first encounter them, you should greet your interviewer with a warm smile and a handshake (unless they do not offer their hand). Be confident without verging into arrogance. You will be asked to take a seat in the interviewer’s office, where the interview can then begin.

6.1.1. First impressions

In reality, your assessment begins before you even sit down at your interviewer’s desk. Whether at a conscious level or not, the impression you make within the first few seconds of meeting your interviewer is likely to significantly inform the final hiring decision (again, whether consciously or not).

Your presentation and how you hold yourself and behave are all important. If this seems strange, consider that, if hired, you will be personally responsible for many clients’ impressions of the firm. These things are part of the job! Much of material on the fit interview is useful here, whilst we also cover first impressions and presentation generally in our article on what to wear to interview .

As we have noted above, your interview might start with a fit segment - that is, with the interviewer asking questions about your experiences, your soft skills, and motivation to want to join consulting generally and that firm in particular. In short, the kinds of things a case study can’t tell them about you. We have a fit interview article and course to get you up to speed here.

6.1.2. Down to business

Following an initial conversation, your interviewer will introduce your case study , providing a prompt for the question you have to answer. You will have a pen and paper in front of you and should (neatly) note down the salient pieces of information (keep this up throughout the interview).

It is crucial here that you don’t delve into analysis or calculations straight away . Case prompts can be tricky and easy to misunderstand, especially when you are under pressure. Rather, ask any questions you need to fully understand the case question and then validate that understanding with the interviewer before you kick off any analysis. Better to eliminate mistakes now than experience that sinking feeling of realising you have gotten the whole thing wrong halfway through your case!

This process is covered in our article on identifying the problem and in greater detail in our Case Academy lesson on that subject.

6.1.3. Analysis

Once you understand the problem, you should take a few seconds to set your thoughts in order and draw up an initial structure for how you want to proceed. You might benefit from utilising one or more of our building blocks here to make a strong start. Present this to your interviewer and get their approval before you get into the nuts and bolts of analysis.

We cover the mechanics of how to structure your problem and lead the analysis in our articles here and here and more thoroughly in the MCC Case Academy . What it is important to convey here, though, is that your case interview is supposed to be a conversation rather than a written exam . Your interviewer takes a role closer to a co-worker than an invigilator and you should be conversing with them throughout.

Indeed, how you communicate with your interviewer and explain your rationale is a crucial element of how you will be assessed. Case questions in general, are not posed to see if you can produce the correct answer, but rather to see how you think . Your interviewer wants to see you approach the case in a structured, rational fashion. The only way they are going to know your thought processes, though, is if you tell them!

To demonstrate this point, here is another excellent video from Bain, where candidates are compared.

Note that multiple different answers to each question are considered acceptable and that Bain is primarily concerned with the thought processes of the candidate’s exhibit .

Another reason why communication is absolutely essential to case interview success is the simple reason that you will not have all the facts you need to complete your analysis at the outset. Rather, you will usually have to ask the interviewer for additional data throughout the case to allow you to proceed .

NB: Don't be let down by your math!

Your ability to quickly and accurately interpret these charts and other figures under pressure is one of the skills that is being assessed. You will also need to make any calculations with the same speed and accuracy (without a calculator!). As such, be sure that you are up to speed on your consulting math .

6.1.4. Recommendation

Finally, you will be asked to present a recommendation. This should be delivered in a brief, top-down "elevator pitch" format , as if you are speaking to a time-pressured CEO. Again here, how you communicate will be just as important as the details of what you say, and you should aim to speak clearly and with confidence.

For more detail on how to give the perfect recommendation, take a look at our articles on the Pyramid Principle and providing recommendations , as well the relevant lesson within MCC Academy .

6.1.5. Wrapping up

After your case is complete, there might be a few more fit questions - including a chance for you to ask some questions of the interviewer . This is your opportunity to make a good parting impression.

We deal with the details in our fit interview resources. However, it is always worth bearing in mind just how many candidates your interviewers are going to see giving similar answers to the same questions in the same office. A pretty obvious pre-requisite to being considered for a job is that your interviewer remembers you in the first place. Whilst you shouldn't do something stupid just to be noticed, asking interesting parting questions is a good way to be remembered.

Now, with the interview wrapped up, it’s time to shake hands, thank the interviewer for their time and leave the room .

You might have other interviews or tests that day or you might be heading home. Either way, if know that you did all you could to prepare, you can leave content in the knowledge that you have the best possible chance of receiving an email with a job offer. This is our mission at MCC - to provide all the resources you need to realise your full potential and land your dream consulting job!

6.2. Remote and one-way interview tips

Zoom case interviews and “one-way” automated fit interviews are becoming more common as selection processes are increasingly remote, with these new formats being accompanied by their own unique challenges.

Obviously you won’t have to worry about lobbies and shaking hands for a video interview. However, a lot remains the same. You still need to do the same prep in terms of getting good at case cracking and expressing your fit answers. The specific considerations around remote interviews are, in effect, around making sure you come across as effectively as you would in person.

6.2.1. Connection

It sounds trivial, but a successful video interview of any kind presupposes a functioning computer with a stable and sufficient internet connection.

Absolutely don’t forget to have your laptop plugged in, as your battery will definitely let you down mid-interview. Similarly, make sure any housemates or family know not to use the microwave, vacuum cleaner or anything else that makes wifi cut out (or makes a lot of noise, obviously)

If you have to connect on a platform you don’t use much (for example, if it’s on Teams and you’re used to Zoom), make sure you have the up to date version of the app in advance, rather than having to wait for an obligatory download and end up late to join. Whilst you’re at it, make sure you’re familiar with the controls etc. At the risk of being made fun of, don’t be afraid to have a practice call with a friend.

6.2.2. Dress

You might get guidance on a slightly more relaxed dress code for a Zoom interview. However, if in doubt, dress as you would for the real thing (see our article here ).

Either way, always remember that presentation is part of what you are being assessed on - the firm needs to know you can be presentable for clients. Taking this stuff seriously also shows respect for your interviewer and their time in interviewing you.

6.2.3. Lighting

An aspect of presentation that you have to devote some thought to for a Zoom interview is your lighting.

Hopefully, you long ago nailed a lighting set-up during the Covid lockdowns. However, make sure to check your lighting in advance with your webcam - bearing in mind what time if day your interview actually is. If your interview is late afternoon, don’t just check in the morning. Make sure you aren’t going to be blinded from light coming in a window behind your screen, or that you end up with the weird shadow stripes from blinds all over your face.

Natural light is always best, but if there won’t be much of that during your interview, you’ll likely want to experiment with moving some lamps around.

6.2.4. Clarity

The actual stories you tell in an automated “one-way” fit interview will be the same as for a live equivalent. If anything, things should be easier, as you can rattle off a practised monologue without an interviewer interrupting you to ask for clarifications.

You can probably also assume that the algorithm assessing your performance is sufficiently capable that it will be observing you at much the same level as a human interviewer. However, it is probably still worth speaking as clearly as possible with these kinds of interviews and paying extra attention to your lighting to ensure that your face is clearly visible.

No doubt the AIs scoring these interviews are improving all the time, but you still want to make their job as easy as possible. Just think about the same things as you would with a live Zoom interview, but more so.

7. How we can help

There are lots of great free resources on this site to get you started with preparation, from all our articles on case solving and consulting skills to our free case library and peer practice meeting board .

To step your preparation up a notch, though, our Case Academy course will give you everything you need to know to solve the most complex of cases - whether those are in live interviews, with chatbots, written tests or any other format.

Whatever kind of case you end up facing, nothing will bring up your skillset faster than the kind of acute, actionable feedback you can get from a mock case interview a real, MBB consultant. Whilst it's possible to get by without this kind of coaching, it does tend to be the biggest single difference maker for successful candidates.

You can find out more on our coaching page:

Explore Coaching

Of course, for those looking for a truly comprehensive programme, with a 5+ year experienced MBB consultant overseeing their entire prep personally, from networking and applications right through to your offer, we have our mentoring programmes.

You can read more here:

Comprehensive Mentoring

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  • Knowledge Base

Methodology

  • What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.

Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

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In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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Case Interview 101: The Online Guidebook

“Case Interview” is the cornerstone of consulting recruitment, playing a decisive role in final results. In 30 minutes, your “consulting” qualities will be tested to the limit as you cruise through a hypothetical “consulting project” with the interviewer.

Yes, this is a BIG topic. The depth of content in this single article is HUGE with various chapters ranging from beginner’s topics to more advanced ones. You would want to bookmark this page and go back often throughout your whole preparation journey.

What is a case interview?

A case interview is a job interview where the candidate is asked to solve a business problem. They are often used by consulting firms, and are among the hardest job interviews, testing both problem-solving skills and “soft” skills. Case interviews often last 30-45 minutes each, and firms can utilize up to 6 case interviews, usually divided into 2 rounds.

Example case questions:

  • “We have a restaurant called “In-and-out Burger” with recently falling profits. How can you help?”
  • “The CEO of a cement company wants to close one of its plants. Should they do it?”
  • “A top 20 bank wants to get in top 5. How can the bank achieve that goal?”

Case interviews are modeled after the course of actions real consultants do in real projects – so success in case interviews is seen by consulting firms as a (partial) indication of a good management consultant.

During the interview, the interviewer will assess your ability to think analytically, probe appropriate questions, and make the most client-friendly pitches. Be noted that the analytical thought process is more important than arriving at correct answers.

Generally, there are 2 styles of conducting cases:  Candidate-led and Interviewer-led. 

case study vs case interview

Candidate-led cases

On this end, the interviewer rarely intervenes; the candidate will lead the approach from structuring the problem, drawing frameworks, asking for data, synthesizing findings, to proposing solutions. This format can be difficult for beginners but it provides you with much control over the case.

Interviewer-led cases

On this end, the interviewer controls the process in significant ways. He or she has the candidate work on specific parts of the overall problem and sometimes disregards the natural flow of the case. The game here is not to solve the one big problem, but rather to nail every question, every pitch, every mini-case perfectly. Because the evaluation is done on a question basis, the level of insightfulness required is higher.

Most cases will fall somewhere in the middle section of that spectrum, but for educational purposes, we need to learn case interviews from both extremes ends.

Great details in each and every aspect of the case, as well as tips, techniques and study plans are coming in the chapters below. You may skip straight to Chapter 3 if you have business background and confidence in your own understanding of the terminology used in case interviews. 

To better understand or practice candidate-led and interview-led cases, let’s book a personal meeting with our coaches . At MConsultingPrep, you can connect with consulting experts who will help you learn the ins and outs of both cases and the solving approach to each one. Get “real” practice now!

Case interview starter guide for non-business students

All consulting firms claim that all educational backgrounds have equal chances. But no matter what, case interview reflects  real-life business problems and you will, therefore, come across business concepts .

Not everybody has the time to go to a full Business Undergraduate program all over. So through this compact Chapter 2, I will provide you, the non-business people, with every business concept you need in case interviews.

Accounting and financial terms – The language of business

Accounting & Financial Terms are often called the language of business, which is used to communicate the firm’s financial and economic information to external parties such as shareholders and creditors.

There are three basic financial statements : Balance Sheet, Income Statement, and Cash Flow Statement.

Balance Sheet

A snapshot of the current stage of the company’s property, debt, and ownership at one given point in time, showing:

  • Assets: what the company owns: Building, Equipment, Cash, Inventory, along with some other intangible items.
  • Liabilities: what the company owes: Loans, overdrafts, bills to be paid, etc. Debt is like negative assets.
  • Equity (Net worth): Calculate by taking Assets subtract Liabilities.

The neat thing about the Balance sheet is that it’s always balanced. Every action, every transaction changes the three components but it’s always in harmony.

Income Statement

A record of the business performance through a period of time , given it a quarter or a year. The Income Statement directly tells you how the company is doing in terms of making money, the heart of any business.

From the top to bottom, the Income Statement shows the Revenues, Costs, and Profits. That’s why often, Profits are referred to as the “bottom line”.

There are a few types of costs to notice – see the two pictures below this table.

One important thing to notice is that even though it may seem like, the Income Statement does NOT necessarily relate to cash. Many times, especially for B2B transactions, the selling happens before the money flow. Therefore, we may have to record revenue without having the cash.

Cash Flow Statement

There’s a famous saying that: Income statement is an opinion, Cash Flow statement is a fact.

The Cash Flow statement just strictly monitors the cash flow in or out, categorized into different sections. Three of them are:

  • Operation: illustrates how much cash the company can generate from its products and services.
  • Financial: includes the sources of cash from investors or banks and the uses of cash paid to shareholders.
  • Investing: includes any sources and uses of cash from a company’s investments.

case study vs case interview

Upon completion this section, you should be able to read and interpret financial statements for business diagnosis and decision-making.

More importantly, you possess the conceptual base to start solving case interviews on your own. Do not forget that, as with any other language, becoming proficient with accounting and financial terms require constant practice.

Organizational structure – The heart of a company

When it comes to organizational structure, it is important to notice the fine line between the company’s ownership and management .

Technically, at the highest level, there are shareholders . For private companies, the group of shareholders and their shares are not necessarily disclosed and publicly tradable. For public companies, on the other hand, shares are publicly traded on different stock exchanges. One of the most famous is the NYSE, which stands for New York Stock Exchange.

case study vs case interview

  • A company can have one, a few, or millions of individual owners, but being governed by the Board of Directors – a group of people elected by owners, with the President or Chairman being their highest leader.
  • The Board usually hires a management team to manage the company. They are led by the Chief Executive Officer – CEO , who makes every decision on day-to-day work. Most of the time, the Board of Directors doesn’t directly intervene in the CEO’s work, but they reserve the right to fire CEOs.
  • Besides that, there’s a committee called Supervisors. The supervisor’s job is to independently monitor the CEO and the management team and report to the Board.

Below CEOs, there are two general two ways of structuring the company. One way is through business lines and the other one is through functions. Think of business lines as mini-companies themselves inside the big company.

case study vs case interview

Within functions, here are a few most typical divisions most companies have:

case study vs case interview

Business strategy concepts

Even with business students, strategy is a challenging topic – especially with those without a strategy major. These fundamental concepts will get you started.

  • Organization: In general, this refers to how a company is organized, what are different components that make up a company
  • Governance refers to how a company is managed and directed, how well the leader team runs. The leader team includes the Board of Directors and Board of Managers. A company with good governance has good leadership people, tight control, and effective check & balance processes, etc.
  • Process looks like rules and common practices of having a number of processes, entailing every single activity. Process design should include 4 factors: who, what, when, and accompanied tools.

For example, let’s look at Kim’s family picnic process.

case study vs case interview

  • The who part is presented on the y-axis, left-hand side, labeling all departments, a.k.a: family members, involved.
  • The what part is presented through the big mid-session with each box represents every single activity.
  • The when and tools parts are presented at the bottom

B2B  vs B2C : stand for “business-to-business” and “business-to-customer”. These two terms refer to two types of transactions a company typically does: transactions with other companies and transactions with individual customers.

Bottom-up vs Top-down: this refers to two opposite schools of thought or action. Top-down usually encompasses various general branches while bottom-up tends to narrowly focus. 

Management consulting terms & concepts

These are the most common consulting terms you may encounter not just in case interviews but also in consulting tasks .

  • Lever: Think of this as one or a group of initiatives, actions to perform to meet certain goals. e.g. some levers to help increase customer experience in a hotel are free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, 24/7 support, etc.
  • Best practice: Refers to how things should be done, especially if it has been successfully implemented elsewhere.
  • Granular: This refers to how specific and detailed a break-down or an issue goes. For example, a not-so-granular breakdown of the NBA is the West and the East conferences. A much more granular is something like this: Leagues, Conferences, Divisions, and Teams.
  • MECE: MECE is so important and we explain it in detail in this article. In short, MECE is the standard, per which we can divide things down in a systematic, comprehensive, and non-overlapping way.

There are three parameters the consulting world uses in the categorization of businesses.

  • Industry: used to group different companies mostly based on their product (Banking, Construction, Education, Steel Industry, etc.)
  • Function: is the categorization mostly based on missions and the type of roles of different parts of a company. We can count some as Human Resource, Finance, Strategy, Operation, Product Development, etc.
  • Location: is where things are, geographically.

Normally two consultants ask each other “What do you work on?”, they need to give 3 pieces of information in all of those three parameters, such as “I worked on a Cement project, focusing on Finance, in Southeast Asia”. In fact, all of the McKinsey support networks are organized in this way. During my projects, I would need to speak to some Cement experts, some Finance experts, and some local experts as well.

This chapter is relatively long, yet it is still way shorter than 4 years at business college. I hope this will act as a great prerequisite to your case interview study. Make sure that you have mastered all of these content before really tackling the Case Interview.

Case interview example – The typical flow

In a simplified way, a typical case would go through these phrases (we will talk about exceptions in great detail later):

Case question -> Recap -> Clarification -> Timeout -> Propose issue tree -> Analyze issue tree -> Identify root-causes -> Solutions -> Closing pitch

Problem-solving fundamentals – Candidate-led cases

case study vs case interview

Though most cases will be conducted in mixed format, let’s dive deep and learn about each extreme end of the spectrum to get the full picture.

Even though this is the harder format, it shows us the foundation of how management consulting works, i.e: the consulting problem-solving logics!

If you were exposed to case interviews, you have probably heard about some of these concepts: framework, issue tree, benchmark, data, root cause, solutions, etc. But how do they all fit into the picture?

It all starts with the PROBLEM

Before getting into anything fancy, the first step is to define and be really clear about the problem.

This sounds easy but can be quite tricky. Here are a few guidelines:

1. What’s the objective?

2. What’s the timeline required?

3. Any quantified or well-described goals?

For example, one client can state a problem as: “I lost my car key”. In normal contexts, this is a perfectly simple and straightforward problem. But a consultant tackling this would go ask clarification questions to achieve even more details:

1. Objective: the client in fact just needs to be able to use the car.

2. Timeline: this is an urgent need. He is happy only if we can help him within the next hour.

3. Specificity: help the client put his car into normal operation like before he lost the key.

case study vs case interview

Find the ROOT-CAUSE, don’t just fix the symptom

To completely wipe out the problem and create long-lasting impacts, consultants always  search and find the root causes.

For example, fixing the symptom is like you breaking the door lock, getting into the ignition electrics behind the wheel, and connecting the wires to start the car.

That does fix the surface symptom: the client can drive the car. But it does NOT create a long-lasting impact because without you there, the car can’t be started. The client will need to rely on you every single time. Plus, more problems even arise (now he needs to fix the broken door lock too).

A much better approach is to find the root cause. What is the bottom-line reason causing the problem? Once we trace, find, and fix it, the problem will be gone for good.

In this example, the root cause is “the lost key”. We need to find its location!

case study vs case interview

Use ISSUE TREE to isolate potential root-causes into groups

There could be thousands of possible root-causes. How do we make sure every possible one is examined? If we are to list out all thousands and test one by one, there is simply not enough time. On the other hand, if we just list out some of the most “possible” ones, we run a high risk of missing the true root-cause.

This is where we need issue trees ! We would group possible root-causes into big groups. Those big groups will have smaller sub-groups and so on. All is done in the spirit of top-down and MECE. By doing this, we have an organized way to include all possible root-causes.

Continue with the example: A “bottom-up” approach to search for the car key is to go straight to specific places like the microwave’s top, the black jacket pocket, under the master bed, etc. There can be thousands of these possible locations.

The top-down approach is to draw an issue tree, breaking the whole house into groups and examine the whole group one by one. For example: first floor, second floor, and the basement.

case study vs case interview

Issue Tree only works if it’s MECE

What happens if we break down the search area into the First floor and East wing? The search area would not cover the whole house and there will be some overlapping which creates inefficiencies.

So for an issue tree to work properly, it has to be MECE – Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive … which in simple language just mean 2 things: no overlap and no gap

case study vs case interview

How to draw MECE issue trees? Use FRAMEWORKS!

Each problem requires a unique issue tree. Coming up with MECE and spot-on issue trees for each problem can be really difficult. This is where “framework” helps.

Think of frameworks as “frequently used templates” to draw issue trees in any particular context. Many people use the word “framework” to refer to “issue tree” but this is conceptually incorrect.

case study vs case interview

We will talk about frameworks in more detail in the below chapters. You can also check out this deep-dive article on Frameworks.

Choosing which branch to go to first? Use HYPOTHESES!

So let’s say you have an issue tree of First floor, Second floor, and Third floor. Now what?

To make the problem-solving process even faster and more efficient, we use hypotheses. In simple language, it’s the educated guess of where the root cause may lie in. So we can prioritize the branch with the highest chance.

So let’s say, the client spends most time on the first floor, it’s where he/she most likely leaves the car key. Any consultant would hypothesize that the root cause is in the first-floor branch and go search there first.

Notice: hypothesis and issue tree always go together. It doesn’t make sense to draw an issue of First, Second, and Third floor and hypothesize that the key is in the East wing. Many times, hypotheses are even the inspiration to draw issue trees.

case study vs case interview

How to test a branch? Use DATA and compare it with BENCHMARK

Now that we decide to test the branch “First floor”, how do we do that?

We prove or disprove our hypothesis by collecting DATA. That data is then compared with benchmarks to shed more meaning. Two main types of benchmarks are: historical and competitive. For example, let’s say by some magic, the client has a metal detection machine that can measure the metal concentration of any space.

To test the “first-floor” branch, the consultant would come to the first floor, measure the metal concentration and compare it with the data before the car key is lost, a.k.a: historical benchmark.

case study vs case interview

If a hypothesis is true, drill down; if it’s false, go sideways

What happens when we test a hypothesis?

Assuming that we have access to enough data, it either gets proven TRUE or proven FALSE. How do we proceed from here? 

  • Proven True: go DOWN the issue tree to sub-branches! Let’s say the metal detector identified the key IS indeed on the first floor. Go deeper. Draw sub-branches of that first-floor branch and repeat the process.
  • Proven False: go HORIZONTAL to other big branches! Let’s say the metal detector denies the key presence on the first floor. We then can cross out this branch and go test others, a.k.a: the second and third floor.

Test, Sleep, Test, Repeat … until the ROOT-CAUSE shows up!

case study vs case interview

Once identified the ROOT-CAUSES, go for SOLUTIONS

With all proven root causes identified, the last step is to come up with solutions to kill the problem … and we are done! There can be multiple solutions to each root cause. These solutions should attack straight to the root cause.

case study vs case interview

Case interview questions – Interviewer-led cases

While candidate-led cases are all about the logical foundation of problem-solving, interviewer-led cases are more about tackling each individual question itself. The structure of the whole case is relatively loose and flexible.

In this chapter, we touch on some of the most popular ones. You can read in-depth about each in this designated article.

Framework/Issue Tree questions

“Which factors would you consider when tackling this problem?”

This is one of the most popular question types in case interviews, often asked in the beginning. It comes with several shapes and forms, but the real meaning is always: “Give me the bloody issue tree!”

So how do you tackle it? Just like in candidate-led cases. Take a timeout; brainstorm about the problem and how it should be broken down into; plug a few frameworks to see how it looks; and go for the most appropriate issue tree.

Unlike in candidate-led cases where you only present the upper-most layer, here you should walk the interviewer through the whole issue tree, covering at least 2 layers. Interviewer-led cases are much less interactive. It’s more like they ask you a question, and you deliver a comprehensive and big answer. They ask you another one. And so on.

Market-sizing / Guesstimate questions

“How many face masks are being produced in the whole world today?”

This is among  the most popular question types and you will likely face a few of them throughout several interview rounds. These questions ask you to “guess” and come up with number estimations in non-conventional contexts. These questions are called “Guesstimate”.

When a guesstimate question asks you to “guess” the size of a market, it’s called a “Market-sizing” question. Though this variation is very popular in consulting, the nature is nothing different from other Guesstimate questions.

It can be intimidating to face a question like this. Where to start? Where to go? What clues to hold on to?

The key is to understand that you don’t have to provide an exact correct answer. In fact, nobody knows or even cares. What matters is HOW you get there. Can you show off consulting traits, using a sound approach to come up with the best “estimate” possible?

Read the designated article on this for great details. Here, let’s walk through the 4-step approach that you can apply to absolutely every market-sizing question.

Step 1: Clarify

Make sure you and the interviewer are on the same page regarding every detail and terminology, so you won’t be answering the wrong question.

Step 2: Break down the problem

Break the item in the question (number of trees in Central Park, market size of pickup trucks) down into smaller, easy-to-estimate pieces.

Step 3: Solve each piece

Estimate each small piece one at a time; each estimation should be backed by facts, figures, or at least observations.

Step 4: Consolidate the pieces

Combine the previous estimations to arrive at a final result; be quick with the math, but don’t rush it if you aren’t confident.

Math questions

“If the factory can lower the clinker factor by 0.2, how much money will they save on production cost?”

Almost all cases involve some math. So you will face math questions for sure. These “questions” can go at you either explicitly and implicitly. Sometimes, the case interviewer will ask out loud a math problem and have you solve. But sometimes, you have to do multiple calculations on the background to push the analysis forward.

Either way, a strong math capability will help you a lot during cases and the future career in consulting. See this Consulting Math article for more details.

Chart insight questions

“What insights can you draw from this chart?”

Consultant works with data and a big chunk of those data are presented by charts. Many times, the interviewer would pull out a sanitized exhibit from an actual project and have you list out insights you can see from it.

There are many types of charts. Getting yourselves familiar with the most popular ones is not a bad idea.

  • Bar charts simply compare the values of items that are somewhat parallel in nature.

case study vs case interview

  • Line charts illustrate the continuous nature of a data series, e.g: how my heart rate evolved through time.

case study vs case interview

  • Pie charts illustrate proportions, i.e “parts of a whole” analyses.

case study vs case interview

  • Scatter-plots use data points to visualize how two variables relate to each other. Correlation for example.

case study vs case interview

Tips on tackling chart-insights questions:

1. Read labels first: from Chart titles, Axis titles, Legend titles, etc. Don’t jump straight to the content of the chart. It takes more time to get lost there and has to go back to read the label. Besides, you may also run a risk of misunderstanding the content.

2. Look for abnormalities: important insights always lie in those unexpected and abnormal data. Look for them!

Value proposition questions

“What factors does a customer consider when deciding which car insurance company to buy from?”

In simple language, this question type asks you: what do the customers want? Understanding exactly this need will put any company in the best position to tailor products/services.

Like any other questions, Value-proposition questions are not only about correctly identifying customer preferences (insights) but also about analyzing and delivering the answer in a structured fashion. Here are a few tips for you to do that:

How to be more insightful: 

  • It always helps to break customers into groups and provide different substances for each.
  • Put yourselves into the customers’ shoes. Think from the first-view perspective and more insights will arrive.
  • If there is any data/ information previously provided in the case, definitely use it.
  • A library of factors? Safety, speed, convenience, affordability, flexibility, add-on services, durability, fashion, ease of use, location, freshness, etc.

How to appear more structured:

  • Follow this structure: Customer group 1, Customer group 2, etc. Under each: Factor A, factor B, factor C.
  • Develop your personal script for this question type. Make sure it’s easy to follow and structured in nature.

Information questions

What kind of data do you need to test this hypothesis? How do you get data

Consulting is a data-driven industry. As consultants, we spent most of our time gathering and presenting data to clients ( see the What the heck does a consultant do video ). No surprise information questions are relatively popular in cases.

The best way to tackle this question type is to understand inside out the types of data actual consultants use in real projects. Because almost no candidate knows about this. This is also a very quick way to build rapport. The interviewer will feel like he/she is talking to a real consultant.

Case interview example video – Pandora case

Enough theory! Enough cute little illustrations here and there. Time to get our hands into a serious case interview example.

Notice the following when watching the video:

  • How the problem is given and clarified
  • How the problem-solving approach is layouted and executed
  • How the candidate use wording and frame the pitches
  • The dynamic of a case. How energy transfers from one to another person.

Every case is unique in its own way but principles are universal. The more examples you see, the better. This video is extracted from our  Case Interview End-to-end Secrets program, where you can find 10 complete examples like this and many other supplement contents.

How to prepare for case interviews

Case Interview preparation is a long and tough process. In an ocean of books, videos, programs, how do we navigate to maximize learning? Most materials floating around are quite good, at least in terms of substance. But the timing and the organization of them can be confusing.

  • Too much theory in the beginning can burn brain power very quickly.
  • Tackling cases without basics can develop bad habits, which eventually cost more time to unlearn.
  • Practicing complicated (or even just normal) cases in the beginning can destroy morale drastically.

So a good study plan is constantly switching between 3 activities: reading theory, watching examples, and practicing, with cases increasing difficulty level. It’s so crucial to start with super easy cases, be patient, and stay on that level until you are ready to move up. There are so many skills, habits, and scripts to develop and these take time.

“The quickest way to do just about everything is … Step by Step”

Even for candidates with cases coming up urgently, I still strongly recommend spending the most valuable time practicing cases that match your level. After all, cases are just the context. What you will be evaluated on is your approach, your skills, your techniques, etc.

So, this is a sample study plan you can adopt for yourselves:

Step 1: Learn the basics of case interview theory

  • Read this article thus far
  • Watch this  Case Interview 101 video

Step 2: Watch a simple case interview example

  • Read the sample case flow above.
  • Watch this  Case Interview Example video
  • Go to this list of free case examples and try to select a very simple one. If you can’t follow one, it’s probably not good for you. Just skip it.
  • Watch the first example in the  End-to-end Program

Step 3: Review the theory of case interview approaches  

  • Read deeply about the logical foundation of problem-solving in this BCG & Bain Case Interview article.
  • Watch intensively the logical foundation of problem-solving in this Candidate-led cases video.

Step 4: Do one mock case interview

  • Practice with consultants. They have the insight and knowledge to help you pass the interview. Discover our experienced coaches from McKinsey, BCG and Bain here .
  • Find a partner to practice with. Make sure you both watch this  Guide on how to conduct a case. A bad coach can do more harm than good.
  • Get your hand on another example in the  End-to-end Program. But this time, don’t just watch. Actively solve the case as you see it! Try to say out loud your version, then listen to the candidate, then hear the feedback!

Step 5: Start improving your business intuition

Business Intuition is like your natural sense of the business world: how to be insightful and creative in various business contexts, how to feed the “content” into your approach, etc. Think of this as a basketball player trained for muscle strength, agility, or durability. Intuition can be improved gradually through constantly exposing yourselves to a wide range of business situations and contexts.

You can do this by:

  • Read consulting publications. One article per day for example. Three wonderful sources are: McKinsey Insights, BCG Perspectives, and Bain Publications
  • Train  case interview questions individually. By isolating each part of the case, you can focus more on the substance. Hit that link or get more question training on the End-to-end Secret Program .

Step 6: Start training consulting math

  • Visit this in-depth consulting math article.
  • Train our  Mental Math methodology.

Step 7: Practice another mock case interview

At this stage, please still stick to very basic cases. The goal is to see all of the knowledge and skills above in real action. Again, this can be done by either:

  • Book a meeting with coaches
  • Find another partner to practice with. Just make sure you both watch this Guide on how to conduct a case. A bad coach is always more harmful than not practicing at all.
  • See another example in the End-to-end Program. Like the previous one, try actively solving the case as you see it! Say out loud your version, then listen to the candidate, then hear the feedback!

Step 8: Equip yourself with tips, techniques, and advance theory

  • Read on! The below chapters of this very article will provide you with more advanced theory and killer tips.
  • Watch the whole Tips & Techniques sections of the End-to-end Program. You will find 10 examples with clear walkthroughs of tips and techniques right in the middle of real action.

Step 9: Do further mock cases, review, and improve

Practicing for case interviews is a time consuming process – but as long as you have the right method, you will make it!

  • First, brush up on knowledge related to case interviews with the Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program .
  • Second, get personalized practice with ex-consultants. That way, you’ll receive clear and tuned feedback to understand what to improve, building your own proper case approaches.  See a list of experienced coaches here .

Stay tuned with us on this website and our Youtube channel for continuously updated information on case interviews and management consulting recruitment; you can also subscribe to the newsletter below for free materials and other insightful content!

Good luck with your case prep!

Case interview tips – With instant results

Imagine a case interview just falls out of the sky and into your lap, scheduled for tomorrow – how can you even prepare?

The answer lies in a few “quick and dirty” tips, which I’ll share with you in a moment.

I am a firm believer in the 80-20 rule – which states that 20% of the causes lead to 80% of the consequences.

In the case interview prep context, 20% of your learning efforts will bring about 80% of the improvements – so the key to instantly and dramatically improving your case performance is to identify and focus on that 20%.

case study vs case interview

In the next 8 chapters, I’ll tell you the killer tips and tricks that helped me get a McKinsey offer, the majority of which were previously only available in the premium End-to-End Secrets Program , including:

  • Chapter 9: Delivering the perfect case opening
  • Chapter 10: Remaining absolutely structured throughout the case
  • Chapter 11: Taking the best notes
  • Chapter 12: Getting out if stuck
  • Chapter 13: How to ask for data
  • Chapter 14: What to do when receiving data
  • Chapter 15: Deliver the most convincing closing pitch
  • Chapter 16: Developing your personal scripts

One thing before you proceed: don’t forget to learn the fundamentals, the question types, and the frameworks. Remember, these 20% tips can only get you 80% performance; if you want 100%, there’s  no substitute for hard work.

How to deliver the perfect case opening

The result of a case interview is determined  the first 3 minutes – and I’m not even exaggerating.

Most people will be put off by this fact – indeed, with all those efforts spent on learning for the later part of the case, and the hiring decision is made when you’re not even properly warmed up yet.

However, putting a spin on it, this is the 20% to focus on – if you nail the opening, you’ll make a better impression than most candidates; it’s also easier to perform well in 3 minutes than in 30 minutes, especially when the case hasn’t gotten tricky. Additionally, you can prepare the opening in a formulaic manner – essentially learning by heart until it becomes natural.

There are 7 steps in the perfect case opening formula:

1. Show appreciation

2. Announce case introduction

5. Announce case approach

7. Ask for a timeout

In this chapter, I’ll walk you through each of those steps.

Step 1: Show appreciation

The quickest way to score the first points with any interviewer is to  sincerely compliment them. Everybody loves compliments.

Case interviewers are not dedicated HR staff, but Engagement Managers, Partners, and Directors who conduct interviews ON TOP OF their projects as goodwill for the firm, so you should at least be thankful for the time they spend with you.

Begin your interview with a sincere “thank you” for the interesting case (if you have to fake these words because deep down you don’t like case interviews, you aren’t exactly cut out for the job).

Step 2: Announce case introduction

Announce you’re going to do  steps 3, 4, and 5.

This step is related to what I call the “map habit”, which I’ll describe in detail in the next chapter. For now, just understand that it  helps the interviewer follow your introduction, and shows you’re a structured person.

Step 3: Recap  

What is the key question of the case?

On a side note: one common mistake is to mix up step 3 with step 4 (clarify) – remember, don’t ask anything , just rephrase the case to ensure that you get it right.

Step 4:  Clarify

Ask questions to clear up any  potential confusion about the details of the case.

Case questions are always very short with a lot of vague details; if you don’t see the need to ask anything, you’re doing it wrong.

Run this checklist through your mind to help you clarify as many unclear points as possible:

  • Definitions: are there words you don’t understand or can be interpreted in multiple ways?
  • Timeframe: what is the “deadline” for solving this problem?
  • Measurement: how are the important variables (performance, revenue, etc.) measured?

Additionally, number your questions so it’s easier for you and the interviewer to keep track.

Step 5: Announce case approach

Roughly sum up  how you’ll analyze the problem.

Again, this is related to the map habit, which makes the overall case progress easier to follow.

There are 3 types of cases: (1) problem-solution, (2) should I choose A or B, and (3) how to do C. For each type, there is a different approach. The latter two are discussed in the “Advanced Logic” chapter, for now, we’ll continue with the first type: tell the interviewer you’re going to find the root cause to ensure long-lasting solutions, and to do that you’ll develop an issue tree.

Step 6: Align

Check if the interviewer  approves of your case approach.

This is an important habit of real consultants  because nobody wants to waste resources going in the wrong direction; interviewers expect candidates to show it in the case interview.

Simply ask “Does this sound like a reasonable approach to you?” – most likely the interviewer will give you the green light, but if you’re lucky he/she may even suggest a better approach.

Step 7: Ask for timeout

After you’ve gone continuously through the 6 steps above, ask the interviewer for timeout to (make this explicit) gather your thoughts and develop the first part of the issue tree.

Make the most of your timeout session, and keep it as short as possible. Any unnecessary silence will damage the impression and hurt your chances (refer to the End-to-End Program example in Chapter 6 to “feel” how awkward a lengthy timeout session is).

Case opening – Example script

Now it’s time to see how you can put all those steps into action!

Thank you for this very interesting case, I am really happy to get a chance to solve it!

The first step in solving any business problem is to make sure we solve the right one, so before diving into the problem, I would like to first recap the case, then ask a few clarification questions to make sure we’re both on the same page, and lastly announce my overall case approach.

So here is my understanding of the case:

  • [facts regarding the client and situation]
  • [key case question]

Does that correctly summarize the case?

<assume the interview confirms that your playback is correct>

Great, now I’d like to ask my three clarification questions:

  • [question 1]
  • [question 2]
  • [question 3]

<wait for answers>

Thank you for the clarification. Is there anything else I should be aware of?

Thanks for all the insights. It’s great that we all agree on the key details.

For the overall approach to this case, to completely wipe out the problem for a long-lasting impact, we will need to find out the root causes of this problem. To do that I will try to break the problem down into bite-size pieces with issue trees, in order to quickly isolate the root causes inside the branches, then drill down accordingly to gather information until we can draw actionable solutions.

So before I go on to establish my first issue tree, does that approach sound reasonable to you?

<assumes the interviewer agrees with your approach>

It’s great to see that we’re on the same page regarding the key details as well as the overall approach to the case. I do need some time to gather my thoughts, so may I have a short timeout?

Being structured throughout the case

The high stress and large amount of information in case interviews make it easy for even the brightest candidates to derail from the objective or present in an unstructured manner.

I’ll be sharing with you my 3 most impactful tips for keeping the structure in case interview:

1. The map habit

2. Numbering your items

3. Sticking to the big problem

The map habit

It means regularly and explicitly checking where you are, and where you’re doing next.

I call it the map habit because it’s similar to using a map while traveling – pausing every once in a while to check your location, destination, and direction.

This habit gives you a sense of direction and authority while making it easier for the interviewer to follow your case progress. It also makes you sound organized and systematic – a definitive mark of management consultants – and the interviewer will love it!

You’ll see this habit a lot in our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, where candidates would often pause at each key step during the case. Do the same thing in your own case interviews, and you’ll greatly impress the interviewer.

Numbering your items

A very easy and effective way to make your pitches sound structured is to number each item.

The formula is simple: “There are X items that I’m going to say; they are: No.1 … No.2 … No.3 …”

By now you may have noticed that I use this structure many times throughout this guidebook – it’s already quite effective in written language, but it’s even more impactful in spoken communications!

Having this numbering habit will make it very easy for the listener to follow your speech, and it creates an impression of MECE (even if content-wise it’s not MECE).

Sticking to the big problem

There are two ways to keep yourself on track  all the time in those high-stress case interviews

1. Occasionally check your position on the issue tree, and quickly get back on track if it seems you’re “derailing”. If this sounds like the previous map habit, you’re right, it is the map habit.

2. Take good notes, with the case question being written big and bold on top of your scratch paper. That way you’ll be reminded every few seconds.

That last point brings us to the next issue: how to take notes.

How to take notes in case interviews

The best notes for case interviews are always  clear-cut, structured, and relevant.

Even the smartest candidates suffer from seemingly silly problems in case interviews – forgetting data, messing up the numbers, getting stuck with frameworks, losing sight of the original objective, etc. And in the true management consulting spirit, I set out to find the root causes.

And looking back at hundreds of coaching sessions I did, I found one thing in common – none of those candidates could take good notes.

case study vs case interview

I’ll tell you precisely how I took notes to get a McKinsey offer; however, I hope that after this chapter, you can install the spirit of the method, not just the method itself.

So here we are, with the 3 groups of sheets laid out for the ideal note-taking:

1. Data sheets

2. Presentation sheets

3. Scratch sheets

Data sheets

Data sheets are used to store and process every piece of incoming data .

Try to draw tables for these sheets, because this not only makes the calculation process easier but also gives the impression that you’re a careful and organized person.

Also, remember to write only the results of calculations on this sheet, to keep it neat and tidy. Most of your calculations should be done mentally (see the article on Consulting Math for more details); if you really need to jot down the calculations, do it on the scratch sheets.

Presentation sheets

Presentation sheets are used to develop and present any “outgoing” content.

Your issue trees should be drawn on these sheets, along with the big-and-bold case question/objective right on top. When delivering your pitches, always turn around the presentation sheets so the interviewer can clearly read what’s on them.

As with the data sheets, avoid any messy “mid-process” drawings. Put them on the scratch sheets instead.

Scratch sheets

Scratch sheets exist to keep other sheets clean.

Ever felt irritated receiving a notebook full of correction marks? That’s exactly how the interviewer feels if you present with untidy notes. You should try your best to hide all the unorganized, messy parts of your thought process.

The scratch sheets provide a sanctuary for that unstructured part of yours – it’s okay to go all over the place for brainstorming, as long as you can organize the incoming resources and present in a systematic manner.

“I took the notes just as you instructed, but I still get stuck in cases. How can I avoid it?” – Well, that’s the subject for our next chapter – “Stuck” situations and how to get out of them.

Stuck in cases – What to do

We’ve all been there – that scarily awkward feeling when you don’t know what to do next in a case interview, that fear of being rejected.

In every “stuck” situation, the most important thing is to remain calm and collected (you’ll lose points if you panic) – then methodically work your way out. I’ll teach you how to get out of those situations, with style.

There are actually 3 different kinds of “stuck”, and for each, I have a different solution:

1. The “Framework” stuck

2. The “Data” stuck

3. The “I-Cannot-Find-The-Problem” stuck

Let’s go through each in detail.

The framework stuck

This situation happens when the candidate does not know which framework to use, and the secret tool for it, is “segmentation”.

Segmentation works just like any framework, and like a Swiss Army knife, it’s usually safe and easy to use. So if you’re unsure how to break things down, say these magic words:

“At this point, I’d like to break down this X item, and one good way is to use the natural segmentation within this line of business. So may I ask how they break this X item in this industry?”

If you get it right, the interviewer will reply with the most industry-relevant way to segment the item.

You may be wondering why I’m not talking about issue trees and frameworks here, after all the theory at the beginning of the guidebook.

The answer is that the textbook and “ideal” solution – learning the problem-solving fundamentals and deep-diving the frameworks to increase your flexibility – takes a lot of time, while the “cliched” solution – learning as many frameworks as possible, usually at the cost of depth – is inherently dangerous.

The data stuck

The “data stuck” happens when the candidate can’t extract relevant insights from the given data. And when this happens, ask for benchmarks.

Comparing with benchmarks is the quickest way to put data into perspective, yielding useful insights. There are 2 kinds of benchmarks – if you remember from the chapter on Candidate-led Cases: 

  • Historical benchmarks: data on the same entity in the past
  • Competitor benchmarks: data on similar/competing entities in the same timeframe

To ask for benchmarks, Just say the following lines:

“For now, I hypothesize that the root cause of the problem comes from the X branch of this issue tree. However, to further break down the problem in a spot-on way, I do need some information on the context of our client’s problem.

One of the quickest ways to grasp that context is to use competitor’s data; so can I have the X figure for our client’s competitors?”

The “I-Cannot-Find-The-Problem” stuck

This is the scariest “stuck” because there’s no obvious reason or solution – you’ve done your math right, your framework is suitable, and you’ve got a lot of interesting insights from data. Why are you still stuck?

From my experience in coaching sessions, there are 2 scenarios where this happens: (1) your issue tree is not MECE, and (2) if your issue tree is MECE, it does not isolate the problem.

You can try to avoid this in the first place by mastering the MECE principle, improving intuition, as well as aligning with the interviewer early and often.

But what if you still get stuck? The answer is to calmly admit you’ve hit a dead-end, and ask for time to fix the problem; be it the first or second scenario, you have to redraw your issue tree.

Literally use the following script:

“My whole analysis seems going towards a dead-end, which means either part of my issue tree is not MECE or my method of breaking down does not isolate the problem. Either way, I would like to take a timeout to have a look at it.”

You likely get stuck when practicing on yourself. That’s the reason why you need personal coaching. Veteran coaches at MConsultingPrep will give insightful feedback, propose actionable steps, and help you significantly enhance your performance. Find my coach !

How to ask for data

Data is the fuel for the case interview engine. Without it , your analysis can’t progress.

The problem is that interviewers don’t simply give out precious data for free. It has to be earned. There are 4 tips you can use to show that “worthiness”, and prompt the interviewer to supply you with the best information:

1. Create a good impression

2. Explain the purpose of the data

3. Explain the method of acquiring the data

4. Ask open-ended questions

Tip 1: Creating a good impression

The interviewer will love you if you think and act like a real consultant – if you can achieve that, he/she will always give you the best pieces of data available.

In this guidebook, there are countless tips to show your consulting characteristics – I even write a whole chapter on how to install consulting culture into your own personality. Generally, you must always be (1) structured , (2) fact-based, and (3) action-oriented.

Additionally, common people skills and interview tips also apply – show your appreciation by thanking for their help, keep a smile on your face to maintain a positive atmosphere, etc.

Tip 2: Explaining the purpose of the data

Say why you need that data, so the interviewer knows you can actually use it.

There are only two purposes for data in case interviews: (1) to test a hypothesis, and (2) to understand the context.

You can use the following scripts to when to reason your data requests:

“For now, I’m hypothesizing that the root cause of this problem comes from the X branch. Since this hypothesis can only be tested with the data on X, may I have those figures?”< testing hypothesis>

“For now, I hypothesize that the root cause of the problem comes from the X branch of this issue tree. However, to further break down the problem in a spot-on way, to better understand the context of our client’s problem, I will ask a few more questions. Does that sound reasonable to you?” < understanding the context>

Tip 3: Explaining the method to acquire the data

By stating how to get the data, you prove its feasibility and reinforce your data request.

In real consulting projects, data is not always available; the interviewer may rely on this logic and refuse to give you any information. So, when you ask for data, make sure your request is realistic, then state the method to acquire it using these words:

“If this was a real project, this information can be acquired from/by X source/method”.

In our  Prospective Candidate Starter Pack ,   there is a sheet listing all the possible sources of information in consulting projects, which you can download for your own use, along with many other free case interview materials.

Accurately explaining the data acquisition method also shows that you’ve done your homework and you know the consulting industry inside-out. Any interviewer will be greatly impressed.

Ask open-ended questions

This prompts the interviewer to give you data you haven’t thought of.

The precise questions mostly depend on specific cases (meaning you need to sharpen your intuition), but there is a Swiss Army knife here: “Is there anything else?” – which is a question real consultants ask several times a day, at the end of their conversations.

Use open-ended questions when you feel you might be missing something – for example, during clarification – and only after a series of well-defined, close-ended questions. Otherwise, you risk appearing lazy and over-reliant.

What to do when receiving data

Suppose the interviewer agrees to give you data. Now what?

Time to shine! If you do these following 3 steps, even just once, in the interviewer’s mind, you already pass:

1. Acknowledge the data and show appreciation

2. Describe the data, especially its notable features

3. State the implications of the data

Let’s dive into each separately.

Step 1: Acknowledging the data

Simply  thank the interviewer for the interesting piece of data.

Firstly, it confirms that you have received, and can understand the data.

Secondly, it’s always good to give out modest, subtle compliments to the interviewer. Trust me, conducting case interviews is hard work, and the interviewer does appreciate those little compliments.

Last but not least, it buys you a few seconds to fully absorb the new information and minimize any possible silence.

Step 2: Describing the data

Summarize  the most important insights you can extract.

Don’t recite a short essay about the data, there is no time for that. Quickly and mentally calculate all the important points, then state it out loud in 1-2 sentences.

This step has several uses:

It showcases your consulting math skills (chart insights and mental calculation)

It eliminates the silence during your analysis

It helps you quickly memorize the key trends in the data

Step 3: Stating the implications

Concisely explain how the insights from the data  related to the issue tree – do they confirm or reject the current hypothesis? Do they open new areas for investigations?

This part is extremely important because it connects to the action-oriented mindset of actual management consultants while laying solid foundations for your next steps (fact-based).

Example – Handling revenue data

Suppose you’re working on a profitability case (how to fix low profits), and you’re trying to dictate whether the root cause comes from the revenue side.

The interviewer gives you this data:

How would you respond? Try to answer it yourself before revealing the sample answer.

Sample Script - Receiving Data 

Thank you for the very interesting data. (acknowledging)

It seems that our client’s revenue has been increasing steadily throughout four years – around the mark of 20% annual growth, in fact. (describe the data)

This suggests that the problem may not come from this side of the issue tree. However, in order to fully reject the possibility, I need the figures on the revenue of other companies in this industry around this time. Do we have those numbers? (implications)

Delivering the perfect closing pitch

“You have one minute to summarize all of your findings to the client CEO. What would you say?”

Your answer must be short, to-the-point, action-oriented, and client-friendly.

The closing pitch of the case interview is sometimes called the “elevator pitch” , where you supposedly meet the client CEO inside the elevator and must somehow deliver the results of the project before the elevator arrives at its destination floor (it’s even worded like that sometimes).

Regardless of the wording, the principles remain the same, and your closing pitch must consist of these 4 parts:

1. Introduction / Lead-in

2. Summary of the root causes

3. Summary of the solutions

4. Next step

Part 1: Introduction / Lead-in

Open your pitch in a client-friendly way. Remember, consulting is a service – a premium one, in fact.

There is a simple formula for this part of the pitch:

“Mr. CEO, it has been a great pleasure to be working with you on your company’s X problem.”

Everybody loves a little compliment, don’t they?

Part 2: Summary of the root causes

Don’t go into detail about your analysis – show them the results first.

CEOs are busy people, they have no time for a 15-minute break-down of your issue tree. They only care about the “big picture” – “Why is the problem happening?”.

You need to sum up root causes in a structured manner, with a numbered list – in the case interview context, that’s one characteristic the interviewer looks for, and in real projects, it helps the listener follow your pitch.

“After careful analysis, we have found X root causes for the company’s problem: 1… 2… 3… X”.

Part 3: Summary of the solutions

The solutions are what the clients pay for in the first place, so make sure to deliver them clearly and systematically.

This step must also be structured. Additionally, list the solution in the same order as their corresponding root causes, to imply the connection between them (if the root causes are listed as A, B, C, then the solutions should never be C, B, A).

“To solve the aforementioned issues, we propose the X following solutions: 1… 2… 3… X”.

Part 4: Next step

The ending must lead the customer towards a follow-up project, in a client-friendly way.

This step shows that you have an action-oriented mindset and necessary people skills to represent the firm before the clients.

Moreover, follow-up implementation projects are a major source of revenue for the top consulting firms (such as McKinsey, BCG or Bain), so mentioning them in your case interview ending pitch proves that you did the appropriate research before applying.

So here’s what you’ll say when the elevator reaches the destination:

“We would be more than happy to work with you to implement these solutions”.

Develop personal interview scripts

Every tip I’ve mentioned in the previous 7 chapters is for recurring situations in case interviews, and they can be dealt with using formulaic responses.

What that means for you – the candidate – is that you can make personal scripts and learn them by heart until they all become your second nature. That will save you a lot of brainpower to use on the issue tree. This approach has proven successful with all of my coachees, and it’s also a major part of our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program. You will find my own personal script I used back in the day, and I will also personally give feedback to scripts of members of the program.

So open your document tool and start writing now. Once you’ve finished the scripts, learn them by heart one at a time. When you feel comfortable with every one of them, you can move up to a higher level and practice with whole cases.

Inside the case interviewer’s mind – Consulting culture

The best way to impress your consulting interviewer is to act like a consultant. And to do that, you need to know what goes on inside their mind – both the conscious and unconscious – then install it into your own personality.

In this chapter, I’ll guide you through 15 ingredients that make up a consulting mind. However, I won’t tell you how to apply this in case interviews because it will sound fake – what you need is to immerse yourself in a consulting environment, and incorporate these “ingredients” into your own mindset.

case study vs case interview

Responsibility & proactivity

Everyone talks about responsibility and proactivity these days, but in management consulting, we have a much more powerful word – “ownership” . When you “own” the work, you deeply and sincerely care about it, and you always try to go beyond what is required.

If you ever spend your efforts trying to improve a piece of work that your boss already approved, just because you know it is the right thing to do, because you feel so good seeing a job well-done, you have that “ownership” mindset.

In management consulting, you are expected to possess that mindset. In my early days at McKinsey, I was almost thrown out the window for working on a cement project but not knowing where the aggregate mines were (which was outside my responsibilities, but my boss expected me to know it, since I “owned” that cement project).

If you fail to do your work, don’t ever blame anyone or anything. Your responsibility is to draw up contingency plans for the “worst-case scenarios”:

  • Missing the deadline because the client did not send you the data? You should have accounted for it in your schedule. 
  • Late for work because of a traffic jam? Why didn’t you get up earlier?
  • Your pet bite your suit? Any sensible person should have a spare one; even if that one is bitten, aren’t we paying you enough to get a new suit at the store this morning?

In short, if you want to be a consultant,  don’t make excuses.

Result-oriented / Can-do attitude

“There’s nothing I can’t do” – that’s the mindset you need to work in management consulting.

The result orientation inside a consulting firm is intense – saying that it’s “Mission Impossible” everyday would not be an exaggeration, but at the end of the day it’s always “Mission Accomplished”.

The boss doesn’t pay much attention to how you do a task, or what resources it takes, as long as you get it done. The firm has enough resources of every kind to help you with that, so there’s no reason you can’t pull it off.

Top-down communication

Communications made by consultants are always short, concise, to-the-point, action-oriented, and structured.

We were all given full-on lectures by our parents back when we were kids, for wasting food or not exercising (or not studying, for Asians like me). If they were management consultants, most of those lectures would be replaced with powerful, action-oriented messages: “Go study. If you don’t get an A+ for the next test, I’ll have to discipline you”.

A consultant seeing something non-MECE is like your mom seeing your messy bedroom. It’s that discomforting.

If you wish to be a consultant, train yourself to be MECE in everything you do. Once you can be MECE effortlessly, and you start spotting the annoying non-MECE-ness in everything around you, you know you’ve got it. 

case study vs case interview

If you’re unstructured, you won’t get into the business.

Being “structured” is a pretty vague concept, but everyone in the consulting industry knows when they see it. It’s about being organized, logical, top-down, MECE, etc.. Basically, if you can approach things the same way as real consultants, you will be deemed “structured”

If you can’t meet the deadline, you’re dead (of course, not literally).

A consulting firm works like the perfect machine, where every part operates as intended. When consultants promise to help you with something, you can be nearly 100% sure that they’ll keep their word. This makes work management that much easier.

Consequently, if you start missing the deadlines, you’ll be out of the game soon enough.

Manager from Day 1

You’ll get the idea right away if you watched this video on the job of management consultants:

In short, even as an entry-level associate, you’ll be managing a multitude of resources (experts, specialists, etc.), contents (reports, client data, expert knowledge,…), and stakeholders (the two most important being your client and your boss).

Pulling all of these together to create impactful results would be an impressive feat, even for the best and brightest new hires.

Client first

Don’t. Ever. Piss off. The client.

Management consulting is a special service industry – besides the usual “don’t disrespect the client” and “don’t leave a bad image of the firm”, there’s also “don’t make them hate you while telling them to do what they probably hate.” (which is a good way to sum up a consultant’s job).

In case interviews and PEIs, the interviewer will be asking himself a big question: “Can I trust this guy to represent me and my firm before the client?” – if the answer is anything below a stellar impression, you won’t be receiving an offer.

Consultants will have valid reasons for everything they do.

In both consulting work and case interviews, you need to be very explicit about the basis of your actions – every conclusion must have backing data, every idea must be explained, and every request must serve a purpose. Don’t ever assume that you’re justified.

Being fact-based is part of the foundation for the trust people place in consulting firms, so people who draw ideas out of thin air and act impulsively will never get into the industry.

case study vs case interview

Effective time & resources management

Every consultant works hard, so the only way to stand out is to work smart.

Yes, I know it’s a buzzword, and I know it’s cliched, but the 80-20 rule really does apply in this line of work. The best performers are always the ones to identify the most important lever and focus on it.

With the intense workload and up-or-out policy at major consulting firms, this skill is vital. Don’t be surprised if you pull all-nighters and work hard all the time but still get fired, while that one guy who goes home at 5 gets promoted. If you want to survive, learn from him.

Key takeaways & key messages

To a management consultant, everything has a key takeaway.

Consultants are efficient people, they don’t simply waste time, effort, and resources on irrelevant things. Things are only worthy of their attention if they have an interesting, helpful “so what”:

  • You tell a story? So what?
  • You perform a data analysis? So what are your key insights, and what’s the implication?
  • You draw a slide? What’s the key message you’re trying to deliver?

If you already think like this, trust me, the interviewer will love you.

Think on your feet first

You should only ask for leadership assistance only  after you’ve thought well about the problem.

Just pause for a second and think: would you be more ready to help someone who really tries their best at the job or someone who does nothing and relies solely on you?

The same thing is true in consulting work, and even in case interviews: the interviewer will assist you if you can deliver well-informed opinions.

With that said, “asking without thinking first” is a very common mistake in case interviews, which you can see in the numerous examples from our End-to-End Secrets Program. 

Align early, align often

Always try to reach and maintain a consensus with co-workers and your boss, from the most mundane tasks to the largest projects.

Nobody wants to spend a whole week building a model that the team doesn’t need; it’s a huge waste of time and resources. As such, consultants have this aligning habit very early and often – a little time spent on reaching an agreement now will save a lot of trouble later.

Remember to align in case interviews as well – at the start of the case, and every important step.

Consultants are very action-oriented people who always think about the next step.

Every meeting, phone call, even random catch-up must end with everybody being explicitly and absolutely clear about what to do next.

So what’s YOUR next step, after reading this guidebook?

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There are 9 type of questions that mostly used in actual case interviews. Each type has a different solution, but you can rely on the a 4-step guide to answer

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  • v.107(1); 2019 Jan

Distinguishing case study as a research method from case reports as a publication type

The purpose of this editorial is to distinguish between case reports and case studies. In health, case reports are familiar ways of sharing events or efforts of intervening with single patients with previously unreported features. As a qualitative methodology, case study research encompasses a great deal more complexity than a typical case report and often incorporates multiple streams of data combined in creative ways. The depth and richness of case study description helps readers understand the case and whether findings might be applicable beyond that setting.

Single-institution descriptive reports of library activities are often labeled by their authors as “case studies.” By contrast, in health care, single patient retrospective descriptions are published as “case reports.” Both case reports and case studies are valuable to readers and provide a publication opportunity for authors. A previous editorial by Akers and Amos about improving case studies addresses issues that are more common to case reports; for example, not having a review of the literature or being anecdotal, not generalizable, and prone to various types of bias such as positive outcome bias [ 1 ]. However, case study research as a qualitative methodology is pursued for different purposes than generalizability. The authors’ purpose in this editorial is to clearly distinguish between case reports and case studies. We believe that this will assist authors in describing and designating the methodological approach of their publications and help readers appreciate the rigor of well-executed case study research.

Case reports often provide a first exploration of a phenomenon or an opportunity for a first publication by a trainee in the health professions. In health care, case reports are familiar ways of sharing events or efforts of intervening with single patients with previously unreported features. Another type of study categorized as a case report is an “N of 1” study or single-subject clinical trial, which considers an individual patient as the sole unit of observation in a study investigating the efficacy or side effect profiles of different interventions. Entire journals have evolved to publish case reports, which often rely on template structures with limited contextualization or discussion of previous cases. Examples that are indexed in MEDLINE include the American Journal of Case Reports , BMJ Case Reports, Journal of Medical Case Reports, and Journal of Radiology Case Reports . Similar publications appear in veterinary medicine and are indexed in CAB Abstracts, such as Case Reports in Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Record Case Reports .

As a qualitative methodology, however, case study research encompasses a great deal more complexity than a typical case report and often incorporates multiple streams of data combined in creative ways. Distinctions include the investigator’s definitions and delimitations of the case being studied, the clarity of the role of the investigator, the rigor of gathering and combining evidence about the case, and the contextualization of the findings. Delimitation is a term from qualitative research about setting boundaries to scope the research in a useful way rather than describing the narrow scope as a limitation, as often appears in a discussion section. The depth and richness of description helps readers understand the situation and whether findings from the case are applicable to their settings.

CASE STUDY AS A RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Case study as a qualitative methodology is an exploration of a time- and space-bound phenomenon. As qualitative research, case studies require much more from their authors who are acting as instruments within the inquiry process. In the case study methodology, a variety of methodological approaches may be employed to explain the complexity of the problem being studied [ 2 , 3 ].

Leading authors diverge in their definitions of case study, but a qualitative research text introduces case study as follows:

Case study research is defined as a qualitative approach in which the investigator explores a real-life, contemporary bounded system (a case) or multiple bound systems (cases) over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information, and reports a case description and case themes. The unit of analysis in the case study might be multiple cases (a multisite study) or a single case (a within-site case study). [ 4 ]

Methodologists writing core texts on case study research include Yin [ 5 ], Stake [ 6 ], and Merriam [ 7 ]. The approaches of these three methodologists have been compared by Yazan, who focused on six areas of methodology: epistemology (beliefs about ways of knowing), definition of cases, design of case studies, and gathering, analysis, and validation of data [ 8 ]. For Yin, case study is a method of empirical inquiry appropriate to determining the “how and why” of phenomena and contributes to understanding phenomena in a holistic and real-life context [ 5 ]. Stake defines a case study as a “well-bounded, specific, complex, and functioning thing” [ 6 ], while Merriam views “the case as a thing, a single entity, a unit around which there are boundaries” [ 7 ].

Case studies are ways to explain, describe, or explore phenomena. Comments from a quantitative perspective about case studies lacking rigor and generalizability fail to consider the purpose of the case study and how what is learned from a case study is put into practice. Rigor in case studies comes from the research design and its components, which Yin outlines as (a) the study’s questions, (b) the study’s propositions, (c) the unit of analysis, (d) the logic linking the data to propositions, and (e) the criteria for interpreting the findings [ 5 ]. Case studies should also provide multiple sources of data, a case study database, and a clear chain of evidence among the questions asked, the data collected, and the conclusions drawn [ 5 ].

Sources of evidence for case studies include interviews, documentation, archival records, direct observations, participant-observation, and physical artifacts. One of the most important sources for data in qualitative case study research is the interview [ 2 , 3 ]. In addition to interviews, documents and archival records can be gathered to corroborate and enhance the findings of the study. To understand the phenomenon or the conditions that created it, direct observations can serve as another source of evidence and can be conducted throughout the study. These can include the use of formal and informal protocols as a participant inside the case or an external or passive observer outside of the case [ 5 ]. Lastly, physical artifacts can be observed and collected as a form of evidence. With these multiple potential sources of evidence, the study methodology includes gathering data, sense-making, and triangulating multiple streams of data. Figure 1 shows an example in which data used for the case started with a pilot study to provide additional context to guide more in-depth data collection and analysis with participants.

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Key sources of data for a sample case study

VARIATIONS ON CASE STUDY METHODOLOGY

Case study methodology is evolving and regularly reinterpreted. Comparative or multiple case studies are used as a tool for synthesizing information across time and space to research the impact of policy and practice in various fields of social research [ 9 ]. Because case study research is in-depth and intensive, there have been efforts to simplify the method or select useful components of cases for focused analysis. Micro-case study is a term that is occasionally used to describe research on micro-level cases [ 10 ]. These are cases that occur in a brief time frame, occur in a confined setting, and are simple and straightforward in nature. A micro-level case describes a clear problem of interest. Reporting is very brief and about specific points. The lack of complexity in the case description makes obvious the “lesson” that is inherent in the case; although no definitive “solution” is necessarily forthcoming, making the case useful for discussion. A micro-case write-up can be distinguished from a case report by its focus on briefly reporting specific features of a case or cases to analyze or learn from those features.

DATABASE INDEXING OF CASE REPORTS AND CASE STUDIES

Disciplines such as education, psychology, sociology, political science, and social work regularly publish rich case studies that are relevant to particular areas of health librarianship. Case reports and case studies have been defined as publication types or subject terms by several databases that are relevant to librarian authors: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and ERIC. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts (LISTA) does not have a subject term or publication type related to cases, despite many being included in the database. Whereas “Case Reports” are the main term used by MEDLINE’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and PsycINFO’s thesaurus, CINAHL and ERIC use “Case Studies.”

Case reports in MEDLINE and PsycINFO focus on clinical case documentation. In MeSH, “Case Reports” as a publication type is specific to “clinical presentations that may be followed by evaluative studies that eventually lead to a diagnosis” [ 11 ]. “Case Histories,” “Case Studies,” and “Case Study” are all entry terms mapping to “Case Reports”; however, guidance to indexers suggests that “Case Reports” should not be applied to institutional case reports and refers to the heading “Organizational Case Studies,” which is defined as “descriptions and evaluations of specific health care organizations” [ 12 ].

PsycINFO’s subject term “Case Report” is “used in records discussing issues involved in the process of conducting exploratory studies of single or multiple clinical cases.” The Methodology index offers clinical and non-clinical entries. “Clinical Case Study” is defined as “case reports that include disorder, diagnosis, and clinical treatment for individuals with mental or medical illnesses,” whereas “Non-clinical Case Study” is a “document consisting of non-clinical or organizational case examples of the concepts being researched or studied. The setting is always non-clinical and does not include treatment-related environments” [ 13 ].

Both CINAHL and ERIC acknowledge the depth of analysis in case study methodology. The CINAHL scope note for the thesaurus term “Case Studies” distinguishes between the document and the methodology, though both use the same term: “a review of a particular condition, disease, or administrative problem. Also, a research method that involves an in-depth analysis of an individual, group, institution, or other social unit. For material that contains a case study, search for document type: case study.” The ERIC scope note for the thesaurus term “Case Studies” is simple: “detailed analyses, usually focusing on a particular problem of an individual, group, or organization” [ 14 ].

PUBLICATION OF CASE STUDY RESEARCH IN LIBRARIANSHIP

We call your attention to a few examples published as case studies in health sciences librarianship to consider how their characteristics fit with the preceding definitions of case reports or case study research. All present some characteristics of case study research, but their treatment of the research questions, richness of description, and analytic strategies vary in depth and, therefore, diverge at some level from the qualitative case study research approach. This divergence, particularly in richness of description and analysis, may have been constrained by the publication requirements.

As one example, a case study by Janke and Rush documented a time- and context-bound collaboration involving a librarian and a nursing faculty member [ 15 ]. Three objectives were stated: (1) describing their experience of working together on an interprofessional research team, (2) evaluating the value of the librarian role from librarian and faculty member perspectives, and (3) relating findings to existing literature. Elements that signal the qualitative nature of this case study are that the authors were the research participants and their use of the term “evaluation” is reflection on their experience. This reads like a case study that could have been enriched by including other types of data gathered from others engaging with this team to broaden the understanding of the collaboration.

As another example, the description of the academic context is one of the most salient components of the case study written by Clairoux et al., which had the objectives of (1) describing the library instruction offered and learning assessments used at a single health sciences library and (2) discussing the positive outcomes of instruction in that setting [ 16 ]. The authors focus on sharing what the institution has done more than explaining why this institution is an exemplar to explore a focused question or understand the phenomenon of library instruction. However, like a case study, the analysis brings together several streams of data including course attendance, online material page views, and some discussion of results from surveys. This paper reads somewhat in between an institutional case report and a case study.

The final example is a single author reporting on a personal experience of creating and executing the role of research informationist for a National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded research team [ 17 ]. There is a thoughtful review of the informationist literature and detailed descriptions of the institutional context and the process of gaining access to and participating in the new role. However, the motivating question in the abstract does not seem to be fully addressed through analysis from either the reflective perspective of the author as the research participant or consideration of other streams of data from those involved in the informationist experience. The publication reads more like a case report about this informationist’s experience than a case study that explores the research informationist experience through the selection of this case.

All of these publications are well written and useful for their intended audiences, but in general, they are much shorter and much less rich in depth than case studies published in social sciences research. It may be that the authors have been constrained by word counts or page limits. For example, the submission category for Case Studies in the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) limited them to 3,000 words and defined them as “articles describing the process of developing, implementing, and evaluating a new service, program, or initiative, typically in a single institution or through a single collaborative effort” [ 18 ]. This definition’s focus on novelty and description sounds much more like the definition of case report than the in-depth, detailed investigation of a time- and space-bound problem that is often examined through case study research.

Problem-focused or question-driven case study research would benefit from the space provided for Original Investigations that employ any type of quantitative or qualitative method of analysis. One of the best examples in the JMLA of an in-depth multiple case study that was authored by a librarian who published the findings from her doctoral dissertation represented all the elements of a case study. In eight pages, she provided a theoretical basis for the research question, a pilot study, and a multiple case design, including integrated data from interviews and focus groups [ 19 ].

We have distinguished between case reports and case studies primarily to assist librarians who are new to research and critical appraisal of case study methodology to recognize the features that authors use to describe and designate the methodological approaches of their publications. For researchers who are new to case research methodology and are interested in learning more, Hancock and Algozzine provide a guide [ 20 ].

We hope that JMLA readers appreciate the rigor of well-executed case study research. We believe that distinguishing between descriptive case reports and analytic case studies in the journal’s submission categories will allow the depth of case study methodology to increase. We also hope that authors feel encouraged to pursue submitting relevant case studies or case reports for future publication.

Editor’s note: In response to this invited editorial, the Journal of the Medical Library Association will consider manuscripts employing rigorous qualitative case study methodology to be Original Investigations (fewer than 5,000 words), whereas manuscripts describing the process of developing, implementing, and assessing a new service, program, or initiative—typically in a single institution or through a single collaborative effort—will be considered to be Case Reports (formerly known as Case Studies; fewer than 3,000 words).

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
  • Group Presentations
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Leading a Class Discussion
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Works
  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate  key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.

How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper

General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.

However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:

  • The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
  • The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
  • The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
  • The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
  • The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.

Structure and Writing Style

The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.

In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.

I.  Introduction

As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:

  • What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
  • Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
  • What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
  • How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.

Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.

II.  Literature Review

The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and  enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:

  • Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
  • Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
  • Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.

If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].

If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].

If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.

NOTE:   The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.

IV.  Discussion

The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.

Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.

Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.

Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.

Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .

Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.

V.  Conclusion

As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:

  • If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.

Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.

Problems to Avoid

Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.

Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.

Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009;  Kratochwill,  Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education .  Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.

Writing Tip

At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research

Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:

Misunderstanding 1 :  General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 :  One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 :  The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 :  The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 :  It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].

While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.

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  • Last Updated: Mar 6, 2024 1:00 PM
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Case Study Interviews vs. Skills Testing: Which is Better, and Why?

case study vs case interview

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47 case interview examples (from McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc.)

Case interview examples - McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc.

One of the best ways to prepare for   case interviews  at firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, is by studying case interview examples. 

There are a lot of free sample cases out there, but it's really hard to know where to start. So in this article, we have listed all the best free case examples available, in one place.

The below list of resources includes interactive case interview samples provided by consulting firms, video case interview demonstrations, case books, and materials developed by the team here at IGotAnOffer. Let's continue to the list.

  • McKinsey examples
  • BCG examples
  • Bain examples
  • Deloitte examples
  • Other firms' examples
  • Case books from consulting clubs
  • Case interview preparation

Click here to practise 1-on-1 with MBB ex-interviewers

1. mckinsey case interview examples.

  • Beautify case interview (McKinsey website)
  • Diconsa case interview (McKinsey website)
  • Electro-light case interview (McKinsey website)
  • GlobaPharm case interview (McKinsey website)
  • National Education case interview (McKinsey website)
  • Talbot Trucks case interview (McKinsey website)
  • Shops Corporation case interview (McKinsey website)
  • Conservation Forever case interview (McKinsey website)
  • McKinsey case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
  • McKinsey live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See below

2. BCG case interview examples

  • Foods Inc and GenCo case samples  (BCG website)
  • Chateau Boomerang written case interview  (BCG website)
  • BCG case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
  • Written cases guide (by IGotAnOffer)
  • BCG live case interview with notes (by IGotAnOffer)
  • BCG mock case interview with ex-BCG associate director - Public sector case (by IGotAnOffer)
  • BCG mock case interview: Revenue problem case (by IGotAnOffer) - See below

3. Bain case interview examples

  • CoffeeCo practice case (Bain website)
  • FashionCo practice case (Bain website)
  • Associate Consultant mock interview video (Bain website)
  • Consultant mock interview video (Bain website)
  • Written case interview tips (Bain website)
  • Bain case interview guide   (by IGotAnOffer)
  • Bain case mock interview with ex-Bain manager (below)

4. Deloitte case interview examples

  • Engagement Strategy practice case (Deloitte website)
  • Recreation Unlimited practice case (Deloitte website)
  • Strategic Vision practice case (Deloitte website)
  • Retail Strategy practice case  (Deloitte website)
  • Finance Strategy practice case  (Deloitte website)
  • Talent Management practice case (Deloitte website)
  • Enterprise Resource Management practice case (Deloitte website)
  • Footloose written case  (by Deloitte)
  • Deloitte case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)

5. Accenture case interview examples

  • Case interview workbook (by Accenture)
  • Accenture case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)

6. OC&C case interview examples

  • Leisure Club case example (by OC&C)
  • Imported Spirits case example (by OC&C)

7. Oliver Wyman case interview examples

  • Wumbleworld case sample (Oliver Wyman website)
  • Aqualine case sample (Oliver Wyman website)
  • Oliver Wyman case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)

8. A.T. Kearney case interview examples

  • Promotion planning case question (A.T. Kearney website)
  • Consulting case book and examples (by A.T. Kearney)
  • AT Kearney case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)

9. Strategy& / PWC case interview examples

  • Presentation overview with sample questions (by Strategy& / PWC)
  • Strategy& / PWC case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)

10. L.E.K. Consulting case interview examples

  • Case interview example video walkthrough   (L.E.K. website)
  • Market sizing case example video walkthrough  (L.E.K. website)

11. Roland Berger case interview examples

  • Transit oriented development case webinar part 1  (Roland Berger website)
  • Transit oriented development case webinar part 2   (Roland Berger website)
  • 3D printed hip implants case webinar part 1   (Roland Berger website)
  • 3D printed hip implants case webinar part 2   (Roland Berger website)
  • Roland Berger case interview guide   (by IGotAnOffer)

12. Capital One case interview examples

  • Case interview example video walkthrough  (Capital One website)
  • Capital One case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)

13. Consulting clubs case interview examples

  • Berkeley case book (2006)
  • Columbia case book (2006)
  • Darden case book (2012)
  • Darden case book (2018)
  • Duke case book (2010)
  • Duke case book (2014)
  • ESADE case book (2011)
  • Goizueta case book (2006)
  • Illinois case book (2015)
  • LBS case book (2006)
  • MIT case book (2001)
  • Notre Dame case book (2017)
  • Ross case book (2010)
  • Wharton case book (2010)

Practice with experts

Using case interview examples is a key part of your interview preparation, but it isn’t enough.

At some point you’ll want to practise with friends or family who can give some useful feedback. However, if you really want the best possible preparation for your case interview, you'll also want to work with ex-consultants who have experience running interviews at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc.

If you know anyone who fits that description, fantastic! But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.

Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can do mock case interviews 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from MBB firms . Start scheduling sessions today!

The IGotAnOffer team

Interview coach and candidate conduct a video call

Case Western Reserve University

  • career developmenttips job seekersinterviewing

Case-style Interviews

Case interviews have been popular with management consulting firms for years, and in recent years they've become more commonly used by employers in other industries. Those considering a career in consulting, finance, operations and supply chain, and others who've learned that cases are used in that industry should prepare to tackle a case interview along your job search path.

Many organizations use case interviews to test a candidate's communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills. They will want to see that you can listen well, respond quickly to issues, and summarize your results clearly. It also allows them to see how candidates respond to situations that they may face every day in their field. As a consultant, you may be asked to visit a city to meet with a new client about a business problem. How will you respond in that situation? Will you be able to ask good questions that will provide you with the information needed to resolve the issue? Can you listen well enough to the client to hear the true problem? Your success in a case interview will demonstrate your ability to take on such tasks in your work.

In a case interview, you will be given a business problem or scenario that generally falls into one of three types: the brainteaser; the guesstimate; or the business scenario. While most problems don't have one "right answer," it will be important for you to ask appropriate questions, analyze the situation accurately, and formulate a clear and concise response. Be creative in your thinking, but realistic in your assumptions.

Generally, you will get your case question verbally from the interviewer and will work on it alone. You may receive your case before the interview, allowing you time to prepare, or be asked to work on it in a group setting. If you are in a group interview, you may be judged on your ability to work on a team and your leadership skills.

According to Vault.com , the consulting industry looks for the following skills in a case interview:

  • Presentation

Types of Case Questions

There are three basic types of case questions that you may encounter in a case interview.

Brainteasers

Riddles or puzzles that will showcase your ability to think logically. Some brainteaser cases may be timed. Remember to stay calm and think creatively when faced with this type of problem.

Examples : "If we call oranges 'orange' why don't we call bananas 'yellows' or apples 'reds?'" or "Why are manhole covers round?"

Business Scenario

Questions may be based on real or hypothetical situations. They may test your common sense and your ability to ask appropriate questions to ascertain relevant information. Always make sure that you know the specific problem to be addressed and take into account general business issues, such as market share and competition.

Examples : "A small airline company based out of Cleveland wants to add a new route between Cleveland and New York. The CEO wants your advice on whether they should go forward with service to the new destination." According to Vault.com, there are generally eight types of business scenario cases:

  • Falling Profits
  • Introducing a New Product
  • Entering a New Market
  • Entering a New Geographic Market
  • Selecting a Location to Site a New Facility
  • Handling Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Preparing a Competitive Response
  • Responding to Change in Government/Regulatory Environment

Guesstimates

Require you to answer "how many? or "how much" of something. Remember that your goal is to reduce the huge problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Rough calculations are accepted, as long as they are realistic, and you don't need to get the exact answer (although you should be close).

Examples : "How many CD's were sold in the United States last year?" Or, "How much money is spent each year on hair gel in Ohio?"

Preparing for a Case Interview

In preparing for your case interview, make sure you are familiar with the three basic types of questions you may be asked. Many students have found it helpful to form a group and do case studies together, many of which can be found online or in books. Through consistent practice with your peers, you will become more confident in your interviewing and presentation skills. You will also want to make sure that you remember how to do some basic math calculations, such as averages and percentages, without using a calculator. As with any interview, arrive on time, which means about 10 minutes early. You may want to bring with you something to write with, paper, a watch to keep track of time, and a calculator, which you might not be able to use, but will be very helpful if you can.

During the Case Interview

One of the most important things you can do in a case interview is to listen to the question being asked so that you know you are addressing the right issue. Take notes when the interviewer is telling you the case and summarize the highlights for your interviewer. You will also ask clarifying questions about the case, such as company type, market share, competition, long term and short term goals. Be sure to break down the problem into manageable parts and prioritize them. Think about the issues before speaking. As you are responding to the case, write down or chart your answer. This will help you recall some assumptions you made along the way and keep your response organized and logical. It will also show the interviewer that you are making logical assumptions that can be supported by calculations.

Keep an eye on the clock to be sure to cover the case fully and remember to summarize your response at the end. The interviewer may provide you with some feedback at the end of your case - be sure to listen. If you feel like you made a huge mistake in responding to the case, don't panic. Ask the interviewer for feedback and ideas on how the case could have been answered better.

Additional Resources for Case Interview Prep

Listed alphabetically by title:

  • Ace Your Case: The WetFeet Insider Guide to Consulting Interviews - An introduction to the case interview, with explanations of the most common question types and how to answer them. Detailed examples of good and bad answers. Each books contains different sample cases.
  • Case in Point9: Complete Case Interview Preparation , by Marc P. Cosentino - Focuses on the skills you will need to handle a case interview confidently. Includes recently asked case questions and Ivy case drills.
  • Case Interview Secrets: A Former McKinsey Interviewer Reveals How to Get Multiple Job Offers in Consulting , by Victor Cheng - Step-by-step instructions on how to dominate the case interview, considered by many to be the most complex, most difficult, and most intimidating corporate job interview in the world.
  • Crack the Case System: How to Conquer Your Case Interviews , by David Ohrvall
  • Vault Guide to the Case Interview, 8th edition - Frameworks for constructing and handling case questions, plus practice questions. Vault has an entire series of guides dedicated to the field of consulting and the case interview.

Consulting/Case Interview Prep Online

  • Management Consulted - Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education maintains a subscription, this site, with content from former MBB consultants. MC provides access to 500+ cases and their solutions, 90+ hours of video content on case interviewing, personal experience interviews, mental math, Excel and PowerPoint for consulting, and more. Request an account by logging in to your Handshake account, clicking Career Center, and selecting Resources. The account request link is there.

Each of these sites has high quality case prep resources. Portions are available at no cost, and all of these have additional resources available for sale.

  • CaseInterview.com - Site of Victor Cheng, author of Case Interview Secrets. Sign up for their informative daily newsletter.
  • CaseQuestions.com - Site of Marc Cosentino's, author of Case in Point.
  • ConsultingCase101.com - Library of practice cases.

Consulting Company Websites

Listed alphabetically; many contain not only solid interview advice but sample cases, written and video.

  • Bain & Company
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • Deloitte Consulting, LLP
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Oliver Wyman

100 Best Case Study Questions for Your Next Customer Spotlight

Brittany Fuller

Published: November 29, 2022

Case studies and testimonials are helpful to have in your arsenal. But to build an effective library, you need to ask the right case study questions. You also need to know how to write a case study .

marketing team coming up with case study questions

Case studies are customers' stories that your sales team can use to share relevant content with prospects . Not only that, but case studies help you earn a prospect's trust, show them what life would be like as your customer, and validate that your product or service works for your clients.

Before you start building your library of case studies, check out our list of 100 case study questions to ask your clients. With this helpful guide, you'll have the know-how to build your narrative using the " Problem-Agitate-Solve " Method.

Download Now: 3 Free Case Study Templates

What makes a good case study questionnaire?

The ultimate list of case study questions, how to ask your customer for a case study, creating an effective case study.

Certain key elements make up a good case study questionnaire.

A questionnaire should never feel like an interrogation. Instead, aim to structure your case study questions like a conversation. Some of the essential things that your questionnaire should cover include:

  • The problem faced by the client before choosing your organization.
  • Why they chose your company.
  • How your product solved the problem clients faced.
  • The measurable results of the service provided.
  • Data and metrics that prove the success of your service or product, if possible.

You can adapt these considerations based on how your customers use your product and the specific answers or quotes that you want to receive.

What makes a good case study question?

A good case study question delivers a powerful message to leads in the decision stage of your prospective buyer's journey.

Since your client has agreed to participate in a case study, they're likely enthusiastic about the service you provide. Thus, a good case study question hands the reins over to the client and opens a conversation.

Try asking open-ended questions to encourage your client to talk about the excellent service or product you provide.

Free Case Study Templates

Tell us about yourself to access the templates..

case-study-questions_3

Categories for the Best Case Study Questions

  • Case study questions about the customer's business
  • Case study questions about the environment before the purchase
  • Case study questions about the decision process
  • Case study questions about the customer's business case
  • Case study questions about the buying team and internal advocates
  • Case study questions about customer success
  • Case study questions about product feedback
  • Case study questions about willingness to make referrals
  • Case study question to prompt quote-worthy feedback
  • Case study questions about the customers' future goals

case study vs case interview

Showcase your company's success using these three free case study templates.

  • Data-Driven Case Study Template
  • Product-Specific Case Study Template
  • General Case Study Template

You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

Case Study Interview Questions About the Customer's Business

Knowing the customer's business is an excellent way of setting the tone for a case study.

Use these questions to get some background information about the company and its business goals. This information can be used to introduce the business at the beginning of the case study — plus, future prospects might resonate with their stories and become leads for you.

  • Would you give me a quick overview of [company]? This is an opportunity for the client to describe their business in their own words. You'll get useful background information and it's an easy prompt to get the client talking.
  • Can you describe your role? This will give you a better idea of the responsibilities they are subject to.
  • How do your role and team fit into the company and its goals? Knowing how the team functions to achieve company goals will help you formulate how your solution involves all stakeholders.
  • How long has your company been in business? Getting this information will help the reader gauge if pain points are specific to a startup or new company vs. a veteran company.
  • How many employees do you have? Another great descriptor for readers to have. They can compare the featured company size with their own.
  • Is your company revenue available? If so, what is it? This will give your readers background information on the featured company's gross sales.
  • Who is your target customer? Knowing who the target audience is will help you provide a better overview of their market for your case study readers.
  • How does our product help your team or company achieve its objectives? This is one of the most important questions because it is the basis of the case study. Get specifics on how your product provided a solution for your client. You want to be able to say "X company implemented our solution and achieved Y. "
  • How are our companies aligned (mission, strategy, culture, etc.)? If any attributes of your company's mission or culture appealed to the client, call it out.

How many people are on your team? What are their roles? This will help describe key players within the organization and their impact on the implementation of your solution.

case-study-questions_5

Case Study Interview Questions About the Environment Before the Purchase

A good case study is designed to build trust. Ask clients to describe the tools and processes they used before your product or service. These kinds of case study questions will highlight the business' need they had to fulfill and appeal to future clients.

  • What was your team's process prior to using our product? This will give the reader a baseline to compare the results for your company's product.
  • Were there any costs associated with the process prior to using our product? Was it more expensive? Was it worth the cost? How did the product affect the client's bottom line? This will be a useful metric to disclose if your company saved the client money or was more cost-efficient.
  • What were the major pain points of your process prior to using our product? Describe these obstacles in detail. You want the reader to get as much information on the problem as possible as it sets up the reasoning for why your company's solution was implemented.
  • Did our product replace a similar tool or is this the first time your team is using a product like this? Were they using a similar product? If so, having this information may give readers a reason to choose your brand over the competition.
  • What other challenges were you and your team experiencing prior to using our product? The more details you can give readers regarding the client's struggles, the better. You want to paint a full picture of the challenges the client faced and how your company resolved them.
  • Were there any concerns about how your customers would be impacted by using our product? Getting answers to this question will illustrate to readers the client's concerns about switching to your service. Your readers may have similar concerns and reading how your client worked through this process will be helpful.
  • Why didn't you buy our product or a similar product earlier? Have the client describe any hesitations they had using your product. Their concerns may be relatable to potential leads.
  • Were there any "dealbreakers" involved in your decision to become a customer? Describing how your company was able to provide a solution that worked within those parameters demonstrates how accommodating your brand is and how you put the customer first. It's also great to illustrate any unique challenges the client had. This better explains their situation to the reader.
  • Did you have to make any changes you weren't anticipating once you became a customer? Readers of your case study can learn how switching to your product came with some unexpected changes (good or bad) and how they navigated them. If you helped your client with troubleshooting, ask them to explain that here.

How has your perception of the product changed since you've become a customer? Get the interviewee to describe how your product changed how they do business. This includes how your product accomplished what they previously thought was impossible.

case-study-questions_7

Case Study Interview Questions About the Decision Process

Readers of the case study will be interested in which factors influenced the decision-making process for the client. If they can relate to that process, there's a bigger chance they'll buy your product.

The answers to these questions will help potential customers through their decision-making process.

  • How did you hear about our product? If the client chose to work with you based on a recommendation or another positive case study, include that. It will demonstrate that you are a trusted brand with an established reputation for delivering results.
  • How long had you been looking for a solution to this problem? This will add to the reader's understanding of how these particular challenges impacted the company before choosing your product.
  • Were you comparing alternative solutions? Which ones? This will demonstrate to readers that the client explored other options before choosing your company.
  • Would you describe a few of the reasons you decided to buy our product? Ask the interviewee to describe why they chose your product over the competition and any benefits your company offered that made you stand out.
  • What were the criteria you used when deciding to buy our product? This will give readers more background insight into the factors that impacted their decision-making process.
  • Were there any high-level initiatives or goals that prompted the decision to buy? For example, was this decision motivated by a company-wide vision? Prompt your clients to discuss what lead to the decision to work with you and how you're the obvious choice.
  • What was the buying process like? Did you notice anything exceptional or any points of friction? This is an opportunity for the client to comment on how seamless and easy you make the buying process. Get them to describe what went well from start to finish.
  • How would you have changed the buying process, if at all? This is an opportunity for you to fine-tune your process to accommodate future buyers.
  • Who on your team was involved in the buying process? This will give readers more background on the key players involved from executives to project managers. With this information, readers can see who they may potentially need to involve in the decision-making process on their teams.

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Case Study Interview Questions About the Customer's Business Case

Your case study questions should ask about your product or solution's impact on the customer's employees, teams, metrics, and goals. These questions allow the client to praise the value of your service and tell others exactly what benefits they derived from it.

When readers review your product or service's impact on the client, it enforces the belief that the case study is credible.

  • How long have you been using our product? This will help readers gauge how long it took to see results and your overall satisfaction with the product or service.
  • How many different people at your company use our product? This will help readers gauge how they can adapt the product to their teams if similar in size.
  • Are there multiple departments or teams using our product? This will demonstrate how great of an impact your product has made across departments.
  • How do you and your team currently use the product? What types of goals or tasks are you using the product to accomplish? Get specifics on how the product actively helps the client achieve their goals.
  • If other teams or departments are using our product, do you know how they're using it? With this information, leads can picture how they can use your product across their teams and how it may improve their workflow and metrics.
  • What was the most obvious advantage you felt our product offered during the sales process? The interviewee should explain the benefits they've gained from using your product or service. This is important for convincing other leads you are better than the competition.
  • Were there any other advantages you discovered after using the product more regularly? Your interviewee may have experienced some additional benefits from using your product. Have them describe in detail what these advantages are and how they've helped the company improve.
  • Are there any metrics or KPIs you track with our product? What are they? The more numbers and data the client can provide, the better.
  • Were you tracking any metrics prior to using our product? What were they? This will allow readers to get a clear, before-and-after comparison of using your product.
  • How has our product impacted your core metrics? This is an opportunity for your clients to drive home how your product assisted them in hitting their metrics and goals.

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Case Study Interview Questions About the Buying Team and Internal Advocates

See if there are any individuals at the customer's company who are advocates for your product.

  • Are there any additional team members you consider to be advocates for our product? For example, does anyone stick out as a "power user" or product expert on your team? You may want to interview and include these power users in your case study as well. Consider asking them for tips on using your service or product.
  • Is there anyone else on your team you think we should talk to? Again, the more people can share their experience using your product, the better.
  • Are there any team members who you think might not be the biggest fans of our product or who might need more training? Providing extra support to those struggling with your product may improve their user experience and turn into an opportunity to not only learn about their obstacles but turn them into a product fan
  • Would you share some details about how your team implemented our product? Get as much information as possible about the rollout. Hopefully, they'll gush about how seamless the process was.
  • Who from your company was involved in implementing our product? This will give readers more insight into who needs to be involved for a successful rollout of their own.
  • Were there any internal risks or additional costs involved with implementing our product? If so, how did you address them? This will give insight into the client's process and rollout and this case study question will likely provide tips on what potential leads should be on the lookout for.
  • Is there a training process in place for your team's use of our product? If so, what does it look like? If your company provided support and training to the client, have them describe that experience.
  • About how long does it take a new team member to get up to speed with our product? This will help leads determine how much time it will take to onboard an employee to your using your product. If a new user can quickly get started seamlessly, it bodes well for you.
  • What was your main concern about rolling this product out to your company? Describing their challenges in detail will provide readers with useful insight.

case-study-questions_8

Case Study Interview Questions About Customer Success

Has the customer found success with your product? Ask these questions to learn more.

  • By using our product can you measure any reduced costs? If it has, you'll want to emphasize those savings in your case study.
  • By using our product can you measure any improvements in productivity or time savings? Any metrics or specific stories your interviewee can provide will help demonstrate the value of your product.
  • By using our product can you measure any increases in revenue or growth? Again, say it with numbers and data whenever possible.
  • Are you likely to recommend our product to a friend or colleague? Recommendations from existing customers are some of the best marketing you can get.
  • How has our product impacted your success? Your team's success? Getting the interviewee to describe how your product played an integral role in solving their challenges will show leads that they can also have success using your product.
  • In the beginning, you had XYZ concerns; how do you feel about them now? Let them explain how working with your company eliminated those concerns.
  • I noticed your team is currently doing XYZ with our product. Tell me more about how that helps your business. Illustrate to your readers how current customers are using your product to solve additional challenges. It will convey how versatile your product is.
  • Have you thought about using our product for a new use case with your team or at your company? The more examples of use cases the client can provide, the better.
  • How do you measure the value our product provides? Have the interviewee illustrate what metrics they use to gauge the product's success and how. Data is helpful, but you should go beyond the numbers. Maybe your product improved company morale and how teams work together.

case-study-questions_6

Case Study Interview Questions About Product Feedback

Ask the customer if they'd recommend your product to others. A strong recommendation will help potential clients be more open to purchasing your product.

  • How do other companies in this industry solve the problems you had before you purchased our product? This will give you insight into how other companies may be functioning without your product and how you can assist them.
  • Have you ever talked about our product to any of your clients or peers? What did you say? This can provide you with more leads and a chance to get a referral.
  • Why would you recommend our product to a friend or client? Be sure they pinpoint which features they would highlight in a recommendation.
  • Can you think of any use cases your customers might have for our product? Similar industries may have similar issues that need solutions. Your interviewee may be able to provide a use case you haven't come up with.
  • What is your advice for other teams or companies who are tackling problems similar to those you had before you purchased our product? This is another opportunity for your client to talk up your product or service.
  • Do you know someone in X industry who has similar problems to the ones you had prior to using our product? The client can make an introduction so you can interview them about their experience as well.
  • I noticed you work with Company Y. Do you know if they are having any pain points with these processes? This will help you learn how your product has impacted your client's customers and gain insight into what can be improved.
  • Does your company participate in any partner or referral programs? Having a strong referral program will help you increase leads and improve customer retention.
  • Can I send you a referral kit as a thank-you for making a referral and give you the tools to refer someone to us? This is a great strategy to request a referral while rewarding your existing customers.
  • Are you interested in working with us to produce additional marketing content? The more opportunities you can showcase happy customers, the better.

case-study-questions_11

Case Study Interview Questions About Willingness to Make Referrals

  • How likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or client? Ideally, they would definitely refer your product to someone they know.
  • Can you think of any use cases your customers might have for our product? Again, your interviewee is a great source for more leads. Similar industries may have similar issues that need solutions. They may be able to provide a use case you haven't come up with.
  • I noticed you work with Company Y; do you know if they are having any pain points with these processes? This will help you learn how your product has impacted your client's customers and gain insight into what can be improved.

case-study-questions_4

Case Study Interview Questions to Prompt Quote-Worthy Feedback

Enhance your case study with quotable soundbites from the customer. By asking these questions, prospects have more insight into other clients and their success with your product — which helps build trust.

  • How would you describe your process in one sentence prior to using our product? Ideally, this sentence would quickly and descriptively sum up the most prominent pain point or challenge with the previous process.
  • What is your advice to others who might be considering our product? Readers can learn from your customer's experience.
  • What would your team's workflow or process be like without our product? This will drive home the value your product provides and how essential it is to their business.
  • Do you think the investment in our product was worthwhile? Why? Have your customer make the case for the value you provide.
  • What would you say if we told you our product would soon be unavailable? What would this mean to you? Again, this illustrates how integral your product is to their business.
  • How would you describe our product if you were explaining it to a friend? Your customers can often distill the value of your product to their friends better than you can.
  • What do you love about your job? Your company? This gives the reader more background on your customer and their industry.
  • What was the worst part of your process before you started using our product? Ideally, they'd reiterate how your product helped solve this challenge.
  • What do you love about our product? Another great way to get the customer's opinion about what makes your product worth it.
  • Why do you do business with us? Hopefully, your interviewee will share how wonderful your business relationship is.

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Case Study Interview Questions About the Customers' Future Goals

Ask the customer about their goals, challenges, and plans for the future. This will provide insight into how a business can grow with your product.

  • What are the biggest challenges on the horizon for your industry? Chances are potential leads within the same industry will have similar challenges.
  • What are your goals for the next three months? Knowing their short-term goals will enable your company to get some quick wins for the client.
  • How would you like to use our product to meet those challenges and goals? This will help potential leads understand that your product can help their business as they scale and grow.
  • Is there anything we can do to help you and your team meet your goals? If you haven't covered it already, this will allow your interviewee to express how you can better assist them.
  • Do you think you will buy more, less, or about the same amount of our product next year? This can help you gauge how your product is used and why.
  • What are the growth plans for your company this year? Your team? This will help you gain insight into how your product can help them achieve future goals.
  • How can we help you meet your long-term goals? Getting specifics on the needs of your clients will help you create a unique solution designed for their needs.
  • What is the long-term impact of using our product? Get their feedback on how your product has created a lasting impact.
  • Are there any initiatives that you personally would like to achieve that our product or team can help with? Again, you want to continue to provide products that help your customers excel.
  • What will you need from us in the future? This will help you anticipate the customer's business needs.
  • Is there anything we can do to improve our product or process for working together in the future? The more feedback you can get about what is and isn't working, the better.

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Before you can start putting together your case study, you need to ask your customer's permission.

If you have a customer who's seen success with your product, reach out to them. Use this template to get started:

Thank you & quick request

Hi [customer name],

Thanks again for your business — working with you to [solve X, launch Y, take advantage of Z opportunity] has been extremely rewarding, and I'm looking forward to more collaboration in the future.

[Name of your company] is building a library of case studies to include on our site. We're looking for successful companies using [product] to solve interesting challenges, and your team immediately came to mind. Are you open to [customer company name] being featured?

It should be a lightweight process — [I, a product marketer] will ask you roughly [10, 15, 20] questions via email or phone about your experience and results. This case study will include a blurb about your company and a link to your homepage (which hopefully will make your SEO team happy!)

In any case, thank you again for the chance to work with you, and I hope you have a great week.

[Your name]

case study vs case interview

If one of your customers has recently passed along some praise (to you, their account manager, your boss; on an online forum; to another potential customer; etc.), then send them a version of this email:

Hey [customer name],

Thanks for the great feedback — I'm really glad to hear [product] is working well for you and that [customer company name] is getting the results you're looking for.

My team is actually in the process of building out our library of case studies, and I'd love to include your story. Happy to provide more details if you're potentially interested.

Either way, thank you again, and I look forward to getting more updates on your progress.

case study vs case interview

You can also find potential case study customers by usage or product data. For instance, maybe you see a company you sold to 10 months ago just bought eight more seats or upgraded to a new tier. Clearly, they're happy with the solution. Try this template:

I saw you just [invested in our X product; added Y more users; achieved Z product milestone]. Congratulations! I'd love to share your story using [product] with the world -- I think it's a great example of how our product + a dedicated team and a good strategy can achieve awesome results.

Are you open to being featured? If so, I'll send along more details.

case study vs case interview

Case Study Benefits

  • Case studies are a form of customer advocacy.
  • Case studies provide a joint-promotion opportunity.
  • Case studies are easily sharable.
  • Case studies build rapport with your customers.
  • Case studies are less opinionated than customer reviews.

1. Case studies are a form of customer advocacy.

If you haven't noticed, customers aren't always quick to trust a brand's advertisements and sales strategies.

With every other brand claiming to be the best in the business, it's hard to sort exaggeration from reality.

This is the most important reason why case studies are effective. They are testimonials from your customers of your service. If someone is considering your business, a case study is a much more convincing piece of marketing or sales material than traditional advertising.

2. Case studies provide a joint-promotion opportunity.

Your business isn't the only one that benefits from a case study. Customers participating in case studies benefit, too.

Think about it. Case studies are free advertisements for your customers, not to mention the SEO factor, too. While they're not promoting their products or services, they're still getting the word out about their business. And, the case study highlights how successful their business is — showing interested leads that they're on the up and up.

3. Case studies are easily sharable.

No matter your role on the sales team, case studies are great to have on hand. You can easily share them with leads, prospects, and clients.

Whether you embed them on your website or save them as a PDF, you can simply send a link to share your case study with others. They can share that link with their peers and colleagues, and so on.

Case studies can also be useful during a sales pitch. In sales, timing is everything. If a customer is explaining a problem that was solved and discussed in your case study, you can quickly find the document and share it with them.

4. Case studies build rapport with your customers.

While case studies are very useful, they do require some back and forth with your customers to obtain the exact feedback you're looking for.

Even though time is involved, the good news is this builds rapport with your most loyal customers. You get to know them on a personal level, and they'll become more than just your most valuable clients.

And, the better the rapport you have with them, the more likely they'll be to recommend your business, products, or services to others.

5. Case studies are less opinionated than customer reviews.

Data is the difference between a case study and a review. Customer reviews are typically based on the customer's opinion of your brand. While they might write a glowing review, it's completely subjective and there's rarely empirical evidence supporting their claim.

Case studies, on the other hand, are more data-driven. While they'll still talk about how great your brand is, they support this claim with quantitative data that's relevant to the reader. It's hard to argue with data.

An effective case study must be genuine and credible. Your case study should explain why certain customers are the right fit for your business and how your company can help meet their specific needs. That way, someone in a similar situation can use your case study as a testimonial for why they should choose your business.

Use the case study questions above to create an ideal customer case study questionnaire. By asking your customers the right questions, you can obtain valuable feedback that can be shared with potential leads and convert them into loyal customers.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Interviewer vs. Interviewee-Led Case Interviews: What's Different?

  • Last Updated July, 2021

As you prepare for management consulting interviews, it’s important to know that while the fundamentals of a case interview are the same at most consulting firms, each firm has its own style for the interview. Knowing what the different styles are will ensure you’re not thrown off your game by a case that’s different than you expected.

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between interviewer-led case interviews and interviewee-led case interviews. 

Candidate-led, or interviewee-led, case interviews are consulting interviews in which the interviewee structures the key topic to be analyzed, then they pick where to start the analysis, and drive the case all the way to final recommendations.  

Interviewee-led case interviews are used by the majority of consulting firms including  Bain, BCG, Oliver Wyman, Parthenon, LEK, and Monitor / Deloitte, PWC.

Interviewer-led case interviews are consulting interviews in which the interviewer leads a candidate down a specific path towards a recommendation on a predetermined issue. During an interviewer-led case interview, after the candidate structures the key topics to be analyzed to solve the business problem, then the interviewer provides direction on where to start diving into the analysis. 

Interviewer-led case interviews are used by McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, Strategy&, and Accenture.

Note that Oliver Wyman uses both candidate-led and interviewer-led cases, so you’ll have to be ready for whatever comes your way!

If you are deep in case prep and want to learn how to excel at both interviewer- and interviewee-led cases, this post is for you.

Let’s get started!

Why Do Firms Give Different Styles of Cases?

If you’re still with us, you’re probably deep into consulting case prep. And if you’re like me, you’re thinking “Why, oh great and powerful Oz, why are the firms making cases even more complicated?” 

We totally understand; it feels like just one more hurdle to landing a consulting job. 

This interview-style choice actually demonstrates a lot about the firms. 

Why Interviewee-led Interviews?

Bain and BCG have regional hubs, and consultants rarely travel for projects outside their region. Therefore, no matter the client’s problem, they need consultants in their local market who can help solve it. 

These firms are lean, requiring that everyone plays to their strengths. They want to see where you go and how you adapt.  

Interviewers are looking for people who are comfortable pursuing different lines of thinking and moving in different directions.  

In any given case you will be pushing the work forward, often very independently or without a clear road map. So it’s important to see how you drive the case to see how you can lead your own work and self-manage.

During the interviewee-led interview, the interviewer will want to see how you handle navigating without a short leash. They need consultants who are comfortable shifting through ambiguity in real-time. 

They will wonder, “Could I count on this person to help us find a solid solution for a problem we’ve never encountered before?”

Why Interviewer-led Interviews?

On the other hand, firms like McKinsey have a hub and spoke business model. McKinsey teams can pull talent from wherever they need it. It’s not uncommon for consultants to be staffed in different regions than their home office. 

So they don’t need everyone in their region to be a ‘jack of all trades.’ McKinsey teams can staff the consultant with the best fit for the client onto the team. 

While McKinsey wants to give every consultant a well-rounded experience, it can be possible to specialize a bit more and a bit earlier. For example, good quant work begets more quant projects.

Additionally, there is also a lot of very specific planning at the beginning of McKinsey projects to make sure everyone is aligned and rowing in the same direction. On any given project, the engagement manager and partner parse out specific tasks throughout the course of the project. 

In the interviewer-led case interview, your interviewer will want to know how well you can follow directions and how well you can drive the work within the provided scope. 

The interviewer will observe how well you listen and playback what you heard. 

They will wonder “Could I leave this person for the rest of the day and feel confident they will execute exactly what we discussed?”

Because the interviewer-led interviews all follow the same thread, it is easier for the interviewers to compare the candidates they interviewed that day based on their response and how each candidate handled each subject.  

We’ll explain more about the similarities and differences between interviewer vs. interviewee-led case in the next few sections.

How Interviewer-led Case Interviews Are Similar to Interviewee-led Cases

Interviewer vs. interviewee-led cases are very similar overall. 

In both case styles, you will have to: 

  • Absorb a lot of business information and data (you can ask your interviewer clarifying questions in both styles!), 
  • Structure a business problem, 
  • Lay out some conceptual options, 
  • Do some quick math, and
  • Make recommendations for your client. 

The types of problems you will be asked to solve will also be similar. The content of the cases will most likely revolve around the typical framework types – market or revenue growth, cost-cutting, expanding into new customer segments, etc. 

The good news is that all your case prep will build your skills for both types of cases.

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

How Interviewer-led Case Interviews Are Different from Interviewee-led Cases

The differences between interviewer- vs. interviewee-led cases are mainly about communication and who drives the momentum in the case.

Interviewee-led Cases

In a candidate-led case, you are given the problem and expected to finish all the way through to the recommendations. 

The interviewee-led case is overall more difficult than the interviewer-led case because it all rests on the choices you make. Here are some specifics about interviewee-led cases: 

  • The information you receive upfront will likely be pretty high-level. The interviewer may spout some facts about the client and then just ask “What do you think they should do?” Or they may ask you something more specific like “ Should the client enter this market?”
  • You also are tasked with requesting more of the information you need. This is where your prep will be invaluable. Study those case frameworks and get fluent about which kind of information you need in various circumstances.
  • You can choose if you want to focus on the market, competitors, pricing, wherever you want to go! 

It can feel pretty overwhelming to have to choose from all the possible paths you could go down, or even once you’re deep into the case. 

It’s not unusual to pursue a path, and halfway down the path realize that you don’t know where to go.  

That’s actually what consulting can be like. Sometimes the direction you set off on turns out differently than you expected.

Firms who use the interviewee-led case want to evaluate you on structure, math, communication, but they also want to see what happens to you when you get 3/4 of the way through the case: 

  • Do you know how to drive towards recommendations? 
  • Do you get lost and fumble? 

So don’t freak out. 

If you study case archetypes and practice a lot of cases, you’re going to have great instincts on what to do once you’ve solved a math problem. (That’s when my mind would go blank and I would start thinking about the cabernet I was going to have once I got out of there.)

Interviewee-led cases are also sort of like “choose your own adventure” books. If you remember those, sometimes you could actually choose a path that led to a complete dead end. 

That can also happen in a candidate-led case. If it does, acknowledge it, put a bow on that thread, and go back to your structure to see where to go next. 

If you can do that in a cool, collected way, it will impress your interviewer and let them know you are mentally prepared for that to happen IRC (In Real Consulting).

Interviewer-led Cases

In the interviewer-led case there will be some specific differences: 

  • You will be given very specific questions to answer. They may even be yes or no questions with certain thresholds or criteria attached. 
  • Interviewer-led cases will be more specific and go deeper on a given topic . Because you don’t have the whole universe of issues to address, you can go deep on specific areas and get into real problem-solving. 
  • The math will be more difficult. There may be multiple math portions of the case, and each area may require multiple calculations to get to the answer. 
  • The dynamic between you and the interviewer is different : this will feel more like working with a manager than like having a thoughtful and collaborative discussion with a client. 

In the interviewer-led case, the firms are testing you on specific skills. More to come in the next section with some detail about McKinsey first round cases.

McKinsey First Round Cases

McKinsey first round cases are very structured and often have 6 sections with 6 specific questions: 

  • Case set-up and structure: You can structure the case as normal. The interviewer may even ask you to choose where you think you should explore. But then the interviewer may say something like “OK, that’s a good thought, but let’s discuss this other area for now.” Don’t be alarmed. They have a ‘script’ they are supposed to follow.
  • Conceptual questions #1 : The interviewer will typically point you in a direction and ask you to think through options. For example: “Let’s focus on variable costs. What are the levers for this company?”  This is where you can go deeper into the key area of interest in the structure.
  •   Math question #1: As we mentioned, the math will be more difficult in interviewer-led cases. For example, you might have to assess a change in margins 3 years from now. So you’ll have to calculate current margins, grow revenue and costs, and then calculate the new margin.
  • Conceptual question #2: This is similar to the conceptual question above but now you will be honing in on the final recommendation.
  • Math question #2: The second math question should be getting to your ‘Go / No Go’ decision or highlighting the best option. 
  • Recommendation: This is pretty similar to a normal recommendation. Just remember to leverage information and conclusions from each of the questions above. 

Hot tip: Since you are usually given specific questions at the start of an interviewer-led case, I recommend you use a single piece of paper to write those down and bring that back as part of your conclusion. 

In the practice case I used to give, I’d recommend candidates write down the two questions that would determine the answer: 

  • Is the market growing more than 10% per year? (our client’s criteria for new market entry), and
  • Should we enter the new market?. 

Most first round cases for McKinsey follow this theme of questions. So be prepared for that second math question, and know that if you mess up on the first one you get a clean slate to do better on the second math question!

Once you’ve made it through the first round, there’s a chance you will get a 6 question case for your final rounds, but McKinsey partners tend to get bored with doing the same case over and over. They are more likely to invent something on the fly and it may feel … more like an interviewee-led case. 

So if you’re interviewing with McKinsey, you’ll actually need to prepare both types of cases. 

The good news is that once you’ve mastered the candidate-led case, the interviewer-led case should feel like a breeze. 

– – – – – – – – – – – – 

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Why firms give different styles of case interviews,
  • How interviewer and candidate-led case are comparable,
  • How interviewer and candidate-led cases differ. 

Now get back to running cases!

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about interviewer- vs. interviewee-led case interviews, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people prepping for consulting case study interviews found the following pages helpful:

  • Our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep , 
  • Case Interview Frameworks , and
  • MECE (Mutually exclusive, collectively exhausting) .

Help with Consulting Interview Prep

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on interviewer vs. interviewee-led case interviews. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Ella was able to get her offer from McKinsey.

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By Melissa Quinn, Jared Eggleston

Updated on: March 1, 2024 / 5:04 PM EST / CBS News

Atlanta  — Whether Fulton County District of Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the  Georgia election interference case  against former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants is now up to the Fulton County judge overseeing the matter, who said he would make a decision within the next two weeks.

At the three-hour proceeding before Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, attorneys for each side presented legal arguments for and against disqualifying Willis from the case over her romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

It capped a series of extraordinary hearings following allegations from Michael Roman , a GOP operative charged along with Trump, that Willis and Wade had an "improper" romantic relationship, and that the district attorney financially benefited from it. Trump and seven others joined Roman's effort to disqualify Willis, Wade and her office from prosecuting the racketeering case against them, and are seeking to have the charges against them dismissed.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys gathered in the Atlanta courtroom to present their closing arguments to McAfee. Wade was attendance for the entirety of the hearing, while Willis sat at the prosecution's table to watch Adam Abbate, who works in her office, give his presentation.

The judge did not issue a decision from the bench, saying he has several legal issues to sort through and factual determinations to make before issuing a ruling.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing on March 1, 2024, in Atlanta.

"If this court allows this kind of behavior to go on and allows DAs across the state by its order to engage in these kinds of activities, the entire public confidence in the system will be shot and the integrity of the system will be undermined," said John Merchant, a defense attorney representing Roman who opened the arguments for the defendants.

Abbate said there has been "absolutely no evidence that the district attorney has benefited at all," or would benefit in the future, from the prosecution of the case.

Roman claimed that the relationship between Wade and Willis began before she hired him as special prosecutor in the case against Trump in early November 2021. The two admitted in a court filing that they did have a personal relationship, but said it started in 2022.

Both Willis and Wade testified during evidentiary hearings  last month and divulged personal details about their relationship, financial affairs and travels to places like Napa Valley, Belize and Aruba. During several hours on the witness stand, Willis forcefully defended herself from accusations she acted improperly and financially benefited from Wade's hiring.

Defense attorneys claimed that Wade paid for hotel rooms, cruises and getaways, though both prosecutors said they split the costs associated with their travels and that Willis often reimbursed Wade in cash. To demonstrate that Willis typically used cash to cover expenses, on Tuesday prosecutors filed an affidavit from Stan Brody, who worked at a winery in Napa that she and Wade visited last year . Brody asserted that Willis paid $400 in cash for two bottles of wine and a tasting.

The district attorney had accused Ashleigh Merchant, Roman's attorney, of spreading lies and "salacious" rumors.

"You've been intrusive into people's personal lives," Willis said during her testimony Feb. 16. "You're confused. You think I'm on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial."

Friday's hearing

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides during final arguments in the District Attorney Fani Willis disqualification hearing at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, in Atlanta.

Defense attorneys representing Trump and his co-defendants were given 90 minutes to make their arguments for why Willis and Wade should be disqualified. Abbate, the prosecutor, had the same amount of time to present the district attorney's case. 

During his presentation, John Merchant accused Willis of developing a financial interest in the case in violation of the rules of professional conduct, which "created the appearance of unfairness by setting a prosecutorial relationship with her boyfriend that she had been dating for two years, according to the testimony."

Though Wade and Willis testified that they split expenses related to their trips, John Merchant said Willis received a benefit of roughly $9,200 that cannot be accounted for. He accused the district attorney of "intentionally" crafting a scheme to benefit Wade.

"She put her boyfriend in the spot, paid him and them reaped the benefits from it," John Merchant said. "She created the system and then didn't tell anyone about it."

He said that if McAfee finds that Wade and Willis' relationship began in 2019 — roughly two years before his appointment as special prosecutor — and Wade's hiring was improper, it undermines the indictment charging Trump and his co-defendants. 

Attorney John Merchant looks on during a hearing in Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024 in Atlanta.

Both Steve Sadow, who is representing Trump, and Craig Gillen, another defense lawyer, accused Willis of engaging in misconduct when she delivered a speech at a church in January, shortly after the allegations about her relationship with Wade were made public. Though Willis did not mention Wade by name, she defended his qualifications and suggested that racism was behind the claims. 

Gillen and Sadow said the speech was designed to prejudice potential jurors against the defendants.

"She chose to inject race into the minds of the listeners, and virtually everybody in this community and literally everyone in this country has reviewed and analyzed that speech that she made in a premeditated way," Gillen said.

Sadow argued that Willis and Wade have the strongest motive to lie about the start of their relationship.

"Who has the best motive of anyone to lie? They do. Who has the most at stake to lie? They do. Who wants to stay on this case, for whatever the financial reason may be? They do," he said.

Citing records from Wade's cellphone that were obtained by the defense, defense attorney Richard Rice suggested they communicated extensively throughout 2021.

"I don't even think lovestruck teenagers communicate that much," he said.

Rice also told McAfee that the two "have some difficulty expressing the truth when it comes to their relationship and these cases." Wade, he claimed, lied in filings submitted in his divorce proceedings. He accused Willis of falsely certifying on ethics forms that she had not received gifts worth more than $100.

"It defies imagination that she could somehow forget about all these trips, all these dinners, all these day trips," Rice said.

Harry MacDougald, who is representing former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, claimed that Willis and Wade have made the Fulton County District Attorney's Office "a global laughing stock because of their conduct." 

Abbate argued that the defense fell short of meeting the standard required to disqualify Willis and accused the opposing side of making "material misrepresentations." He called testimony from Robin Yeartie, a former longtime friend of Willis, "at best inconsistent," and said the defendants misstated the law about what is required for the district attorney and her office to be removed from the case.

No evidence was produced during the earlier evidentiary hearings that showed the defendants' constitutional rights were affected by Wade and Willis' relationship, Abbate said. He reiterated that their romantic relationship began in March 2022, and said Willis repaid Wade for her share of their travel and trips.

McAfee, though, said it is no longer "speculation and conjecture" that there was a personal relationship between the prosecutors, and that money changed hands. "Where the ledger stands" may still be an open question, the judge said.

But Abbate said it is still unproven that Willis benefited financially from the relationship, and he accused defense attorneys of attempting to "harass and embarrass" her by invoking a tax lien unrelated to the proceedings.

The relationship timeline

The timeline surrounding Willis and Wade's relationship has emerged as a crucial issue in the effort to kick the district attorney and her office off the case. Yeartie claimed the relationship with Wade pre-dated his appointment on Nov. 1, 2021. Yeartie testified that she witnessed the couple being affectionate with one another.

State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump, in Atlanta

Defense attorneys also questioned Terrence Bradley, Wade's former law partner and divorce attorney, about his communications with Wade and text messages he exchanged with Ashleigh Merchant about the relationship between the two prosecutors before she filed a motion exposing their private dealings.

After asserting attorney-client privilege while testifying twice last month, Bradley was called back to the stand at a hearing Wednesday. He said he had been "speculating" when he told Ashleigh Merchant in a message that the relationship between Wade and Willis started before Wade's hiring. Bradley repeatedly said he had no direct knowledge of when it began.

Prosecutors sought to discredit both Bradley and Yeartie. They revealed during the evidentiary hearing last month that Bradley left the firm he shared with Wade following an accusation of sexual assault. Bradley forcefully denied the allegation, and said earlier this week that he has not spoken to Wade in more than a year.

Lawyers with the district attorney's office also said Yeartie left her job there on poor terms after she was told she could either resign or be terminated. Willis testified last month that she has not spoken with Yeartie for more than a year, and said she "betrayed" their friendship.

Abbate continued working to undermine Bradley and Yeartie's credibility during his closing arguments, calling them both "disgruntled."

Bradley in particular, he said, was "vengeful" and a "speculator" who had reason to lie about Willis and Wade's relationship because he has "disdain" toward his former law partner after he was expelled from their law firm following the sexual assault allegation.

The controversy over Willis' romantic relationship with Wade has cast a shadow over the prosecution involving Trump and derailed the case for several weeks. Trump and his allies face charges over alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Several original co-defendants have taken plea deals, while the remaining defendants have all pleaded not guilty . 

Heading into Friday's hearing, there were lingering disputes over evidence that both sides have sought to admit. Defense attorneys want McAfee to admit Wade's cellphone data as evidence, claiming it shows he was in the vicinity of a condo Willis rented from Yeartie in Hapeville, south of Atlanta, at least three dozen times in 2021. They said testimony about location data from Wade's phone show that he was near Willis' condo late at night and into the early morning hours in the months before he was tapped as special prosecutor.

Prosecutors have also said Brody, who worked at the Napa winery that Wade and Willis visited, is available to testify Friday if the court declines to accept his affidavit.

McAfee said at the start of the hearing that he was ready to hear the legal argument regarding what prosecutors and defense attorneys have already presented and said he may be able to make a decision without the cellphone records and testimony from Brody. The judge did not rule out further proceedings for admitting the additional information.

Melissa Quinn is a politics reporter for CBSNews.com. She has written for outlets including the Washington Examiner, Daily Signal and Alexandria Times. Melissa covers U.S. politics, with a focus on the Supreme Court and federal courts.

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