3 Keys to Avoiding Case Interview Pitfalls

Published: Oct 24, 2011

 Interviewing       Job Search       

I think the biggest challenge to landing a job in management consulting is getting through the case interviews. At L.E.K. Consulting, we give two types of case interviews, strategy/business logic and quant. The key to doing well on both of these types of cases is practicing verbally with your friends and making sure that you have a structured approach to the problem. And there is certainly more to it than that. Based on my experience conducting interviews and speaking with other interviewers, I’ve highlighted some of the most common areas where candidates struggle during case interview questions:

1.     Not reacting to new information:

 You’ll likely be presented with background information to answer a question such as “estimate the U.S. market size for a new pill that cures male baldness.” Based on the initial set of information, some candidates will start heading down a dead-end road or make a poor initial assumption. Typically, the interviewer will try to redirect the person by providing new information. An important part of management consulting is adapting your “thesis” based on new findings. Not reacting to this guidance is a sure way to significantly reduce your chances of making it to the next round.

2.     Not providing rationale for assumptions:

Sometimes candidates will pull a number out of a hat when making an assumption. I would try to avoid this. Even if it is an industry you didn’t know existed a few minutes ago, try your best to come up with supporting rationale for your number, and feel free to ask your interviewer for feedback if you are unsure. For example, as part of your market sizing exercise for the cure for male baldness case, you may need to estimate the prevalence of baldness in American males within different age groups. Few interviewees will know this information, but instead of just saying what sounds reasonable, you could potentially walk the interviewer through how you would use a sampling of your acquaintances to give you a rough estimate. This could then be followed up by asking the interviewer if your estimate sounds reasonable.

3.     Getting trapped in minutia:

Keep in mind that a typical L.E.K. Consulting first-round interview lasts 30 minutes, with about 20 minutes focused on the case. This is not very much time to tackle a complex problem, and candidates often struggle to arrive at a potential answer. In some cases, the key goal of the interview isn’t necessarily to answer the question accurately, but to arrive at an answer in a way that helps us gain an understanding of your analytical abilities. So do your best to keep the case moving and avoid getting stuck on one particular part of the case.

--Graham G., L.E.K. Consulting

This post was adapted from L.E.K. Consulting’s L.E.K. Advisor blog, which is an interactive resource for undergraduate, MBA and PhD candidates interested in pursuing a career in management consulting. The L.E.K. Advisor acts as a voice for the L.E.K. brand and also features contributions from L.E.K. employees who share their “real-world” perspectives about the management consulting industry and life inside L.E.K. Check it out at http://ask.lek.com/.

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