Akshay Goenka, a summer intern with the top consulting firm of firms and a consultant in and out kindly shares his tips for success with those who have chosen Consulting as their true calling! Enjoy
If you have chosen consulting as your true calling – you’re in luck! The consulting case interview is probably the easiest type of interview that one can face during the dreaded summers process.
Let’s get one thing straight – the cases presented to you during the interviews have been/are being solved by the Firm over a period of 2-3 months – so there is no way you can really solve it in 15 minutes! All that they are looking for is a systematic approach backed by logic with smatterings of creativity, ability to handle a bit of pressure and talk to clients in a confident and cordial manner, and most importantly – they need to like you and want to work with you.
Apart from the usual “practice makes perfect” advice, here’s 10 tips that might help you clear the interviews and make it to your dream consulting firm.
1) Prep till the peak, don’t ride the downtrend:
Knowing how many cases to practice is crucial to this process. Do practice a lot of cases – but only till a point where you feel you have reached your peak. One of the main reasons why many people don’t perform well on the day is because they have over-practiced – their way of thinking is too set in stone to approach a new case, which may not fit a framework. There is no set number to this – I know people who solved over 50 cases, and those who did just 10 – it’s a very person specific number.
2) It’s just a puzzle, try to enjoy solving it:
One of the most important pieces of advice I ever got from my senior was to always approach the case like a puzzle – especially on the day of the actual interview. Trying to force-fit frameworks won’t get you very far, and will demonstrate to the interviewer that you can’t think on your feet. Most of all – enjoy your solution! Consulting firms like people who enjoy solving problems.
3) Put on that creative hat:
I found that infusing a case solution with creativity was a big plus point. These are people that have been listening to worried students hammer out terminology and frameworks for hours, and love hearing a novel idea or approach. I would always find a way – an interesting marketing or advertising idea for a new product launch, an innovative cost cutter or revenue stream for a profitability case – there’s always a way to show the interviewer what unique thought you bring to the table. And this relates back to the point about keeping your cool – if your not relaxed, there’s no way your creative juices can flow!
4) Watch the interviewer (he is going to solve the case for you!):
This is probably the most useful thing you will read on this page today. I have found, without fail, that the interviewer always gives you a hint when you are around the key point of the case. Let’s take a profitability case for example, where you have determined that it is a cost side issue. When telling the interviewer about your ideas for why the costs might be high, you will notice a telltale sign that that exact point was what he wanted. It’s sometimes a smile; other times a face twitch or simply him leaning slightly forward. Voila! You now know where to gleefully dig further.
5) Take your time:
Remember that this isn’t a pressure interview, and there really isn’t a specific right answer. More times than not its better to think through your approach and say things right, rather than speed things up and miss out a vital point, or make a calculation mistake. Ask the interviewer for a minute’s time to structure your thoughts at critical times.
6) Don’t EVER freak out (and its ok to get it wrong – there is no right answer anyway):
Suddenly discovering that you are at a dead end, or realizing that you made a fundamental mistake is not the end of the world. Consultants make many mistakes, and their ideas are openly challenged in many a brainstorming session. Making a mistake doesn’t matter – what comes next is what matters. The interviewer will hugely appreciate humility in admitting your mistake, and proposing the fix in a logical & systematic manner.
7) Did you think it was just you solving the case?
Remember that the case interview is a two-person game. Keep checking with the interviewer if you are headed in the right direction, and whether your approach is sound. Make him feel like he has a stake in getting you to the right answer, and then watch how he prods you subtly in the right direction. Also, working in teams in probably more important to a consulting firm than just your IQ level. Being able to involve him in the process demonstrates this skill, and would be a big plus point for you.
8) A summary is worth more than the solution itself
You have said many things, and evaluated many a lever. This confuses both you and the interviewer. It’s important to quickly summarize the progress at key milestones in the case (eg: when you have finished evaluating cost levers, and now are going to move on to profit levers). This helps you keep perspective of the case, and helps the interviewer keep up with you.
At the end of the case, make sure you summarize the key points that were discussed: a sort of a roadmap that you followed to the end.
9) Remember you are on an airplane :It’s a conversation – not a test
Talk to the interviewer in a calm and friendly manner, and treat the interview like a conversation the two of you are having on a airplane with nothing but tissue papers and a pen.
10) Keep your cool regardless of what happens: How else will you deal with clients?
As luck would have it, I woke up on day 0 with a 102 degrees fever. I freaked out for about 2 minutes, and then popped Crocin and a Mars bar and decided that I wasn’t sick at all. I spent my pre-interview time singing songs to other candidates outside the interview room. Sounds ridiculous – but it really helps. Let me be clear: there is no way that you can perform to your best if you are not calm, confident and most importantly – cheerful. It’s also a quality that consulting firms look for, and based on my internship experience I can most certainly see why!
In the end, whatever the evaluation process, the simple question that the interviewer will ask his/herself is “Would I want this candidate on my team for my next project?” As long as that answer is yes, you’re all set to go!
Best of luck!