5 Core Case Study Principles You MUST Know

The case study question is a fundamental portion of any consulting interview. Perhaps you’re a natural at networking, possess a wunderkind resume, and exemplify expert-level interpersonal communication skills. When it comes to evaluating case studies, none of your other skills really matter.

The bad news is that case study interview questions require a very particular way of thinking. These are not particularly intuitive for the uninitiated. Consulting firms used to say, “You don’t need to practice for case interviews – anyone can do them, even an English major.” However, it wasn’t true – and thankfully, they’ve stopped spreading nasty rumors.

The good news is that there is a method to the madness, and accordingly, anyone can excel given the right preparation.

Today, we’re getting started with some of the basics as we’re getting going on a series focused on case interviews. Specifically, we’re giving you the 5 core principles of case study questions every interviewee should know.

1) Focus on Structure

Structure is everything when it comes to answering case study questions. Your answer cannot be “free flowing” or “think as you go.” Interviewers want to know you can see the problem and solution from start to finish.

Don’t be afraid to be very explicit in demonstrating your answer’s structure. Saying something like, “The 3 areas I’d want to investigate,” or “The 4 explanations that come to mind,” is perfectly acceptable. It may feel a little contrived, but your interviewer actually wants to hear these types of words in your answer. They demonstrate that you possess the ability to think and problem solve within a firm structure.

2) Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative

Delivering a structured response does NOT mean you should limit your creativity. Unorthodox answers are encouraged. After all, your firm will be interviewing hundreds of potential hires, and the vast majority will regurgitate the same answer time after time after time. If you want to stand out, taking an innovative approach to your case study solution is the perfect opportunity.

The caveat is that your innovative answers need to be firmly supported with logic, sound reasoning, facts, figures, and all the evidence you’d expect in any traditional answer. The goal isn’t creativity. The goal is a creative solution.

3) Don’t Rely on Frameworks

Frameworks are important. They give you a place to start and direction in which to proceed, but don’t rely too heavily on them. The 3CP or Porter’s 5 can get you started, but if you rely solely on your framework, you’ll ultimately hinder yourself from offering a creative solution.

Another issue with many common frameworks is the lack of financial consideration within the model. We’ve adjusted these, creating a few of our own custom frameworks. You can find these models in the third edition of MC’s Consulting Bible.

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4) Discuss the Implications, Not Just the Numbers

Most case study questions require a quantitative answer. But be careful not to stop at the numbers. If the client needs to reduce costs by 13%, that’s great, but what does it actually mean for the client?

The key is to put yourself in the client’s shoes. What does your analysis mean for their unique business? Are they facing layoffs or needing to outsource?  Are they finding themselves antiquated in the market and needing new direction? Focus on the implications, not just the numbers.

5) Act Like a Consultant

Don’t approach the case study like an essay question to your Finance 3000 test. Act like a consultant. You have just been paid big money to help a real client solve a complex problem.

Be confident. Create initial hypotheses, particularly for more open ended questions, and then adjust as you learn new information. Most importantly, be sure to offer the client recommendations for actionable steps. You aren’t there to offer theory. You’re there to provide a clear course of action for solving a specific problem.

Next Level Prep

Understanding these 5 core principles is your first step towards mastering the case study. Stay tuned for more tips in the months ahead.

For the complete guide to consulting interviews, including:

  • 300+ outline and instruction pages covering every conceivable topic central to consulting interviews
  • Over 50 fit questions that you’re guaranteed to hear in consulting interviews.
  • 50+ pages of practical advice on cracking the case interview including 4 versatile frameworks that are easy to use to solve every case, every time.
  • 16 actual cases that you can do on your own or use to practice with a partner.

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Filed Under: case studies