How to Prepare
To begin, there is no right or wrong way to prepare. What one person may believe is the only way to go will be seriously questioned by others. For instance, one second year once stated to every first year that the only way to prepare was to begin by reading a listed stack of textbooks, cover to cover. While it worked for her, it may not work for everyone. So, this section is intended to be more of a collection of tips than a hard recipe.
- Schedule: Case interview preparation is a frustrating, time-consuming process. As the consulting interview section describes, you can practice for weeks without knowing if you are doing the case correctly. It helps to schedule your time. Devote a block of time every day or several times a week to practice cases, and stick to it. Force yourself to work on cases during that time.
- How many: There is no magic number of how many cases you should do by the time interviews start. Some are satisified with 10 and do very well, others need to do 40-50 before they feel comfortable. Remember, this is not a race. The statement: "the more cases you do, the better prepared you will be" is not necessarily true. The reflection and thought you put into each case will help you grow more than simply the number of cases you do.
- Alone or with people: You can work on cases alone, or with others. Do as many cases as you can with other people. After all, this is how your interview will occur. Try hard to find willing 2nd-years and sponsored first- and second-years to do cases with. A bit of experience, both as an employee and as an interviewee, goes a long way. Do not ask any employee of a firm if they can do a case with you, unless they consider you a friend. Most firms will have an in-office case workshop for a variety of schools, to which they invite candidates to practice with consultants.
- When with others: Consider the following tips.
- Structure: Typically, you will work with one other person for a given case session. One person will give a case, followed by feedback, to the other. If both are interviewing, courtesy dictates that the other then gives a case and feedback to the first. This implies that you will spend 90 to 120 minutes for each case session. While this is a lot of time, you know now to expect it.
- Time: The actual interview lasts for various amounts of time. Most firms use 30-minute interviews, with 25-30 minutes for the case. Some firms use 45-minute interviews, with 30-40 minutes for the case. Offices within the firm may even have various interview styles as well. When practicing, be strict on time. You want to simulate real life as best as possible.
- Learn from Giving: While, initially, being the interviewer may seem like a waste of time, know that some find it even more helpful than doing the interview. Pick one case early and give it to as many people as possible. You will start to see what interviewees do well and poorly, and will be able to adapt your own style when receiving a case appropriately. If you have time, consider writing your own case and delivering it.
- Variety: Work with as many different people as you can. Each person has a different style of interviewing, and the more styles you see the better. Note that this can be a difficult topic. Everyone wants to do as many cases with good people as possible, but if someone else believes you are good and you do not believe the same about them, you may be hesitant to devoting 1-2 hours of your case practice time with them. Be sensitive to this point: you do not want to burn any bridges because of these interviews.
- Variety, part 2: Companies interview in a variety of ways. Some use lots of slides and data while requiring you to drive the case, others drive the case for you and drill you with questions. See research for more information on this. Mix up your style of interviewing, so you can practice the variety.
- Interview style: When interviewing others, try to mix up the style of interview you give. Be excited and helpful in one interview, while sitting forward in your chair and offering information to the interviewee. Be quiet and reserved the next, sitting back and only speaking when the interviewee asks you a question. Be slightly annoyed the next, cutting off the interviewee when they start to go down the wrong path.
- When alone: Consider the following tips.
- 5-minute Exercises: Use simple, 1-page cases (your management consulting club should have many of these resources available) to practice your frameworks. Read the introduction to the case, make your framework, read your opening sentence, then review the remainder of the case for the answer. Review your framework to see if/how you would change your framework and opening sentence. Do this three times a day several times a week to hone your frameworks quickly and effectively.
- Mirror Exercises: Since your face conveys a tremendous amount during the interview, it helps to understand what your face is saying. Follow the same 5-minute Exercise, but read your opening sentence into a mirror and watch yourself carefully. This is tough to do with a straight face, but, like videotaping, extremely rewarding.
- Review Your Cases: Keep your notes on cases that you have done and feedback you have received. Every so often, review your past cases and think critically on how you would approach them differently. This review has been found to be tremendously helpful in gaining insight into our behaviors during the interview, as well as what we believe the fix would be.
- Videotape: As you approach interview week, consider honing your skills by videotaping yourself in an interview. You will see behaviors that you never would have imagined you do. After several videotaped sessions, you will feel far more comfortable and understanding how your body and face will react to the interview.
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