Interviewers use case studies to see how you
- deal creatively with complex or ambiguous problems in unfamiliar territory;
- structure your thinking; and
- reach sensible conclusions with the available facts in a short period of time.
How You Should Approach the Problem
The cases you discuss in each of your interviews will be different. Generally, they are based on the interviewer's professional experiences and will usually describe situations with which you are not familiar. For example, your cases might focus on deciding how a company should react to a new competitor or determining how many barbershops are in Chicago. In addressing the case, it is important that you take a logical, well-structured approach and reach a reasoned conclusion.
Common Approach to Solving a Case Study
- Understand the underlying problem and the question. Ask for clarification on points that you feel are unclear.
- Break the problem down into a logical structure. There may be several issues to be addressed in order to reach a conclusion.
- Address the issues one at a time. Focus on the most important issues first. Your interviewer may not expect you to get through all of them in the allotted time.
- Address important issues, not just ones you feel comfortable with. Candidates often focus too much on their own area of expertise rather than the important issues (for example, accountants focusing on the financial aspects of new product development without mentioning customers).
- Test your emerging hypotheses. Keep coming back to check that you are addressing the question you were asked.
- Request additional information. As you build an understanding of the problem, there may be more information that you need.
- Reach a conclusion. Synthesize your thoughts concisely and develop a recommendation.
What Recruiters Are Looking For
In most instances there is no right answer to the problem. It is critical that you demonstrate your ability to think in a structured way and that you reach a logical conclusion supported by the evidence. Listen carefully to the scenario; if you miss critical information, it can affect your ability to solve the problem.
During the case study, the recruiter looks for evidence of your ability on a number of dimensions: logical reasoning, creativity, quantitative skills, business judgment (not business knowledge), pragmatism, and an ability to structure problem solving.
Case Study Tips
- Listen to the problem. Make sure you are answering the question that you have been asked.
- Stay organized. Finish one key question and arrive at a point of view before you go on to the next.
- Communicate your train of thought clearly. If you have considered some alternatives and rejected them, tell the interviewer what and why.
- Step back periodically. Summarize what you have learned and what the implications appear to be.
- Ask for additional information when you need it. But make sure that the interviewer knows why you need the information.
- Watch for cues from the interviewer.
- Don't fixate on "cracking the case." It is much more important to demonstrate a logical thought process than to arrive at the solution. Relax and enjoy the process - think of the interviewer as a teammate in a problem-solving process and the case as a real client problem that you need to explore and then solve.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Misunderstanding the question or answering the wrong question.
- Proceeding in a haphazard fashion. For example, not identifying the major issues that need to be examined or jumping from one issue to another.
- Asking a barrage of questions without explaining to the interviewer why you need the information.
Sample Case Study Questions
- You are a manufacturer of toys and you have a product that costs $1,000. Estimate how many of those you can sell in Hong Kong.
- You're taking a trip to Indonesia tomorrow to work with a company for a period of time. You don't know anything about this firm but you are provided with the financial statement of this firm from last year. How do you get the general idea about the firm's "health" condition, given that you only have one hour to report your opinion to your boss?
- How would you go about advising a bank if it should implement an ATM system?
- Discuss the economics of a gym.
- You are the consultant for a bank. Give some quantitative measures that can tell about the productivity of the operations department.
- How many skis will be sold in the U.S. next year?
- What is the market size for wall paper?
- Estimate the number of airplane flights in a year.
- Estimate the size of the paper clip industry.
- A company dealing with a commodity product is thinking about expanding internationally. If its labor costs are competitive with industry standards, what issues might influence its decision?
- What is the population of dogs in the United States?
- Where would you put a gas station if there were none in New Jersey?
- How many drug stores are there in Manhattan?
- How would you estimate demand for forks in one year?
- What is the number of people in Pennsylvania?
- How many planes take off in the U.S. per day?