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Tackling Case Interviews

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Off late, management consulting firms like McKinsey,Boston Consulting Group, Bain, Mercer, etc. have started visiting Engineering colleges like the IITs and others for recruitment. These firms love to give prospective employees a problem to solve during the course of the interview. Such exercises have come to be known as “case interviews” and are designed to help the interviewer filter candidates to hire those who are fit to be management consultants.

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Case questions in such interviews come in many forms or levels of complexity. Generally they can be segregated into the following types:

• Market-sizing questions
• Business operations questions
• Business strategy questions
• Resume questions

(Consulting firms rarely ask puzzles or brainteasers; other types of cases give much more insight into the type of thinking that makes a good consultant.) If you can identify the type of question, you will have a better idea about how to effectively attack the problem.

What the Interviewer is seeking

The interviewer puts such questions to test you out on the following parameters:

• Analytical ability
• Ability to not break into hives under pressure
• Common sense
• Business intuition
• Structured thinking
• Intelligence
• Ability to think under pressure
• Comfort and command with numbers
• Presentation and Communication skills
• Ability to analyze and then make recommendations based on the analysis
• Creativity
• Enthusiasm

Engineering Students

For engineering undergrads, these case interviews tend to be simpler and more understandable than those for MBA students. Market-sizing and Business strategy questions are very popular among interviewers.

Although interviewers do help candidates understand the problem or even during the course of the interview, you should be cautious as rank amateurs are definitely not welcome. Thus, try to develop a general understanding of basic business relationships (e.g., revenues – costs = profits), before you enter such an interview.

Here are a few real, live case questions firms ask engineering undergraduates

• How many beans would it take to fill this room?

• There is a hip bar and restaurant in Mumbai. The place is always packed, but it isn’t profitable. What’s going on?

• How many blue Marutis would cross Gurgaon's toll between 5 PM to 7 PM on a working day?

In all these case questions, the important thing is to break the question and your answer as much as possible, i.e. you should cover ALL scenarios possible and even make assumptions (but keep conveying such assumptions to the interviewer). Another point to note is to keep the firm’s reputation and areas of strength in mind. Some firms that are known for a particular type of work will likely be more sensitive to those issues in the questions they give.

In the coming articles we will have a look at various kinds of case interview questions and try to present an approach tackling them.

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