5 Common Case Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Interviewing for a management consulting role can be a challenging and exciting process. If you’ve already read up on consulting interviews, then you know that they involve a two-part process consisting of a “fit” interview (also known as an experience interview) which focuses on your background and experience, and a case interview which focuses on your ability to solve problems creatively and effectively. And if you’re preparing for the interview process, you might be wondering not only about what you should be doing but also about what NOT to do.

Here are some of the most common case interview mistakes and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Not having pens, pencils or paper

In our technology-driven world, we usually rely on our laptops and phones to help us take notes and transmit information, but in a case interview it’s important to have pens, pencils and at least three blank sheets of paper available since you’ll be using these to map out your answers and present your solution to the interviewer. When preparing for the interview, be sure to pack a portfolio folder with spare copies of your resume (enough for each person you’ll be meeting with) a stack of blank white paper and several pens and pencils. This will help ensure that you’re able to map out your answers in a clear and impactful way.

2. Not having a structured answer

Few things are as important in consulting as having a structured answer. This is because cases are essentially problems that need to be solved. To structure your answer effectively, it’s important to understand how to create a framework and then use that framework to develop a clear and direct solution to the problem. By thinking through the problem in a focused way, you’ll be able to deliver an answer that is much more likely to resonate with the interviewer and to help you land the job.

3. Not taking time to think

Although consulting is considered an industry where you always have to think on your feet, taking the time to analyze and solve a problem carefully is incredibly important during the case interview since it will increase your chances of delivering a great solution. How much time? We recommend 30 seconds. This will give you enough time to assess the case and start formulating a solution without making you seem unprepared or unable to think on your feet.

Pro Tip: Always ask the interviewer if it’s okay to take time to think and, if you’re going to do so, be specific about how much time you need. So if you ask for 30 seconds, be sure you only take 30 seconds though it’s okay to take less time than you asked for.

4. Not preparing for the fit portion of the interview

Although the case interview might seem like the more challenging part of the interview process, it’s important to remember that both parts are equally important and that preparing for each one is key to a successful outcome. The best way to do this is by researching some of the most commonly asked fit interview questions and practicing your responses with the same structured approach you use to practice case interviews.

5. Not talking through your process

Since interviewers use case studies to understand how you think, walking the interviewer through your thought process is incredibly important. In fact, even if you deliver a solid answer during the interview you’re unlikely to be successful unless the interviewer has a sense of exactly how you arrived at that answer.

Pro Tip: Talk through each point of your answer in a detailed way, offering the interviewer an overview of the solution before breaking it down into segments and explaining how each segment contributes to the whole. This process will not only make your delivery more effective, it will also help you slow down and think about the viability of the solution as you discuss it.

Although it’s not always possible to avoid mistakes during the consulting interview process, by knowing what to watch out for, you’ll be more likely to avoid common mistakes and to ensure a successful outcome.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 10 Tips for the Perfect Cover Letter and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Travel?