Conducting Case Interviews Boston College August 22, 2007
Types of Case Interviews Market Sizing Determine how big a particular problem is, or how many of X products are used • How many golf balls are made in the US each year? • How many cans of paint are needed to paint the Delta fleet? Brainteasers Use puzzles or questions that challenge a candidate’s ability to think creatively • Why are manhole covers round? • Why do fashions change every year or two? General Business Analyze business issues that mimic real-world situations • To which site should we relocate? • Why are our profits falling in Division ABC? Deloitte Mostly Conducts General Business Cases
What are Business Case Interviews? • Real world situations, sometimes taken from actual client engagements • Topics covered in the case are usually reflective of the type of work the candidate would be doing • Interviewer provides the candidate with a set of facts about a problem – often business or technology related • Interviewer assess the candidate’s ability to synthesize many different situational elements into a cohesive understanding of the problem at hand • Candidates draw upon their analytical abilities, business experience, and deductive reasoning to “solve” the case
Business Case Interview Examples • Interviewing for “Business Technology Analyst” Position A major health insurance company has just bought out a slightly smaller competitor. What are some considerations that the companies might have in merging the billing systems, and what are some strategies that you might use to combat the most important of these problems? • Interviewing for “Business Analyst” Position A major North American drug/convenience store has been losing market share for three years. They have asked us to determine the cause for this trend and to recommend solutions to regain market share. • Interviewing for “Human Capital Analyst” Position A small manufacturing company has just announced its merger with a competitor of equal size. The two companies have different benefits and compensation packages for employees at the same level. They have asked for recommendations about how to merge the packages successfully and cost-effectively while causing minimal confusion and disruption for the employees.
Benefits of Case Interviews • Benefits to the candidate • Provides the candidate with a sample of the kinds of business problems that we solve • Provides the candidate with the opportunity to showcase his/her skills in a non-personal situation • Benefits to the employer • Offers more objective evaluation than other interview formats • Provides a gauge of key attributes required to be successful at the company
Interviewers Set the Tone & Drive the Interview • The focus in a case interview should be the candidate’s approach to the question and plausibility of the solution. • The candidate’s background and level of experience will play a large role in his/her performance with regard to creativity and recommending solutions • It is important to stay within the timeframe and scope of the question – when the candidate gets sidetracked, interviewers should reel them back in • The interview should not be one-sided; interviewers should respond with additional information and follow-up questions as appropriate • As with behavioral, case interviewers should demonstrate consistency, fairness, preparedness, effective listening skills
Attribute Evaluating for this Attribute Communication Skills • Clearly articulates thought process • Listens well, including taking hints • Displays confidence in tone and presence Composure • Handles interviewer questions • Performs under pressure • Has a “client-ready” presence Attributes we look for during a Case Interview Your goal as an Interviewer is to determine if a candidate has the attributes needed to be successful in a given position. Problem Solving • Understands business problem • Identifies and prioritizes key issues • Asks relevant questions • Makes justifiable assumptions • Demonstrates logical structure • Thinks creatively • Demonstrates technical awareness
5% Introductions 5% State the Objective of the Case Interview 5% Present the Case to the Candidate 65% Candidate Presents their Solution/Approach to the Case 20% Wrap-up Case Interview Phases It is helpful for interviewers to structure their case interview into five phases and spend the appropriate amount of time on each phase.
Case Interview Phases Introductions State the objective of the interview Present the case to the candidate Candidate presents solution/approach Wrap-up • Take a moment to introduce yourself and break the ice with the candidate • Be informative, yet brief • Tell them what to expect during the interview • Explain that you are most interested in their approach and thought process; there is not one “right” answer • Usually verbal • Assess listening skills & ability to dissect complex ideas • Suggest they take a few minutes to collect their thoughts • Be responsive to questions • Consider asking candidate to summarize the case for you to ensure they understand what is being asked • If the candidate struggles with their approach, guide them by providing hints • Divulge add’l info you have when the candidate asks; if they don’t ask, divulge it as appropriate • Ask probing questions where information seems unclear or incomplete • If the case seems to easy for them, throw in a wrench! • Ask candidate to summarize their solution/approach if they didn’t • Give candidate the opportunity to ask questions related (or unrelated) to the case • Do not provide feedback on the candidate’s performance • Do not provide additional thoughts or alternative responses; they might tell other candidates
If the Candidate… You Should… Thoughtful Interactions and Responses Interaction between an interviewer and a candidate is critical to a successful case interview Veers off track Change direction and ask questions that will force the candidate to refocus Goes into too much detail about one aspect of the case Indicate that you have enough information about a particular area and encourage the candidate to move on to other aspects of the case Gets stuck Divulge information you have that may be helpful, ask questions with increasing specificity and focus, or “help” the candidate along and ask questions in other areas Gives answers that are wrong, “canned,” or vague Ask the candidate for his/her reasoning. (If the candidate is wrong, this gives an opportunity to rethink. If the candidate is vague, this requires the candidate to provide deeper analysis) Starts running out of time Ask the candidate to wrap up. This demonstrates the candidate’s ability to draw strong conclusions and summarize issues succinctly You should always aim to have the candidate finish up the case. “Push the candidate” when necessary.
Evaluating a Candidate’s Performance Interviewers can best evaluate a candidate’s performance in different areas by asking him/herself several questions Problem Solving • Did the candidate ask appropriate questions? • Did the candidate define the problem and identify relevant facts? • Did the candidate state his/her assumptions? • Is the solution set pragmatic and plausible? • Does the candidate demonstrate logic in his/her analysis? • Does the candidate focus on key issues or problems, hypothesize on his/her root causes, and then present viable recommendations? Communication Skills • Does the candidate listen and take cues from the interviewer? • Is the candidate articulate and confident? • How well does the candidate structure his/her response? • Are you able to follow the candidate’s logic?
Evaluating a Candidate’s Performance Interviewers can best evaluate a candidate’s performance in different areas by asking him/herself several questions Composure • How well does the candidate handle questions from the interviewer? • Is the candidate thrown off? • Does he/she respond convincingly and think well on his/her feet? • Does the candidate maintain a professional demeanor throughout the interview? General Case Performance • Does the candidate’s work experience or coursework relate to the case? • Evaluate the candidate’s overall response and incorporate relevant observations into your recommendation.
Sample Poor Evaluation Form • All form sections are not completed • Comments under the communication section are too brief, subjective, and do not provide enough detail • Final rating not completed • Pursuit team recommendations not completed
Sample Good Evaluation Form • Heading complete • All sections complete with ratings and comments are detailed, not subjective, and paint a picture of what happened in the interview • Offer summary complete with offer recommendation and recommended pursuit team
Follow A Structured Approach and Timeline Understand The Case, Clarify, And Confirm (5 Minutes) Develop A Logical Framework and Establish Hypotheses (10 Minutes) Make Assumptions And Test Hypotheses (10 Minutes) Drive To Conclusions (5 Minutes)
Let’s Practice With A Real World Example You are a consultant for a German luxury car manufacturer interested in entering the sports utility vehicle (SUV) market after noticing the market has grown dramatically worldwide in the past two years. The client currently has no experience with manufacturing these types of vehicles. How would you advise the CEO about what his company should do?
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Understand, Clarify and Confirm: Interview Tips • Write it down • As the interviewer presents the case, write down key facts. You will need to recall these facts later on in the case study • Restate the problem and establish the objective • Vocalize to your interviewer the issues you plan to evaluate • Don’t be thrown by terms you’re not familiar with- if you don’t know what it means, ASK! • Start with one of your identified points and drill down • Think about what information you’ve been given, and what areas you would like to explore even further • Begin to focus your thought process on one or two lines • Ask applicable questions • The interviewer expects you to ask for more information
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Demonstrate Your Understanding by Identifying The Key Issues Involved In The Case Business Issues Example Profitability What impact will the client’s entry have on sales and pricing of SUVs? Investment Should your client invest funds in developing a new vehicle? Should the client invest in the infrastructure necessary to make SUVs? Are there additional costs with training the line staff to make these vehicles? Business Operations Does the client currently posses sales channels and infrastructure adequate to compete with incumbents? What are the impact on the organization of establishing this new line? Market Impacts How much market share would the client stand to gain if it enters the market? What competitive response can it expect from incumbents? Is there another way to enter the market without alerting the incumbents?
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Utilize Frameworks To Develop Hypotheses Framework Hypothesis SWOT Analysis The client’s reputation for high quality in luxury vehicles will continue to be a competitive advantage; therefore, the client should leverage their brand image. The current fuel crisis may pose a threat to the SUV market, thus fuel efficiency would be key Kotler’s Four P’s There is little position in the high-end market for SUVs; therefore the client should consider creating a lower-end model for every day users; pricing would have to be amenable to the price-sensitive consumer BCG’s Growth Share Matrix The SUV market is growing slowly and the client’s current position will support a new line of vehicles Porter’s Five Forces Incumbents will vigorously defend their market share – additional analysis is required; significant investment to modify the factory will be required to make SUVs
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Porter’s Five Forces Barriers to Entry Supplier Power Buyer Power Industry Rivalry Threat of Substitutes Develop & Establish Hypotheses: Interview Tips • Look at the numbers (if any) in the case • Don’t be afraid to round the numbers • Talk the interviewer through your calculations • If you draw a blank in making calculations, don’t panic. Estimate wherever possible • Make preliminary conclusions • Explain any assumptions and preliminary conclusions you have made about the facts of that case • Use your preliminary conclusions as a springboard for more questions
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Test Your Dominant Hypotheses • Establish assumptions • Resources and production elements will remain constant • PPE investment is a one time fee • There are significant ongoing costs to bringing line workers along the learning curve and cross-training in making SUVs and luxury cars • Examine the pertinent questions • What are the costs of entering this market? • Will the introduction of a new SUV impact the sales of current SUVs? • What are revenue probabilities? • How does timing affect decision and/or action? • Develop a test to verify if the hypothesis is correct • The client should enter the market if the potential profits demonstrate a higher • return on investment than remaining out of the market • Conduct analysis to determine the outcome of the test • Refine hypotheses and examine alternatives
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Your Analysis Will Form the Basis of Your Final Recommendation • Summarize hypotheses based on analysis • Investing in the necessary infrastructure will not be profitable • Describe areas for further examination • Market based studies should be conducted to determine the impact of brand promotion and advertising on sales and customer retention • Make a recommendation • The client should enter the market, but the client should leverage its key strength - its brand - to attract consumers • Further analysis will be required to determine the most effective method for branding • It may also be worthwhile to undertake scenario planning based on various ways in which the Global Oil and Gas economics could play out
Conclusions Understand Framework Assumptions Drive to Conclusions: Interview Tips • Wrap it up! • Be prepared to “wrap it up” even if you run out of time • Communicate your conclusion (and how you reached it) to the interviewer • Restate the objective • What was it you were seeking to find • Review your preliminary analyses • What were the conclusions you reached along the way • Present your final conclusion(s) • There is NO RIGHT ANSWER!!! • Your interviewer cares much more about your thought processes than your final answer
Things NOT to do in a Case Interview • Panic or become emotional • Guess • Say “I have no idea” • Change the subject or lose focus • Make the problem more complicated • Jump to conclusions
Practice Take notes as needed Confirm, clarify, and question Find facts Utilize the tools you know Find a framework and stick with it Focus first, broaden later Don’t jump to an answer; explain how you arrived at your conclusion There’s no right answer (usually) Don’t Circle Relax and have fun Eleven Things To Remember