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  • Writer's pictureBen Gutkovich

Who is driving that case?

Candidate led cases are the most common type of case interviews, used by most of the big consultancies. In this interview format, the responsibility for moving the case forward in the right direction falls on you. In order to do that effectively you need to develop a hypothesis (see below), ask relevant questions to test it and revise the hypothesis based on the provided information.

Of the top tier consultancies, only McKinsey generally uses the interviewer-led format, but be prepared in later rounds for Partners and Directors to ask the candidate to lead the case. Likewise, BCG and Bain interviewers might take control and point the candidate in the right direction.

Starting off a candidate-led case on the right foot

Coming up with a hypothesis is crucial for a candidate-led case, since the candidate has to decide where to start the analysis, as opposed to interviewer-led case, where the interviewer is choosing the route on the issue tree. Good hypothesis will include an answer to the client question and the supporting evidence required to substantiate this answer. The supporting evidence determines the direction of travel (e.g., for a client that experiences a profitability issue, if the hypothesis is that revenue is to blame, it is also the branch to the analysis from). While in some cases, the “answer” would be arbitrary, listen attentively to cues in the case prompt to choose the most likely “answer”.

Note that in many situations (notably at Bain), interviewers might take control even if the format is supposed to be candidate-led. This happens, since the interviewers have to manage time and make sure that the candidate is tested across all the relevant dimensions. Interviewers have specific data at hand, and if the candidate goes in the wrong direction for a while, they will generally volunteer the exhibit along with the associated question.

The right structure for a candidate-led case

In any case type, setting up an initial structure and approach for tackling the issue is one of the key success factors. However, in candidate-led case, the initial structure can be a bit looser and less detailed than in an interviewer-led (but still MECE!). The reason is that in the former, the candidate needs to lead through the case using her structure, and can further develop it as she moves along and discovers new information. This way the structure will better fit the data at hand. In contrast, when the interviewer leads the discussion, the candidate is unlikely to have the opportunity to go back to the initial structure and adjust it.

Essential tips for leading a case

  • Always share the hypothesis with your interviewer before starting the analysis, and use the data that you get during the case to test and revise it, if needed. Remember that the interviewer will look to you to step up and lead.

  • Avoid asking superficial and generic questions, when you are looking to test the hypothesis. You need to demonstrate that you can process information and integrate it in real time. Be thorough and ask specific questions.

  • Keep track of your data and be prepared to explain it in detail. The interviewer will be watching to see if you have synthesized (i.e., understood the implications) the data and can show how you drew your conclusions. Having a well-organized and structured presentation and tidy notes is very important.

  • Prepare to answer some questions that are outside of the scope of your approach. The interviewer could have questions that go beyond the structure that you used and you’ll need to be ready to answer any questions related to the case.

For interviewer-led cases be ready to adapt quickly

In a McKinsey-style interview the interviewer will have a better opportunity to test your specific skills and learn about your weaknesses so you will need to be prepared and be able to adapt quickly.

There is a tendency to think about interviewer led cases as a chance to step back in a passive way and let the interviewer drive the case. When you’re in an interviewer led case you will need to make sure that you’re actively engaging with the interviewer and not waiting for the interviewer to give you the answer.

Tips for an interviewer-led case

  • Comprehensive and tailored structure is key. You won’t have a chance to revise you structure as you advance in the case, therefore make sure it is great from the start. Ask up to 5 clarifying questions before starting on your structure, to make sure it is well tailored. Beyond clarifying the objective and any unclear terms, make sure you know what the client’s business model is, who the customer is and how does the product work / look like.

  • You are still expected to drive the questions. While the interviewer is driving the overall case direction, you still need to take control of solving a particular question and connecting it to the overall client’s objective. Ideally, you can also suggest where to go next after you reach your answer. Imagine how impressed the interviewer will be if you were to guess their next question!

  • Expect a lot of data. The interviewer is likely to share multiple charts, tables and exhibits. Take 30-60 seconds to understand the data, and lay out your approach to solving the question using the data at hand.

  • Get ready to generate ideas on the spot. Most interviewer-led cases will include a creativity / brainstorming question. Once you offer your initial (structured!) set of ideas, the interviewer is likely to ask “what else”. They are just trying to help you! Interviewers will have a list of “example factors”, and they are giving you an opportunity to tick off a few more off their list. That’s where having an effective structure will make a real difference.

  • Be ready to get challenged. The interviewer will hit you with of lots of unexpected questions, curve balls, and analysis questions hoping to catch you off guard. Stay focused and stay on the case mentally and you’ll come through showing that you have the skills to do this right. Always stay calm, even if you get asked a seemingly random question that throws you for a loop. The interviewer will be looking to see how you handle that situation. This is about showing how you perform under pressure as much as it is about solving the case.

In either type of case, preparation is the key to showcasing your ability and cracking the case. Along with a structured, top-down approach it will get you through even the most difficult case discussions. Book your coaching session today to improve your chances of success.

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