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What Is a Case Study?
When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.
Deep Dive into a Topic
At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.
As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.
Study a Pattern
One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.
During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.
As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.
Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.
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Case study interviews
Case study interviews put you in the driver’s seat: you’re given a real business problem to work through and solve. The logical reasoning you use to work through the case is just as important as the conclusions you reach.
Case study interviews are common in recruitment for management consulting roles but can be used in other industries as well. They’re different to standard ‘question and answer’ interviews, as case study interviews involve working through a business problem or scenario with the interviewer to reach a logical conclusion. This situation mimics the work management consultants do for their clients, giving the interviewer an insight into how you might perform on the job.
Example case study interview formats and scenarios
Most case interviews are conducted face-to-face with the interviewer or a panel. Your case will be given to you either verbally or in writing, and you’ll be required to describe the assumptions, strategies and steps you’re using to solve the case out loud within a designated time frame. Most interviewers will provide pen and paper or a whiteboard and marker so you can record important information, perform mathematical calculations, or visually demonstrate your thinking process by using flow charts or diagrams. Less common case interview formats include written exercises or role plays.
The type of case or problem will vary depending on the employer and the role. Common types of cases include:
- Real or theoretical business scenarios : ‘LMN is a medium-sized grocery chain wishing to expand its online presence and services. What issues will need to be examined to decide whether this is a viable opportunity?’. You may be provided with some basic numerical and/or statistical data in these cases.
- Numeracy scenarios asking you to estimate figures: ‘How many people do you think will vote in the next New South Wales Government election?’
- Lateral thinking scenarios : ‘What creative suggestions and methods can you suggest to further decrease the number of smokers in Australia?’
- Interpretations of pictorial information such as graphs or charts.
- Corporate and business strategies examining profitability, growth opportunities, business mix, customer service improvements, investment strategy (viability of acquisitions) or performance improvement (e.g. effective management structuring, performance measurement, staff rewards systems and process improvements).
It’s not necessary for you to have in-depth knowledge of the industry on which the question or scenario is based, but it’s useful to have a reasonable grasp of basic business principles and some knowledge of current affairs in the corporate sector. Research your target company prior to the interview to find out more about their clients and the scope of their work.
What do case study interviews assess?
Working through a case gives you the opportunity to display problem-solving skills, quantitative reasoning skills, analytical skills, logical reasoning, communication skills, creativity, and the ability to think on your feet and work through a problem in real time.
The interviewer may also be assessing the personal qualities you display during the process of solving the case, like your ability to stay calm in a stressful situation and your general interpersonal skills.
Structuring your response
There may not be a single ‘correct’ answer to any case study interview question or scenario, as your thought processes used to reach a conclusion are as important as the conclusion itself.
When you are given your case, it can be useful to go through the following steps to ensure that your response is clear and well structured:
- Have a clear understanding of the case and what’s required: do you need to solve a problem, make a recommendation or help a company make a decision?
- Synthesise and filter the information provided as necessary. Identify the key issues and decide which information is most pertinent to the case. It’s possible that not all the information provided will be equally relevant.
- Develop a structure for how you will approach your answer and talk this through with your interviewer.
- Make sure your approach is organised – take it step by step.
- Explain your thinking and decision-making processes to the interviewer. Do not assume that they know why you are proceeding in a certain way.
- Ask for more information or clarification. The case interview is a two-way street and the interviewer may reveal further information if you ask (just be clear about why you are asking).
- Anticipate concerns or objections as the interviewer may ask questions to highlight weaknesses in your argument.
- Support your conclusions with evidence, particularly in scenarios where you have been given figures or statistics.
Tips for handling case study interviews
- Visit the web pages of any of the major management consulting firms and look for the section on careers and interview preparation for good tips. Practice talking through the cases as you would in the interview room.
- Listen carefully to what the interviewer says, take notes and refer to them if necessary to summarise the scenario, analysis and solution.
- Make use of any resources in the room, such as a whiteboard, pens and paper.
- Use visual aids to document and demonstrate your structure or response. Depending on the question, you could use organisational charts, pie charts, timelines, graphs, flow charts or any other project management methodology.
- Be realistic. The interviewer is looking for real-world solutions to the problem so be wary of proposing unrealistic budgets, risky endeavours or other solutions that would be excessively difficult to implement.
- Showcase your communication and interpersonal skills. Treat the interviewer as you would treat a client in the workplace. Use positive body language and try to explain your reasoning clearly.
- Ensure your conclusions flow logically from the steps you have taken throughout the interview.
Come to a career skills workshop
- IGotAnOffer - Case interview examples
Sample job interview questions
Here are some common job interview questions to guide your practice. Research your industry and review the job ad or job description to determine which questions are most relevant to the role you’re seeking.
An assessment centre tests your abilities in a group setting so assessors can predict your performance in the workplace. Be authentic, remain professional, and work cohesively with your group.
Behavioural interviewing, also known as ‘competency-based interviewing’, is a common technique among internship and graduate recruiters.
Phone interviews are an important part of the recruitment process, requiring the same preparation and professionalism as a face-to-face interview.
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A case interview or case study interview involves a business or organisational problem the company may have faced, and is a chance to demonstrate your analytical, reasoning and communication skills. They are designed to assess your ability to do the work of a consultant, i.e. work with a client to identify key problems or challenges facing their business or organisation and to develop effective solutions and actions to address these.
You might be invited for a case study interview if you are applying for consulting positions and will generally be invited in the second round of interviews. It will be a one-to-one interview with a consultant, followed by competency based questions .
Case interviews usually work best if they develop into a discussion between the interviewer and you. Ask questions and try out ideas with the interviewer.
What is the company looking for?
Case interviews are not intended to test your business or sector knowledge but it is important to be able to demonstrate your commercial awareness. You will find it helpful to have a basic understanding of key business concepts e.g. revenue, fixed and variable costs, profit, market share, customers, competitors and stakeholders.
As well as this, recruiters will be looking for a genuine curiosity about, and enthusiasm for, business issues and problems.
Try to demonstrate how you can:
- Work with a client to identify key problems facing their company
- Develop effective solutions to these
- Listen actively
- Ask relevant and probing questions
- Problem solve, show you can thinking in a structured manner
- Confidently work within a time limit
- Apply your commercial awareness
- Analyse quantitative data
- Think creatively and on your feet
- Translate analysis into actionable recommendations
- Communication conclusions in a concise and persuasive manner
- Interact well with clients
- Show enthusiasm, motivation and maturity
Having a knowledge of some common frameworks that can be used to structure the analysis of a problem or issue, such as SWOT analysis, Boston Matrix, Porter’s 5 Forces, may help, but do not slavishly apply one of these; your knowledge of frameworks is not important, your ability to think in a structured, creative way is.
How should I respond to a case study?
It is important to understand your primary objective is not to find ‘the’ solution to the case but rather to demonstrate your analytical, reasoning and communication skills.
Do not jump to conclusions or rush towards an answer. It is the process by which you get to your conclusions that interests the interviewer.
- Identify the critical issue from the written case study
- Listen carefully to verbal information or responses to your questions or comments
- Break the problem into parts, describe this out loud. Do not be tempted to follow a common framework (such as SWOT analysis or Boston Matrix) although knowledge of these may help you structure your answer
- Ask relevant questions to gain a fuller understanding of the problem
- Make notes of important facts, figures or thoughts and make calculations if you think this would help – avoiding calculations when they are necessary could look as though you are not confident using numbers
- Describe your overall approach out loud so the interviewer understands your thought processes and can point you in the right direction if you are heading the wrong way – always use this advice if it is given
- Similarly, if you get stuck say so and ask for extra input
- Show that you are enjoying the process – do not show frustration or lack of confidence
- Identify a range of options for consideration
- Conclude by recommending one or two ideas for action
How should I prepare for a case study interview?
- Brush up on your maths (formulae, percentages etc.)
- Practise using sample case studies
- Practise with a friend
- Attend a case study careers seminar
- Book a case study practice interview at LSE Careers
- Come to the careers service and use the paper resources and books
- Read business news
- Look at firms' websites
Practice case study appointment
LSE Careers offers one-to-one practice case studies designed for students with interviews at management consultancy firms coming up. We can offer feedback on the structure, content and presentation of a case study. We have a small bank of practice case studies for management consultancy covering areas like profitability and strategy.
A practice case study can also help if you are preparing for case interview with a Big Four firm but would not be appropriate for an economic consultancy role in a Big Four firm or specialist economic consultancy.
Please see our practice interview information for details of how to book.
Resources from LSE Careers
- Vault: Career insider Free for LSE students and alumni, this popular careers portal has lots of company profiles for consulting firms as well as general application and interview advice. They produce two e-guides to case interviews contains advice and practice cases - both free to download for LSE students - Vault guide to the case interview and Vault guide to the case interview practice guide 2
- CaseCoach Free to students and alumni (up to five years post graduation). CaseCoach is a comprehensive online preparation course for consulting interviews, developed by former McKinsey consultants. The course covers both the case and the fit interviews. It includes a library of 25+ cases with solutions, practice exercises, 12 bite-sized video lectures covering the skills assessed by the top firms and 14 interview videos featuring successful candidates.
More case interview tests and tips
This list below contains links to sample case study interviews and advice articles.
Case interviews question and answers
Useful information about case interviews and three examples to practice
Case interview tutorials and advice on what consultancy firms are looking for in an applicant. Free registration is required.
Gives sample case questions, including 'back of the envelope' questions and business problems
Dartmouth's resources on careers in management services and consulting. Includes powerpoint presentations on case study interviews from Accenture, Bain, BCG, Parthenon and Investor Group. Resources on careers in management services and consulting. Includes presentations on case study interviews from Accenture, Bain, BCG, Parthenon and Investor Group.
This guidebook is designed to help aspiring consultants understand, prepare for and succeed in consulting interviews
Excellent UK-based graduate careers website containing lots of advice articles, information about graduate entry to consulting careers and up to date listings for graduate and internship recruitment schemes and insight events.
Contains case study information and resources including the updated sections of their 'Crack the Case' publication
Learn about the types of interviews at McKinsey.
An online bootcamp to help you prepare for case study interviews.
Advice and resources for succeeding in psychometric tests, assessment centres, e-tray exercises and case studies
Site that offers articles on case study interviews
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47 case interview examples (from McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc.)
One of the best ways to prepare for case interviews at firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, is by studying case interview examples.
There are a lot of free sample cases out there, but it's really hard to know where to start. So in this article, we have listed all the best free case examples available, in one place.
The below list of resources includes interactive case interview samples provided by consulting firms, video case interview demonstrations, case books, and materials developed by the team here at IGotAnOffer. Let's continue to the list.
- McKinsey examples
- BCG examples
- Bain examples
- Deloitte examples
- Other firms' examples
- Case books from consulting clubs
- Case interview preparation
Click here to practise 1-on-1 with MBB ex-interviewers
1. mckinsey case interview examples.
- Beautify case interview (McKinsey website)
- Diconsa case interview (McKinsey website)
- Electro-light case interview (McKinsey website)
- GlobaPharm case interview (McKinsey website)
- National Education case interview (McKinsey website)
- Talbot Trucks case interview (McKinsey website)
- Shops Corporation case interview (McKinsey website)
- Conservation Forever case interview (McKinsey website)
- McKinsey case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- McKinsey live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See below
2. BCG case interview examples
- Foods Inc and GenCo case samples (BCG website)
- Chateau Boomerang written case interview (BCG website)
- BCG case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- Written cases guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- BCG live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See below
3. Bain case interview examples
- CoffeeCo practice case (Bain website)
- FashionCo practice case (Bain website)
- Associate Consultant mock interview video (Bain website)
- Consultant mock interview video (Bain website)
- Written case interview tips (Bain website)
- Bain case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
- Bain live case interview extract (by IGotAnOffer) - See above
4. Deloitte case interview examples
- Engagement Strategy practice case (Deloitte website)
- Recreation Unlimited practice case (Deloitte website)
- Strategic Vision practice case (Deloitte website)
- Retail Strategy practice case (Deloitte website)
- Finance Strategy practice case (Deloitte website)
- Talent Management practice case (Deloitte website)
- Enterprise Resource Management practice case (Deloitte website)
- Footloose written case (by Deloitte)
- Deloitte case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
5. Accenture case interview examples
- Case interview workbook (by Accenture)
- Accenture case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
6. OC&C case interview examples
- Leisure Club case example (by OC&C)
- Imported Spirits case example (by OC&C)
7. Oliver Wyman case interview examples
- Wumbleworld case sample (Oliver Wyman website)
- Aqualine case sample (Oliver Wyman website)
- Oliver Wyman case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
8. A.T. Kearney case interview examples
- Promotion planning case question (A.T. Kearney website)
- Consulting case book and examples (by A.T. Kearney)
- AT Kearney case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
9. Strategy& / PWC case interview examples
- Presentation overview with sample questions (by Strategy& / PWC)
- Strategy& / PWC case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
10. L.E.K. Consulting case interview examples
- Case interview example video walkthrough (L.E.K. website)
- Market sizing case example video walkthrough (L.E.K. website)
11. Roland Berger case interview examples
- Transit oriented development case webinar part 1 (Roland Berger website)
- Transit oriented development case webinar part 2 (Roland Berger website)
- 3D printed hip implants case webinar part 1 (Roland Berger website)
- 3D printed hip implants case webinar part 2 (Roland Berger website)
- Roland Berger case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
12. Capital One case interview examples
- Case interview example video walkthrough (Capital One website)
- Capital One case interview guide (by IGotAnOffer)
13. Consulting clubs case interview examples
- Berkeley case book (2006)
- Columbia case book (2006)
- Darden case book (2012)
- Darden case book (2018)
- Duke case book (2010)
- Duke case book (2014)
- ESADE case book (2011)
- Goizueta case book (2006)
- Illinois case book (2015)
- LBS case book (2006)
- MIT case book (2001)
- Notre Dame case book (2017)
- Ross case book (2010)
- Wharton case book (2010)
Practice with experts
Using case interview examples is a key part of your interview preparation, but it isn’t enough.
At some point you’ll want to practise with friends or family who can give some useful feedback. However, if you really want the best possible preparation for your case interview, you'll also want to work with ex-consultants who have experience running interviews at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc.
If you know anyone who fits that description, fantastic! But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.
Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can do mock case interviews 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from MBB firms . Start scheduling sessions today!
The IGotAnOffer team
Consulting Case Study Interviews
All management consultancy firms, and many other city organisations, use case studies as part of their interview process..
For a management consulting job you are likely to have three to five interviews, of which two to four will probably involve a case study. The case study section of a one-to-one interview can last between 10 and 30 minutes, and you might even have two case studies within a half hour interview.
For a case study your interviewer will present a situation or question to explore and resolve either orally, or in writing, or both. For example:
- How would you choose the optimal balance of economy/business class seats on an airline?
- What strategy should a New World wine producer use when seeking to enter a European market?
- How many washing machines are sold each year in the UK?
The question may be as brief as those above, may be a slightly more specific business problem explained to you verbally, or may require preparation by reading related documents right before the interview. Occasionally, the interviewer may ask you about the business issues linked to something from your own background, so be prepared!
Case studies simulate aspects of consulting assignments and may even be based on a recent project led by the interviewer. Each case allows the recruiter to assess your capability and performance and you will need to perform well on a number of case studies to secure an offer of employment.
According to consulting companies, the key attribute they look for is passion . This translates into showing engagement, energy, and interest in the problem under discussion as well as working through the question at hand. Remember, the interviewer is likely to be someone who manages consulting projects day-to-day (‘Job Manager’, ‘Engagement Manager’, ‘Senior Associate’) and so, as in all interviews, one of the judgements they will be making is whether or not you are someone they would want on their team.
Read on to find out more and watch the video below from Jonathan Black, the Director of the Oxford University Careers Service and former consultant, who shares his advice for tackling management consulting case studies.
How to Get Practice
You will perform better if you are familiar with case study formats and expectations, and have invested time to practice many different examples. Seek out ways to learn and practice:
- Start by reading some of the books listed in "Our Resources" below and looking at the web-based resources.
- Use the 'virtual internships' available from leading firms on The Forage website to work through some extended management consulting case study materials. These will be more in-depth than a Case Interview, but provide highly relevant learning materials and content to help you understand the range and style of issues you may be asked to address.
- Use examples provided by management consulting firms on their recruitment webpages. Many include example case questions (and worked answers) that you can work through, and short videos are now common.
- During term, look for employer-led case study workshops advertised on CareerConnect : usually the Careers Service hosts three workshops in Michaelmas term, two or more in Hilary term and a further workshop in Trinity term.
- In addition, employers host their own case events across Oxford in Michaelmas term, details of which will be advertised on their own recruitment webpages.
- Join business or consultancy focused student societies as listed in our Management Consulting Societies resource .
Attending one or two workshops will help you to get started, but it is important to practice more, and to work with others to practice case studies face-to-face. This will help you to get used to:
- thinking out loud;
- showing how your ideas are developing;
- stating the assumptions or constraints you are applying to your thinking; and
- getting used to reviewing and revising the ideas that you have developed in front of someone else.
It is best to partner with other students to practice. Aim to play the role of 'interviewer' as well as 'interviewee' as you will learn different things from having to watch and listening to others. For example, you can learn the value of a quickly sketched graph or flowchart to support an explanation, or identify the critical information needed to explain a new concept or proposal clearly.
Working with a number of different partners can also be invaluable. Even within a single organisation you will meet many interviewers, who each work in a different way. Modelling this variety in your practice will help as it will expose you to differing work styles and broadens the variety of concepts you are likely to encounter and be comfortable using in your own analyses.
Some student societies run sessions where students work with other students to practice, and may offer a Case Buddy Scheme scheme like the one offered by CapitOx in recent years. Details can be found on their website, or contact the society's president for more information.
See the "resources" sections below for materials to get your started and ways you can get practice.
Top Tips and Useful Frameworks
- Clarify . You’ll need to understand the problem and its component parts sufficiently to get started. Only if absolutely necessary should you seek extra information or clarification. It’s a good idea to briefly state your understanding of the problem in your own words. The case may appear simple and with no data (for example, ‘What would you think about in setting up a new coffee shop in Oxford?’) or very complex with pages of printed charts and graphs. It is much better to make assumptions (aloud) and get started, such as, ‘We are looking at burger sales in Europe; this is a large market so I propose to focus first on England and then extrapolate the results’.
- Take the lead . The interviewer wants to see if they’d like you on their team so show them that you can take the initiative .
- Think out loud . The interviewer wants and needs to know what you are thinking. They are not telepathic so describe out loud what you are thinking every step of the way.
- Write things down . Make sure you have an A4 pad of paper and pen/pencil with you, on the slim chance they don’t supply them. As you think and talk, write large and legibly, in note form so the interviewer can follow what you are doing and perhaps join in. Leave lots of space so you can add new thoughts as the case develops. Don’t be afraid to start new sheets (paper is cheap) and draw pictures/sketch graphs/block diagrams.
- Landscape paper . We recommend that you use the paper in a landscape orientation. You can move left to right across the page(s) with Structure –> Hypotheses –> Data –> Recommendations, which will mirror how consultants’ presentations appear. You may well need more than one sheet.
- State your approach . It’s not so much the answer you get but the process you use to get there. Avoid the temptation to answer the case immediately with a possible solution – consultants have to show they have been thorough and demonstrate how they have explored every option. In the jargon it’s ‘MECE’ (pronounced “meesee”): Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive.
- Explain . Once you are clear about the problem, explain how you are going to approach it. List some top-level topics either down the left hand side of the (landscape) page working towards the right hand side with more details, or, work from top to bottom (portrait). Either way, the key is to clearly show your thinking.
- Ask . After you have laid out the structure and demonstrated that you can take the lead on the problem, ask if the interviewer wants you to focus on a specific area or has more information for you. This can be a full three to five minutes after you start; don’t be tempted to ask for help sooner as that shows you need lots of guidance and would be interpreted as someone who does not take initiative and would not pull their weight on the interviewer’s team.
- Listen . Be ready to listen and respond to any direction that your interviewer may give you in response to your proposed analysis. The structure you recorded on paper will help you to remain focused and provide you with a ’map’ or reference point if you get diverted or distracted. Also, if/when you think of topics you missed, you can add them to your structure. Most importantly it will demonstrate to the interviewer that you have the logical thinking and analytical skills they seek.
- Develop hypotheses . Don’t try to answer the question directly but develop hypotheses to which you may not have the answer, for example, ‘prices are higher than competitors’ and ‘revenues have dropped because volume has dropped’. Keep talking as you develop all this.
- Suggest data you would need to prove/disprove the hypotheses . Sketch some simple charts, for example, ‘I’d need to know sales of car tyres over the last three years,’ then draw an x-y chart, with time along the x axis and sales up the y axis. Then guess some lines, for example, sales rising over the three years. You don’t have to know the actual data (how could you?) but you can say, ‘If sales have done this, then…’.
- Develop some recommendations . Once you have found/agreed some data, it’s time to move to the final stage, recommendations for the client. ‘If I were working with a client considering opening a new coffee shop in Oxford, based on these data, I would recommend…’.
- Be comfortable working with numbers! If you have not used them for a while, make sure you are especially comfortable with percentages, ratios, long division and multiplication, estimates, and working with large numbers. Dust off your mental arithmetic skills. Be happy to round to one or two significant figures. Make sure you know some rough data, such as populations of UK (+/- 60 million), London (+/- 8 million), EU - pre-Brexit (+/-500 million), USA (+/- 300 million); size of a football field (+/- 7,000m 2 ) or length of a jumbo jet (+/- 70m); weight of a human (+/-70kg). It is also a good idea to use the metric system since it’s easier not to get jumbled up with units.
- Use your common sense . You may not have any business experience in the areas that the case study covers, so instead make use of any perspectives that you may have acquired from being either a user or a consumer of the products and services that are the subjects.
- Be ready and willing . Be prepared to respond to further interviewer requests as you go along, e.g. to brainstorm ideas or to work through some estimates of market size. Positive energy, engagement and enthusiasm (perhaps even enjoyment!) are important indicators that you are more likely to thrive in a consulting career.
In your research and reading you are likely to come across analytical frameworks that can to help you deal with some of the cases you will face. Some of the basic frameworks include:
- SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
- 4 Cs: customers, costs, capabilities (of the organisation), competition
- 7 Ps of Marketing: product, price, promotion, place, packaging, positioning and people .
- Porters five forces
Business Case Studies
If your degree studies have no business element, the interviewer will not expect much sophistication, and will probably help you to choose useful factors to focus on. It is important, though, to show a degree of commercial awareness by understanding some of the main terminology that you may hear or face in a business context, e.g.: Profit or Loss = Revenue – Costs.
There are essentially two types of business cases that you can prepare for:
- 'Profits are down'. This is an historical view and we suggest you start with breaking down the elements of profit and then probe each one. Make sure you are familiar with a basic profit and loss account: check out our basic definitions of profit and loss terms for an example below.
- 'Market entry'. This is a future focused view and can arise from an organisation wanting to enter a new market (for example, a new country), or adding a new product line (for example. adding an electric or hybrid vehicle to a range of cars), or both. You could use the 'Seven Ps' framework for this one.
Bear in mind that a case study could start as a ‘profits are down’ case and turn into a ‘market entry’ case, for example:
“So, having identified the source of poor profits, we can explore ways to improve matters by adding new markets”.
Generally speaking, for most non-MBA graduates, recruiters are interested in assessing the quality of your thinking and your approach to the problem. Don’t try to be too clever or over-elaborate in how you approach a question.
Profit and loss terms
NB: The numbers above are all examples for a mythical, profitable business. There are several terms for the same heading e.g. “Margin” instead of “Profit”. What’s included in fixed and variable costs can vary depending on the industry and product. In a case study you’ll usually stop at Operating Profit.
You may also get two types of basic maths estimation questions: simple (in that there is only one way to answer it) and complex (there are many ways to get an answer). The simple type tests your comfort with handling numbers and making estimates. Examples include:
- How many footballs would fit in this building?
- How long would it take to move Mount Fuji?
The complex type of maths estimation tests your creativity in thinking about approaches; they are generally consumption related. An example might be: “Estimate how many petrol stations there are in London”. The best candidates will think of two or three ways to answer this question. The trick is to make simplifying estimates and assumptions, describe aloud the assumptions you are making, write things down, keep track of the sums, and don’t use a calculator. At the end, go back and identify where you have made assumptions and put some ranges on your original guesses, for example, “I guessed the population of London at 5 million, but if it is actually 8 million then I’d increase my answer by 60%" (that is (8-5)/5).
Although you may be working with rough estimates and assumptions, it will help you make a more confident start and ensure your estimates are based on sound assumptions if you:
- learn a few key numbers - for example, populations in major markets (e.g. UK, Europe and the USA) or cities (Beijing; Lagos; London; New York; Paris; Singapore); an idea of size or distances in USA, Europe, London-to-Sydney, the circumference of the earth at the Equator.
- can estimate some sizes of common objects, including an aeroplane, a building, a city, a car, a human being, a football, a golf ball.
As you read more and practice cases, you might jot down notes of numbers that you find yourself using more than once.
You may be able to find copies of the following case study books through the University library or via student societies. Otherwise have a look at cheap copies with second-hand booksellers online or consider purchasing new with other students applying for consulting:
- Case In Point , Marc Cosentino
- Case Interviews: mastering the case interview , Alexander Chernev
- WetFeet Press Career Management Insider Guides: Ace Your Case!, Consulting Interviews / Ace Your Case II-V
- Management Consulting, Joe O'Mahoney
- the Vault (Career Library) Guide to Consulting
- Teach Yourself Successful Consulting, Anna Hipkiss
- Ace the Case - management consulting case interview questions
- CapitOx - CapitOx usually has a Case Study Buddy scheme to find and interact with students around Oxford who are also interested in consulting and want to practice case study interviews.
- Case Coach.com/blog information, advice and resources from Case Coach, a firm offering a Case Library with 100+ cases to practice. Requires registration.
- Case Interview Bootcamp - An online bootcamp to help you prepare for your case study interviews.
- Case Maths - A tool to help you practice mental arithmetic.
- Case Questions
- Consulting Case 101 - a resource offering lots of cases by industry, by case type and by consulting firm and a Case Partner opportunity to practice with others in your area.
- Target Jobs: Management Consulting
Case resources from the firms:
- Bain & Company: Interview Preparation
- Kearney: Crack the Case
- LEK: Interview preparation
- Oliver Wyman: Interview preparation
- The Boston Consulting Group: Interview Resources
- McKinsey interview
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Case study interviews
Employers use this type of exercise to assess your commercial awareness and logical thinking. These are typically encountered in business, consulting and finance roles. In case studies you may be given a business issue or scenario to read, analyse and then make recommendations and discuss with the interviewer. The case studies are typically used to simulate a task or situation that is likely to happen in the role, and therefore testing your understanding and suitability for the job.
In case studies there probably is a right answer. However don’t worry too much trying to get through to the end – the interviewer will recognise that you will be under pressure and they will be more interested in your approach to solving the problem than you getting the right answer.
A tip is to approach the case study as if you really were in this situation – what would you really do. Don’t miss the obvious! Keep it simple and be logical in your communication of your answer.
Companies that have selection processes which involve case study interviews usually have practice examples on their website to help familiarise you with what to expect.
- Bain Watch a practise case interview and learn how to frame a response.
- BCG Preparing for case interviews.
- McKinsey Support with case interviews and other parts of the selection process.
- Victor Cheng Case interview videos.
Free practice cases
- BCG Tips on preparing for interviews.
- BCG case library Interactive case library.
- Consulting Case 101 free cases.
- Dalberg Interview tips, learn how to structure a case interview and practise cases.
- Deloitte Practise case studies.
- Kearney Advice, a case study and answer guidelines.
- Lek Advice and example case studies
- McKinsey Practice cases.
Master the Consulting Case
- Access this module via the Get Interview Ready Pathway
- Getting in touch
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Case Interview 2023 – Guide for Your Consulting Case Interview
A case interview is a type of job interview in which the candidate must analyze and solve a problematic business scenario (“case study”). It is used to simulate the situation on-the-job and to find out if the respective candidate meets the necessary analytical and communications skills required for the profession. Case interviews are commonly and globally used during the selection processes at management consulting firms such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), or Bain & Company. It is the most relevant part of the process for consulting jobs, and they are usually based on projects that the hiring firm has delivered for a client. It is an exercise that requires a logical approach to finding the problem and an appropriate solution.
- 1. Case Interview Questions and Answers
- 1.1 What Is a Case Interview?
- 1.2 Who Uses Case Interviews and Why?
- 1.3 What Are the Skills Required in a Case Interview?
- 1.4 What Are the Differences Between …?
- 2. Case Interview Examples from McKinsey, BCG, Bain and Other Top Consulting Firms
- 3. How to Solve a Case Study in 10 Steps [Infographic]
- 4. Case Interview Secrets: 13 Final Tips for Your Actual Case Interview
- 5. PrepLounge: The Key to Your Success
- 6. Get Started Right Away and Practice Your First Cases
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A case interview is part of the job interview process in which you as the candidate have to analyze and solve a problematic business scenario while interacting with the interviewer. The case study is often based on a problem the interviewer has worked on in real life. This part of the interview is intended to be more of a dialogue. You will need to be proactive and ask questions when attempting to close in on the correct conclusion. Oftentimes, the consultant will attempt to guide you in the correct direction by asking questions himself.
An example question might be : The CEO of Deutsche Bank has become increasingly concerned about their declining profitability over the last 36 months and has asked you to determine the factors causing the decline as well as recommend a strategy to reverse this trend.
During the entire application process, you will partake in up to six case interviews in two rounds or more. This is dependent on the position you are applying for. Most case interviews have the same underlying structure. An individual case interview may take up to an hour and usually consists of four parts:
- ~ 5 minutes: Introduction and small talk
- ~ 15 minutes: Personal Fit Interview
- ~ 30 minutes: Case Interview
- ~ 5 minutes: Your questions to the interviewer
Case interviews have always been a part of management consulting interviews. Nowadays, also marketing, strategy, operations, or retail positions tend to use similar formats because they are a great tool to probe the quantitative and qualitative skills of an applicant . It allows interviewers to get a deeper insight into how you present yourself as a candidate and apply the limited amount of information given to you.
The reason for the prevalence of the case interview format in management consulting is that the topics and themes handled in most cases reflect conditions close to the reality of the day-to-day activities of a consultancy. It requires the applicant to ask the right questions , apply structured frameworks, and think outside the box . As a consultant, you will spend a lot of time client-facing, and so soft skills are just as important as hard skills to the interviewer. The case interview allows hiring companies to ask the question "Would I be happy to put this candidate in front of a client?".
Due to the scenario set up in a case interview, it is also a test of general business acumen. Many consultant projects will be in industries where the consultants aren't experts, especially junior consultants. This is normal, but to be effective as a consultant business acumen is an important foundation for consultants to maintain effective strategy recommendations. Companies pay consultants for their minds rather than their industry expertise.
A case interview has no “correct” or “standard” answer. There are often many solutions to a single case and in the end, what counts is your train of thought and how you got to your solution. The interviewer will evaluate you across five main areas:
1) Problem-Solving Skills
The interviewer will analyze your ability to identify problems, isolate causes, and prioritize issues. During a case interview, you will be presented with a wide range of relevant and irrelevant data pieces. You must know how to use this data to make your recommendations and you have to prove that you are able to construct a logical argumentation without rushing to conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
2) Creativity and Business Sense Skills
As a consulting candidate, you should know the basic business concepts as well as show a certain amount of business sense and creativity. If the interviewer asks you to find innovative ideas to increase the profitability of a hotel chain, you will have to come up with a range of ideas that make business sense. You are not expected to have deep knowledge of the hospitality industry, but to be able to ask relevant and insightful questions on the aspects important for you to solve the client’s issue at hand.
Maintaining a structure means that you solve the question with a clear step-by-step approach that you communicate actively with your interviewer. A good structure is the most important part of a case interview, as it is the underlying base of your whole approach and argumentation. It is also the main reason why candidates fail their case interviews. A common mistake that candidates make is that they try to apply standardized frameworks to any case they are given. Instead, you should solve each case by creating a framework specifically tailored to its needs – as you would do as a consultant on the job. Practice your structure with our Structuring Drills .
4) Math Skills
As a consultant, part of your job is number-crunching and interpreting data. Therefore, it is important that you have a good feeling for numbers and have great mental math skills. You should be able to perform simple calculations in your sleep. You can practice your math skills with our Mental Math Tool .
5) Communication Skills
In times of digitalization, soft skills become more and more important for management consultants. On the job, you will be in contact with high-level CEOs, clients, partners, and colleagues. Strong communication is crucial for you to get your work done efficiently. Thus, your interviewer will pay close attention to the way you communicate and present yourself during your conversation. Always be professional, answer concisely, and communicate the key message first (see Pyramid Principle ).
First and Second-Round Interviews
While the format of the first and second-round interviews stays the same, the seniority level of the interviewer differs . The person interviewing you in the first round is usually more junior, having up to four years of consulting experience (Associates or Engagement Managers). The second round is led by Partners who have more than ten years of experience and tend to drill you to understand how you cope with challenges. Therefore, second rounds are perceived as more difficult by candidates. Since partners have a stronger voice when discussing an applicant, your performance during the second round of case interviews carries also more weight. For more information on the different positions, please read McKinsey Hierarchy: The Different Position Levels .
Candidate- and Interviewer-Led Case Interviews
In candidate-led cases, the interviewer expects the candidate to lead him/her through the case. As a candidate, you can do so by asking relevant questions, and by developing and testing your hypotheses. Candidate-led cases are the most common types of cases . You will encounter them at the majority of the big consulting firms such as BCG, Bain, and occasionally at McKinsey.
Interviewer-led cases are most frequently used at McKinsey. As the title suggests, the interviewer’s guidance through the case interview is firmer.
You can find more information on the two different interview styles in our BootCamp article: Interviewer-Led vs. Candidate-Led .
In the following, you can find some examples of initial case interview questions :
McKinsey Case Interview Examples
- Product launch strategy for a soft drinks producer (McKinsey website)
- Market entry strategy for a major pharmaceutical company (McKinsey website)
BCG Case Interview Examples
- Profitability of a low-cost airline (BCG website)
- Pricing strategy for a new drug (BCG website)
Bain Case Interview Examples
- Market analysis for old winery
- Increase revenues for a Women's fashion retailer (Bain website)
Oliver Wyman Case Interview Examples
- Profitability of a Chinese theme park operator (Oliver Wyman website)
- Growth strategy for a small power boats (Oliver Wyman)
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Step 1: Listen actively and take notes. Write down every piece of information, especially numerical data.
Step 2: Restate the question. Pause, paraphrase, and make sure you understand the problem statement by confirming with the interviewer.
Step 3: Clarify the objectives and identify the problem. Ask specific questions and double-check on objectives. Make sure you completely understand the problem.
Step 4: Write out your structure. Ask your interviewer for a minute to prepare your structure and organize your notes. Identify your case type and use an issue tree to customize your structure. The branches of your issue tree should be MECE .
Step 5: State your hypothesis. Now that you have set up the issue tree, your task is to test each branch to see if it is the root cause of the problem. Where to begin? A hypothesis based on an educated guess helps here. (e.g. "Since you have mentioned that revenues are more or less flat, my hypothesis is that the problem is mostly driven by the cost side of the business. If it is okay with you, I will start by […]")
Step 6: Think out loud. Sharing your thoughts allows the interviewer to interact. Refine or rebuild your hypothesis as you find out more.
Step 7: Gather more data in order to test your hypothesis. Proactively ask for relevant data and always segment it (e.g. using the ABC analysis ). Try to evaluate whether trends have been company-specific or industry-wide.
Step 8: Dig deeper while staying structured (MECE!) throughout the case. Always refer to the structure you have set up at the beginning of the case, but be flexible as the case evolves. If you conclude that your hypothesis is false, eliminate that branch and go to the next one. Summarize findings when switching major branches. If your test confirms your hypothesis, go deeper into that branch, and drill down to the lower levels until you identify all proven root-causes.
Step 9: Choose a recommendation and use the Pyramid Principle to structure your conclusion. Ask for a minute to gather your thoughts and then state your recommendation. You need to deliver a one minute, top-down, concise, structured, clear, and fact-based summary of your findings.
Step 10: Stand by your conclusion. Your interviewer will likely challenge your recommendation (either to see if you can handle pressure or to assess if you really believe in what you are saying).
1. Focus on the task at hand
Don’t think too much about the approach your interviewer is taking. It should not matter much if the conversation is interviewer- or candidate-led. If you go into your interview with a profound understanding of how to handle even a difficult case, the format of the interview should not be an issue. Keep a cool head and structure your thoughts.
2. Ask the right questions
At the beginning of the case, your interviewer will present you with the situation of the client. Don’t rush into the analysis without developing a deep understanding of the problem first. Ask your interviewer questions to clarify the case. This is expected behavior that also takes place later with the client. Make sure you understand what the business model and your objective in the respective case are (regarding both money and the timeline). If there are any other possible limitations you are unsure about, ask your interviewer in a concise way. Asking unnecessary questions will raise doubts about your ability to work efficiently under pressure.
3. Buy time with repetitions
A common trick consultants use is the repeating of facts or overall goals . By doing this, you are showing a fundamental comprehension of the case and are emitting an aura of control, gradually heading towards a solution. This technique can give you more time to think. Articulating the facts of the case can also be a source of clarity and allow you to form solutions more quickly.
4. Only form a hypothesis with sufficient information
Do not state a hypothesis at the beginning, a stage in which you may still have incomplete information. Get a good sense of the case’s environment and ask sensible follow-up questions . Only then frame a structure and formulate a hypothesis.
5. Utilize data for your analysis
Taking wild guesses is a death sentence for your case interview. Make sure your claims are backed up by the facts, and remain calm when presented with new information. Consultancies will closely observe how you make use of new data and incorporate it into your hypothesis .
6. Take clear notes
Taking structured notes is a highly underrated skill when dealing with a case. Making sure your notes are coherent and clear will make your thoughts easy to navigate and ensure you do not lose your footing during the interview.
- Place your sheet horizontally to maximize your space, and jot down the case’s key question on the left side of the page. This way you will never lose sight of the main objective . The remaining portion will be dedicated to the issue tree, with your hypothesis included above the issue tree.
- Make sure that you highlight key pieces of information that add substance to your hypothesis.
- When it comes to calculations , use a separate page, but practice having it organized in case you need to go back through your assumptions or calculations.
- Try to limit the number of pages you use to a maximum of three sheets . Otherwise, you will stress yourself out while trying to find what you are looking for.
7. Structure is key
The most important aspect of a case interview is having a good structure. You can structure your case by following these four steps:
- Craft an issue tree as the overall foundation for your structure. This is a customizable framework used to analyze the root causes of problems in a case. It helps you to break a complex problem down into its components.
- Make sure that your issue tree is MECE to avoid inefficient dependencies between branches that will slow down your analysis. MECE is a way of segmenting information into sub-elements that are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.
- Prioritize and concentrate on high impact issues of your issue tree that will create value for your client. Always make sure you explain the reasons behind your choices to the interviewer.
- Use the Pyramid Principle to structure your conclusion , a three-step structure to present your synthesis in an effective and convincing manner. First, state the recommendation (What?). Second, provide three reasons supported by data (Why?). Third, provide information on how to implement the recommendation (How?).
To practice your structure, you can use our Structuring Drills.
8. Don't force-fit frameworks
Standard frameworks can be a source of inspiration, but should never be force-fitted to a case. They are very stiff and do not allow room for customization . If you use pre-defined frameworks, you run the risk of missing important elements of the specific problem you are trying to solve. A consultant would not just force-fit frameworks to their specific client’s problem, so you should not do this in your case interview, either. Each case is unique and requires an individually customized framework that is MECE as well as adapted to the problem you are trying to solve, the company, and the industry.
9. Don’t panic if you get stuck
If you ever get stuck, don’t freak out – it happens. What counts is how you deal with the situation. Here is what you can do:
- Take a deep breath or a sip of water if you have a glass of water nearby.
- Take a moment to grasp the big picture , to recap what you have learned so far and what you still need to find out to address the main question at hand.
- Outline how these sub-questions can be answered , and what kind of data or information you will need to do that.
- Double-check whether data or information provided by the interviewer at an earlier stage is now getting new relevance.
- Think out loud and take the interviewer along with your thinking process. If you are puzzled by some obvious contradiction, actively discuss this with your interviewer. Oftentimes, an interviewer will wait for you to explicitly verbalize your confusion before gently guiding you.
10. Sometimes there is no clear answer
Oftentimes, a case interview has no “correct” or “standard” answer. The case may encompass you exploring the issues and walking down several paths . There are often many solutions to a single case that may differ from the interviewer’s expectations. In the end, what counts is your train of thought and how you got to your solution . You are not expected to know everything about business, but demonstrate a logical judgment and a good approach to solve problems.
Nevertheless, you should always give a clear recommendation at the end of the interview, when the interviewer will ask for your conclusion. The trick is to use supporting arguments based on what you have learned during the analysis, to point out limitations, and to also highlight additional areas to explore to confirm that your current understanding is the right one.
11. Engage the interviewer
The interview should be a dialogue, so make sure to engage the interviewer and demonstrate not only your business judgment, but also your communication and people skills . This gives the first insight into how you might interact with future clients and colleagues. How can you do that?
- Explain. Share your thought process with the interviewer, and always let them know what your next steps are.
- Listen. During your case interview, the interviewer will usually give you hints and steer you in a direction. Notice that! If they ask a specific question, e.g. “Name three points about…”, answering in two or five points will mean that you didn’t pay attention.
- Ask questions. Create a discussion, initiate small talk, and use your chance to make a positive connection with the interviewer, especially at the end of every interview when you get to ask final questions. Find a point in common and try to stand out. Here is a list of the best questions to ask at the end of an interview .
12. Be confident
You don’t necessarily need to be extroverted to be a top management consultant, but you need to be confident. Consulting is a people job as much as it is an analytical job. It is important for the client to feel that you know what you are doing. Thus, this is something the interviewer will take into consideration. Here are five things you can do during the interview to come across as more confident:
- Try to enjoy the interview by focusing on the challenge, the satisfaction it brings you when you solve the case, and the joy of sharing your life experiences with someone else. If you have fun, chances are high that the interviewer has fun, as well.
- Find your own style and don’t try to pretend to be someone that you are not. It is fine if you are not the most outgoing person. Just be genuine!
- Sit up straight , but don’t be too stiff. Push your back against the back of the seat and don’t just sit on the edge of the chair.
- Make eye contact , but don’t stare, either.
- Speak in a clear , calm, and unrushed manner. Don't mumble or whisper, but equally don't shout. Think before you speak!
13. When in doubt, reschedule
If you’re not feeling confident about your chances, don’t hesitate to reschedule. If you take this course of action, take a few things into consideration. Make sure to suggest an alternative day and avoid rescheduling multiple times at all costs. The consultancy will be grateful for you to suggest an immediate alternative. Try to be transparent as to why you are rescheduling without going too deeply into details. However, rescheduling should only be used as a last resort.
To become the best, you must learn from the best. That is exactly what PrepLounge can offer you. The vast PrepLounge community makes it easy to find case partners with the same ambitions and goals as you. Whether you are looking for a professional case coach or other aspiring consultants, you will have no problem finding case partners in the build-up to your interview. Our PrepLounge coaches – from Bain to McKinsey – are uniquely qualified to provide you with insights into the mastery of a case interview.
Apart from case partners from every imaginable background, PrepLounge provides a colossal collection of online resources to give you the best preparation leading up to your case interview. We will provide you with questions and answers to the most important consulting case types and share in-depth knowledge for the best possible case interview preparation. You will be able to find case partners to practice online and always be on top of the latest insights and news regarding consulting jobs and top consulting firms.
As a PrepLounge member, you will receive access to all these perks. PrepLounge will accompany you all the way from your application through to your contract negotiation. You strongly diminish your chance of success without sufficient preparation. Invest in your future and give yourself the best chance at acing your case interview! Exchange your experience with peers from all around the world in our Consulting Q&A . Join our case interview community today and embark on your journey into consulting!
Oliver Wyman case: Full Electrons Ahead
Simon-Kucher Case: GST Cruise Company
Roland Berger case: Light on!
Deloitte Case: Footloose
Oliver wyman case: setting up a wine cellar.
zeb case: Quo vadis, customer?
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