Case Interview Prep and Performance

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Question:

I got invited to an interview with a boutique firm: through a recommendation. I was lucky enough to know the individual, but it will take a lot of footwork from my end to get informational interviews from consultants working at other firms.

In terms of how case solving goes, where do firms expect applicants to get good case interview preparation? Natural talent, school, or just mere prep case interview books? For someone who had no prior experience with cases, I was pretty overwhelmed trying to prep in about two weeks time. I came across your website just three days before.

As a girl, I'd also like to know if you think males and females have the same aptitude for management consultant. Like you've said in previous emails, there is usually one specific really good approach or solution to cracking a case (kind of like in a geometry proof).

Do men and women readily arrive at those solutions in equal droves independent of the thought processes to get there? Or do you find two vastly different approaches and solutions each and every time for a given problem? Or do men and women simply fumble in the same way?

My Reply:

In prior years, firms expected you to do well in cases through a one-hour on-campus case interview workshop where they explain how the process works, and the rest through talent.

These days, I think many firms recognize that they miss out on a lot of good talent -- those who have the raw skills but did not prepare well for cases.

Looking back, I realize that I'm pretty good at consulting and I did well in the case interviews. But there is no way I could have done well without a lot of studying and case interview practice.

The difference in my performance (given the same raw talent) with preparation vs. without preparation is probably a difference of 10 times. Preparation matters a lot.

Preparing allows you to showcase your talent... how naturally good you really are. Most candidates who don't get offers, and especially those who get past first round but do not get past final round, have the raw talent, but were not consistent enough in their performance to get the offer. This is solved 100% via practice.

Now if you practice and you can't get past first round consistently, it means your natural talent is not well suited for consulting (and is probably better suited for something else). And in this case, no amount of practice will help enough.

In terms of the case interview performance of men vs. women, I do not think gender is a major determining factor in how well someone does on a case, nor does it determine how they mess up a case.

What I think does make a bigger difference in success or types of mistakes is one's educational bias. In particular, those who come from math, science, analytical fields tend to do well on the quantitative and analytical aspects of case interviews (but not always on the qualitative aspects).

And since these fields do tend to have more men in them, historically I've seen more male applicants come out of these backgrounds.  But within these fields, I haven't seen much difference in how men vs. women perform.

Also, I should mention that those that do not have formal degrees in math, sciences, and engineering still do get offers, but they tend to be good at math regardless of their actual area of education.

For example, I remember meeting one Bain consultant who was an English major, but had taken several advanced math classes (I don't even remember the names as my math education stopped at calculus, quantitative research methods for economics, and basic statistics) with perfect grades.

(By the way, this is why some firms ask for your transcripts.)

For more resources on preparing for a case study interview, review my free video series on Case Interview Secrets .

Additional Resources

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