Case Study Interview

by Victor Cheng

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Question on the Case Study Interview:

I just found your videos recently and felt that your videos are really helpful. I am an undergrad, majoring in Finance. I will be having case interviews with XXXX and XXXXX in December.

I actually have some questions to ask you. Sometimes, when I practiced cases, I was amazed by the way they cracked the case. Personally, I do not think I can be as good as the book. As an interviewer, what is your advice for undergrad case study interviews? Do the interviewers expect a really good analysis from undergrad?

My Response:

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer:  I’m not sure which book you’re referring to, but I find a number of those examples aren’t presented in a realistic fashion. They sort of state the case and show you the answer — which isn’t at all reflective of the process.

If you were to look at a transcript of a case study interview, you would see pages of pages of Q&A – almost like an interrogation.  It’s never, here’s the case, bam… here’s the answer.

So would you be expected to come up with a brilliant answer just based on the question. No.

Would you be expected, as an undergrad, to analyze the problem in highly structured, hypothesis driven, fact-based way. Absolutely.

Would be expected to “follow the facts” (somewhat like how a crime scene investigator follows the evidence) and draw conclusions that are clearly supported by the facts (but sometimes may be counter-intuitive). Definitely YES.

At least for McKinsey, the case study interview standard for undergrads, mba’s and PhD was largely the same when it came to problem solving ability. Within the firm, many would argue the standard was actually higher for undergrads — and if you look at size of applicant pool vs. number of people hired this was true.

If an undergrad didn’t know some finance jargon or terminology that an MBA would, I wouldn’t have held it against the candidate provided they had the right concept (E.g., the undergrad said the company must be losing money whereas an MBA might say EBITDA must have declined)

Incidentally, I would typically use the same standard for PhD applicants as well.  I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to know jargon and some business terms, but would expect them to approach problem solving in a systematic way.

So in a nutshell, expect the problem solving approach standard to be the same – with some allowances for differences in business knowledge.

Also, this policy may vary by firm.  Given my own experience and the caliber of people I see at the top 3 consulting firms – McKinsey, BCG, & Bain – I would say their undergrad highers are by large very analytical and sharp.  Amongst the other firms, I’m not as clear on what differences, if any, exists between undergrad and MBA hires.

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