Common Questions on the Case Interview

Here are some common questions that I’ve received about the case interview and my replies.

The first is around timing your hypothesis.

Question:

Your resources have been very helpful for me so far. I am an experienced candidate, and just had my phone case coaching session with McKinsey.

One thing I was a little surprised by was that the case coach wanted me to offer up an opinion straight away as opposed to laying out a structure and asking for information.

For example, I was asked if I felt that another company would be a competitive threat to the client.

I tried to lay out some of the key factors I would analyze, however the feedback I got was that I should consider saying "yes" or "no" right away, then talk through the factors.

Is this typical for McKinsey first round? It felt a little odd to me to express an inkling or opinion without any data or further information.

My Reply:

In this case, the interviewer/case coach was asking you for your hypothesis upfront.

This is very common in McKinsey Round 1, where the case interview process is broken down into four or five small pieces, rather than given as a continuous case.

In a candidate-led case common in McKinsey Round 2+, and all rounds for most other firms, you have 40 minutes to solve the whole case. In McKinsey Round 1, you have eight minutes to solve a specific 1/5 of the case.

In the example cited above, you basically had a few minutes to provide your hypothesis and structure the problem in terms of what data you would need to test your hypothesis.

The next question is about discussing a personal experience during the case interview.

Question:

While suggesting recommendations or even while identifying any issue in the case, is it fine if I explicitly quote an example of a similar issue that I faced in one of my previous work experiences and how a particular recommendation actually helped? Would it be seen as unprofessional conduct, if during a case discussion, I talk about my previous work experience?

My Response:

This is a VERY BAD idea. Cases should be about the case... and in particular, should be about the data presented in the case. Everything else is seen as someone ignoring data or being analytically distracted = bad consultant.

Also, you only have typically 20-30 minutes to do a case. That is not a lot of time. Just giving a personal example can suck up 2-5 minutes, which really cuts into the time you have to work the case. Stick to your hypothesis, asking for data, synthesizing what you know so far, reformulating a hypothesis if needed, and repeat the process.

Finally, our last question is about closing the case.

Question:

Is it OK to ask for 1 minute to gather my thoughts before concluding?

My Reply:

Yes, absolutely this is okay.

Keep in mind that in an interview situation, a 1-minute pause feels like 10 minutes to the interviewee (you in this case).

Just remember that, to the interviewer, it's not a big deal. We just start thinking about emails to reply to, our calendar, what's for lunch, etc... So, it’s better to pause briefly and end with a strong concise, conclusion than to rush it.

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