ADD shares insights and advice on Case Study Interviews


The top consulting firms, especially the international brands that are leaders in strategy consulting, all use Case Study interviews to select candidates to join their firms.  Most of these firms originated in the US and were spawned by the world famous business schools like Harvard.  In some ways it is not surprising that the case study evolved as an interview technique, because it is, and has been for many years, the teaching tool of preference in top business schools.

The interview is not like a normal interview and can be very daunting when faced for the first time.  Unlike in? the standard interview the candidate resume, educational background or experience have little interest to the interviewer.  Instead the interviewer will want to test how the candidate thinks Рhow structured their thought processes are, how creative they can be, how numerate and analytic, how they can present their opinions simply and clearly and how they react under pressure.

It is interesting and no accident that in defining the skill set for a top strategy consultant, high-end scores in all of the above areas would indicate a good candidate.

In a normal interview, except in the hands of a skilled and practised interviewer, the predictability of a successful hire is not good.  Many traditional interviews, based on CVs or even competency based questions, are relatively poor predictors of success in a new role. A far better predictor would be to see the candidate performing in the job they are being interviewed for.  For consultants the next best thing to this is a simulation or Case Study interview.

The use of the technique has spread beyond the consulting firms; (technique is more widespread than consulting firms), many organisations interviewing for analytical or strategic jobs now use variations on this technique as a part of their selection process. But powerful tools as they are, they are not techniques to be used lightly. The interviewer needs to be not only intellectually smart and at least as quick as the candidate, but also skilled in moving and focussing the candidate dialogue.

What to expect

We use the generic term Case Study interviews but they are variously called Analytic Screens, Role Plays, Cases, Project Assignment Interview or Market Sizing Interviews.

Sometimes and most typically they will form a part of a more general and orthodox resume screening interview.¬† This invariably starts with simple questions and small talk and leads into a discussion of the candidate‚Äôs educational background, experience and achievements.¬† For most sophisticated companies where there applicant is interviewing for a job with an analytic or strategic planning content there will be then be a general introduction to a ‚ÄúCase‚ÄĚ.¬† Most experienced interviewers will give fair warning and set the case up in a well-structured way.

There are a number of variations on the Case Study interview, the most common are

Each of these ekes out different behavioral characteristics and each is explored in some detail below.  It would not be uncommon to face two or even three of these variants in one interview.  A sophisticated firm and especially a consulting firm will, in the inevitable 3 or 4 interview rounds, administer all types.

Find out more about the different types of Case Interviews.

Read our tips on how to handle the various types of Interview.