Case interviews are designed to test an applicant’s ability to solve business problems and demonstrate skills valued in the consulting field. Firms seek applicants who can think logically and strategically under pressure, give evidence of strong communication skills and exhibit the ability to work with a team to address often quickly changing priorities.
What is a case interview?
Interviewers present a hypothetical business challenge and assess how you explore the problem and conceptualize and structure a solution. As you process the case they are looking for key traits and skills. Interviewers assess how you:
- Listen to information about the business problem and probe deeply or broadly with thoughtful questions posed to the interviewer while building rapport
- Think out loud and express your ideas concisely, responding quickly and confidently, and deal with the pressure of the interview process
- Use quantitative and qualitative analysis to creatively and logically problem-solve
- Toggle between details and the big picture
- Communicate understanding of business concepts such as falling markets, introducing a new product or entering a new geographic area
Which traits are consulting firms seeking in candidates?
Interviewers use case interviews (and any behavioral interviews that may follow) to assess the skills listed above and your flexibility. They want to see how easily you can change direction, both in your understanding of client problems and your ability to navigate unpredictable situations with clients and others. The ability to get along with different personalities and to integrate into teams with new co-workers and client partners is an important skill.
Some positions require frequent travel to client sites. They seek candidates who can change venues frequently and work in unstructured work environments without an office or administrative support.
How long is a case interview?
A preliminary, first-round interview is typically one case for 30 minutes to an hour. Additional interviews may include several cases conducted by different professionals within a few hours.
How to prepare
Review multiple sources to gain information and insights. You should also prepare for behavioral interview questions, which may follow your case or be part of subsequent interviews. You can find preparation tips for behavioral interviewing in our interview guide, and library of resources includes more than 500 cases, nine video courses, 10,000 case drills, 11 industry primers, and 12 chatbot cases through Management Consulted.
Other strategies to prepare include:
- Review sample cases and outline your answers
- Practice mental math to work with quantitative data more easily
- Review brain teasers and practice solving them
- Practice case interviews with friends who you know are also applying to consulting opportunities
- Contact alumni who work in consulting (you can start by looking up alumni in Career Compass) to learn more from them or practice cases with them
- Attend information sessions with consulting employers to learn about their case interview processes
- Study the consulting organization with which you are interviewing to understand their types of clients
- Keep current on business issues and financial markets to understand trends
- Be prepared to devote time over a number of weeks to become proficient with the different types of case interview questions
Where can I find more resources to help?
All Princeton undergraduates, graduate students and alumni have free access to Management Consulted, a consulting and case interview prep resource.
Consulting companies' websites
Many of the top consulting firms offer their advice about case interview preparation. Some of them include interactive case practices which will give you a chance to walk through cases.
Videos and podcasts
Some of the major consulting firms have videos or YouTube videos of case interviews. Others may be created by former consultants, or firms who provide paid coaching services as well as free resources, such as podcasts and videos.
Firsthand is a tool to research employers, industries and other career subjects. Access is free for Princeton students courtesy of the Princeton University Library. The Firsthand Guide to the Case Interviews reviews case interview format, suggestions for preparation and evaluation tips.
Students and alumni have cited these books as being helpful:
- Case in Point (Marc Cosentino)
- Case Interview Secrets (Victor Cheng)
- Crack the Case System (David Orhvall)
- Cracking Case Interviews (Max Serrano & Jonathan Yarde)
Brain teasers/open-ended questions
Practice brain teasers, which require logical and quick-thinking to highlight problem-solving skills, attributes that are helpful for case interviewing. Brain teasers are not usually business-focused problems. An example would be: How many gas stations are there in the U.S.?
- Five Terrific Brain Teaser Questions (Indeed)
- How to Solve Google’s Crazy Open-Ended Interview Questions (Wired)
- 7 Insane Brain Teasers You Could Actually Encounter in an Interview (The Muse)
- How to Ace Guesstimate Interview Questions (Firsthand)
- How to Answer Brainteaser Interview Questions (Big Interview)
There are many consulting preparation-related websites that can help you navigate or practice case interviews. They typically provide free resources such as case walkthroughs, directories of consulting firms, annual consulting salaries data, but also have paid resources such as case interview prep assistance.
Consulting student groups and case competitions
Join Princeton student groups (e.g., Princeton University Graduate Consulting Club or Princeton University Nonprofit Consulting) to build connections and gain experience with consulting through speakers, projects and case competitions.
A case competition can be organized by student groups or consulting organizations. Teams of three to six tackle a real-world case by identifying key problems and providing a strategy for the client throughout a limited time period. In general, a group of representatives serves as judges, and they choose the best team(s) who may receive bragging rights, corporate gear or actual cash prizes.
Although case competition format or style may differ around the industry (e.g., finance, management consulting, healthcare), they all provide students with hands-on exposure to consulting with the opportunity to apply various skills (e.g., problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking).