Ten Top Tips to a Winning Case Interview!

picjumbo.com_HNCK3988Whether you’re studying Business, Engineering, or Computer Science, you may likely have to master the case interview.  Depending on the organization and your interviewer, it may either be the format of your whole internship or after graduation interview, or a part of your overall interview experience. Kudos to our employer partners and presenters as these tips have been adapted from Case Interviewing workshops presented by Liberty Mutual and Vistaprint, as well as from Northeastern University faculty presenters and a panelist who was a student Case Competition Winner.

Here are the Top Ten Tips to Ace Your Case!

1. How long do you have for your case?

Many employers will do a 45 minute or a 30 minute case question. Having an understanding of approximately what you have to work with for time is important.  It’s also absolutely fine to take 45 seconds to collect your thoughts before starting to tackle the question. Moreover, often, it’s expected!

2. What are some of the issues at the core of your case?

Be sure you understand the case. Does it pivot around a new market entry or product launch, a finance, technology, or innovation case, or does it have multiple overlaps to other areas? What framework are you going to use? While professionals sometimes disagree on the importance of deciding on a framework, identifying the business problem(s) at the crux of your case, as well as your hypothesis, helps you determine your strategy and a structure for your answer. This is true whether you are tackling a case as part of an internship interview, or for an awesome after graduation opportunity!

3. Ask questions and take notes.

Your interviewer will often give you the bare bones of a case, sometimes as little information as possible. They may take two to three minutes to provide an overview. You can help yourself to excel by asking good questions. Great questions include:  how are you measuring success? Is it solely profit or are there other metrics or criteria? What are some of the “barriers to entry”? Are the competitors across the street—literally? Do you need capital? What questions are priorities to ask versus optional? Asking questions, determining shared assumptions, and eliciting clarifying information demonstrates strong analytical skills. Expect some push back and be prepared to support your answers.

4. Put some math around it!

While your analytical skills are undoubtedly super, you’ll impress your interviewer more if you back up your answers by showing strong quantitative skills. Starting with a conceptual understanding of the case is fine. However, you can be sure your prospective employer is looking to see if you can do the math!

5. Show your strategic thinking abilities.

Case interviews allow applicants to shine when they can use their strategic thinking skills to adapt and change gears quickly in analyzing business situations.  Flexing your strategic thinking skills is important, no matter what type of interview you are on and it’s absolutely critical on internship or after graduation case interviews. While some questions are more brainteasers (“how many balloons would it take to fill this interview room”—a real question asked of an applicant!), the case questions we’re focusing on here are complicated with a lot of moving parts (“we’re launching a new water filtration product fall 2015 in xyz country which is a new market for us…”). Whether it’s a brainteaser, a case about a new product in a new market, or something completely different, let your prospective employer see the logic behind your thought process, as well as what solutions you arrive at. Show them how you break the case problem down.

6. Think holistically about the problem.

Although your case might be focused in one area, for example, finance, being able to “connect the dots” to other functions like marketing, supply chain, technology or innovation management, demonstrates your intellectual capital and versatility, as well as the value you would bring to that prospective employer. It illustrates your ability to anticipate how different choices may have different impacts and may change the recommendations you select. Thinking cross-functionally will allow you to showcase your abilities and provide a stronger answer.

7. It’s not always about the right answer, 

it’s about how you frame the analysis. It’s about making a connection with the interviewer and being the right person, not just for the job, but for the team and organization. It’s about being the professional you are, especially under the pressure of a case. In some cases there is no one right answer.  If it becomes apparent that you made a mistake, don’t panic! Admit your mistake. Stay focused and calm under pressure. Don’t assume you’ve lost the job. Employers tell us that many candidates who have made a mistake will still land that offer.

8. Do what helps you create the right space to be in before the interview.

Clear your schedule. Do you need to go to the gym? Do you need to review your notes? Don’t go to the interview hungry and expect your best brainpower. This is great advice given by one of my panelists during a case prep workshop. Implement what works for you and throw out the rest.

9. Picture yourself confident and successful.

What you can control, control, and release the rest. There is lots of ambiguity around an interview. You can’t prepare for everything so prepare as best as possible and then create the conditions of your success by relaxing into the interview, enjoying the intellectual challenge of the case, and staying confident that you’ll be successful.

10. Use Your Resources!  See: Case Interviews on the Career Development website which has Interactive Cases, a YouTube Case Interviewing channel, links to company websites that feature case interviews, and other resources!  Check with your professors! Glassdoor is another great resource for checking out types of questions candidates before you have been asked at that company. Leverage all your resources.

Now go out and crush your next case interview!

Ellen Zold Goldman is Senior Associate Director here at Career Development and liaison to the D’Amore McKim School of Business. She loves all things international, as well as all things Business.

Why Should I Do an Internship?

Source: http://byuinternships.org

Source: http://byuinternships.org

This guest post was written by Tricia Dowd, a Career Development Assistant at NU Career Development, and a recent graduate from Northeastern’s Higher Education Administration program where she earned her Master’s degree this past September.

As Northeastern students, the value of experiential learning and work experience before graduation is probably already something you’re well aware of. Most of you will probably go on at least one co-op during your time here. So why do an internship?

Actually, one of the best reasons to do an internship is co-op. As co-ops are becoming more popular, they are also becoming more competitive. This is especially true for students who are applying for their first co-op. Having an internship experience already on your resume not only makes you more competitive, it also makes you more prepared. You will already have work experience in your field, and you’ll have a better idea of what to expect when the first day of co-op rolls around.

Using an internship experience to get ahead for co-op is great if you already know what you want to do, but it is also great if you don’t know what you want to do! Instead of waiting to pick a major (or decide to stay in one) to get work experience through co-op, getting work experience through an internship is an easy way to try out a major or a career without committing to a program or a company for a full six months. Not sure you want to be a Policy Analyst? Try a summer internship to explore the field before committing yourself to it for six months and potentially using one of your co-ops for something you aren’t sure you want to do. We recommend finding an internship the summer after your first year, but it’s never too late to get more work experience or explore a different field.

Internships are also a great way for students who are unable to go on co-op to get work experience. The primary differences between an internship and a co-op are that internships are (usually) unpaid and (usually) shorter in length and more flexible. Therefore, if you’re not able to take a semester off from your major, an internship is a way to get work experience around your schedule, or for a shorter time during the summer when you don’t have other commitments. As someone who regularly meets with students in the middle of a job search, I can honestly tell you that work experience is one of the most important things you could leave college with. I have yet to meet a student who told me that she or he regretted going on an internship!

Finally, internships can also be a way for you to get your foot in the door at a company that does not currently offer a co-op position. Instead of waiting until after graduation to try to break into one of these companies, why not apply for an internship now? Give your dream company a chance to see how hard of a worker you can be! The connections and institutional knowledge you’ll get out of the experience will be a huge asset to a future application at that company.

So how exactly do you find an internship? Check out my previous post for a summary of the top three methods, attend some of our workshops on the topic, or hop right on HuskyCareerLink.

Tricia Dowd is a Career Development Assistant at NEU Career Development, and graduated from Northeastern with a Master’s in Higher Education Administration in September. She is interested in helping students gain practical experiences to complement what they’re learning in the classroom. You can reach her at p.dowd@neu.edu

The Career Paths Your Advisor Forgot About

questionThe field of physician assistant (PA) studies has been cited among the fastest-growing careers (38% in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and was named by Forbes as the “#1 Best Master’s Degree for Jobs” in 2012.  But when I sought help in planning my path to becoming a PA, my university’s health professions adviser told me, “We’ll learn about this together.”  There can’t be a framework in place for every possible career, but figuring out the path doesn’t have to be difficult.

Find others with similar plans.  The first real companion I found was a friend from high school who was applying to become a physical therapist.  We were both used to having to defend our career choice; each of us had the experience of people asking, “But why don’t you want to be a doctor?”  With that off the table, we were able to get into the details of what we were excited about, what we were unsure about, and why we were going into our chosen fields.  A supportive environment makes the rough parts a little smoother.

Reach out.  Really, really reach out.  It may be hard to find people to shadow or meet with.  I was able to shadow one of the PAs who worked with my aunt, but after that, I didn’t know how to find others.  The shadowing program set up through my university had plenty of alumni who were doctors, but not a single PA.  Desperate for more contact, I emailed the state physician assistant association and asked for help.  Not long after, a representative emailed me a list of PAs who would be willing to take me on for a day.  I attended a program for emergency medical technicians to shadow emergency room physicians, and when the doctor found out I was applying to PA school, he found me one of his PA colleagues to work with instead.  Take every opportunity, and do everything you can to create them.

Don’t be afraid of nontraditional resources.  There was no organization for pre-PA students at my university, so I went to a few meetings of the fledgling pre-nursing group to figure out where I could take my prerequisite courses. There wasn’t a lot of information relevant to me, but there was enough to get me started.  And just as there are study guides for every possible standardized test, there are “how to get into school” books for nearly every career.  Working from those books and scanning over message boards ultimately got me all the information I needed to put together a successful application.

Mariah Swiech Henderson is a first-year student in Northeastern’s Physician Assistant Studies program. She can be reached at henderson.mar@husky.neu.edu with any questions about working in healthcare and applying to/attending PA school.