What is a case interview?
As you prepare for co-ops, graduation, and beyond, it is likely you’ll come across case interview questions during the hiring process. These are questions that pose hypothetical problems to the interviewee to identify their ability to gather new information quickly, process the information, and make an informed decision. They are most often associated with management consulting and investment banking interviews, but can also be used by tech companies (like Vistaprint), to assess critical thinking skills for a variety of roles.
Here are a few examples:
How many bars of soap are used each week across the world?
How many eggs are sold annually in the United States? (This was asked of me during an interview with an advertising agency in Boston.)
If you owned a flying car company, how much would you charge per car?
How is a case interview different from a behavioral interview?
Case interviews differ from behavioral interview questions in that they are specifically designed to examine your thought process, while behavioral interview questions assess personality traits and past experience. Case interviews focus on what you’re able to do now instead of what has been completed in former roles. Being put on the spot this way can be intimidating for the interviewee, but there is a wealth of resources available that can prepare candidates to successfully navigate case interviews.
Case Interview Preparation Tips:
- Just like anything else, getting better at case interviews requires practice. Case in Point is an excellent resource, as is good ol’ Google.
- Keeping a notebook with your practice case notes in it is a good way to identify areas to improve and provides practical review material as an interview date approaches.
- Focus on the Skills Needed for the Position
- There are many different types of case interviews (marketing sizing, profitability, brain teasers, etc. – see a good list) that can be asked by a hiring company. It’s important to consider the type of position being sought when preparing for a case interview question.
- A company looking to fill a financial analyst role is more likely to pose M&A, cost cutting, or profitability questions, while brain teasers are often used during engineering interviews. Know what to expect going in!
- Research the Company
- Before every interview it’s always a good idea to search for “[company name] interview questions” to see how other interviews been structured for past candidates. This can help identify what type of case questions are often posed based upon the position being sought.
Tips for During the Interview:
- Confirm the Desired Answer
- Before starting, it is critical to confirm with the interviewer what the desired answer looks like. You do not want to reach the end of the case and realize the answer is not what the interviewer is looking for.
- State Assumptions Clearly
- Stating assumptions clearly and out loud will allow the interviewer to follow your train of thought throughout the case. This is what they are most interested in; they want to know how you think.
- Ask Questions
- Asking questions demonstrates your ability to gather and digest new information – a key skill for any role.
- Sometimes important information regarding the case is initially withheld and is only revealed if asked – so make sure to ask!
- Simplify (and Check) Your Math
- Expect there to be mathematical elements to a case interview, but don’t get bogged down with it. Round where it makes sense and, when assuming variables, use easy numbers. Be comfortable with quick “back of the envelope” calculations and be sure to watch those decimal points.
- Arrive at an Answer
- Always be approaching the desired answer! It is easy to get sidetracked during a case. Always. Be. Closing (the case).
- Sample Questions by Type
- McKinsey Practice Cases (optimal for management consulting and finance roles)
- HBS Case Interview Guide & Tips (contains lots of useful frameworks for answering questions)
Kyle Risley is currently a Senior Marketing Associate within our Organic Search team. Kyle has been with Vistaprint for 1 ½ years and is also a Northeastern alumni who studied Marketing and minored in Economics.