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.

Career Confidential: Consulting

consulting1-1024x515So what is consulting exactly?  Tom Peacock, an IT and business transformation consultant at Accenture and 2010 Mechanical Engineering graduate, describes it as coming into a company to help improve a process and/or to solve a specific problem.  Those problems provide a level of thrill and excitement, as you take a complex issue and break it into its simplest components to make a persuasive argument and get your client to trust your analysis and see the merits of your proposed solutions.  As Tom explains, “the biggest thing is really seeing and feeling your client’s satisfaction.”

Tackling these challenging corporate issues takes excellent analytical and problem solving skills, resourcefulness and flexibility, which Tom credits Northeastern and its co-op program for helping him even further hone.   What’s also helped drive his success, is a passion and dedication to his work and showing a whole lot of initiative! In fact, during his undergraduate years, Tom twice took it upon himself to improve companies’ IT processes.  First, Tom returned to a deli, Oliva’s Market, where he had worked in high school to automate their order system.  During his time working at the deli, he had observed the business’s shelves full of binders detailing their more than 200 catering orders per week.  This paper system required someone to tally orders on a daily basis.  Recognizing room for improvement, Tom built an application for them using salesforce.com that automated this process, allowing them to see their orders real-time and to forecast their inventory and resource needs.  Tom still remembers the thrill when he rolled out the application and the amount of time he saved the team at Oliva’s.  Next, and while on this third co-op at Wellington Management in their financial planning group, Tom took it upon himself to completely automate a multi-step process that generated information on budgets and expenses, reducing the monthly time for this task from 16 hours down to 4.

Notwithstanding this natural drive to improve processes, Tom didn’t start out knowing that he wanted to do consulting, but he took the opportunity that Northeastern’s co-op program afforded him to explore options and opportunities.  He completed his first two co-ops at engineering companies, where he further refined the strong problem solving skills that he was developing in his classes.  After his second co-op, he realized he was increasingly interested in using his engineering background to tackle a more traditional business role, prompting him to take some evening MBA business courses and pursue a third co-op in finance at Wellington Management.  His time at Wellington really solidified his desire to transition away from engineering and into a business position, ideally in consulting, where he could become an expert and a trusted advisor in fixing business and/or technical processes.  And so began the job application process.

Tom recounts that he applied to dozens of companies, and although he had a few interviews, it wasn’t until he reaped the rewards of some diligent networking with an individual from Bluewolf at a Northeastern hockey game that he secured an offer. Tom credits the work he did at Wellington Management, particularly when it came to improving business processes with technology as aligning well with the work that Bluewolf did, given its focus on salesforce.com.

Tom worked at Bluewolf for nearly three years, during which time he led multiple global programs using salesforce.com to improve the overall efficiency of sales, marketing and customer service processes. Throughout his tenure at Bluewolf, he interacted with over 14 different clients across numerous industries, wearing multiple hats, including that of project manager, process and enablement lead, solution architect, and application lead. Tom says that Northeastern transformed the way he thought about problems and made assumptions which propelled his success on the job. More specifically, the software experience he gained through his C++ and Matlab courses helped him to understand code and to credibly interact with developers.  In looking to give back to Northeastern, and further underscoring his drive, Tom helped to start a co-op program at Bluewolf, which ultimately hired (and continues to hire!) 5-7 new co-op students every 6 months, many of whom have gone on to receive full-time offers.

After a successful run at Bluewolf, Tom was offered, and ultimately accepted, a position at Accenture as a Consultant, where he works in the salesforce.com practice helping companies transform their sales, marketing, and customer service organizations. His focus remains on understanding the business problems that companies face and helping them to understand what changes are needed from a people, process, and technology perspective. In this role, Tom is able to continue his focus on providing IT solutions for his clients, while also working more closely on developing overall strategies to help his clients improve their business processes.

So in light of his success what advice would Tom leave current students with to get their start in consulting?  “Number one is networking.”  As Tom explains, “don’t be afraid to leverage who you know and along those lines, don’t be afraid to reach out” and importantly too, “stay in contact with those you’ve built connections with, including former co-op employers.”  In addition to networking, and once you have an interview lined up, “bring your ‘A’ game.”  For example, when Tom found out about his interview at Bluewolf, he bought the CEO’s book and read it over the weekend. “You have to make sure they know you want the job by effectively preparing.”

Clearly Tom has had a lot of success in the more than four years since he graduated and in the spirit of giving back to his alma mater and helping those who want to navigate success in the world of consulting Tom generously welcomes those who want to reach out for an informational interview!

Tom PeacockTom Peacock is a consultant at Accenture with a passion driving transformational business programs through simplified processes, behavioral change, and technology solutions. His experience and expertise revolves around sales, customer service, and marketing within the electronics and high tech industry. He enjoys using his extended knowledge of salesforce.com to create innovative solutions to improve the overall experience for internal and external customers.

Image Source: Eduworks, Consulting with Eduworks’ Technology

Pro Perspectives: Financial Consulting at Deloitte

Deloitte logo_1Student Interviewer: Arun Punjabi

Professional Interviewee: Patrick Kumf, Senior Associate in Financial Advisory Services

Company: Deloitte

As a 3rd year student in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, double majoring in Business Administration and Economics, I seized the opportunity to interview Patrick Kumf, a Senior Associate within Deloitte Financial Advisory Services to not only gain exposure to the career path that he chose, but to seek advice from a successful professional who has been through the same collegiate recruiting process that I am going through. I am currently co-oping at Deloitte Consulting LLP as a Business Analyst, specializing in the Mergers & Acquisitions service line, with an industry focus on Consumer Products and Retail. After the interview, there was no question that the conversations we had were invaluable, both from a learning and professional stand-point.

Arun Punjabi (AP): Can you tell me a little about your current career path and how you came to be at your job?

Patrick Kumf (PK): I’m currently a Senior Associate within Business Valuation at Deloitte FAS.  I graduated with a degree in Economics from Trinity College. I originally joined Deloitte’s Auditing department, but quickly realized that really wasn’t for me.

Patrick continued to explain how after realizing that auditing was not one of his interests or core competencies, he found his niche within the Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, a selective and relatively small business unit of Deloitte that focuses heavily on business valuation and numerical analysis. Due to the cross-functional nature of Deloitte LLP (parent company), Patrick was able to make several connections and work on many projects with professionals in Deloitte Consulting as well as Audit. As for Patrick’s next steps in his career, he intends to leverage his niche skills in business valuation to enter the corporate finance world with a focus on private equity and debt valuation.

AP: What do you do day-to-day as an Senior Associate?

PK: I’m part of multiple projects and teams that range from mid to high performance.  I spend most days managing peers, priorities, and projects.” During busy season, Patrick can work upwards of 75 hours a week.

AP: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting out in this field?

Patrick placed emphasis on networking and communication. Below are his top four pieces of advice

  1. Network
  2. Get referrals
  3. Good recommendations
  4. “Communicate openly and with confidence—don’t be afraid to communicate your issues and interests with your managers.”

AP: What do you find most challenging and most satisfying about your position?

PK: Definitely, figuring out how to prioritize high and low risk projects can sometimes be challenging as well as saying “no” to people to ensure you have a fair work-life balance and focusing on quality over quantity.

He also mentioned time management and how it relates to work-life balance, managing expectations of work and free time as well as people management– “managing people from all walks of life and styles of working can be a challenge”.  In regards to most satisfying, he said there are lots of opportunities for cross-industry work as well as networking opportunities.  He explained that as a Senior Associate you gain economical and mathematical insight into large deals.

AP: If you had to give one piece of advice to a student who wants to be in your position in the future, what would you tell them?

PK: Definitely focus on grades to go to top feeder MBA Schools—Deloitte focuses heavily on recruiting from top academic schools.  And, network effectively and look for opportunities to meet Deloitte professionals, those connections will help you in the long run.

AP: If you had a Husky as a pet, what would you name it?

He went with the name, “Husky” (…haha).