By failing to prepare; prepare to fail.
Getting hired is a competitive process with the best prepared always have the greatest chance of success. Nailing the basics is a good starting point (i.e. turning up on time; research, research and more research) but the simple truth is: if you have prepared well, the interview should be an enjoyable interaction and high energy exchange of stories and ideas.
Like your CV, the first impression is absolutely critical – in fact, research points towards an individual having a few seconds to make a first impression. So walk in positively, be engaged by the opportunity, give a firm handshake, make eye contact and smile.
Being on time sounds simple enough but you would be amazed how many people are late for an interview – which is clearly not an ideal first impression. Aim to arrive 10 minutes early so you are relaxed and composed. Make sure you have the interviewer or PA’s phone number so, if something unforseen happens, you can call in advance and apologise for being late. Also, if you are late, have the courtesy to be genuinely apologetic again once you do get there.
Dress to impress - invest in a well-made, well-fitting dark suit and ensure your personal presentation is immaculate.
Case study interviews are an integral part of virtually all recruitment processes, for both management consultancies and corporates alike.
Broadly speaking there are two types of Case study interview:
The market sizing question (the one with no absolute right answer)
For example, the question may be: how many golf balls are lost on golf courses in Australia each year? Be aware that these can often be thrown at you at an interview to see how you think on your feet. In this situation, you need to be able to present an answer that is plausible and logical and be able to show how you reached this conclusion.
Traditional business case:
This is typically a real business problem; one you would be expected to solve as a Case Manager in a consulting firm. What is being tested is your ability to listen and approach a problem in an analytical and structured manner (often using a framework to structure your response, such as the 4C’s or Porters five forces).
A case study is an opportunity for the interviewer to see first-hand how you perform under pressure and how you approach and solve complex problems. Key to this is being able to structure ‘MECE’ (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) possible options or drivers. Practising decomposing business problems into those MECE drivers is probably one of the most important parts of what consulting firms call structuring.
A case study is not only trying to test your quantitative skills and commercial acumen, it is also testing your ‘grit’ – so make sure you don’t give up when faced with a potentially unsolvable problem (keep offering alternative innovative solutions!) and don’t get frazzled in the process. Practice – and lots of it - is the key to being successful in this high pressure situation. Make sure you do a minimum of 2 mock interviews with a current or former consultant (someone experienced in case interviewing) and brush up on basic concepts like break-even analyses, fixed and variable costs, etc., as these tend to come up a lot too.
For further information, below is a starting list of resources and also check consulting firms’ own interview preparation guides too:
Research, research and more research
Make sure you start by researching yourself - what are your top three strengths; what words would others use to describe you; why are you applying for this role? For competency based interviews, ensure you have a toolkit of examples ready to apply that demonstrate application of your strengths and situations where you have achieved a tangible objective or goal. Equally know your weaknesses and areas you’d like to grow and develop, and be able to demonstrate what you are doing to address and improve those areas. A very useful online tool we recommend to help you better understand your strengths is the R2 Strengths Profiler - https://assessment.r2profiler.com
Be clear on your career goals and objectives and what challenges are you seeking in your next role. Be sure to know and share your interests and passions. In our experience, people hire people they would want to spend time with, so would you pass the airport screen - being stuck at the airport with that person for 4 hours?
Know your CV - inside out and back to front. Also, take a clean paper copy of your CV to the interview. A typical interview question is: tell me about your experience. With this question, make sure you are able to deliver a punchy 3 minute synopsis of your experience and achievements, ensuring they are aligned to the needs of the role and the organisation. Additionally, ensure you can explain your motivations for moving roles, both historically and currently, and never bad-mouth a former employer.
Know the Company, the industry and the interviewer. Reading the company’s website is the absolute bare minimum. Ensure you understand its leadership team, together with its past and future strategy and values. Do comprehensive research for news articles about the company and ideally speak with a current or former employee to get a first-hand insight into the company’s culture and values. Research the person you are meeting to see what there background is and how long they have been with the company.
Be sure to understand what happening in the company’s industry; what are the trends, challenges and opportunities they and the industry faces now and in future? A useful tool here is to access any equity research report on the company or the industry, which can be purchased online.
Ensure you understand the role: what experience the client is looking for, what competencies are required? Make sure you prepare positive examples where you have demonstrated and applied these behaviours.
First impressions are important, as are last impressions
At the end of most interviews you are given the opportunity to ask questions. In this situation, remember not to ask any questions that you could find the answers to yourself. Prepare some well thought out, open-ended questions – perhaps asking about the interviewer and their experience with the company. Always ensure you close the interview positively - express your interest in the opportunity, provide a very brief summary why you would be a good fit for the role and ask when you are likely to get feedback.
Follow up the interview with an e-mail or a letter thanking the interviewer for taking time to meet with you – a small courtesy can often go a long way.
Useful tips to remember
Keep your poise – interviewing can be intense and testing sometimes. Remember, you are being tested to see how you would deal with difficult situations.
Keep smiling, maintain good eye contact and demonstrate a resilient and positive attitude.
Listen intently - make sure you have positive body language throughout the interview.
Be nice to the receptionist - many interviewers will gather an opinion from them on the interviewee.
Don’t feel like you need to answer questions immediately - take a moment, collect your thoughts, plan your answer and deliver your answer logically and coherently.
Don’t bring up salary unless asked directly.