Case study interview for MBB consulting - 24 of my best tips on how to get in

Consultingrs's picture
Rank: Baboon | 129

As a former MBB case interviewer, I've interviewed a lot of people and have seen people make very small, avoidable mistakes. It's often very nuanced things that push the edge to good versus great. Just because you "crack the case" doesn't necessarily put you in the 'great' category. Yes, you need to crack the case, but also have to do it in the right way. Many people crack the case and still don't get invited to the next round because others were simply better in different dimensions. Below, I've put together a "cheat sheet" of the things you must know across the major phases of the consulting recruiting process, in particular for the MBBs. For the rest of the tips, feel free to PM me.

1) Your resume and cover letter

There are four components that recruiters evaluate your consulting resume on to determine who gets invited for an interview:

Academic performance
Work experience
Clear communication
Academic performance

Recruiters want to see a strong record of academic achievement. The following components increase your score in this area:

Selectivity of your undergraduate and graduate institution - the more selective, the better

Your undergraduate GPA - if your GPA was greater than 3.7 on a 4.0 scale, you should include it on your resume

Your gmat score - if your GMAT score was less than 670, you should not include it on your resume

Any academic honors you received - if it's a selective award, explain it

Work experience

Recruiters want to see a strong history of career advancement with transferable consulting skills. The following components increase your score in this area:

Selectivity of your employer - you'll get bonus points if it was difficult to get a job with your employer

Transferability of skills - the more you can demonstrate transferrable consulting skills on your resume, the better. These include leadership, ambition, achievement orientation, agility, grit, analytics (qualitative and quantitative), innovativeness, teamwork, and communication ability

Promotions and career advancement - you'll get bonus points if your career trajectory was faster than the norm

Achievements - the more you can highlight the results and impact you achieved through your work, the better

2) Consulting networking

Despite what you are told by firms and summer interns, every single interaction you have with the firm is assessed and cataloged. Firms continue to get more and more data points on you during the following types of events:

Group circles after the firm presentation - known as the "circle of death"
Office hours
Case competitions
Dinners or happy hours
School-sponsored social events
Phone calls
"Mock" interviews
Your classmates who were summer interns
Email communications

In your consulting networking, do more of the positive things in your interactions with the firm. Do less to none of the negative things, and you'll be well on your way to making the coveted closed list.

Positive things members will say about you if you do these things

Having a strong, confident presence

Asked insightful questions

Did his research and seems genuinely interested in consulting

3) Excelling in case competition

Consulting case competitions are actually your first interview

As you've seen from Stage 2, firms use every event to continually get more and more data points on you. Consulting case competitions are used to assess your on-the-job performance potential, communication skills, and interpersonal skills. You will be ranked against others in your group.

For a typical case team competition, there are usually 5 members in each group. Your goal is to get ranked as either #1 or #2 within your group. Any lower of a rank, and your chances of getting invited for an interview fall dramatically.

You'll also learn to avoid the 7 common things people do during a case competition that will ding them for getting an interview.

The 5 things to do to get ranked #1 or #2 in your case group

Demonstrate leadership
Have a structured approach
Conduct strong quantitative analysis
Generate solid insights
Think differently....

4) The "fit" portion of the interview

Firms use the consulting interview to assess your "fit" with the firm. Many people make the mistake of trying to memorize or script answers to some 40+ common questions that they might receive from the consulting club or internet.

The reality is that firms change their approved list of questions all the time. More importantly, if you script or memorize an answer, you will come across as "canned" or "too rehearsed," and this will instantly ding you for getting to the next round.

Unlike other stages of the consulting recruiting process, your score on the "fit" portion of the consulting interview is entirely subjective. To stand out from others, this means you will need to do 4 things:

Establish a genuine rapport with the interviewer (where possible)
Craft stories that hit on the 9 critical consulting traits that interviewers look for
Deliver your stories in a compelling fashion using the S-C-A-R-L framework
Ask thoughtful, insightful questions at the end of the interview
Establish a genuine rapport with the interviewer

There is a critical 60-90 second time period where you have the opportunity to try to establish a genuine rapport with the interviewer. This begins from the time the interviewer introduces themselves and ends when the interviewer starts telling you about the interview format and timing. This is not to say that you can't try to establish rapport at other phases of the interview. However, these first 60-90 seconds are critical because if you do it successfully, you will create a favorable first impression with the interviewer. He will then form an early hypothesis that you are good, and will look for information to validate his hypothesis throughout the interview. This is clearly much better than the vice-versa situation.

Before you begin an interview, you will usually get a brief biography of the person that is interviewing you. You should use this information for two purposes: 1) to establish a rapport during the first 60-90 seconds, and 2) to ask more relevant questions at the end of the interview.

Craft stories that hit on the 9 critical consulting traits that interviewers look for

As you think through your experiences, you need to craft stories that exemplify the 9 critical consulting traits that interviewers look for during the interview. Every question they ask is geared towards trying to understand if you can demonstrate these 9 critical traits.

1) Leadership.....

5) Mastering the case interview

The secret to mastering the consulting case interview is not to just practice case after case.

Instead, you must practice each case perfectly by knowing exactly how case interviewers will grade your performance

Just as professors give you a grading rubric to explain specifically how your exam will be scored, case interviewers from the top consulting firms also use a rubric to assess your performance. The case interview is much more objective than the "fit" portion of the interview. This means that there are many tricks you can do in each dimension of the grading rubric to make sure you earn 'great' scores, instead of just 'good' scores.

It's very simple. The more often you can have the interviewer score you as 'great' instead of 'good' in a dimension, the more likely you will move on to the next round of interviews or get the final offer.

Top consulting firms grade cases using the following 7 dimensions. We will detail exactly what case interviewers look for in each dimension, and the 21 core tricks that will tip you to a 'great' score instead of a 'good' score. The people who get the final offer are those that earn 'great' scores on several dimensions, not just 'good' scores.

1) Format familiarity
2) Logical thinking
3) "Own" the case
4) Math ability
5) Insightfulness
6) Cleverness
7) Communication

We encourage you to stop practicing cases the way you have. We want you to perfectly practice all of your cases from this point on, by having someone else grade your case performance on the below dimensions using the "great vs. good" grading rubric.

Format familiarity

This dimension is the only one that is table-stakes, meaning that you can't differentiate yourself on it. However, you will get dinged if you are not prepared on how to interact with the interviewer during key stages of the case. When the interviewer switches gears from the "fit" interview toward the case, you will take out your paper and pen. The interviewer will then start giving you introductory case facts. When he is doing this, you must jot down your notes while maintaining good eye contact with him on occasion.

After he is done speaking, you will then recite the case facts he told you. However, you must paraphrase and state it back in a conversational manner while making eye contact. Many students make the mistake of robotically reading back what they wrote down on their notepad like they were a courtroom transcriptionist.

At this point, you will ask the interviewer if you missed anything and also ask some clarifying questions if you think they are relevant given the case facts. For example, if the case facts indicate that there is a profitability problem, then it may be appropriate to ask if the client has a time frame in which they want to turnaround profits. Do not ask too many clarifying questions at this point, as they are oftentimes unnecessary. Only ask if you think that they are relevant given the initial case facts. You need to use your judgement here.

You will then ask the interviewer for a minute or two so that you can take some time to structure your thoughts. At this point, the interviewer will leave you alone and may check his phone or look over your resume as you write down your approach. While doing this, you must take in body language cues from the interviewer if you are taking too much time. He might try to make eye contact with you when he thinks enough time has passed. When you are ready to discuss, turn your notepaper towards him so he doesn't have to read it upside down, and walk him through your structured approach.

Logical thinking

Are you able to create a logical, structured approach toward answering the client's question? To get at least a good score on this dimension, you must properly identify the key topics to review by drawing out a logical structure or "issue tree." Candidates often get dinged here by having a "templated" or "canned framework" that is not relevant to the case facts. This can often happen when one practices too many cases without trying to perfectly practice on how to create a relevant and focused framework based on initial case facts.

However, to get a great score on this dimension, you must also:

Contextualize why you think your key topics are relevant given the case facts. For example, if you learned that the client is concerned about a new competitor entering its iron weights category, you would say something along the lines of "To determine why this competitor recently entered the market, I'd like to understand what changed over time in the category's cost structure. Perhaps the cost of iron significantly decreased in recent years." You wouldn't want to just say, "I'd like to better understand the financials of the market."

6) Conquering the written case
While the traditional case interview is still used by most of the top consulting firms, they are quickly shifting towards the written case interview format. Firms are using this new format because they believe it more closely mirrors the day-to-day work of a consultant and thus is a better predictor of on the job success. We agree.

The typical format for the written case interview is as follows:

Each candidate goes to a private room where they receive a packet of materials. These materials usually include a brief 1-2 page memo from a member of their "mock" consulting team, along with a fairly long PowerPoint deck

You will typically have 45 minutes to review these materials on your own
Afterwards, you you will meet with the interviewer (posing as the "mock" Partner) to discuss the materials you assembled
After your discussion, you will have the behavioral or "fit" portion of the interview

The 1-2 page memo from your "mock" Manager will typically list the key questions that need to be answered for the client in the next steering committee meeting. In 45 minutes, you will be meeting with your "mock" Partner to discuss the materials you put together and answer any questions that they may have.

The challenge is that the PowerPoint deck of slides you are given is both incomplete and is jumbled. You also have to distill the large slide deck so that you only present 10 or so slides to the Partner.

Therefore, you will need to fill in some of the gaps, select the most relevant slides, and tell the story to your Partner that answers the key questions. You will also be expected to answer any questions the Partner has during your walkthrough.

Luckily, there are usually only 2-3 slides that you'll need to create from scratch as we describe further below.

Fortunately, the grading criteria used to assess your written case interview is quite similar to the traditional case format. You will be assed on:

Logical thinking
Math ability

There is not as much emphasis on your ability to "own" the case by leading questioning, since with this format, you had 45 minutes to digest all of the data. Instead, the Partner will now lead the questioning based on what you present.

It is important to understand how these 5 dimensions are assessed differently in the written case interview format versus the traditional case format, as described below. Given the pressure to synthesize a lot of information and craft a story in little time, we will explain the 14 tricks to do throughout the 5 graded dimensions.

Logical thinking

You will need to assess lots of slides, think through which slides are most important to present, and then re-order them to tell a story to the Partner.

Look back on the memo and review each key question - if there are several key questions that are asked, it's best to skim through the slides and organize them according to which questions they help answer. For example, create a pile of slides for question 1 and then create another pile of slides for question 2. Label each pile so that you don't get them confused.

Within each pile, further segment the slides into two more piles - since you can only take 10 or so slides to the Partner, you will need to skim through the piles you created to further triage the slides that will make the upfront section of the deck versus which ones are "backup" for the appendix

Create an executive summary that mirrors the structure of the upfront deck - you will most likely be asked to create a one page executive summary that summarizes the key points in the deck. It is important that the following slides you order are logically consistent, in that they follow the same flow as you laid out in the executive summary slide

Develop a next steps slide - you may be asked to create a next steps slide at the end where you propose additional analyses to perform to answer new questions that arise or further validate solutions to the existing questions. You'll want to make sure that each bullet on the next steps slide begins with an action verb and that it's something actionable that the team could reasonably perform as an actual next step
Math ability

The interviewer's assessment of your math ability on the written case is similar to how you're evaluated on the traditional case interview

For the rest of the tips, feel free to PM me.

Comments (30)

Oct 24, 2014

For the rest of the tips, feel free to PM me.

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Oct 29, 2015

Thanks Craig excellent article! Still have one question: what kind of Extracurriculars would be strong or make the difference in a resume? I'm struggling to find any of those to put on my resume.

Aug 14, 2018

Hi Craig, I'm having issues PMing you, could you send these tips to me?

Oct 20, 2014

Thanks for sharing this insightful information!

Oct 24, 2014

For the rest of the tips, feel free to PM me.

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Oct 23, 2014

once interviews start, is everyone truly on the same level.... Or do people with high GMATS, amazing work experience, or people who have built up goodwill during networking events have more leeway?

Let's say someone has strongly impressed people from one of the smaller offices during network events and the people there really want him - would he get through with a worse R1 interview performance than someone who bid their way into an interview slot?

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Oct 24, 2014

They consider all data points throughout the ENTIRE process. So if someone was a bit "off" but really wowed them in many other interactions - like a case competition for example, they might overlook it as you said. Now, if you bomb the case, this won't help you. But if you are on the edge, and you impressed in other interactions than someone else, this could tip you over the edge. Depends on the people interviewing as well.

Oct 25, 2014
Consulting Rockstar:

They consider all data points throughout the ENTIRE process. So if someone was a bit "off" but really wowed them in many other interactions - like a case competition for example, they might overlook it as you said. Now, if you bomb the case, this won't help you. But if you are on the edge, and you impressed in other interactions than someone else, this could tip you over the edge. Depends on the people interviewing as well.

That's good to hear, I'm pretty far along in one of the case competitions and was wondering if it would help me.

Oct 4, 2015

Hi Craig,

I am not allowed to PM you. I'd appreciate the rest of the tips. Can you please send them? Thanks.

Oct 5, 2015

Hi Craig! Thanks so much for the advice; it's very helpful. I am having trouble sending you a message - would you let me know how to reach you?

Oct 9, 2015

Hi Craig!
I similarly am having trouble PMing you. Could you share the rest of the tips?

Dec 25, 2015

Hey Craig,
Know this is a pretty old post, but would love it if you could PM the remaining comments to me. Not allowed to do so myself.

Dec 25, 2015

Hey goingplaces, did you hear back?

Dec 25, 2015

Yes, they called back on the Tuesday. I then had my next two rounds of interviews with the Sr.Manager and the Partner on the Friday. On Monday I got the offer. Something I recently received in the mail, but did not have time for the interviews is The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto- its gold for structuring problem solving wish I had it earlier.

Dec 25, 2015

you could print off the e-books :)

pm if you want help with case interviews later this month. i just signed a summer with mbb.

Dec 25, 2015

PM will be sent to you very soon, and sorry, but printing off 56 pages doesn't sound very appealing or environmentally friendly, so any other suggestions lol?

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Dec 25, 2015

Buy Case in Point. Seriously. It's the best book for case interviews.

Dec 25, 2015

Buy Case in Point. Seriously. It's the best book for case interviews.

You mean "Make Your Case?" Seriously, not trying to be a wise-guy, just trying to make sure.

Dec 25, 2015

the "bible" seems pretty solid, I never had any consulting interviews but friends told me they found it to be good preparation for all different aspects, including case studies.

Aug 25, 2018

Hey Craig,

Know this is a pretty old post, but would love it if you could PM the remaining comments to me. Not allowed to do so myself (due to new account I think.)


Mar 14, 2019

Hey Craig,

Sorry to bring up an old post I too am having trouble PM'ing you for your pending tips.
Is there any other way we could gain access?

Thanks a lot.

Jun 25, 2019

Hey Craig, great post! can I have the rest tips? have an interview in 3 weeks as an experienced hire from outside of the industry

Jul 16, 2019

Hey Craig, thank you for you taking the time to share these. I would be extremely grateful if you could please share the rest of the tips as I can't seem to DM you. Thank you once again!

May 1, 2020

Hey Craig,
Know this is a pretty old post, but would love it if you could PM the remaining comments to me. Not allowed to do so myself.

Jun 5, 2020

Hi Craig,

Like the recent posters above, would love it if you could share the rest of your tips - I can't PM you.

Many thanks!

Jun 22, 2020
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Jun 22, 2020