What Is a Case Interview?

Helen Akers

A case interview is a type of interactive job interview that presents the applicant with real-life scenarios. During the interview, the applicant is evaluated on his strategic thinking skills rather than the answers he provides. The interviewer gives the applicant the scenario, feeds questions and directs the conversation. An applicant's ability to communicate and present his ideas is also evaluated in a case interview.

In group cas interviews, the interviewer usually takes a less active role.
In group cas interviews, the interviewer usually takes a less active role.

Investment banking and management consulting firms are the main types of companies that use case interviews. Since employees are required to evaluate and come up with solutions for a variety of scenarios, the case interview gives employers the chance to witness the applicant's ability to analyze a situation. A typical case interview gives the applicant a problem, such as declining market share and asks him how he would go about determining the root cause. Employers aren't necessarily looking for a single correct answer, but are rather looking to see how an applicant thinks.

Case interviews present job applicants with real-life scenarios.
Case interviews present job applicants with real-life scenarios.

The employer wants to make sure that the potential employee has a solid set of both analytical and communication skills. Companies may conduct a case interview in one-on-one or group settings. When potential employees are interviewed as a group, interviewers present the scenario to the entire group and expect them to work as a team to solve the issue. In group case interviews, the interviewers usually take a less active role and observe how the different group members interact.

In a one-on-one setting, once an applicant responds to the initial description, the interviewer will most likely ask additional probing questions. For instance, if the potential employee indicates he would redesign an advertising campaign for a product that is getting poor reception in the marketplace, the interviewer may ask for specific details. In other words, the applicant would then be asked to come up with creative positioning ideas or a media placement strategy. The interviewer doesn't necessarily have to agree with the potential employee's answer, but does want to see that he is able to come up with a reasonable solution.

Most case problems are presented to job applicants to determine if they can process information in a logical manner. It is important to be able to base responses on a given piece of information. Case interviews are about demonstrating the ability to draw relationships and likely conclusions based on a combination of personal knowledge and new data. The ability to communicate those ideas and strategies in a way that makes sense to an audience is also important.

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