How to prepare for problem-solving and case study interviews
Problem-solving interviews put candidates through their paces and prepare them for the world of professional services – but how should applicants approach them?
This type of assessment, also known as a case study interview, gives employers the chance to understand how a would-be worker tackles an analytical task by measuring quantitative and qualitative skills simultaneously. That is why we have added this as one of the key stages of our recruitment process.
Time constraints, the need to think fast and handling ambiguous information are all challenges but the biggest one is often a lack of exposure to this method of evaluation. To help you prepare properly, we have prepared this handy guide that might give you a better idea of how to tackle these tricky tests.
What is a problem-solving interview?
An applicant will be required to analyse a realistic scenario for the role, identify key issues, and propose a solution against the clock. The interviewer may also provide additional details or challenges throughout the discussion, requiring the candidate to swiftly adapt their analysis.
These interviews most often assess strategic thinking, analytical skills, logical reasoning and creativity. The typical structure looks something like this:
- Introduction to the problem
- Clarifying questions
- Problem definition and framework development
- Information gathering and analysis
- Solution development and discussion
These five stages can be quite fluid and it is important to be as structured as possible.
We tend to present our exercises in Miro, a digital whiteboard and workspace that we use regularly, so there will be a visual element that you may find helpful for organising your thoughts and collating information. Our case study interviews are typically led by a member of our leadership team, each of whom possesses a wealth of professional services experience and is well versed in these assessments.
Here are a few things to bear in mind for case study interviews:
1. It’s about the journey, not the destination
There is an irony in calling this type of assessment a problem-solving interview because your solution to the problem is not actually what assessors are most interested in.
Instead, your process for tackling challenges is the key thing being analysed. We want to see that you are a logical thinker capable of interpreting and analysing data quickly and that you can devise a reasonable approach to solving a problem.
2. Put the ‘objective’ in objective thinking
When you are presented with the problem, it might not be immediately obvious what exactly you are being asked to do – so make sure you know what the objective is before diving in too far.
To figure it out, you must listen actively, avoid making assumptions and try to understand the business context, constraints and priority issues before going down a particular avenue as any misinterpretations could undermine you from the get-go.
3. Keep your eyes and ears open from the start
The introductory element of the interview is so important to these assessments so gather as much information as you can at this stage.
Look for connections and patterns relevant to your task and ignore any superfluous detail. Identifying the relevant snippets is key to setting you on your way to finding the optimal solution.
4. Go fishing – you might land something useful
If you think any pertinent details that could help you tailor your approach are missing, ask your assessor – they might possess valuable additional nuggets of information that could help you.
Don’t be frivolous but if you need a definition or add a bit of context about something, there’s no harm in asking.
5. Explain yourself! Give an insight into how you think
You might have sound reasoning inside your head, but we need sound to analyse your reasoning – tell us what you’re thinking and why you have taken a particular approach. Doing this provides us with insights into your problem-solving aptitude so make sure to continuously explain your plan and what factors you are considering throughout.
6. Less haste, more speed
You cannot afford to waste time by starting over so really consider your approach before committing. If you rush in, that quick start might lead to you slowing down as the test progresses.
Your mental agility might get out of some tight spots but it’s better to think through all solutions before making a final decision.
7. Put your work in a framework
Structuring your answer will help your interviewer understand your process clearly. We want to know how well you will be able to do this in real life so a haphazard approach could undermine you, even if you develop a great solution. Make your process as simple and clear as possible.
8. Be a mental gymnast and stay flexible
Don’t be surprised if there is an unexpected turn of events during your interview – after all, circumstances can change rapidly in real life. If there is a twist, don’t panic – just assimilate the new information into your adjusted strategy to show us how responsive you are.
9. Practice, practice, practice
The case study experience is very different from most conventional interviews, so give at least one a try before your assessment.
There are plenty of online resources and case studies available if you want to practise, including some free ones. These include:
- Prep Lounge
- Hacking the Case Interview
- My Consulting Coach
- My Consulting Offer
- Career in Consulting
Please note that some of these are very consultancy-centric, whereas our case study interviews are role-specific.
We hope this helps you prepare for your interview, and we wish you all the best!