How to Crush the Case Interview
I initially wrote this in 2006 as I was preparing for case interviews for Bain & Co and previously Accenture, where I danced the electric slide for a total of five years. Still relevant today. Hope you find this useful.
It’s that time of year — interview time. The following is a succinct summary of how to beat the well-known consulting adversary, the case interview.
Before the interview
- Don’t wear a tie. Everyone knows consultants don’t wear ties.
- Bring two coffees up to the interview with a receipt; ask the interviewer to expense it.
- Refuse the pens offered to you and use the fake Montblanc pen you bought in an Asian street market. Use red ink because it shows you have class.
- Make sure you take a mocked-up business card just like the firm’s cards, with the subtext "Prince/Princess of Strategy" under your name.
- Don’t give your name. When asked your name, feign surprise that they don’t know. At this point, flick your mocked-up card at them, aiming for the face, and inform your interviewer that you’re the Prince or Princess of Strategy.
- When asked if you're interviewing elsewhere, don’t use stereotypes to describe those firms. Be more creative! E.g. "X firm has great resource sector clients, which are unfortunately full of very ugly, smelly men" or "I heard Y firm’s hors d’oeuvres they serve in meetings are often stale" or even "Z firm is full of horse manure-eating goats".
- Use "consultant" to describe all your former jobs. E.g. waiter = customer experience consultant, pizza delivery driver = logistics consultant.
- Find a way to let them know that you didn’t take the job at Google. Call it "El Goog".
- Ask the interviewer why they didn’t go to a better business school.
- Use a joking mispronunciation of the firm’s name — it shows you are confident, witty and comfortable in the presence of awesome power. Common mispronunciations are: Bains & Co, McBain, Mickey K’s, Baker & McKinsey & Co., Boston CG or BCV.
- Be clear that you’re only interviewing here because there's a bubble in Silicon Valley, and that as soon as it corrects itself, you’re outta there and into a job with real upside, a startup.
The case interview
- Say "ZING!" every time you think you nailed something. (Including the handshake greeting.)
- Focus on revenues. Costs are for losers!
- For consumer foods cases, make sure you make a reference to Porter’s Five Sauces. The Five Sauces are ketchup, mustard, Tabasco, HP and Worcestershire. Some commentary you can provide is that some theorists have hypothesised about a sixth sauce, but say that you do not believe that fish sauce counts as it’s only for Asians.
- Forget the 4 Ps of marketing… it’s all about the 5 Ps, or better, 6 Ps. And screw the 3 Cs… how about the 5 Cs: cash, cars, champagne, chicks and Cubans! Offer the interviewer one or more of the 5 Cs.
- A quick way of multiplying two two-digit numbers (say AB * CD) is to round each two digit down to the first digit (A * C), and then just pick the biggest one.
- When given a coloured chart, ignore the yellow bit. It’s a trick.
- Take an envelope for back-of-the-envelope calculations. Also take an HP-12C to demonstrate your financial nous, implying you could price a bond at any moment. Use the back of the calculator as a flat surface so you can write on your envelope.
- Use some glim-glam buzzwords of the day to impress them. For extra points on the bravado front, couple them with suggestive innuendo. For example "How about you and I get on the blockchain tonight at my place"? It will startle them into accepting any of your other recommendations because they’ll be so palatable by comparison.
- All manufacturing problems can be solved with Vaseline.
- Claim that you invented "Six Sigmas", with the "s" on the end. Show them a picture of half a dozen baby swans as an example of the Six Sigmas.
- Refer to Michael Porter as "Michael" constantly. E.g., "Michael says that the best way to solve profitability problems is to look at the value chain." If asked about who Michael is, ridicule them for not knowing the King of Strategy. Take the opportunity to mention that you’re the Prince/Princess of Strategy (again). Flick another card at their face.
- Offer to sell the interviewer personal equity in yourself every minute or so, gradually lowering your prices.
- Quantify everything. At the end of the interview, tell the interviewer the number of times they said "leverage", "b-school" or "high-level".
- Insist that you "crushed" the case once it is over. For example, "Well, I totally crushed that one. What's next?"
Chit-chat and wrapping up
- Firms are very conscious of diversity. Address this and display your wit by telling your favourite joke about someone of an ethnic, gender, religious and other diverse background. Try combining them all into one! E.g. "A Muslim Russian cis-female who identifies as a pansexual male walks into a conservative Jewish brothel…"— the interviewer is sure to remember you with this classic.
- Suggest that the reason so many people at this firm used to work at other firms is not because this firm is better, but because they couldn’t hack the up-or-out in the other firms.
- When it comes to asking questions about the firm during the interview, be sure to make it clear you’re in it for the money and ask about the salary. Look like you smelled something bad when they respond. Repeat the question in full as if you didn’t hear the answer.
Smile! You crushed it.