How to Nail a Case Interview

Stephen Pidgeon T’07 has tips for would-be consultants.

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In a new book, Tuck career counselor Stephen Pidgeon T’07 plots the steps to a successful case interview.

Looking for a job in consulting? Stephen Pidgeon T’07, a career counselor in Tuck’s Career Development Office, has been there before. Pidgeon worked for McKinsey & Company for four years after graduating from Tuck and now helps students find the consulting job that’s right for them. Last year he added a book, “How to Get a Job In Consulting,” to his arsenal of advice, and word-of-mouth has made it popular among MBA students across the country.

Now Pidgeon has more tips for would-be consultants, and he presents them in his new book “Case Interviews For Beginners: Essential First Steps For Mastering The Case Interview.” While Pidgeon’s first book covered the entire consulting recruiting process, “Case Interviews” focuses on one crucial component: the part of the job interview where the applicant is asked to think through a hypothetical business issue.

We spoke with Pidgeon about his new book and why every prospective consultant should read it. 

Why did you write this book?

Cases aren’t just for consultants anymore. Stephen Pidgeon

My first book answers a lot of questions students have about consulting. It’s changed the game, so students arrive at Tuck understanding what the consulting industry is about, what the job is like. So now the biggest question they have is, How do I nail the case interview? It’s a new skill, not something anyone was born doing, so it’s natural to need help getting started. The goal of the book is to lay out in very simple terms what a case is.

What is a case interview?

It’s a discussion about a hypothetical business problem. It’s deliberately designed so you don’t need to bring information into the room about that particular business. For example,  I’d say to the interviewee, “I’m thinking about opening a maple syrup products store in Hanover; let’s talk about it and decide if it’s a good idea.” As an interviewee, you’re meant to demonstrate an ability to structure the problem solving, just as you would in a job. You might say, Is there a market out there for maple syrup? Is that market currently well served? Is Hanover the best place to serve it from?

How does the book help figure this out?

It walks the reader through a number of somewhat stylized steps of the interview and presents scripts of good hypothetical case discussions. One of the people I interviewed during writing the book said it’s like learning the steps to a dance. If you haven’t learned the steps, it’s difficult to succeed. Once students know the steps, then their business knowledge, judgment, and creativity can come through—all the things an interviewer is looking for.

Where does the case interview fit in the consulting recruiting process?

There are two halves to most interviews: the case interview and then the “fit” interview. The fit interview is a lot more aligned with what people would expect in a normal interview and allows you to get across some of the personal things that don’t come across in the case. Crucially, even though the case interview is an important aspect, it’s not what’s going to get you the job. As an interviewer, I want to know, Can I put you in front of my client? Can I trust you in my teams?

Are case interview skills helpful for jobs outside of consulting?

The interesting thing is the case interview is being used in settings other than consulting now. You’re just as likely to get a case interview with Google as you are with McKinsey or Bain. Because, ultimately, they’re testing for exactly the same things. They want to know they’re hiring people who can approach a business problem that they’ve never approached before, and come at it with a reasonably structured process and bring in all the MBA skills and crack that problem. Cases aren’t just for consultants anymore.

When’s a good time to read this book and start preparing for case interviews?

Now is the perfect time to read this book. Because if you think about the process of being a student at Tuck with recruiting, you get here, you do orientation, you do Fall A. Almost immediately, companies are coming to do presentations. So by now students understand the companies and the jobs and they should be thinking to themselves, OK, the interview is coming in January, now how am I going to prepare for that?

Case Interviews For Beginners” is available in paperback or as a Kindle e-book from Amazon.com.