How to Handle a Case Study Interview

March 31st 2016 in Interviewing

How to handle a case study interview: It's a story problem, but not the old "Two trains leave the station at the same time..."

Story problems in math may still strike fear in the heart of many of us. But case study interviews really aren’t as scary as they sound (unless they start with “two trains leave the station at the same time”). In a typical case study interview, the interviewer or interviewers—often there are several in a discussion like this—will describe a problem and ask you to what you would do to solve it. It could be an issue they’ve actually dealt with; one they anticipate; or simply hypothetical. A few pointers can help you answer with ease.

Be an active listener. Listen to the entire problem before bringing up any clarifying questions. The last thing you want to do is jump in and ask about something they were just getting ready to tell you.

Show your work. Make notes as the interviewers are describing the case study so that you can refer back to the details as needed. Interviewers want to see you taking notes, so don’t be afraid to write things down. They may also ask to see your work or notes that you’ve written. This is completely normal—they want to see how you decipher a challenge.

Take a minute to review your notes. It’s perfectly acceptable to take 30-60 seconds to collect your thoughts.

Restate the case. Be sure you understand it completely. Case study interviews should be conversational, not one-sided. Now is the time to ask questions.

Engage the interviewers and ask for feedback. Again these interviews should be conversational, so don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or input.

The average case study discussion is only seven minutes long. Just seven minutes! It’s part of a much broader interview discussion and can be survived.

A case study interview can be an asset or a challenge, depending on your skill set, but it’s really just an adult story problem. If you’re someone who enjoyed story problems, this offers the benefit of asking questions to avoid making assumptions. If you’re someone who didn’t like story problems, focus more on the fact that this is a conversation in which they’re asking for your expertise. Take your time, answer slowly and carefully…and don’t feel nervous about when the trains will be 84 miles apart (unless you need to catch one)!


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