What is a Consulting Written Case Interview?
Consulting written case interviews are a special variant of the traditional case interview. Like a case interview, you’ll still be placed in a hypothetical business situation and asked to develop a recommendation or answer to a business problem.
However, for written case interviews, you’ll be solving the case by working independently rather than by collaborating with the interviewer.
In the beginning of the consulting written case interview, the interviewer will give you a packet of 20 to 40 pages of graphs, charts, tables, notes, and other text. The interviewer will then leave the room.
You’ll have 1 to 2 hours to analyze the information in the packet and make 3 to 5 slides to present your analysis and recommendation.
When the time is up, the interviewer will return to listen to your presentation. They will likely ask follow-up questions on your work and findings.
Consulting written case interviews are much less commonly used than traditional case interviews, but are as equally as important. They are given in second or final round interviews.
For firms and offices that do use them, you will not receive a consulting job offer unless you pass your written case interview.
The specific details of the written case interview differ by consulting firm. To give you a better idea of what a consulting written case interview looks like, let’s look at how BCG and Bain conducts them.
BCG Written Case Interview
BCG written case interviews use the following format:
- BCG will provide you with 40 PowerPoint slides that describe the client’s situation
- BCG will provide 3 to 4 key questions that they would like you to answer
- You will have 2 hours to review the slides and make your presentation slides
- BCG provides blank slides, so you’ll need to decide how many slides to make and how to design and organize them
- You will then have 40 minutes to present and discuss your recommendations with the interviewer, who may challenge your analysis and findings
Bain Written Case Interview
Bain written case interviews use the following format:
- Bain will provide you with 20 to 30 PowerPoint slides that describe the client’s situation
- You will have 55 minutes to review the slides and handwrite recommendations
- Bain will provide 4 to 6 slides that have pre-filled information. These slides may have a title, but will otherwise be blank. These slides could also show a graph, chart, or table with missing numbers. You’ll be expected to calculate and fill in these numbers to complete the slide.
- You will then have 40 minutes to present and discuss your recommendations with the interviewer, who may challenge your analysis and findings
Differences Among Consulting Written Case Interviews
There are three major differences among different types of consulting written case interviews that you should be aware of.
List of key questions vs. no list of key questions
In some written case interviews, you’ll get a list of 3 to 4 key questions to investigate and answer. This list of questions identifies the major areas of the case that you should focus on. If there is time remaining, you can analyze other areas that are not mentioned in the list of key questions.
In other written case interviews, you’ll only be given the overall business problem and you’ll need to decide what are the most important areas to explore. These types of written case interviews are more open-ended because less guidance and direction is given to you.
Blank slides vs. pre-filled slides
In some written case interviews, you’ll have to create slides completely from scratch. You will need to decide what the slide titles should be and what content you want to show.
In other written case interviews, you’ll be given pre-filled slide templates. These slides may already have titles given to you and you will just need to fill in the content. These slides may also have charts, graphs, or tables partially filled in. You will need to do some analysis and calculations to fill in the missing numbers.
1 hour vs. 2 hours to prepare
Some written case interviews give you an hour to analyze information and prepare your slides. Other written case interviews give you two hours.
Typically, the longer you are given to finish a written case interview, the more refined and thorough your work should be.
For longer written case interviews, expect to produce more slides than in shorter written case interviews. Also expect that your slides in longer written case interviews to be held to higher standards. This is because you have more time to create a clear and insightful presentation.
Why are Written Case Interviews Used?
Consulting written case interviews are used because they are a way for consulting firms to predict which candidates would make the best consultants.
Written case interviews simulate the consulting job by placing you in a hypothetical business situation in which you are given data, asked to make slides, and then present your work. This is exactly what consultants do.
Written case interviews are used in addition to traditional case interviews because they test for different skills than traditional case interviews.
Traditional case interviews focus on speaking. In this type of case interview, you are constantly collaborating with the interviewer, answering their questions, asking them your own questions, and getting their feedback.
Written case interviews focus on reading and writing. In this type of case interview, you will be reading tremendous amounts of information. Afterwards, you will be handwriting presentation slides to communicate your work and findings.
To be a great consultant, you need to be good at all three of these skills, speaking, reading, and writing.
The traditional case interview primarily assesses speaking, so written case interviews are designed to assess reading and writing more closely.
What Qualities do Written Case Interviews Assess?
There are four major qualities that consulting written case interviews assess.
Logical, structured thinking: Consultants need to be organized and methodical to work efficiently
- Can you structure complex problems in a clear, simple way?
- Can you use logic and reason to make appropriate conclusions?
Data and information analysis
- Can you take tremendous amounts of information and data and identify the most important points?
- Can you interpret charts, graphs, tables, and other information correctly?
Slide making skills: Consultants need strong writing skills to make their work easy to understand and digest.
- Can you create slides that are clear and easy to understand?
- Can you create slides that tell a compelling story?
Presentation skills: Consultants need strong communication skills to present their work in a clear, concise, and persuasive way.
- Can you communicate in a clear and concise way?
- Are you articulate and persuasive in what you are saying?
The Best Way to Solve Consulting Written Case Interviews
There are ten steps to solve consulting written case interviews in the most efficient way. Follow these steps to make the most of the limited time you have to complete written case interviews.
1. Understand the business problem and case objective
The first step in completing a written case interview is to understand what the objective is. What is the primary business question you are trying to answer with the data and information provided?
Answering or solving the wrong business problem is the quickest way to fail a written case interview. Therefore, the first thing you should do is to read the instructions and the case background information so that you clearly understand the primary question you are trying to answer.
2. Read the list of major questions
Some written case interviews will provide you with a list of 3 – 4 key questions that you will be expected to address or answer.
Once you understand the overall business problem and case objective, read through the list of key questions. This will tell you what the most important areas of the case are. These will be the questions that you want to investigate and answer first.
If the written case interview is more open-ended and does not provide you with a list of key questions, skip this step and move onto the next step.
3. Quickly flip through the material to identify what information exists
The next step is to flip through the information packet that is provided to see what information is available. Identify what data you have and what data you do not have.
If the written case interview has provided you with pre-filled slide templates, make sure to flip through those as well.
The goal in this step is not to read and analyze every slide. That would take too much time.
Instead, you want to get a sense of what data and information is out there. This will help you decide and prioritize which slides are most important to read and analyze in more detail later.
Written case interviews have strict time constraints, so you want to make the most of the limited time that you have.
4. Create a framework
Before you begin reading and analyzing the information in the slides in more detail, you should create a basic framework to help guide your analysis.
Select 3 to 4 broad areas that you think are the most important to analyze. In other words, what are the 3 to 4 things you need to know to answer the primary question of the written case interview?
If the written case interview has provided you with a list of 3 – 4 key questions, make sure to include these important areas in your framework.
Sometimes, these 3 – 4 key questions are your entire framework and you will not need to add anything else. Other times, you may identify important areas from flipping through the slides that you want to add to your framework in addition to these 3 – 4 key questions.
If the written case interview has provided you with pre-filled slide templates, these slides often provide clues on what the most important areas are.
If the written case interview does not provide you with a list of key questions or pre-filled slide templates, you’ll likely need to create a framework from scratch. Use your knowledge of what information exists that you gathered by flipping through the slides to help you determine what the main areas of your framework will be.
5. Match information that exists to areas in your framework
Now that you have a solid framework to guide your analysis, the next step is to identify what information you can use to answer each area of your framework.
Since you have already flipped through the material and catalogued what information exists, you can match different pieces of information that exist to areas in your framework.
6. Read and analyze the material
The framework you created tells you what questions you need to answer. From the previous step, you know which slides the information is in to answer each question.
All that is left to do is to read and analyze the information that is relevant to each area of your framework.
As you answer the major questions in your framework, make sure to write a one or two sentence summary of the key takeaway or answer. This will help you remember the work that you have done and make it easier to decide on a recommendation.
7. Decide on a recommendation
Once you have finished reading and analyzing all of the important and relevant material, you should have a list of key takeaways or answers to the major areas of your framework.
In this step, you’ll read through the key takeaways and decide on what recommendation they collectively support.
You should not expect every key takeaway to support your recommendation. Often, you’ll have key takeaways that support your recommendation, but also key takeaways that go against your recommendation.
If this is the case, you’ll need to mediate conflicting insights and decide on which insights are the most important.
Remember that there is typically no right or wrong recommendation. As long as your recommendation is supported by data and evidence, you will be in great shape.
8. Structure your presentation slides
When you have decided on a recommendation and have the supporting data and evidence for it, you’ll want to create a structure for your presentation slides.
A simple, but effective structure you can use is:
- Slide 1: Present your recommendation and the three reasons that support it
- Slide 2: Present your first reason and the data that supports it
- Slide 3: Present your second reason and the data that supports it
- Slide 4: Present your third reason and the data that supports it
- Slide 5: Summarize everything that you’ve covered so far
- Slide 6: Present potential next steps
If the written case interview has already provided you with pre-filled slide templates, the structure of your presentation slides may already be decided for you. If not, you can incorporate the pre-filled slide templates into your overall presentation structure.
9. Fill in your slides
Once you have the structure of your presentation slides, the next step is to fill in the slides with content.
When filling in slides, make sure you use descriptive slide titles that clearly communicate the main message of the slide.
Additionally, try to make your slides easy to digest. Each slide should have one key message.
10. Review your slides and prepare for potential questions
If you have time remaining, review your slides one more time to check for any mistakes or errors. You can also spend some time cleaning up the slides to make them look neat and polished.
Afterwards, you can brainstorm potential questions the interviewer may ask you during your presentation. They may want to know how you performed your analysis or reached your conclusions. They may also challenge your assumptions or interpretations of the data.
Preparing for potential questions that could be asked will help your presentation go much more smoothly and you’ll feel much more confident while presenting.
Consulting Written Case Interview Tips
Below are the eight biggest written case interview tips. Following these tips will help give you an edge over other candidates.
Tip #1: Make sure you understand the overall business problem or objective
You can have the best-looking slides and the best-sounding presentation, but if you answer the wrong business question, you will fail your written case interview. Make sure you are solving the right business problem and answering the right question.
Read through the written case interview instructions and case background information at least two times to be sure of this.
Tip #2: Manage your time well
Time passes extremely quickly during a written case interview. You can easily spend the entire time reading the case material without having made any slides.
Manage your time well by creating a plan on how much time you want to allocate to each step of the written case. At what point should you have your framework completed? At what point should you have decided on a recommendation? At what point should your slides be done?
Set deadlines for each milestone and do time checks to ensure that you are on track to finishing on time.
Tip #3: Answer the most important questions first
For consulting written case interviews, you will not have enough time to answer every single question and perform every type of analysis.
Focus on answering the most important questions first. These questions have the greatest impact on shaping your recommendation.
If the written case interview provides you with a list of 3 – 4 key questions, answer these questions before answering your own questions that you have.
Tip #4: Use a framework
Consulting written case interviews don’t require you to create a framework, but you should absolutely use one.
A framework keeps you on track and ensures that you are answering the most important and relevant questions to solve the case. It also saves you time by helping you avoid performing unnecessary analyses or reading irrelevant information.
Tip #5: Start your presentation with your recommendation first
Your presentation slides should start with your recommendation first because this is how consultants give their presentations to their clients.
Executives often don’t have much time, so consulting presentations typically start with the recommendation and then provide the evidence and data that supports it.
The more you can act like a consultant, the better you demonstrate the skills and qualities that interviewers are looking for.
Tip #6: Slide titles are important
The slide title is the most important aspect of the slide.
A slide title should communicate the key message of the slide. If the interviewer were to only read the title of a slide, they should know what content the slide is going to show.
Additionally, the titles of your slides should collectively read like a story. If the interviewer were to only read the slide titles in your presentation, they should know your entire presentation.
Avoid using generic slide titles such as “Analysis” or “Conclusion.” These titles do nothing to help the interviewer understand what the main point of the slide is.
Tip #7: One slide should have one message
Avoid having too many charts, graphs, or tables on one slide. This makes the slide dense and difficult to digest. You’ll also likely confuse the interviewer by having too many different messages.
The most effective slides have one key message each.
If you have too much content on one slide, you either have redundant information or too many messages. If you have redundant information, delete everything that does not add significant incremental value. If you have too many messages, separate the slide into multiple slides.
Tip #8: Include next steps
Having a slide with a few bullet points outlining potential next steps you would take if you had more time is an easy way to stand out from other candidates. Including next steps demonstrates initiative and ownership.
You can generate ideas for next steps by asking yourself the following questions:
- What other open questions do you have?
- What else would you need to know to feel more confident in your answer or recommendation?
- What could you do to find answers to these questions?
Creating a next steps slide may only take one or two minutes, but it can make a big difference on your written case interview performance.
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