Q&A; with Marc Cosentino, Case Interview Expert

BusinessDegree.org speaks with case interview expert and founder of Casequestions.com, Marc Cosentino. He has over 20 years experience helping business school students and graduates prepare for case interviews. His book, Case In Point, is now in its 10th edition. Marc is the former Associate Director of Career Services at Harvard. In the video, he explains what a case interview is and why it’s so important for your career today.

Q: What is your current position?

I’m the CEO of CaseQuestions.com. We’re a publishing, online training and consulting firm. We focus mostly on the top MBA schools, but we also help corporations teach their PhDs how to think like business people.

Q: What is a case interview?

A case interview is basically a business problem. You go in, they give you a problem, and you have very little information. Sometimes you’ll be given a chart; other times you’ll have to ask for more information. For the most part, you’re answering this question based on assumptions and what little information you’re given.

Q: What are employers trying to determine with these interviews?

For most of these cases, they’re looking to see how you think, how your thoughts are structured, and how articulate you are under pressure. A case interview is really a role play. I’m the client; you’re the consultant. Here’s my problem – what do I do? You have a very short period of time to listen to my problem, come up with a solution, and then articulate it while the interviewer sits two feet away from you watching every single thing that you do. Some of these cases are group cases. They want to see not so much how you answer, but also how you interact with the other people in the group. On one hand, the other members of your group are competition. They’re going after the exact same job you’re going after, but for this one moment in time they’re your teammates. Are you elbowing them out of the way? Are you trying to talk over them? How do you interact with them?

Q: When should you expect case interview questions?

Originally it was just consulting, but now if you’re interested in strategic planning, marketing, operations, and even nonprofits, you may be given case questions as well. You’ll also see them in finance, investment banking and private equities.

Q: How can you prepare for a case interview?

This is something that you need to work at and practice. Students at the top business schools will do at least 30 practice cases. Nothing beats live practice. They’ll also read about 30 cases as well. You’re looking at about 100 hours of preparation to compete at that level. The jobs recruiting at these schools are life-changing jobs with big salaries and a lot of responsibility.

Q: How can someone handle a question he or she feels unprepared for?

I’ve known students who have kind of walked into these interviews without knowing they would be case. They were totally unprepared, and it was like walking into a buzz saw. The interviewers can be quite intimidating, and the cases are difficult, even when there’s no right or wrong answer. They are looking to see how you think. Read a lot. Stay on top of what’s going on in the business world, the economy and other industries. Use common sense.

Q: How important are case interviews to the job market today?

Case interviews are popping up all over the place. Any employer who’s looking for someone who can think on their feet, take additional responsibility, be innovative, and move forward on his or her own, is likely to use case interviews.

Q: How important will it be to the job hunt in the future?

Unemployment is still around nine percent, and every time we start to make a little gain we run into some headwinds.All that has ramifications back for the job seeker.

Q: What makes for a successful job applicant in business?

The key things to me are intellectual curiosity and drive. You need to be someone who’s constantly innovating, honing skills, and also learning new skills. Once you’re out of school, that doesn’t mean the learning stops. In fact, the learning should not only continue, but be more focused.

Q: What challenges could students face when looking for a job?

You have people who have been out of work for a long time who are willing to take jobs that are under what they have taken before. People coming out of business school or people coming out of college are running into the fact that those with more experience are also going after those same jobs.

Q: How can you overcome these challenges?

If you apply for positions and you’re not making headway, I would do volunteer work, intern, or start you own business. Do something to show that you’ve remained active, brought in some income, developed greater skills, and made more contacts which you can utilize later. You need to do more than just the job search. If you go to an interview and they ask you,”Well, what have you been doing the last six months?”, looking for a job won’t be enough of an answer.

Q: What do you see for the future of business careers?

Technology is the fastest growing “change” in every single industry.One of the advantages that the students who are just graduating have is that technology is second nature to them.

Q: Any other advice for aspiring business professionals?

One key thing is that everybody is looking to cut costs, and one of the easiest ways to cut cost is to bring in new technology. If you can come in and say, “You’ve been doing it this way, and you’re spending a lot of extra time, effort and money doing it that way when we can automate it pretty easily,” you’ll be in good shape.Being able to come up with those solutions, and staying on top of that technology is huge. It’s your competitive advantage, and you should stress that in all your interviews.