Primarily as a way of testing your professionalism (see my post on the essence of the case interview), interviewers will sometimes do or say things that cause inexperienced candidates to sweat. Here are 3 tips to deal with the most common scare tactics.
Don’t Worry About Approval
Many candidates travel through a case seeking constant affirmation. Even fairly confident candidates will sometimes ask for verification that they did their math correctly. Don’t let it bother you if the interviewer doesn’t give you any feedback.
Sometimes firms seem to have structural regulations that prohibit the interviewer from giving much feedback. Other times interviewers just have a style of letting the candidate do what he or she thinks is right. Either way, this tests a candidate’s ability to stay professional and think actively without immediate feedback. Even though consulting has a heavy feedback culture, they want you to be able to do much of the work using your own intelligence. Practice enough so that you can be comfortable moving forward without constant approval.
Give Them More
Sometimes an interviewer will ask the candidate for “more.” This usually happens during some sort of brainstorming section. After the candidate has given a bunch of ideas (perhaps as much as the candidate could quickly think of) the interviewer might ask “what else?” or “do you have other thoughts?”
When the interviewer asks the candidate for more, many candidates think that this means that they missed something. Although some interviewers certainly do ask this question when the candidate has left out an important idea or piece of analysis, it’s also common for interviewers to simply try to stretch the candidate’s abilities. An interviewer asking for more does not necessarily mean that the candidate’s response thus far is lacking.
In this situation, the candidate should act in one of two ways. If the candidate is confident that he or she has covered all the necessary material, it’s ideal for the candidate to quickly make sure they really aren’t missing anything significant, and then come up with one or two more responses and move the case forward. This is usually the best response in brainstorming situations, but is also useful if the interviewer asks if there will be any other items to analyze on a framework, or if there is anything else pertinent to a final recommendation.
If the candidate is not confident that he or she has covered everything, then this is the perfect time to take a step back and figure out what’s missing. Recognize that even if you feel like something is missing, you may actually have everything, so don’t let your mind get fuzzy or stressed if you can’t see any additional insights to bring.
Finally, it can be ok to tell the interviewer “I think we’ve covered all the necessary items, so let’s move on to [insert whatever].” Interviewers sometimes ask this question simply to see if you can take control of the case and not get flustered. If you’ve really covered everything you need to, tell the interviewer and move on.
Don’t Cave When Pressured
The scariest tactic that an interviewer might use is challenging your conclusions. Although they will very likely challenge you if you are wrong, they will also frequently push-back on you when you’re right. The interviewer wants to make sure you can stay composed and continue to think clearly when a C-suite executive challenges your analysis. You will need to be able to back-up your work in a respectful, confident, and persuasive manner, so use push-back as an opportunity to let your professionalism shine.
The candidate’s response should adjust slightly depending on the kind of push-back received. Sometimes an interviewer just gives a vague “are you sure?” or “I’m not convinced about that.” In this case, the candidate should review the analysis, including any assumptions the candidate made (please don’t make assumptions), and if the candidate is confident that the answer is right, back it up. The candidate can give a brief review of how the analysis fits the need and accurately answers the question, or demonstrate that the math is correct.
If the interviewer gives a more specific challenge, such as “I don’t think that advertising will help increase our revenue,” then the candidate may not need to take additional time to check what’s going on. Hopefully the candidate has been organized and logical enough to be able to see how the challenge fits into the analysis right away. The question should either make the candidate immediately aware of a logical problem in his or her analysis, or bring an obvious rejection of the challenge to the candidate’s mind. Ideally, the candidate can say “the challenge doesn’t work because of this part of the analysis I just did which clearly accounts for the challenge.”
Don’t let interviewers get inside your head. Although I call these techniques “scare tactics,” most of your interviewers will be rooting for you behind their cold facade. Questions and challenges will happen frequently in the real world as clients and managers try to push back and disassemble your reasoning, so it’s important that you can handle the little challenges that interviewers toss at you.
Keep seeking truth.
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