How you should prepare differently for interviewer- versus interviewee-led case interviews
Some consulting firms (such as McKinsey) conduct the case interview through asking a series of questions. The interview preparation community refers to this approach as the “Interviewer-led” format. On the other hand, some consulting firms (such as BCG and Bain) conduct the case interview by asking an upfront question and then letting you lead the discussion through various stages. The community refers to this latter approach as the “Interviewee-led” format.
The two formats have more overlap than contrast. Both formats test problem-solving and communication in the same way and therefore require you to apply all the methods outlined in this blog.
However, there are two differences you should keep in mind with how you approach the two formats: first, anxiety of awkward silences, and second, perceived expectations for distinct steps of the problem-solving process.
Anxiety of awkward silences
The interviewee-led format is more nerve-wracking for you (the candidate) because the interviewer expects you to fill moments of silence. It’s like filling an awkward silence on a first date. In the interviewer-led format, you don’t have to deal with those awkward silences, but in the interviewee-led format, you do. There are two ways to manage this anxiety.
The first is to ingrain the habits of prioritizing analyses/issues and developing recommendations of the problem-solving process. When you get into the habit of prioritizing issues, you will naturally lay out what is the most important task at hand in order to fill those awkward silences.
When you get into the habit of attempting to develop recommendations, then you will naturally recognize if you are at a stage where you have enough data to recommend a course of action to your client or--if you're not at a stage to make a recommendation--recognize gaps to be filled to make a recommendation. Recognizing those pieces of data you need will trigger another iteration of analysis.
The second way to manage the anxiety unique to the interviewee-led format is by practicing through simulated mock interviews. Be sure to let your case practice partners know that you’d like to practice the interviewee-led format.
Perceived expectations for distinct steps of the problem-solving process
The second way in which the interviewer- and interviewee-led formats are different is regarding the perceived expectations for distinct steps of the problem-solving process. I want to emphasize the word “perceived” here. The expectations for the two processes are actually the same: all consulting firms use the case interview to test the same two skills: problem-solving and communication. You need to do an excellent job of applying all steps of the problem-solving process regardless of the interview format.
But interviewees may perceive the emphasis on certain steps of the problem-solving process to be different in the two formats, particularly for the prioritize issues step and the develop recommendation step that we discussed to mitigate anxiety. In the interviewee-led format, the interviewer expects you to conduct these two steps to drive conversation forward.
However, in the interviewer-led format, you may think that the interviewer is not requiring these two steps because they did not ask for them. For example, the interviewer may ask you to calculate a number, and you think that once you complete the calculation, you’ve answered the question sufficiently. That would be a costly mistake because the expectation is that consultants translate their analyses into recommendations for the client. The take-home point is that in the interviewer-led format, make it second-nature to talk your interviewer through prioritize issues and develop recommendations step in response to every question you are asked.
Otherwise, the skills tested and the approach you should use to prepare are the same regardless of the interview format.