There comes a point in every person’s case interview career when it’s no longer worthwhile to practice any further. Most people don’t get to that point, but a small minority go way beyond it.
Today’s article will be about identifying when there’s no point continuing and how you can improve your case interview performance in other ways.
When Do You Stop?
The short answer is:
To give a more precise answer we need to first understand what you actually get out of practicing cases.
I would argue that there are four main things:
1. Communication Skills. You learn to communicate in a structured, organized way.
2. Problem Solving Skills. You learn to work through a problem in a structured, hypothesis driven way.
3. Business Acumen. You get a basic understanding of business terminology, practices, and different industries.
4. Mental Math. You learn to do calculations quickly and accurately without the use of any electronic devices.
Now, obviously you stop when you aren’t learning anything more. But everybody is starting from a different point.
Many of the people who aim for these jobs are already familiar with many of the business concepts you find in cases. Maybe they are business / accounting / economics majors or maybe they’ve been reading the WSJ since they were 5 years old.
They will probably only have to focus on the problem solving, communication skills, and mental math.
For someone who is starting without any sort of business knowledge at all this is going to be much more difficult.
They have to learn everything from scratch.
I won’t give a specific number of cases to do because it depends. I’ve seen people get good with anywhere from several dozen to several hundred cases.
Everybody eventually figures it out if they are diligent enough but the time investment is different based on where you’re starting from.
You stop when:
1. You communicate in a structured way effortlessly.
2. You start thinking naturally in the form of hypothesis based reasoning.
3. You start to see the answer to a case right at the beginning and understand all of the business concepts that are thrown at you.
4. You can do mental math quickly, efficiently, and without errors.
5. You can teach others and do case interviews while executing other tasks.
How Do You Improve Further?
When you reach the point of diminishing returns it’s time to focus your energies elsewhere.
You can still improve, but not by doing more cases. Instead I’d recommend reading some of the papers put out by the major consulting firms (think the McKinsey Quarterly or BCG Perspectives), books about the consulting industry. and improving your behavioral interview skills (it will improve your ability to communicate in a structured way).
There comes a point of diminishing returns in practicing case interviews. It’s probably later than you think it is (most people go through a phase where they stop feeling like they’re improving, that’s usually just a plateau).
But, if you’re diligent enough you’ll get to a point where your performance is completely unconscious.
At that point, I’d recommend spending less of your time on these and more of your time reading articles, books, and practicing behavioral questions.