How Do You Prepare For Commercial Consulting Case Interviews?

How Do You Prepare For Commercial Consulting Case Interviews, Public Sector Consulting Case Interviews, and Nonprofit Consulting Case Interviews?

While there are many resources readily available for commercial consulting case interviews, you may have difficulty finding insights, practice cases, and frameworks for public sector and nonprofit consulting case interviews. The public sector and nonprofit markets undoubtedly need talented consultants and face a bevy of opportunities and challenges. The structure and critical thinking, communications, quantitative and qualitative analysis, and teamwork skills will be common across commercial, public sector, and nonprofit consulting case interviews. However, there are some notable distinctions in how to best prepare for case interviews.

Case Preparation Resources:

Case In Point remains the gold standard for commercial consulting. Staying current by reading (or at least scanning the headlines of) the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal business sections will help you track industry events and real-world cases. Harvard Business Review case studies provide excellent examples of how companies responded to threats and opportunities, or built a competitive advantage. Regularly reviewing publications such as Business Insider, Forbes, Fortune, and Inc, can help you develop a deeper understanding of business principles that enable you to tie in experience, understanding, and build analogies!

For those preparing for public sector or nonprofit consulting case interviews, Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit provides the focused view for the growing government and nonprofit markets. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal will continue to be resources to help you understand the business ecosystem while publications such as AllSides, Federal News Radio Federal Headlines, Federal Times Daily Brief, GovExec Today, and LawFare will provide the latest headlines, events, and insights on the public sector. You can also supplement your understanding of industry issues through regularly reviewing reports from watchdog agencies such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Aspiring nonprofit consultants can leverage Charity Navigator and GuideStar to gain a deeper understanding of best practices as well as a rating methodology for nonprofit organizations. Moreover, you can stay current through reviews of The Chronicle for Philanthropy, the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ), the Nonprofit Times, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). Regularly volunteering for local organizations can also help you to gain an understanding of their operations, opportunities, and the challenges that these nonprofits face (while also giving back)!


A common question in commercial cases will be is the company public or private? Publicly traded companies may have more scrutiny, shareholders to appease, and forecasts take on a different meaning. Privately held companies do not have to publicly disclose financial information, which may enable them to focus more on long-term growth. While public companies may have an easier time raising capital, there are stricter reporting requirements, board members, and shareholders that can add a layer of complexity.

The public sector is funded through the budgeting process. This typically involves estimating the revenue coming in (particularly if an agency is fee-for-service and is paid to provide a service to other agencies or organizations), outlining line-items in the budget needed to address the organization’s mission, formulating the budget, revising the budget, and executing the budget. Since the majority of agencies are funded by taxpayer dollars, their ability to meet the mission may be determined on their budget and the amount of money allocated towards that budget.

Nonprofits are funded primarily through grants and foundations, earned revenue through services or products, corporate sponsorships, and donations. Budget will play a crucial role in a nonprofits’ ability to meet its mission. Overreliance on one large donor or funding source can lead to undue influence or challenges for that nonprofit if that funding should dry up or go to another organization. Thus, nonprofits should carefully consider their funding model in relation to their mission (for more on this read the SSIR article: Ten Nonprofit Funding Models

Stakeholders and Terminology:

Nothing shows you do not understand the industry like using the wrong terminology. For commercial consulting case interviews you are dealing with companies and major stakeholders include the board, employees, customers, and competitors or complements in the industry. Frameworks such as Porter’s Five Forces will play a strong role in gaining an understanding of the ecosystem. While the company will likely have a mission and core values, the bottom-line, market-share, and profitability will fair prominently in the case.

For public sector case interviews, make sure you strike company from your vocabulary and use words like agency, department, or organization to describe the client. Key stakeholders will be the Executive Branch (current administration), Congress, government watchdogs such as GAO and OIG, the agency director, employees (and keep in mind that these employees may be unionized), and constituents or customers that receive the agency’s product or service. While budgeting will be an important piece, this should be reviewed in the context of the overall agency’s mission.

For nonprofit case interviews, you will also want to use the word organization and focus heavily on the mission. Key stakeholders will include the board, Executive Director, major donors such as grant-giving organizations like the government, foundations, and corporations as well as private donors, rating organizations such as Charity Navigator and Guidestar, and those receiving the nonprofits’ services.

Awareness of these distinctions will help you prepare for consulting case interviews from any industry and differentiate yourself from candidates by better leveraging resources, showing an understanding of funding, and recognizing the role stakeholders play in the consulting case.

Follow on Twitter: @evan_piekara

Evan Piekara

With over twelve years of experience consulting and working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Evan started his nonprofit career as a member of Teach For America (TFA), where he served as a teacher, volunteer, and in operational support and training roles for the organization. He has supported BDO Public Sector in the launch of their management consulting practice and has provided strategy and operations, human capital, and information technology support to government and nonprofit clients. At BDO Public Sector, Evan led efforts building internal practice recruiting processes including interview questions, cases, and candidate evaluation criteria and developed their Graduate Advisor internship program.