What Are Guiding Questions to Consider Asking During Your Case Interview?

A case interview or consulting project can turn a corner on one well-timed question that clarifies a point or objective, unlocks additional information, and/OR guides the client to an alternative perspective. Asking the right questions is an art and you are able to develop this craft through recognizing certain patterns. Having a lens to view case interview challenges and opportunities can help you drill down on key points and capture the information needed to make better informed recommendations.

People Process Technology (PPT)
The PPT framework provides a more holistic lens for approaching business challenges. Each element is often interconnected and as you work through some of these common patterns, you’ll generate questions and capture information that will enable you to build a multi-faceted and aligned recommendation.

People: The Human Element
People, as the name suggests, deals primarily with your human capital. Fundamentally, this is how you are attracting, recruiting, selecting employees, how you are training, developing, and promoting employees, and how you are retaining employees or incentivizing them to stay with your organization. Key people questions are below:

Recruiting:
• Where are some of our common recruiting channels (colleges, competitors, fellowships, trade associations, etc.)?
• What are core knowledge, skills, and attitudes that we are hiring for?
• Why would people be interested in joining this organization?
• Where do people go if they do not accept an offer?
• What systems are in place to ensure that we are attracting the right people?
• How likely are people who receive an offer willing to accept it?
• How does the organization’s salary and benefits compare to other common benchmarks?

Development:
• How do we evaluate staff to ensure that they have the right knowledge and skills to complete the job?
• What training is in place to support staff growth and development?
• Are there opportunities for mentoring and coaching staff at all levels?
• What incentives are in place (salary, benefits, training, paid time off, sabbaticals, etc.) to retain and develop staff?
• What are the key roles of responsibilities of people (at various levels) of the organization?
• What opportunities exist for career progression (training, leading internal initiatives, externships)?
• How do we know if someone is not meeting expectations and what steps are taken to improve performance?
• What is your attrition / retention rate? Is there a forced management curve (“up or out system”)?

This lens deals with your most critical resource – your people. Learning about the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed and the processes managing your people can provide crucial insights in identifying opportunities and mitigating risks.

Processes: The Operational Element
Processes encompass the operating procedures, standards, and metrics governing business operations. While this can be very broad, you can often boil this down to specifics for particular processes.
• What is the process trying to accomplish?
• How is this process supporting business goals?
• Who is responsible for ensuring a process or step is completed?
• What are in the inputs and outputs for the process?
• How do we know the process has succeeded? What does success look like?
• What tools, templates, or techniques are used to support the process?
• What metrics are tracked to ensure effectiveness of this process (time, quantity, quality, volume, etc.)?
• Do people have the knowledge and skills to complete the process?
• What internal controls are in place to serve as checks and balances for the process?
This lens focuses more on the tools in place to help meet business objectives. Having a deeper understanding of the processes and gaps can help inform where there are breakdowns and opportunities for improvement.

Technology: The Information Management Element
Technology leverages enabling tools, systems, and collecting, capturing, and managing information to ensure success. Awareness of the use, misuse, and lack of technology can help strengthen recommendations.
• What information management systems are in place?
• Are these systems connected, or are disparate systems used for each function?
• What functions do these systems manage?
• What data and information is collected during these systems?
• How do people interface with these systems?
• Do people have the appropriate training, documents, and processes to use these systems appropriately?
• What are the time and financial costs of implementing a new system?
• What are the operating and maintenance costs to maintaining a system?
• Which users were involved in capturing requirements for the system?

Technology is the third part of the triumvirate that helps you sharpen your focus and understanding on the business opportunity. Gaining this understanding can help you to deliver a multi-faceted, interconnected recommendation.

Frameworks are not rigid and should fluidly adapt, bend, and combine with other frameworks to help drill down, gain perspective, and deliver a full recommendation. Asking the right questions can help you recognize patterns and provide the key to open your toolbox and select the right tools for the job.

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.