How Do You Set Up Your Notes for a Successful Case Interview?

Case Interviews evaluate several skills: (1) your ability to listen and effectively capture information, (2) your ability to structure and display information, and (3) your ability to prioritize and synthesize information. One often overlooked aspect of the case interview is your ability to take notes and present this information. As someone who has been on both sides of the case interview table, it is not out of the ordinary for the interviewer to collect your notes after the case interview and include this in their evaluation.

Setting Your Notes Up For Success:
For starters, I’d recommend having at least 5–7 pieces of clean, white paper on hand for each case interview. Each piece may serve a different function. Think of the paper as almost like presentation slides rather than your own closely guarded work-of-art. Turning the paper towards the interviewer and walking them through your steps and line of thinking will promote a more collaborative team environment. This will also show that you are thinking through this as a consultant to a client, rather than as a candidate to an interviewer. At least one sheet of paper should be used for setting up your structure and framework, another one or two sheets may be used for a data dump and displaying the information, you will likely also use one piece of paper for evaluating risks and laying out recommendations and conclusions.

Capturing Information: Clarifying Objectives and Setting Your Structure

Your client is a government agency that wants to ensure that it is hiring and training employees for an evolving mission. The mission of the agency is currently to protect the nation’s border. What steps do you recommend to ensure that the agency has a workforce prepared to meet current and future mission needs?

Wow — that was a deliberately vague case interview prompt! Let’s go about structuring this case to make sure that you are capturing the right information and showing your case interviewer that you are taking a holistic approach to addressing this challenge.

To keep your structure clean, you may want a line extending about 2 inches out vertically and 2 inches down horizontally. Use the space to the left of the vertical line to capture information from the prompt along with some potential questions. Use the space above the horizontal line to capture the objective along with any potential objectives that you may want to clarify or consider. See below:

Note that key information was captured on the left with a few clarifying questions and assumptions about the mission. At the top of the paper is the objective with a few assumed objectives that the candidate would want to probe. Having the objective at the top reminds you what you are solving for when there is a data dump.
The candidate used the framework People — Process — Technology (PPT) to bucket their thought process. The candidate used a modified human capital lifecycle timeline of (1) Recruitment, (2) Development, and (3) Retirement / Separation to consider the workforce over time. As a candidate, you would like to ask for a few minutes to develop your approach and then would turn this paper to the interviewer and talk through your thought process. The interviewer may give you feedback, point you in the right direction, or start answering some of your questions.

Displaying Information: Simple and Clear

You receive information on the positions and time to hire. A table would be a good way to capture this information.

Note that a lot (too much) information is crammed onto this sheet. While this may work for some and limit the shuffling of papers, less information may ultimately mean more in terms of clarity, taking notes, and giving you space to add more information. This is why you may want to have a few additional sheets for data or scratch paper.

Synthesize Information: Your Concluding “Slide”

Your concluding slide should lay-out your recommendations and some risks to consider. Be sure to prioritize your recommendations and share potential mitigation approaches to avoid or reduce risks.

These recommendations can be numbered to show priority and may align to your original structure or framework, or may be adapted to show that your framework has been modified to account for new information. Showing that you have considered risks and are able to share potential mitigation steps nets you bonus points for taking a holistic and lifecycle view of your recommendations.

Your notes should (1) capture, (2) display, (3) and synthesize information. Use your hands to slide the sheet that you are discussing and turn it to the interviewer. These notes are for you as well as for the interviewer and your notes should be a tool in your communication toolkit to help to present information and demonstrate that you are ready to think through consulting challenges and opportunities with a client.

Note: Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports provide great background for public sector cases. For more information on this sample case, you can refer to: Key Talent Management Strategies for Agencies to Better Meet Their Missions and Progress and Challenges in Recruiting, Hiring, and Retaining Law Enforcement Personnel

Follow on Twitter: @evan_piekara



Evan specializes in change management and is the author of Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit.

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Evan Piekara

Evan specializes in change management and is the author of Case In Point: Government and Nonprofit.