Case interviews 101

Jingy Yen, Career Adviser

Interviewing is usually a nerve wracking, anxiety inducing experience. Case interviews bring a whole new level of stress and uncertainty. Here are some tips and tricks for tackling the case interview and making the process more manageable.

First things first –what is a case interview?

A case interview is when the employer presents you with a business problem, likely something that the company has to deal with regularly. Your job is to analyze the problem and give some solutions. There is usually no clear right or wrong answer. The interviewer is assessing your problem solving ability, how you approach different situations, and your ability to talk your way through it.

So when I be expected to do a case interview?

If you are interested in consulting or similar fields, you will most likely have to do some variation of a case interview. Sometimes it’ll be one-on-one with an interviewer, other times you will be expected to present your ideas in front of a panel.

Yikes this sounds scary. How do I prepare?

The good news is summer is a great time to prepare for case interviews. Recruiting starts the minute you get back on campus, so you won’t have a lot of time to prepare in the fall. Start by reading some case books and watching videos online to get an idea of what the case interview looks like. Then, find peers to practice with. You can also make an appointment with a career advisor to do a mock case interview. It’s hard to practice for this on your own, so the best strategy is to connect with as many people as possible to practice with each other. There isn’t a magic number for how many to practice, just try to fit as many in.

Okay fine, but what can I do on my own?

There are many things you can do on your own to prepare as well. Brush up on your mental math. I’m not talking calculus here, I’m talking long division and percentages. Keep updated on current business trends, read The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. This will help you come up with unique strategies and solutions. You can also do “case starts.” Read yourself the case prompt, and set up your initial framework to practice how you would start a case.

What are some resources for case interviewing?

Books (Available to preview in the Career Services library):
Case in Point by Marc Cosentino
Crack the Case by David Ohrvall
Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng

Websites: (great mental math exercises)

MConsultingPrep You Tube Channel :

Tips for the Second Part of Your Summer Internship

Most of you are probably well into your summer internship or research experiences. Hopefully you’ve settled in, established a good relationship with your peers and manager, and are continuing to learn new things every day. Following are a few items that you might consider for the second half of your internship to gain even more from your experience.

Network: There are almost certainly a core group of individuals with whom you work every day. Of course, it’s critically important to develop positive relationships with them. Many interns, however, find it beneficial to expand their networks by developing relationships with employees in other functional areas or departments that also interest them. If you would like to gain a broader understanding of your organization, try reaching out to others within it to see if they might have time for a cup of coffee or a lunch meeting so that you can learn more about their daily work. Even better, if you have a good relationship with your manager, perhaps ask him or her for an introduction to pave the way.

Volunteer for Additional Assignments of Interest: If you’ve already learned the core parts of your job, are performing well, and have some extra time, perhaps you might volunteer to help out with an additional assignment that could help you learn new skills and be beneficial to the work flow in your group. That said, if you are too busy with your current work or are struggling with it, it makes the most sense to focus on these core responsibilities instead of taking on new ones.

Request a Mid-Summer Review /Discussion: Some interns will have a formal, scheduled mid-summer review, although many organizations save formal feedback until the end of the summer or don’t provide it at all. If such a review is not already scheduled, it can be helpful to request one with your manager to solicit feedback that you can utilize for the remaining weeks of the internship. Ask what you are doing well and how you might improve. Try not to be defensive when you are given constructive criticism. While it might be difficult to hear, this feedback is ultimately to help you grow professionally and can be very valuable. The review does not have to be overly formal – it would be fine to simply ask your supervisor for a few minutes to discuss how the summer has been going in terms of your performance and how you might be even more productive during the remaining weeks.

Document your accomplishments and request a letter for reference. You are most likely super-aware of what you have been working on and your accomplishments this summer, but a year from now your memory might not be so sharp. Document your accomplishments (including outcomes and quantifications where you can) so that you will be able to include them on your resume and discuss them in an interview. If you feel comfortable, ask your manager for a letter of reference at the end of the summer. If he or she prefers not to write a formal letter, you could ask if they would be willing to serve as a positive reference for you in the future and if it would be ok for you to provide their contact information to prospective employers. Keep in mind that it is a good practice to notify a reference if you provide their contact information to someone in the future so that they will be prepared for a prospective employer to reach out to them.

Most of all, enjoy the rest of the summer! Internships provide an incredibly valuable chance to try out a career field and are not so easily attainable after graduation, so make the most of this great opportunity.

Preparing for a professional conference, post-PhD style

Helen Pho, Associate Director

Next week, I’m heading to Madison, WI for the national conference of the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC), and I’m really looking forward to it. The GCC is a national organization for professionals who serve as graduate career advisers, basically people like me. When I was a doctoral student, I attended and presented at academic conferences where junior and senior scholars would often read academic papers out loud during panel sessions. These conferences can be stressful for graduate students because many were also interviewing for jobs at the same site.

When I became a graduate and postdoc career adviser, I was intrigued yet a little nervous about what a conference for graduate career advisers would look like. Would it be people reading papers again? Would there be a sense of anxiety among conference attendees? Happily, my first professional conference was nothing like the academic conferences I was used to attending. At my first GCC conference last summer, I had a blast meeting other graduate career advisers working all over the United States and Canada, and it quickly became my favorite conference that I’ve ever attended. I learned a lot about best practices for graduate career advising from attending different workshop presentations and chatting with colleagues at the poster session. (If you’re in the humanities and have never seen a poster session, it’s when a large group of presenters would stand next to their giant posters and talk about their research or ideas to attendees wandering around the session.) Most of all, the GCC is a very friendly and collegial group of professionals; everyone is eager to share best practices and ideas, and people love to talk to each other, which is not surprising considering the work we do!

As I prepare for my conference, I wanted to share three things I’m doing to be conference ready next week:

  1. Review the conference schedule. Conference schedules are often released before the event takes place, so take some time to go over what the days will entail. Like many conferences, there are often concurrent sessions and events, meaning you have to pick and choose which sessions you want to attend. If you spend some time ahead of the conference to make those decisions, that means you’ll have more time at the conference to network and chat with people.
  2. Set goals for the conference. Related to the first point, I like to think about what I want to get out of the conference before I arrive, when it’s often a bit hectic and slightly overwhelming with hundreds of people in attendance. For my goals this year, I’d love to chat with colleagues at other institutions to learn what they’re doing to help PhDs explore expanded careers in fun and interactive ways, and to hear how other institutions are supporting their first-gen grad students, since these are priorities in our work here. Spending just a small amount of time to identify goals for the conference beforehand will allow me to focus on attending relevant panels and talking to colleagues who are doing exciting work in this area before the conference flies by!
  3. Identify people with whom you’d like to connect or reconnect. The GCC conference has over 200 attendees, and although I would love to talk with everyone, it’s simply impossible to do so in a span of three days! There are many people whom I met last summer that I’d love to reconnect with as well as people that I’ve never met before that I’d love to meet in person. For example, I’ve been working on a subcommittee to help market ImaginePhD, a career exploration and planning tool designed for PhDs in the humanities and social sciences. (If you don’t know what it is, visit!) We’ve had virtual meetings via video over the last year, so I’m excited to finally meet my fellow subcommittee members in person at the conference! Thinking ahead of people you’d like to meet will allow you to not only have a productive conference but an enjoyable one as well!

If you’re a graduate student planning to attend a professional conference anytime in the future, come meet with a career adviser. We’re happy to help you prepare for networking both within and beyond academia!

Becoming the American Ninja Warrior of Job and Internship Applications

Jamie Grant, Senior Associate Director

Have you ever applied for an internship or job online? If your first response is “yes,” and your immediate second is “but it’s like applying to a black hole!,” you’re not alone!  It’s VERY time- consuming yet required, and you may rarely – if ever – hear anything back.  What a waste of time, right?!!

But, with roughly 90%+ of employers using some form of an online platform, called an “Applicant Tracking System,” to accept and review applications, chances are you’ll HAVE to tough out the crazy challenge – like training for American Ninja Warrior J and hopefully making it to the finish line!!  Let me share with you some tips and tricks to make sure you have at LEAST a fighting chance to get to the interview – and hopefully/eventually an offer!

First, let’s break it down.

An Applicant Tracking System is just software – a front end application interface for candidates of every level, and a back-end database and interface for the recruiter or hiring manager.  When you create a profile and submit an online application, you have created a record for yourself in the database that employer is using. You, the experienced professional, and every level of person that that organization may hire, uses the application portal (and this can explain sometimes that you’re asked what feel like some totally irrelevant questions – but stick with it, Ninja!  You can do this (especially with a little help from AutoComplete)!  ATS systems do a few specific things for an employer – parse resumes (extract information from your document, if it can*), store resumes for later search, allow for keyword searching, filtering, and generating the oft-dreaded “auto-emails.”

Second, almost everything has to do with keywords.

How does one search a database of potentially hundreds or thousands of submissions for a particular job? 10 out of 10 times, it’s a keyword search (usually Boolean for you search-experts) on the many resumes the computer has already “parsed.” The more keywords on which the recruiter is searching that your resume contains, the higher percentage “rank” your application receives.   The higher your rank in the results, the more likely you are to get pulled – by a real human being! – for the next step in the process, an interview!  It’s kind of like “Search Engine Optimization” – how does a website show up at the top of your search results and get the clicks the site host wants? It’s all in the keywords.

Creating or adding into your “Skills” section may be a great work-around if the keywords you think are most relevant are not naturally fitting into other sections of your resume. And, using an important skill more than once – i.e. including it in your Skills section as well as calling it out as a tool used when you’re describing your experience – can be helpful as well, for the frequency by which you use an important keyword can boost your ranking.

Third, let’s be friends!  🙂  The goal is to make your resume as “ATS-Friendly” as possible. Preparing your resume for the online application process has almost NOTHING to do with design and layout and visual appeal (sorry, friends using InDesign or Latex), and EVERYTHING to do with simple file types that can be easily parsed by the ATS (think .doc, .txt – not all systems can even handle PDFs) and your appropriate use of keywords as they are relevant to the job. Try to stick to one page, use measurable statements of results when possible, etc.  There are several resources online for “ATS Friendly Resume Design,” so check one out to see if your own document could use a few friendly edits!

I and the advisors on our team use a tool often to help students “optimize” their resumes for the online application process called You can certainly give a site like Jobscan a try or two for free, to see where you may have gaps in your skills and help you sharpen your document.  But please know that long before there were online systems, there were Career Advisors like those of us in Career Services.  Years of training and thousands of resumes later, our teams here can help you figure out how to make your updates, trim out the no-longer-relevant stuff, maximize keywords, and more!  We’re open all summer, so please reach out if we can help!

How listening to a podcast got me thinking about workplace dynamics

Natty Leach, Associate Director

With the summer now fully upon us, I’ve been trying to catch up on a few podcasts. Something I heard recently that instantly caught my attention wasn’t even part of an actual podcast, but more of a teaser.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and profound thinker of thoughts, has a fascinating podcast, Revisionist History, on things misunderstood and what implications may stem from these missteps. It was through a bonus episode leading up to the new season that I heard Gladwell speak with Adam Grant, University Pennsylvania’s own professor and podcast host of his own. The two talk mostly about social and cultural dynamics in the workplace, the effectiveness of teams, and more. And while they may not have been so explicit, I think there’s a lot to think about especially in regards to starting a new role or during an internship this summer.

A few highlights:

Specificity and Surprise:

Gladwell talks about how his creative process is driven by a sense of specificity rather than pontificating broadly. By examining minute details while keeping an eye on the lesson or implication this has for the big picture, everything is more interesting. That point may be relevant in how you go about examining complicated problems or could even apply to something like a cover letter where adding specific details can really illustrate your skills and accomplishments.

Teamwork and Organizational Fit:

Environment is hugely linked to success and many times this environment is created through teams. In whatever you’re doing this summer, think about how your work is influenced and strengthened by the environment around you and, in particular, how you fit into the groups of people who shape that environment.

When/How to Express Different Opinions at a New Job:

So, Gladwell’s answer of being as bumbling and passive aggressive as possible is probably not the best way to express your opinion. I did, however, just today on my commute to work hear a take on this through another podcast, Simms & Lefkoe, who highlight the importance of showing a sample of results when bringing a new idea to the table.

If you have some time this summer either to yourself or during a commute, the whole talk is definitely worth checking out and could even reveal some of the workplace dynamics of your summer internship or job.