student in a case interview workshop

Technical & Case Interviews

For programming or software developer positions, you will encounter technical screenings and coding challenges during the interview process. If you have never practiced working through a technical question in front of someone, using a whiteboard, under a time limit, this process can be intimidating. For tips on how to best prepare for technical interviews, checkout our resources below.        

Case Interviews are only used by certain organizations, which means most students are unfamiliar with their structure, and don't know what to expect. Fortunately, we offer many resources to help you prepare and increase your confidence for a successful case interview.  

Technical Interviews 

When interviewing for technical (coding) positions, there are two main steps in the interview process.

Step One: Prescreening: online coding challenge via Hackerrank or other platforms

Typically, after speaking with a recruiter at the career fair or after applying for a position, applicants receive an email enclosing a link to a coding challenge. These coding challenges are most often completed on the HackerRank platform.

Depending on the company, there may be 1-3 problems to solve, and a 45 min – 2 hour time limit for a challenge. These problems test the applicant’s knowledge of a particular language, object oriented programming, and algorithms.

The best way to prepare for these coding challenges is to:

  • Review material from object oriented programming and algorithms courses.
  • Choose a favorite language to work with and be familiar with its documentation.
  • Complete coding challenges provided by sites such as HackeRrank and Leetcode.

As you complete more coding challenges on your own time, you become more familiar with the platform, and your programming skills strengthen.

Another very important resource for reviewing programming concepts and common coding problems is the Cracking the Coding Interview book (which can be borrowed from 201 Carpenter). This book is vital for preparation for coding interviews as it provides very common coding problems, detailed solutions, and review of important data structures and algorithms.

Step Two: Technical Interviews: coding problems via phone, Skype, or in-person

The preparation for online coding challenges described above also applies to preparing for technical interviews. However, additional preparation is required since technical interviews involve speaking your thought process aloud to the interviewer.

(a) Be familiar with the steps in a technical interview. These steps are described in more detail in the Cracking the Coding Interview book.

  • Ask the interviewer a lot of questions in order to completely understand what you’re being asked to solve.
  • Talk out loud as you are solving the problem.
  • Start off with writing code for an easier solution, test with test cases, and provide runtime.
  • Come up with a more efficient solution, test, and provide runtime as well.

(b) Practice with mock interviews. The only way that you can be more comfortable and confident during a real interview is to have mock interviews with your peers during your free time, or with mock interviews provided by the WICC and ASCU organizations on campus (held prior to the career fair).

Additional Resources:

Visit the Tech Interview website which offers technical interview questions, brain teasers, and puzzles.

Review and practice using digital books about coding interviews available through the Cornell Library.

Borrow a copy of How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle, by William Poundstone (located in 201 Carpenter Hall)

Borrow a copy of Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions, by Gayle Laakmann and McDowell (located in 201 Carpenter Hall)

Case Interviews

What is a Case Interview?

It's an interview where an employer poses a challenging business problem relevant to its organization and asks the candidate to propose logical steps to resolve it.

Why do companies use Case Interviews?

Employers use this approach to introduce you to the kinds of questions consultants encounter on a daily basis while assessing your organizational and analytical skills. A Case Interview is an opportunity to showcase your:  

  • Problem solving ability: How do you logically think through a problem?
  • Ability to think on your feet: How do you react to and deal with ambiguity?
  • Communication skills: How well do you listen? Can you summarize and discuss your conclusions coherently?
  • Business skills: How do you prioritize? How do you organize your thoughts?

What types of companies typically use Case Interviews?

  • Management Consulting Firms
  • Investment Banking
  • Consumer Product Management
  • Research and Marketing

What does a Case Interview look like?

You will be introduced to a business dilemma typically representative of the company's industry. Once provided with background information, you will be asked to analyze the situation, identify key issues, and discuss how you would address the problems involved. The interview will proceed as an open dialogue between you and the interviewer. The interviewer guides the discussion while you are expected to ask questions and move towards a resolution.

Any tips for being successful in a Case Interview? 

Your approach to solving the problem is more important than whether you arrive at the correct answer; sometimes there is no right answer, so think out loud!

  • Listen carefully! Establish and verbalize your understanding of the case.
  • Develop your approach to the situation; define and focus on the critical issues.
  • Ask questions: Clarify anything you don't understand. Ask for more information if needed.
  • Summarize your analysis and draw conclusions.
  • Don't forget to pace yourself: Take your time and work through the problem.
  • Relax! Try to have fun with the process; interact with the interviewer.

How do I prepare for a Case Interview?