Capital One Case Interview Question:

I’ve been a member of your program for a couple weeks now and I have found your tips and advice to be extremely helpful. I also purchased your Look Over My Shoulder® program and I found it offers what no other case interview prep provider is able to offer, which is hands on insight in to how an actual case interview will be like. This is invaluable to novice, first time case interviewers like myself. Please keep up the good work!

Here’s My Issue

I am interviewing with Capital One (as you may have noticed not a consulting firm) for a senior management position. However, as you might be aware; their recruitment and interview process is very much similar to consulting firms. Capital One is run very much like a consulting firm where decisions are made from data analytics.

I have completed round 1 of the interview which consisted of an online test that contained questions similar to what you would find for the GMAT and a brief telephone interview answering behavioural type questions.

I was invited back to a second interview where I will be doing another 1 hour behavioural interview and then a 1 hour case interview. I’ve been told that this will be case that is very numbers intensive. I will be given a calculator a pencil and one piece of paper. Also, I will given the opportunity to ask questions and converse back and forth with the interviewer.

My Ask

How do you prepare for a very quantitative intensive case as much of the practice case material out there does not require a lot of intensive calculations with the use of the calculator and are more Macro and qualitative in general. Would you happen to have any cases you could share with me that are similar to the type of case I should expect for my second round of interviews so I could practice? Also, do you have any additional tips for this type of case interview?

Thanks for taking the time to read my question and your help would be much appreciated.

My Reply:

I know some of the top 10 executives at Capital One (former McKinsey friends), yes they are very numbers intensive.  I don’t know of any cases that are as numbers intensive as the case you describe — must be pretty intensive if they are giving you a calculator.

Realistically I do not think you are going to find practice cases out there (at least not very easily).  So the best way to prepare, if you can simulate the whole interview experience, is to practice the components of this kind of interview.

In particular, I would get a GMAT or GRE math practice book and work on your word problems. I am certain this will be the key skill being tested — taking a narrative case and translating it into specific formulas and equations.

The test is to see if you can figure out the right formula, not on your ability to compute it — after all on the job they have spreadsheets for that.  So it is a business situation described in words to math formula conversion test (at least for the math intensive components of the case).

So I would practice that a lot.

If you need some practice materials, you can reference some links I have for the McKinsey Problem Solving Test which uses some of the same math prep materials.

Separate from the math intensive components of the case, which I suspect will be one massive “word problem,” you will want to be prepared for an issue tree driven case.  The frameworks I suggest around profitability and the business situation are for fairly macro level business problems — the kind of problems a client would go to a consulting firm for guidance on.

I suspect that the kind of issues Capital One deals with will be much more micro. The are one the foremost database marketers in the world. Very sophisticated data management and segmentation analysis.

So I suspect the cases will be much more micro in detail. Given X, Y and Z data, should we launch a new kind of credit with these kinds of characteristics — given this loss level, this delinquency level what level of reserves would be required that kind of thing.  Or perhaps figuring this number across a portfolio of multiple products to figure out the weighted average reserve level.

Keep in mind this is just a guess. But I spent several years at McKinsey working in the lending sector and these kinds of questions come up all the time — and math is always used to figure out the answer.

So if you got incredibly good at word problems in the next few days, it is hard for me to see how this would be a bad thing.

Math-oriented cases tend to match well to an logical issue tree based on a math formula — similar to the profitability framework this truly MECE and completely mathematically logical.  Broad stroke conceptual business problems map better to the business situation framework which is more conceptual.

My best guess is you will end up using an issue tree structure comparable to the profitability framework I use, but it probably will not be a company profitability type problem. It will probably be something more micro…. which is more representative of the work that is done internally at Capital One.

So in priority order, I would recommend doing the following:

1) Lots of word problems practice (GRE workbooks)
2) LOMS  – practice the communication aspects of structuring a case, setting it up, layout out the data needed to test the hypothesis
3) LOMS – practice the synthesis aspects of closing out a case


*** 2nd Question ***

I received further correspondence from my recruiting contact at Capital One who not only provided me with the interview date confirmation but also shared an internal interview prep portal that has about 10 sample numerical questions and one sample case.

Your inclination about the type of numerical problems were correct. They were basically growth, percentage, ratio, and find the variable by translating words into X, Y, and Z type problems.

However, one particular comment struck me when I was going through the portal. Under the “About the Case Interview” section on their website it says “For some jobs, we believe the best way we can assess your analytical and conceptual problem-solving skills is to discuss a business problem with you.

Case interviews are broad, two-way discussions rather than one-way tests. You will be assessed more on how you go about dealing with the problem rather than on the specific answers you come up with.

The last line has me a little confused. I was under the impression that for case interviews you need to get the answer correct or you would not be recommended to move in to the next round? Is this common?

Also, one trivial question I have and I apologize in advance; The recruiter in her email interview instructions to me mentioned that “Please be advised that Capital One follows a business casual dress code and you are invited to do the same when coming on site for interviews”. Now, typically you dress to impress (Business Formal) for interviews.

From your experience, are case interviews really meant to be less formal or is this specific to Capital One based on your experience with the company? Would you recommend that I follow the recruiters instructions and dress business casual or should I dress like every other interview to impress? Or should I just contact her to clarify?

My Reply:

Getting the case right is necessary but not sufficient to passing the interview.  You need to get the case right, or perhaps be clearly on the right track but ran out of time (assuming you were efficient), and do so in a way they would perceive as systematic and repeatable (e.g.,, you didn’t just get the right answer by being lucky).

So practically speaking you will need to do the math, but also explain WHAT you are doing to solve the case and WHY. The communication aspect is pretty important.

You should get a very good feel for the back-and-forth conversational nature of a case in the recordings from the Look Over My Shoulder® program. You’ll notice that the entire thinking process the candidate is going through is being explained to the interviewer as the case study interview progresses.

So do not be surprised if an interviewer says, “Oh that’s interesting… WHY did you use that assumption or choose that approach?”

It is like in my 8th grade math class, if you got the right answer on the math test that was not enough. You had to “show your work” so my teacher could validate that I took the right approach.

If they say business casual, dress business casual but a nice business casual.  Here’s additional information of the case interview dress code.