Behavioral Psychology and the Case Interview
Mukund Multani, ‘16
When I went through the case interview process, I learned how to tackle the “math” and the “brainstorming” as separate components of the interview. But one thing no one ever taught me was how to tackle the transition between the math and the brainstorming.
The math part of a case interview usually involves ‘convergent thinking’, that is, following a series of steps and calculations to come up with a single solution to the problem, for example, ‘How many Booth students eat at the Kovler café everyday?’
This is usually followed by brainstorming questions, which require ‘divergent thinking’, that is, generating many solutions for an open-ended question. For example, ‘What can the Kovler café do to improve customer satisfaction?’ (besides the obvious: serve less tasteless food).
In the transition between the math and the brainstorming, the case interviewer is (knowingly or unknowingly) testing a peculiar trait of the human mind, that is, our minds find it very difficult to shift from convergent thinking to divergent thinking, and as a result, when we are asked to do so, the number and quality of creative ideas we are able to generate are greatly reduced.
The good news is that a number of factors are proven to increase your creativity. Some of these are easier than others to implement and remind yourself of when preparing for interviews. For example, feeling ‘powerful’ or feeling ‘entitled’ is known to increase divergent thinking. You can try striking power poses before your interview (or right between the math and the brainstorming, if you’re feeling adventurous). You can also prime yourself with feelings of entitlement and uniqueness. For example, ‘I am in a small fraction of people that ever have the opportunity to be considered for a case interview’. This can help with creativity too.
Other factors include a positive mood (happy people solve ambiguous problems faster), and putting yourself in the mindset of ‘global processing’. What is global processing? An example of global processing would be looking at the entire state of Illinois on a map (versus looking at a specific point on the same map). Studies have shown that participants primed to ‘think globally’ generate more unusual or atypical ideas than those primed with ‘local processing’.
Unfortunately, I learned of these concepts too late to implement them, so I have little empirical evidence of my own to convince you. However, if you do end up implementing any of these suggestions in your preparation, do let me know – I would love to know the results of my little ‘experiment’.
This article is based on concepts from research and content taught in the class ‘Managing in Organizations’, a class that the author recently took and highly recommends.
Mukund is (currently) a fan of Second City improv, behavioral psychology, and dreaming of ways to get better food to the Kovler café.