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How to survive a mind blank in a case interview

Imagine the scene: you’re in the middle of a case interview and things seem to be going well. But then your mind goes blank at the worst possible moment. Perhaps you’re asked for more ideas but can’t think of any, or you’re asked to perform a calculation and forget how to do it.

In reality, a short mind blank should not be the end of the world. It happens to many candidates and as long as you can recover from it and continue to lead the case confidently, it shouldn’t affect your chances of success.

However, if you panic and start to lose faith in your ability to lead the rest of the case, your interviewer will start to doubt your ability to do well on the job and you will almost certainly be rejected.

So what should you do if you suffer a dreaded mind blank in a case interview? Here are our top tips for recovering successfully and leading the rest of the case with confidence.

How to recover from a mind blank

1. Take a step back

First of all, don’t panic! Maintain your poise by stepping back and restating the overarching question you’re trying to answer. This will give you time to think and re-focus on the problem.

2. Break down the question

Once you’ve restated the overarching question, break it down into solvable items or categories. For a math question, this might include the key variable you need to solve. For another type of question, it might include the steps in your approach.

3. Cover the items or categories you haven’t solved yet

Finally, recap the items or categories that you’ve already solved or covered, and then move on to the areas that still require attention.

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Set yourself up for success by using a tracker page

The three-step recovery strategy we’ve outlined above can be highly effective, but it relies on you remembering the key steps of your approach to solving the case. Using a ‘tracker page’ to capture your structure and organize your notes throughout the case will ensure that you always have this information to hand.

Here are our top tips for creating an effective tracker page that will support your recovery from a mind blank:

  • Display the case question clearly at the top of the page.
  • Include the key facts from the brief in the margin.
  • Build out your structure by drawing branches that correspond to each important topic you want to explore or each analysis you intend to conduct.
  • Cross out any branches of the structure that turn out to be a dead end.
  • Add new branches if you identify additional avenues to explore.
  • Annotate the page as you progress through the case and learn more information.

Here’s an example of an effective tracker page:

Illustrated example of an effective tracker page

You should keep this page in front of you throughout the case and refer to it frequently. It will give you a clear plan for navigating the problem and should help you avoid getting lost.

You will, of course, want to take other notes for making calculations, recording creative ideas, or jotting down other scribbles. Be sure to keep your tracker page separate from these other notes.

Use the tracker page to lead the case conversation

By using a tracker page, you’ll know what you’ve covered in the case already and what’s left to explore. This means that you’ll be able to lead the case conversation reliably and confidently.

Case leadership is one of the few dimensions that will allow you to distinguish yourself from other high-caliber candidates and stand out in consulting interviews. It’s particularly important for candidate-led cases, where candidates are expected to chart their own path in solving the case.

If you’re able to take ownership of the case, drive the conversation, and suggest next steps at every stage, your interviewer will immediately see the value you could bring to the role of a consultant. It’s therefore vital to lead the conversation effectively, even if you suffer a mind blank during the case.

A great mindset hack to help you build your case leadership skills is to imagine that you’re playing the role of a consultant during your case interview practice. This will help you to both build your confidence and show your interviewers that as a consultant, you would be a proactive, poised, and collaborative thought partner to your client.

In our Interview Prep Course we teach you how to tackle each dimension of the case and fit interviews, including case leadership. The course contains all the video lectures, sample interviews, case material, and practice tools you’ll need to ace any case interview.

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