How to Survive a Mind Blank in a Case Interview

A catastrophic scenario in a case interview is having a mind blank. We’ve all been there.

Your interviewer asks for more ideas and you can’t find any. She wants you to calculate something and you forget how. You have conducted an analysis and can’t think what the next step should be. In other words, you’ve gone blank—at the worst possible time.

In reality, a short mind blank should not be the end of the world. However, most candidates who experience it start to panic and doubt themselves, losing their confidence to lead the rest of the case. And if you can’t lead the case, your interviewer will question your ability to do the same on an actual project, with actual clients. You will be rejected.

So what should you do if the dreaded mind blank hits you? Here’s our three-step recovery strategy.

1. Step back

First, maintain your poise by stepping back and restating the overarching question you are trying to answer. This gives you time to think and re-focus on the problem, rather than the issue of the mind blank.

2. Break down the question

Second, break down the question into solvable items or categories. For a math question, this might be the key variable you will need to solve. With a creativity question, this might be a few broad topics. For another question type, this might be the key steps in your approach.

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

Finally, re-cap the items or categories you have already solved or covered, and then move on to the areas that still need attention.

This approach will buy you a bit of time to pause, breathe, and get back on your feet with some concrete steps to focus on.

Case Leadership

More broadly, being able to lead the case reliably and confidently is one of the few dimensions that candidates can use to distinguish themselves among a high-calibre group of candidates. Case leadership is 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 every step of the way, your interviewer will immediately see the value you can add to the job.

To show your case leadership skills, you need to stay focused on the case question and the client’s objective and you need to show that you can develop an answer early on. Case leadership can seem like an ambiguous dimension at first, but it becomes clear with practice.

We cover this in much more depth within our Interview Prep Course, but here’s a great mindset hack to help you build your case leadership skills now: play the role of a consultant to your interviewer. This may sound obvious, but more often than not, candidates will act as a passive recipient of an assessment during their interview.

Instead, approach the case as a thought partner with your interviewer. This actually reflects the idea behind a case. If a case is an abbreviated client project, you’re supposed to be acting as a consultant and be proactive, poised, and collaborative.

To hone your case leadership skills and set yourself up for success, you can book coaching with one of our former consultants on CaseCoach.com.

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