What top consulting firms get wrong about hiring

By Atta Tarki & Tino Sanandaji

Each year, around 185,000 MBA students graduate in the United States Many of them spend more than 100 hours each preparing for so-called case interviews—the favored evaluation method of elite consulting firms, such as McKinsey, in which candidates are presented with a business problem and asked to talk through how they would solve it. This is a colossal waste of time.

Case interviews are a terrible evaluation method; it’s time to end their use in hiring.

When we talk to proponents of case-based interviews, we’re often told they’re effective at ensuring you hire only competent people. Sure, they may end up missing a competent candidate or two, but because hiring mistakes are very costly, what’s important is that they effectively identify people who are sure to excel. First off, there’s no evidence this is true. But even if it were true, the scenario of missing out on great hires makes sense only if it’s fairly inexpensive for a company to find more superstars.

More than a century of research shows that there are better, more rigorous ways to screen for problem-solving skills. To start, general mental ability, or GMA, is by far the best predictor of fluid intelligence, or the ability to solve problems in a variety of topics. Companies can also mitigate some of the known downsides with case-based interviews by standardizing their approach and becoming more specific about the skills that are most desirable for a job, how these skills are tested and what constitutes a stellar response.

Consulting firms are correct about one thing related to hiring. General problem-solving skills are important in predicting job success. The traditional case-based interview, however, has played out its role in identifying these skills.

Atta Tarki is the founder and CEO of ECA. Tino Sanandaji is a researcher at the Stockholm School of Economics.

Image credits: Artjafara | Dreamstime.com


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