Capital One case interview: the only post you'll need to read

Let's start with the elephant in the room. Capital One is a bank, NOT a consulting firm. Case interviews are typically associated with consulting companies, like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. But yes, Capital One really does use case interviews, which are pretty challenging compared to regular interviews at large corporates.

The good news is, that with the right preparation, succeeding at a Capital One case interview is actually pretty straightforward. In this post, we've put together the ultimate list of facts and tips you'll need to maximise your chances of success.

1. Capital One: not your grand-daddy's bank

Capital One is unique. It's now the 10th largest bank ($362bn in assets) in the United States, despite being founded as a single-business bank in 1994. The business was initially only focused on credit cards but now include the following 3 verticals:

  1. Credit Cards
  2. Consumer Banking
  3. Commercial Banking

The company's success has been driven largely by it's clever use of data. They've developed sophisticated strategies for identifying and directly marketing to profitable customers. This has created a competitive advantage vs. traditional banks, which have historically focused on broad (rather than targeted) marketing.

Capital One also has their own strategy group, which essentially serves as an internal consulting firm.

Although Capital One is a top player in the banking industry, their unusual history and technology focus, has created a unique culture. It has more of a "tech firm" feel, than you'd expect from a giant financial institution. Another notable area where Capital One is different from their peers, is in their interview process.

2. Capital One interview process

The type of work (and the nature of the interview) you can expect at Capital One varies across group and role. They hire for roles ranging from call center reps, to software developers and business analysts. The focus of this article, is the interview process for Capital One business analyst, financial analyst, operations analyst, and data analyst positions.

The application process includes 4 main stages:

  1. Resume & cover letter submission
  2. Pre-interview online assessment tests
  3. First interview
  4. Final round onsite interviews

Generally, your first step will be nailing your resume and cover letter. The recruiter will be looking for specific things on your application, including problem solving and leadership skills. To optimise your documents, check out our review guides for resumes and cover letters.

After the initial application, you'll face the online assessment tests. The tests evaluate your verbal reasoning and maths skills. You'll need to pass to make it through to the interviews.

The first round typically consists of a single case interview. Be ready to hit the ground running in this interview, because they get straight to the case. Don't expect much "getting to know you" discussion during this interview. Depending on the circumstances, this first interview could be held in-person or on a phone or video call.

The final round is usually a series of on-site interviews. At this stage you can expect to face 3-5 separate interviews. These tend to be mostly case interviews, but you may also face technical or product questions depending on the role you've applied for.  Here's a rough breakdown for the number of interviews you could face: 2-4 case interviews, 1 behavioural interview. 

    In the following sections, we'll provide more details on the recruitment steps for Capital One, including tips and resources for how to prepare.

    3. Capital One online assessment tests

    If your resume and cover letter get through, you'll move on to the online assessment tests.  Many corporates are using aptitude and problem solving tests to screen candidates. Capital One's tests cover verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, and may also include a behavioral section.

    A lot of candidates are eliminated at this stage, so it's a great opportunity for you to get a leg-up on the competition. With the right preparation, you can crack the online tests and give your application a huge boost.

    Leading consulting firms, like McKinsey and BCG, also use numerical and logic tests as a part of their application processes.

    4. Capital One case interviews

    Perhaps the most important part of the Capital One interview process, are the case interviews. Believe it or not, Capital One has published a video tutorial, which shows the style of their case interviews.

    We've embedded it for your reference below. It's a great resource, but it's pretty long (about 20 minutes), so we've also summarised the key take-aways and added some additional commentary below.

    Capital One case interviews include 3 sections:

    • Business situation and framework
    • Quantitative question
    • Recommendation

    Each section of the case interview has particular things you'll need to prepare for. Let's look at each one in-depth.

    A. Business situation and framework

    The first several minutes of the interview will cover the business scenario and case framework. This typically begins with the recruiter providing a brief statement about the business or industry where you'll focus for the case. In the sample case (in the video), you're the CEO of Ice Cream Corporation. 

    Typically, the recruiter will end their opening statement with a broad question. For example: "What are the key factors you would consider when developing a strategy to grow profits for Ice Cream Corporation?" For this stage of the interview, you should have two objectives.

    First, you should ask clarification questions to make sure that you understand the situation correctly. For instance, in the video above the first candidate asks exactly what role the CEO has with regards to "pricing" and to "sales". Many candidates skip that initial step, but it's actually essential because it will help you put together a more relevant framework.

    Second, once you fully understand the situation and question the interviewer is asking you, you should put a simple case framework together to answer the interviewer's question. The objective of this framework is to identify and communicate key areas that you will consider to answer the interviewer's main question. For instance, the candidates in the video mention areas including pricing, number of markets, number of competitors, their size, etc.

    If you're familiar with the different types of case interviews, you'll notice that Capital One uses the interviewer-led approach. This is similar to the method used by McKinsey in their application process.

        B. Quantitative question

        The second stage of the interview is heavily focused on maths skills. The recruiter will provide you with some data, and ask you to perform calculations.

        In the sample case, you're asked to calculate total monthly profit for Ice Cream Corporation, given the following data:

        • Price per carton = $5
        • Cost per carton = $1
        • Demand = 100 cartons/month

        It's important to ask questions at this stage, as the recruiter may have additional data which they have not yet provided. The video shows a great example of this, when the candidate asks how much of the cost is variable vs. fixed cost. 

        • Price per carton = $5
        • Variable cost per carton = $1
        • Fixed cost per carton = $0
        • Demand = 100 cartons/month

        At this point, the calculation is straight-forward.

        • ($5-$1) X 100 cartons = $400 profit

        Make sure you talk through your logic, to show the recruiter your problem-solving skills. This will also help them to steer you back on track, if you've misheard any of the data.

        Don't expect all of the calculations in your interview to be this simple. There are 2 additional examples provided in the video, which include elasticity of demand and break even calculations. These require a little extra work, but your approach will be the same:

        1. Understand the data provided
        2. Ask for more information when necessary
        3. Lay out your approach
        4. Perform the calculations

        In our experience, the best candidates brush up ahead of their interview, so they can have confidence in their maths skills. If you do the same, this will give you a polished reaction during interviews, which recruiters will notice.

        Compared with the case interviews used at consulting firms, the case interviews at Capital One tend to have a greater focus on quantitative questions. So you should expect to spend more time on these types of quant problems during your interview, and less time on other areas, like creative brainstorming.

        C. Recommendation

        In the final stage of the interview, you'll be expected to make and defend a recommendation. To form your recommendation, draw on the calculations from the previous stage (e.g. the results of the break-even analysis). Consider the numbers, use your intuition, and make a decision

        For example, this might be your conclusion: "since ice cream is a non-perishable, I think it would be reasonable to expect most of the additional sales from a promotion, to come from stock-up behavior. I'd recommend looking for other opportunities to increase sales."

        The specific strategy you suggest, is less important than your logic and ability to defend it. Expect the recruiter to question your approach. For a recommendation like this, they may ask you to explain how you would go about identifying other opportunities.

        Additional tips:

        • Cases are often not focused on the finance industry, so don't be surprised.
        • Take notes on the information provided by the recruiter.
        • Ask for a minute to organize your thoughts when needed.
        • Talk through your thought process, show your work as you do it.
        • If you don't understand a topic, ask the interviewer for clarification.
        • Call out important assumptions.
        • Notice directional cues, as the recruiter may want to steer the conversation.
         5. Top behavioural interview questions asked at Capital One

        In addition to case interviews, Capital One also uses behavioural questions/interviews, like most companies do.

        Behavioural interview questions asked at Capital One fall into two main categories:

        1. Fit questions. These are generic questions such as “Why financial services?” or “Why Capital One?”.
        2. Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions. These are questions such as “Tell me about a time when you lead a team through a difficult situation.” Or “Tell me about a time where you had to manage a team conflict”

          We've written extensively about fit / PEI questions in the past. But in summary here are the top 5 fit and PEI questions you should prepare for at Capital One, or other firms.

          Top 5 fit questions:

          • Why Capital One?
          • Why financial services?
          • Walk me through your resume
          • Tell me about something not on your resume
          • Tell me about your greatest accomplishment

          Top 5 PEI questions. Tell me about a time when ...

          • You led a team through a difficult situation
          • You worked in a team and had to manage a conflict
          • You had a disagreement with a colleague / boss
          • You had to change someone's / a group's mind
          • You overcame a really difficult challenge

          Capital One is known to favor the STAR method when it comes to answering behavioral questions. So, for your interview, plan to answer behavioural questions using the following format:

          • S - Situation
          • T - Task
          • A - Action
          • R - Result

          This approach will help you to answer each question in a clear, and methodical way, which are great qualities to demonstrate when interviewing with Capital One. 

          The next couple of sections will outline additional steps that you should take in order to succeed at your Capital One interviews.

          6. Develop a consistent method to crack cases

          One of the hardest things about interviewing with companies like Capital One, are the case interviews. Depending on the specific job, you might have as many as 5 interviews!

          As a result, it’s critical for you to have a consistent approach for cracking cases. Case interviews can be broken down into very specific types of questions, including the following:

          1. Situation
          2. Framework
          3. Quant question (with and without data)
          4. Recommendation

          If you can crack each type of question (within a case), then you can crack the case.

          At IGotAnOffer, we were frustrated with the absence of a consistent approach for solving case questions. This is why we created a step-by-step method to solve cases that we teach in our case interview training programme today.

          As mentioned above, Capital One uses similar types of cases to McKinsey and many candidates in the past have successfully used our McKinsey Case Interview Training Programme to prepare for Capital One interviews. Capital One's case interviews have a greater focus on quantitative questions, but there is a lot of overlap in the preparation required to succeed in McKinsey and Capital One case interviews.

          Whatever process you use to prepare for your case interviews, it will always be important for you to practice cases out loud.

          7. Practice cases out loud

          Thinking about your answer is only half the battle in case interviews. The second half is communicating your answer in a clear and structured way.

          A great way to practice this is to do case interviews with friends or with former consultants who do coaching interviews. However, this isn’t always possible.

          So we encourage you to practice out loud. Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer. That means you should ask questions and answer them (out loud), in the same way two people would do in an interview.

          This will feel odd at first. But trust us, in our experience candidates who use this approach are much more likely to get an offer.

          8. Learn from every mistake you make

          Successful candidates find it more valuable to do 20 cases thoughtfully, than to rush through 40 cases.

          Sure, there is a minimum number of hours you need to put-in, to develop good case interview habits (probably ~30h+). However, you should go for quality over quantity.

          A great way to do this is by keeping a notebook, where you write down mistakes and improvement opportunities after each case. Then you can check your progress by re-doing old cases. For example, after you have done case #20, you could go back to case #1, to make sure you are not repeating the same mistakes.

          This will help you make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

          Additional resources

          If you would like to fast track your case interview preparation and maximise your chances of getting an offer at Capital One, come and train with us. More than 80% of the candidates training with our case interview programmes end up getting an offer at their target firm. We know this because we give half of their money back to people who don't.

          You can find a link to our McKinsey Case Interview Training Programme below. As mentioned previously, Capital One uses similar case interviews as McKinsey (with more time spent on quantitative questions). So you can therefore use that programme to prepare for Capital One.

          McKinsey Case Interview Training Programme

          Any questions about Capital One case interviews?

          If you have any questions about case interviews, do not hesitate to ask them below and we will be more than happy to answer them. All questions are good questions, so go ahead!

          The IGotAnOffer team