Been getting this feedback from my past few case interviews.
How can I ask better clarifying question at the beginning?
The questions you ask at the beginning have the following objectives:
- Completely understanding the context/situation (including, unclear terminology, but also, for example, the business model of the client if unclear!)
- Understanding the question(s) of the client
- Understanding (and quantifying if applicable) the underlying objective(s) of the client
These questions are aiming at understanding the initial setting, hence forming a precondition to outline your structure towards answering the core question (the issue tree)!
Please note: the clarifying questions are NOT meant to gather information that will be later used in the analysis. This will come across extremely random and arbitrary! Such questions should be a direct consequence of your approach/structure, but not come before.
You should ask the following questions:
1) Clarify the business model. Ask how the company actually makes the money. For several reasons:
- Even if you think you understand the business model, you need to make sure that you understand it correctly.
- Some cases have pitfalls related to a business model (re profitability cases with several revenue streams
- You need to understand the revenue streams to make a proper structure. E.g. if the case is about oil&gas company which revenues are declining, ask if it is Up / mid / down-stream problem. In this case, defining a revenue stream is critical to setting up the right structure. (At the end of the day it may be the decline of snack sales at the gas stations:). In case of telecom company it may be the problem of the core business (wireless) or non-core (landlines, internet)
2) Clarify the objective. Here make sure that your goal is:
- Has a time-framed
- Has / has no limitations
e.g. Should I invest 100k in this business for 1 year if I want to get 15% return?
3) Ask the questions that will help you build a relevant structure and remove ambiguity.
E.g. in the market entry case ask whether we are entering the country organically or non-organically
!!! Finally - do the recap AFTER asking the clarifying questions. Although most of the case books suggest to do it immediately at the beginning of the interview, it makes much more sense to clarify the situation first and then to make sure that you understand everything correctly.
You need to make sure you understand the problem:
1. Can you restate the whole question?
2. Do you understand the terminology?
3. Are you clear with the objective? How long do you have? What does success look like? How much improvement is good enough
Basically any other type of question is best kept for after you build a framework / plan of attack. Hope this helps