Create an account and get free access to 50+ articles.
Sign up for free >>

BootCamp Articles

Articles read: 0/52

Interviewer-Led vs. Candidate-Led

Candidate-led: the key challenge is structuring the problem

As the title suggests, in candidate-led cases the interviewer expects the candidate to ‘lead’ her/him through the case. As the candidate, it is your responsibility to lead the case by asking relevant questions and also to develop and test your hypotheses. Candidate-led cases are the most common types of cases. You’ll encounter them at the majority of the big consulting firms such as BCG, Bain and occasionally at McKinsey. A candidate-led case usually has the following characteristics:

  • A very broad description of a situation
  • A very general question or no question at all
  • The interviewer gives you complete freedom in terms of the approach and the structure
  • Data and information is mostly provided at your request

As opposed to interviewer-led cases, it is harder for the interviewer to test specific abilities as the candidate defines what he wants to investigate or talk about. On the other hand, you as the candidate need to be strong in defining and testing hypotheses. You need a clear roadmap in mind that allows you to ask targeted questions as opposed to randomly ‘bombarding’ your interviewer with random questions hoping for a lucky punch.

Be thorough and exceptionally structured. Here are some aspects to consider in a candidate-led format:

  • Based on the information you get through your questions, set up a hypothesis that you test with further questions. Remember to also share your hypothesis with your interviewer.
  • Be thorough in your investigation. Don’t just scratch the surface and give some ideas, but dig deep into your hypothesis to uncover if there is a possible solution. The interviewer would not want to guide you towards the solution. He/She would probably give small and subtle hints to see how you react. For this to work, your questions have to be very specific.
  • Be exceptionally structured in a candidate-led case. You need to be able to keep track of your data. Interviewers will be interested in the synthesis, i.e. how you drew your conclusions. Also, new information might urge you to take some steps back in your argumentation. A good structure and thorough notes is key!
  • Be prepared to answer questions about details that could not be covered due to your choice of procedure but that are nonetheless important for the interviewer.
  • As soon as it becomes clear what the decisive factor is, reformulate your hypothesis and test it!

Interviewer-led cases: the key challenge is to adapt quickly and also be structured

Interviewer-led cases are most frequently used at McKinsey. As the title suggests, the interviewer’s guidance through the case interview is firmer. Following are a few indicators that hint towards interviewer-led cases:

  • A very specific case question
  • Either a lot of data will be given to you along with an initial breakdown of sub-problems or a broad problem may be given to you and you would need to structure the problem by being as specific as possible. After structuring, the interviewer will ask you a set of pre-determined questions irrespective of what your structure is (this could be an abrupt move, so do not get nervous when this happens!)
  • Interviewer-induced interruptions with turnarounds not resulting from the candidate’s analysis
  • Lots of given data throughout the case, e.g. tables or graphs
  • “What else” types of questions
  • “Please explain more in detail” types of questions

McKinsey-style case interviews give the interviewer a more direct opportunity to test specific skills that the interviewer is interested in learning about you and assess areas of weaknesses.

Remain in the driver's seat and beware of curve ball questions

Despite the name of this case class, the candidate still needs to be the active leader of the overall case interview. Especially in interviewer-led cases, the largest fallacy is to become passive, unstructured and driven by the interviewer. To lead the case, you need to be particularly structured. Be prepared for interruptions and anticipate that they might disprove hypotheses or force you to develop a completely new framework.

  • Keep the big picture in mind. If the interviewer implicitly gives you a hypothesis he/she wants you to test, keep in mind other sources of problems or possible solutions. You might need them later.
  • Be Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive (MECE). It will help you to be prepared and structurally evaluate further on “what else” and “explain more in detail” types of questions. If you rank your answers into a MECE framework, you avoid a random and unstructured collection of ideas. The biggest difference compared to candidate-led cases is that you usually have to come up with an exhaustive list of hypotheses.
  • Beware of curve ball questions and stress tests. Interviewer-led cases are sometimes used to assess if a candidate can handle pressure. The interviewer might deliberately cut your time to calculate things, show that she/he is impatient or unexpectedly change the direction of the case. The best approach here is to keep calm and adapt as the situation demands.

Key Takeaways

  • Candidate-led cases are about your ability to ‘crack’ a broad problem
  • Interviewer-led or McKinsey-style interviews are about being able to analyze the MECE way. You will most likely encounter a stressful moment. Always pause and think in a structured fashion
Be the first to comment on this!
Related consulting question(s)
Best answer so far out of 7 answers:
#1 Expert for coaching sessions (1800+) | Ex BCG | 900+ reviews with 100% recommendation rate

Hi Archi, thanks for your questions, I think you raised some interesting points on networking. All in all, the questions you ask a consultant in a business environment pre interview should ideal... (more)

Best answer so far out of 3 answers:
Anonymous B

The reason why BCG potential test is so difficult is because of the time constraint. So what I did was work on any questions from the BCG potential test I could find and try to solve them super qui... (more)

Best answer so far out of 3 answers:
McKinsey / Accenture / Got all BIG3 offers / More than 300 real MBB cases / Harvard Business School

Hi, There are 2 types of BCG tests: GMAT-like test with questions similar to GMAT Online Test that is based on a case and has the questions closer to PST I have uploaded both test samp... (more)

In order to perform math calculations faster, here are some tips you can use: Increase the number of steps in your calculations and turning complex operations into simple ones: It seems counter-... (more)

Best answer so far out of 3 answers:

Hi there! I have done couple of interviews with McKinsey and happy to share my experiences with you. It’s typically an hour long interview divided into three sections: Personal Experience Int... (more)

Related case(s)

Bain case: Asian lubricants producer

Solved 71.6k times
4.7 5 26158
| Rating: (4.7 / 5.0)

LubricantsCo, a very successful Asian premium producer of lubricants in their native region, would like to further increase their revenue and profit. The product range ranges from lubricants in the automotive sector (e.g. motor and gear oil) to industrial applications (e.g. fats, heavy-duty oils). ... Open whole case

Bain Case: Old Winery

Solved 12.8k times
4.4 5 317
| Rating: (4.4 / 5.0)

You have inherited the “Old Winery” from your grandfather, a winery which has been family owned for five generations and can be dated back to the 16th century. Half of the eleven hectares are used to grow white grapes, the other half to grow red grapes. They are grown in the conventional way, i.e ... Open whole case

McKinsey Questions

Solved 25.7k times
4.5 5 725
| Rating: (4.5 / 5.0) |
Difficulty: Intermediate | Style: Fit interview | Topics: Personal fit

Tell me of a situation where you had an opinion and no one seemed to agree with you. What was your goal when you decided to join university / work / clubs / a sports team? Did you have a goal that you were not able to reach? What did you do? What do you want to be remembered for and how are ... Open whole case

Bain Questions

Solved 17.5k times
4.6 5 205
| Rating: (4.6 / 5.0) |
Difficulty: Intermediate | Style: Fit interview | Topics: Personal fit

Tell me about a difficult situation you had to cope with. Tell me of a task which you didn’t like doing and explain why you performed it nevertheless. Why do you do things? What do you like doing most / What is your favorite hobby? Walk me through a situation where you showed leadership s ... Open whole case

BCG Questions

Solved 16.7k times
4.5 5 159
| Rating: (4.5 / 5.0) |
Difficulty: Intermediate | Style: Fit interview | Topics: Personal fit

What arouses your interest when you are working / studying / doing another activity (from the CV)? Tell me of a time where you had no idea what you were doing. When did you use an uncommon approach to do something? Have you ever had responsibility for other people? Tell me of a situation ... Open whole case