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Basic questions to solve interviewer and interviewee led cases

exhibits interviewee-led Interviewer-led Market sizing Math problem objectives
New answer on Jun 10, 2024
3 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Jun 10, 2024

Hi there, 

I did some cases now but this opened up the following questions:

1. Lets I assume we have the following prompt:

Their CEO wants you to brainstorm and structure potential ideas to increase the company’s profit margins and market share. The CEO also wants you to think about exploiting new revenue sources.  

This prompt essentially contains several objectives. How would I approach such a prompt? Should I say something like: “is it ok for you if we focus first on (e.g.,) profit margins”? So that I can solve one of the objective after the other? Or should I try to accomodate all objectives at once?

2. When I am presented with an exhibit or with a math problem, can I ask for time to look at the exhibit or set up the formula to solve the math problem (like I am asking for time when structuring the problem and setting up a framework)?

3. When I have a market sizing case and when I set up the structure (issue tree) to calculate the market size, should I first explain first the whole structure top down and only after that start asking for specific data to solve the issue bottom up?

4. In interviewer-led cases (McK-style), is it common to ask clarification questions (to get more information) after I heard the prompt or is this more typical for interviewee led cases?

5. Is it common to provide a recommendation after interviewer led cases (McK style), or not? Is providing a recommendation more typical for interviewee led cases?

Thanks for helping.

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Florian
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replied on Jun 10, 2024
1300 5-star reviews across platforms | 500+ offers | Highest-rated case book on Amazon | Uni lecturer in US, Asia, EU

Hi there,

  1. Clarify what the core objective of the case is. If this prompt comes up at the beginning of the case, structure for this core objective. Note that all 3 items are related and cannot be solved in isolation, e.g., market share influences revenue which influences profit.
  2. Yes, you can and you should!
  3. Yes, this is to avoid mistakes in the approach. If you don't get the approach right first, it might be that every calculation is going in the wrong direction, wasting time. First approach E2E, then calculation.
  4. Yes, you definitely should. Prompts are often vague and you need to operationalize the goal and make sure you understand the context of the case.
  5. 99% of McK cases do not come with a recommendation element but some interviews might still ask them. If you approach the McK interview right, essentially every part of the case contains some sort of mini-recommendation anyway. :-)

    More on that here: McKinsey Case Interview

All the best,

Florian

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Cristian
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replied on Jun 10, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Lots of great questions.

Let me take them one by one.

1. Lets I assume we have the following prompt:

Their CEO wants you to brainstorm and structure potential ideas to increase the company’s profit margins and market share. The CEO also wants you to think about exploiting new revenue sources.  

This prompt essentially contains several objectives. How would I approach such a prompt? Should I say something like: “is it ok for you if we focus first on (e.g.,) profit margins”? So that I can solve one of the objective after the other? Or should I try to accomodate all objectives at once?

Yes. You can align with the interviewer on breaking it down into pieces. This also simulates how you would work with a client on this problem.

2. When I am presented with an exhibit or with a math problem, can I ask for time to look at the exhibit or set up the formula to solve the math problem (like I am asking for time when structuring the problem and setting up a framework)?

Absolutely. 

You are never expected to answer on the spot.

Some interviewers specifically ask for it to pressure test you but it's not something that is by default requested. 

3. When I have a market sizing case and when I set up the structure (issue tree) to calculate the market size, should I first explain first the whole structure top down and only after that start asking for specific data to solve the issue bottom up?

Yes. 

Divide that too into steps.

First come up with the logic.

Then align on the assumptions.

Then do the computations.

Then discuss the interpretation with the interviewer.

And take time in between each phase.

4. In interviewer-led cases (McK-style), is it common to ask clarification questions (to get more information) after I heard the prompt or is this more typical for interviewee led cases?

Yes.

You can always ask clarification questions as long as you either need to clarify something or you have some sort of emerging hypothesis and you want to ask a couple of probing questions to increase your level of confidence in that hypothesis.

5. Is it common to provide a recommendation after interviewer led cases (McK style), or not? Is providing a recommendation more typical for interviewee led cases?

If asked for it, yes.

But what I've empirically noticed is that fewer and fewer interviewers ask for recommendations.

By the way, if you're casing at the moment, you might also find this useful:

Cheatsheet: The Must-Know Consulting Terms for Interviews

Best,
Cristian

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Benjamin
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updated an answer on Jun 10, 2024
Ex-BCG Principal | 8+ years consulting experience in SEA | BCG top interviewer & top performer

Hi,

Sharing my take on your questions:

1. This prompt essentially contains several objectives. How would I approach such a prompt?

  • Ok so I think there is often a slight confusion here on 3 things
    1. Definition of what a good/clear objective is
    2. Structuring and framing the problem
    3. Prioritizing and being 80/20 where to focus on and start 
  • W.r.t. #1 above → Profit margin and market share are at least partially clear, given they are tangible measurements, but “new revenue streams” is actually kind of vague and not specific nor measurable, so you would need to clarify that better in the prompt
  • W.r.t. #2 & #3 above → If there are multiple objectives or questions that are explicitly stated, the first thing you should do is clarify which ones are in scope (or if there are any other objectives in scope)
  • If all of them are in scope, then you MUST structure for all of them
  • If there is a logical flow and dependency - i.e. objective/question (A) must be answered before considering objective/question (B), then I would argue its fine to build out the structure for (A) in more depth than (B), and also to start there in the analysis
  • If it's ambiguous (and interviewer refuses to clarify) which one is priority, then I would probably build out both structures to an equal depth
  • In your specific prompt, both objectives actually related and not exactly MECE. If we take a step back, new revenue sources could be an idea to increase profit margins (assuming the new revenue sources have accretive margins) as well as gain market share (assuming the revenue pools are within the same market)
  • If a client had asked me this prompt, I would probably scope out the first question (profit margin & market share) as limited to existing revenue streams, and then have a second question which is just focused on new revenue streams (but then you'd have to also clarify what the specific objective is there)

2. When I am presented with an exhibit or with a math problem, can I ask for time?

  • Yes - this is fine
  • No magic number on what is the right amount of time to take, but if I had to put an average I would say typically try not to take >30-45 seconds, maybe max 1min if its a very complex chart

3. Market sizing - should I first explain first the whole structure?

  • Let's again go back to the principles of why we do things a certain way in the interview (as well as on the job)
  • The interviewer needs to be able to understand your logic and thinking and math
  • Therefore, often times it is easier to explain the structure first before going into the calculations
  • It is not wrong to do structure + calcs in parallel, but it takes a lot of skill and clarity of communication to do so
  • One added advantage of explaining structure first is that it also lets the interviewer challenge and correct your logic on a conceptual level, before going into the numbers

4. is it common to ask clarification questions?

  • In consulting, on the job, there is no ‘client led’ or ‘MBB led’ cases
  • If you need to ask clarification question to help you better define the problem you are solving, do so - regardless of interview style, because thats what we do on the job

5. Is it common to provide a recommendation after interviewer led cases (McK style), or not?

  • The interviewer controls the case - including when to ask for the recommendation (or not)
  • Don't think of the case interview in too mechanical a way
  • Sometimes there is a natural stage when you realize that it's time to wrap up the case, other times interviewer might ask for it - this is all contextual and depending on how much you progress through the case
  • Coming from an interviewer's POV, by the time it gets to the recommendation, you aren't really going to “save” your performance. There are some resources out there that say you need to end strong but frankly if you screwed up your problem solving in the “meat” of the case, a great recommendation isnt going to change your score

Lastly, I think often times people over-index on the difference between interviewer and interviewee led cases. To me, this is one of the biggest misconceptions about what is being tested and can easily lead candidates to focus on the wrong thing in the interview.

All the best!

(edited)

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Florian

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