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Clarifying questions

Clarifying questions
New answer on Apr 01, 2022
10 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 30, 2022

In clarifying questions. are you supposed to ask for “are there any secondary objectives?”

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Pedro
Expert
replied on Mar 30, 2022
Bain | Roland Berger | EY-Parthenon | Mentoring Approach | 30% off first 10 sessions in May| Market Sizing | DARDEN MBA

No, definitely not. 

What you are expected to do is to actually really understand the exact goal that you want to achieve - quantitatively and qualitatively - and any existing constraints on how to achieve it. In other words, it's about “scoping” the problem.

Let me give you an example. Let's say the client wants to know whether they should enter XYZ market. In this case, you should ask what they want to achieve / how do they measure success / what's their decision criteria, and if there are any quantitative targets to achieve.

On constraints… you may ask what options are on or off the table. Sometimes (e.g. growth case) it is worthwhile to ask upfront if international growth, new products, inorganic growth, etc., are within scope or not. The exact question here depends on the prompt.

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Francesco
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replied on Mar 30, 2022
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ interviewoffers.com) | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

I agree with Maikol, formulated in this way this would be a strange question in most cases:

  1. A good interviewer should give you at least a general idea of the goals as part of the prompt and not actively hide “secondary objectives”
  2. As a clarifying question, you should ask about the exact target to reach, which should confirm the goal of the case

On the other hand, you can definitely do a final recap, to verify you correctly understood the goal. So, instead of asking “Are there any secondary objectives?”, you can rephrase as: “So, to summarize, the client hired us to understand XYZ and this is the only objective we have, is that correct?”. This would be perceived better by most interviewers.

Best,

Francesco

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Maikol
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replied on Mar 30, 2022
BCG Project Leader | Former Bain, AlixPartner, and PE | INSEAD MBA | GMAT 780

In most cases, I think it is an awkward question.
You have to clarify what the objective is, period. If your clarification questions are good enough, the goal will be clear and you won't need to ask whether there is any secondary objective.

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Clara
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replied on Apr 01, 2022
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

Always make sure you have the target very clear. 

Instead of asking in the clarifying questions: clarify it! If I understood correctly, the target of the client is …… . Did I get this right, or would there be something else the client wants to achieve with this project/analysis/operation?

Hope it helps!

Cheers, 

Clara

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Florian
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replied on Mar 31, 2022
Highest-rated McKinsey coach (ratings, offers, sessions) | 500+ offers | Author of The 1% & Consulting Career Secrets

Hi there,

If there are any other objectives, they would tell you. To me, it always sounds very rehearsed and sets a weird tone that is then often followed up by a generic framework.

Cheers,

Florian

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Ian
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replied on Mar 31, 2022
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there,

Not really in this way.

Do you need to clarify the objective? Absolutely!

Should you also clarify how we might measure/qualify success, i.e. what are the clients goals/needs here? yes!

But “secondary objectives” is a bit of an awkward wording :)

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Cristian
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Content Creator
replied on Mar 30, 2022
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Hi there, 

Clarifying questions should only be asked if you actually need to clarify something. Don't make it habit to always ask something. One good thing to ask & check is what is the overall objective of the client and whether they have a specific target in mind. 

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Andi
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replied on Mar 30, 2022
BCG 1st & Final Round interviewer | Personalized prep with >95% success rate | 7yrs coaching | #1 for Experienced Hires

Hi there, 

Sharing my 2 cents - i'll break this question into 2 parts.

1. Should a candidate verify the objective(s) upfront? 

Yes, it definitely is important to fully understand and align on the objectives of the prompt, as it drives the scope and direction of the case. Such end may or may not have what you call secondary objectives. It is a good idea to find out.

2. When there is ambiguity, how to ask for any "secondary objectives?

Now the proposed wording above - I agree with the other coaches - seems quite awkward / robotic - don't go there, as you don't want to come across as rehearsed. Instead, make sure you establish the ends using more natural / conversational language. An elegant and smooth way to do so is to combine the clarification with a short recap - something along the lines of…

“To recap, I understand client wants to do x... just to verify / clarify, are there any other goals the client wants us to look at / take into account?”

No interviewer will penalize you for verifying information in a case interview - sufficient alignment is important to not miss out on key elements of the framework later (which often becomes a deal breaker). You will, however, get penalized for coming across as a robot - as long as you keep the conversation NATURAL, you'll be fine. 

Regards, Andi

 

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Adi
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replied on Mar 30, 2022
Accenture, Deloitte | Precision Case Prep | Experienced Interviewer & Career Coach | 15 years professional experience

Very simply (and depending on the case) clarification questions should be structured around getting more understanding of (one or more of below list):

  • External factors such as competitor, market forces etc
  • Company's business model- customer segments, channels & products/services
  • Impact of the problem, urgency, investment/budget constraints
  • Goals/Vision/Objective

Think of these questions as information gaps you have during the case opening and answers to these questions will help you get to the right structure/framework.

Also, check out these related Q&A- 

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Moritz
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replied on Mar 30, 2022
ex-McKinsey EM & Interviewer | 7/8 offer rate for 4+ sessions | 90min sessions with FREE exercises & videos

Hi there,

As a general rule - there's nothing you have to do generally. Everything depends on the case itself.

Where your question could apply are PE cases, for example, where the primary objective is a DD on the target to work out a potential ROI. A secondary objective may be unlocking synergies and additional value with the PE's portfolio companies.

However, the main objective is usually part of the prompt - sometimes very explicit, sometimes a little more implicit. It's your job to spell it out and also if you believe there's something “secondary” to pursue. In this case, state your hypothesis and structure accordingly, if the interviewer is on board.

Hope this helps a bit! Best of luck!

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Pedro gave the best answer

Pedro

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