Clarifying questions

Clarifying questions
New answer on Aug 06, 2020
6 Answers
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Tim asked on Mar 21, 2018
Preparing for a BCG interview, so candidate-led cases only please. Made it to decision-round in April and reapplying

Hi, I have a question about asking clarifying questions at the beginning of the case. I've been told to only ask these if I don't understand something, but normally, I feel that I pretty much understand what I'm being asked to do upfront. In that case, do I just skip the clarifying questions, or are there other things I should be asking or thinking about at the beginning of every case?

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Ian
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replied on Jun 24, 2019
BCG | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

There is always more that you can understand. If you understand the goal as improving profits, there's so much more you can ask - do they have a % change target in mind, how long do we have to turn this around, do they prefer this to be done through raising revenue or cutting costs, etc.

I always write BOTMG at the bottom of my framework page to help myself think of things I'm missing in case I'm stuck.

This helps "trigger" you to consider questions around B = Business Model, O = Objective, T = Timing, M = Market, G = Geography.

However, you should never just say "so, what is their business model?" Obviously, ask questions that help you frame your hypothesis, understand the situation, and ultimately drive your case better.

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Vlad
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updated an answer on Mar 21, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

I suggest asking the following questions:

1) Clarify the business model / how the business actually makes money. Even if you think you understand it, try to repeat it to make sure that you understand it correctly. 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.

2) Clarify the objective. Here make sure that your goal is:

  • Measurable
  • 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.

Best!

(edited)

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Anonymous replied on Aug 06, 2020

Dear Tim,

I would say that asking clarifying questions is ok, and even necessarily, otherwise you may misunderstand the case objective, the company, or unfamiliar terminology. This may steer you down the wrong direction in the case interview.

Before starting you case solving you can ask 2-3 clarifying questions.

Actually there are 3 main types for clarifying questions:

  1. questions that clarify the objective of the case interview

Here the basic things you have to know about the case objective:

  • What is the measurable metric of success?

  • What is the time frame?

  • What are potential restrictions or limitations?

If you don't then go for this type of clarifying question.

2. questions about information that strengthens your understanding of the company

In this chapter the main things you have to know are:

  • Business model: How does the company make money? Do they sell directly to customers or do they sell through retailers or partners?

  • Products and services: What products and services does the company sell? What benefits do these products and services provide?

  • Geographic location: Does the company have one location or are they a national chain? Does the company operate in just one country or do they have an international presence?

    3. question about definition of a term you are unfamiliar with

Most consulting interviews do not require you to have specialized knowledge or expertise in an industry. Therefore, if you come across a term that you are unfamiliar with, it is completely acceptable to ask the interviewer for the definition.


So these are three main types of claryfiyng questions. If you asking too many questions, the interviewer will probably reply to you smth like this: we don't know/ we'll see later/ its’ not relevant


Best,

André

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Ben
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replied on Jun 24, 2019
Ex-McKinsey EM | Experienced interview coach (1,000+ sessions) | Discount on 1st session | LBS MBA

Hi Tim,

I suggest that before starting with your structure, you should be clear on the following four questions, in order of importance:

  • Objective - what is the client's objective
  • Business Model - how does the client make money (e.g., B2B, B2C, B2B2C etc.)
  • Product - what does the product do and how (especially relevant in complex industries like pharma or finance
  • Timeline - when is the client looking to achieve the objective (e.g., doubling the revenues in 6 months is very different from a 2-5 year horizon)

Now, no point being a robot, even when clarifying:

  1. Don't ask the question, if you have the information or the answer is obvious (e.g., cafes make money by serving food and drinks to customers)
  2. The best way of clarifying, is by confirming a suggested hypothesis (e.g., "Would it be correct to assume that most of the revenues of a newspaper come from advertising?")

Hope it helps!

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B
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replied on Mar 22, 2018
NOT AVAILABLE

Hey Tim,

On top of Vlad's good points, just be careful not to ask problem solving questions, i.e., the ones whose answers you need in order to solve the problem rather than to structure it (e.g., asking for total size of the market or how is demand evolving)

Best

Bruno

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Andrea
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replied on Mar 25, 2018
Former BCG Principal and decision round interviewer

Besides the above, usually helps to clarify scope of case (geography, business units, time). Should try to keep clarifying questions below three, so it doesn’t blur with case solving.

hope it helps,

andrea

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Ian gave the best answer

Ian

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