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Clarifying questions

Anonymous A

I've been told that I need to ask more clarifying questions prior to structuring my approach. I have a hard time thinking of clarifying questions on the spot and was wondering if anyone had any techniques or tips to prompt me?

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replied on 06/05/2018

Hey there,

It could be helpful if you clarified with whoever provided your feedback on why you should have asked clarifying questions.

In the absence of more detail, I'll share 2 cents from some common pitfalls that I observe, where candidates have made unfounded assumptions without clarifying the situation. This affects their structure, but also affects other parts of their answer also.

Here are 2 "verbal tricks" that I suggest to help you ask clarifying questions.

1. Ask broad, open-ended questions, especially at the start - I see a lot of candidates delve into too much detail from the outset because they have memorized frameworks - and make unfounded assumptions of the direction of the case. A few open ended questions at the start is a good way to set the scene. Some good dimensions are:

  • Goals:
    • Do we know what success looks like for the client?
    • Do we know what goals or metrics are the client aiming towards?
  • Products + Customers:
    • Can you help me understand what kind of products / services our client sells? How does it work?
    • Who are our customers? Why do they need our product / services?
  • Business model:
    • How do we make money?

2. Keep questions simple and short, follow up with more questions

  • If you are not sure whether you are asking the right question. Just confidently ask the question, but keep it simple and short - this can have the effect of putting the onus of more explanations on the interviewer, who will then elaborate on the case.
  • You should use some judgment when doing this though as the interviewer could turn the question back on you if the question is very basic.
  • However, from the POV of an interviewer, I much more willing to explain some basic concepts to a candidate (after all, no one expects you to be a business expert) compared to seeing a candidate ask an elaborate and detailed question - but which shows the candidate making an illogical assumption about the situation.

Hope that helps!

Jack

Vlad replied on 06/05/2018
McKinsey / Accenture / Got all BIG3 offers / More than 300 real MBB cases / Harvard Business School

Hi,

1) Clarify the business model. Ask how the company actually makes the money. For several reasons:

  1. Even if you think you understand the business model, you need to make sure that you understand it correctly.
  2. Some cases have pitfalls related to a business model (re profitability cases with several revenue streams
  3. 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:

  • 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.

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.

Best!