Clarifying questions

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New answer on Aug 06, 2020
14 Answers
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Anonymous B asked on Jun 05, 2018

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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An
Expert
replied on Jun 05, 2018
Google Product Manager | Ex- BCG Consultant | References Available

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

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23
Originally answered question:

What to ask before determining a structure?

Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Dec 27, 2017
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

Here are some ideas regarding your question:

Pre-structure questions

1) Clarify the business model. Even if you think you understand it, try to repeat it to make sure that you understand in correctly.

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. 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.

Post-structure questions:

It's kind of hard to generalize all the cases. I will try to provide a general algorithm here:

  1. Ask for a piece of data / info you've defined in a structure
  2. Compare the data with historical trend / benchmarks
  3. If you find something interesting ask for the root / cause or state the hypothesis
  4. If no root/cause at this point available - ask for segmentation to drill down further
  5. Once you are done with analysis in one branch of your framework (found the root-cause / found nothing interesting) - summarize what you've learnt so far and move to the next one

Again, the last one is super high-level and the devil is in details:)

Best!

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Originally answered question:

How to ask open questions

Chris
Expert
replied on Feb 16, 2017
Ex-BCG Consultant / Interviewed 100+ applicants at BCG / Received offers from McK (US) and BCG (DE)

Hi Jiesheng,

I guess you mean questions to the interviewer after he/she presented the case setting.

In general, these questions should be very focused on defining the scope of the case. As a rule-of-thumb, I would not recommend asking more than 2-3 questions / 1-2 minutes.

In my experience, the most common mistakes that candidates make during this phase are

  1. Not being focused on the case setting just described
  2. Going into detail at this stage already
  3. Not asking (the right) questions

Hope that helps!

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8
Jiesheng on Feb 22, 2017

Hi Chris! Thanks for the reply! I am curious about the 3rd point you've mentioned: What kind of questions are THE RIGHT QUESTIONS? Could you pls elaborate a little bit more?

Anonymous replied on Aug 06, 2020

Dear A,

Here is some tips on the basic information you should have. If you don't have it then go for clarifying questions:

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?

Information about the company:

  • 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?

You understand all the terms

Best,

André

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Fatih T. updated an answer on Aug 07, 2020

no bro

(edited)

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1
Originally answered question:

Clarifying questions?

Benjamin
Expert
replied on Oct 03, 2018
ex-Manager - Natural and challenging teacher - Taylor case solving, no framework

Hi Khaled,

Cases statements can differs a lot from each other. In some situation you will receive a very detailed description of the company and issue, while in others you'll only receive one or two sentence.
So consider the clarification question as a help for you to build the right structure and really focus on the key topics. Sometimes the initial issue is very open, and if you don't clarify you end up with a very wide and general structure to cover the resolution.

-on one hand the clarification question are mostly here to reduce the scope by specifying what is the issue exactly

- on the other hand, you don't want to start solving the whole with the clarification question, so once you get what you need to work, you sould take time to build your structure.

Hope this helps

Best
Benjamin

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Originally answered question:

Clarifying questions?

Anonymous replied on Oct 02, 2018

Vlad's list has a good summary of typical questions you may want to ask.

Generally, the way you should think about clarifying questions is: "Does the answer to this question impact the way I would structure/think about this problem?" If the answer to this question is yes, then you should ask it as part of the clarifying questions!

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1
Originally answered question:

Clarifying questions?

Anonymous replied on Oct 02, 2018

I would say your clarifying questions are essential for narrowing down the scope of your issue tree, and without asking them you risk approaching the question from too broad a view, or an entirely inaccurate one.

My advice would be to make sure you clarify these two points prior to starting on your issue tree:

1. What is the business model? Ensure you understand the product and company's revenue streams and scope (e.g. do they manufacture only, or also do R&D and distribution?).

2. What exactly is the objective? Make sure you've clarified this - quite often there is a catch/additional piece of information that the interviewer doesn't immediately volunteer e.g. a target timescale for ROI or target profit figure.

Best of luck!

Kay

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0
Originally answered question:

Clarifying questions?

Guennael
Expert
replied on Oct 02, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

You need to clarify the question, make sure you understand it: what is the customer's objective, both time and $/revenue wise? Anything else you should be concerned about?

If this is a brand new industry for you, make sure also to understand the terminology. One of my cases talks about "widget" for example, asking about it is fair game.

Things you probably don't want to ask however, are things relating to the state of the competition, current growth trends, customer satisfaction... all of these are best left to the body of the case, after you have laid out your structure.

Hope this helps -

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Originally answered question:

What to ask before determining a structure?

B
Expert
replied on Feb 24, 2018
NOT AVAILABLE

Hey anonymous,

Vlad's post is super comprehensive about what to ask before getting your proper framework. But let me build on what not to ask - I felt the need to clarify this point as I've seen so many candidates failing on it: you shouldn't ask by any mean problem solving questions, i.e., questions that you just ask in order to understand what are the solution rather than the context (e.g., how much are revenues declining over the last years? what's the client market share?, etc).

Best

Bruno

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Originally answered question:

How to ask open questions

Anonymous C replied on Feb 16, 2017

Hey Jerry.

Sorry that I am not answering your questions, I just wonder what type of BCG cases you had?could you share it with me?e*************@g****.com

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