Clarifying Questions

Clarifying questions
New answer on Dec 31, 2020
6 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Oct 08, 2018

I always struggle with asking relevant clarifying questions that help me lay out a structure for the case. Do anyone have a method or any suggestions as to how I can improve this part of my performance?

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Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Oct 08, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

You should ask the following questions:

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!

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Anonymous replied on Aug 06, 2020

Dear A,

Don't worry. There are relevant question that you might ask interviewer before start case solving.

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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Sidi
Expert
replied on Oct 08, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous,

the questions you ask at the beginning have the following objectives:

  1. Completely understanding the context/situation (including, unclear terminology, but also, for example, the business model of the client if unclear!)
  2. Understanding the question(s) of the client
  3. Understanding (and quantifying if applicable) the underlying objective(s) of the client

These questions are aiming at understanding the initial setting, hence forming a precondition to outline your structure towards answering the core question (the issue tree)!

The later questions that you ask while navigating through the case are then aiming to verify the actual relevance of each sub-branch in your tree. So if you have defined and disaggregated the criterion to answer the client's core question in a clean way, all these leater questions follow a this precise "roadmap" as layed out by your tree. These questions then oftentimes also comprise enquiries on current performance metrics (revenues, costs, growth rates etc.), which normally should never be asked in the clarifying questions (before making explicit your structure).

Cheers, Sidi

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Benjamin
Expert
replied on Oct 08, 2018
ex-Manager - Natural and challenging teacher - Taylor case solving, no framework

Hi,

Clarifying questions are here to help you reduce the scope of work and precisely identify the central issue to solve. Sometimes the case statement is very wide and without this clarification you'll have to build a very general structure to make sure you cover the copic.
So depending on the topic this question should help :

- clarify the objective of the client

- clarify the question asked

- clarify the context

After this question you should now be able to deelpp your approach more easily. On the other be carefull and not follow the temptation to start solving the case thourgh this initial questions without actually taking time to build a proper structure

Best
Benjamin

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Edouard replied on Sep 30, 2019

An easy way to remember if you understand the fundamentals is to get answers for the following topics: BGOT (Busines model, Geographic location(s), Objective, Timeline).

If you understand these 4 topics, you tend to get the basics of the case.

I hope it helps!

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Ian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Dec 31, 2020
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi,

There is always more that you can understand. For example, 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 gave the best answer

Vlad

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