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Clarifying questions for an interviewer-led vs interviewee-led case interview

Anonymous A asked on May 24, 2019

Dear experts,

after rephrasing the prompt given to me, I have the chance of asking clarifying questions such as "are there any other objectives?", "by how much dropped profits?", "is that an industry-wide problem?", "what does X mean?", etc. In an interviewer-led case, I am guided by the interviewer towards the aspects to be investigated, so there might be clarifying question which should not be asked, which would/could be asked in an interviewee-led case. Could you please provide advice on which questions should definitely NOT be asked in an interviewer-led case that would/could usually be asked in an interviewee-led case? Or is a distinction not required? In this respect, are there any other recommendations that need to be borne in mind?

Help would be much appreciated!

Kind regards

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updated his answer on May 24, 2019
McKinsey Engagement Manager & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 90+ candidates secure MBB offers
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1. There is no difference between interviewer-led and intervieww-led cases with respect to the clarifying questions!

2. The questions you ask at the beginning have the following objectives:

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

These questions are NOT meant to start the analysis already! They are aiming at understanding the initial setting, hence forming a precondition to outline your structure towards answering the core question (the issue tree)! Hence, some of the examples you give above are not adequate to be asked as clarifying question (e.g., "Is this an industry wide problem?" --> here you are starting the analysis already (in a very random and arbitrary way) before having thought through an approach!)

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 later questions follow 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


Vlad replied on May 24, 2019
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First - ask the clarifying questions BEFORE doing the recap. Recap only makes sense once you have all the information

Second - it doesn't matter who leads the case - you should ask the same questions

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.


Serhat replied on May 31, 2019
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Hi there,

Regardless of the case type, you can always target to drive the case. So you should ask the questions! Having said that, after you explain your structure, the interviewer will lead you to focus on a specific point(s) if it is an interviewer-led one. So you should not expect that during the interviewer led case, you will only answer the questions asked to you.


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