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Discuss visuals during a case interview

Anonymous A asked on Jan 22, 2019 - 3 answers


I am currently preparing for a Bain interview. Bain has a heavy emphasis on graph interpretation, so I've been doing lots of exercises on graph/table/or any non-graph and non-table kind of graphs. Would you shed some light on interpreting Bain visuals and what Bain consultants are looking during case interviews?

How do you concise discuss visuals during a case with your interviewer? Obviously, you should start with a main insight. At first, I had a difficult time identifying the main insights. I practiced this area for several weeks, and now I am getting more confident with the interpretation of graphs. I then devised the following approaches. I follow this approach whenever I encouter any type of visual to analyze during a case. I'd like to see if there are any other recommended approaches.

For those who are familiar with Bain interviews, would you provide some insights regarding this matter?

1. I first ask for few seconds to examine and quickly look at the title, x-axis, y-axis and any abbreviations or terms that I should clarify.

2. I look for any red flag to the client's profitability or business situation.

3. Then, I look for what we can calculate based on the visual and how this calculation can help us move forward to solve the client's issue.

4. If I find neither any red flag nor any cacluation, I look to pinpoint further areas of data to request and state the reason why.

5. I also keep in mind that often, visuals are shared to help me eliminate areas to look. For example, if the client's profitability has been down, and the visual shows that the revenue is going up steadily, I no longer need to discuss the revenue during the case. It indicates that the problem is mainly with the cost. It's time to look a a more deep-dive data on cost segments.

What other approach do you suggest?

What particular exercises do I need to do or what am I supposed to be familiar for Bain interviews? Thanks!

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replied on Jan 23, 2019
McKinsey Engagement Manager & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 100+ candidates secure MBB offers
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Hi Anonymous,

I believe the article on Preplounge gives a very good overview on the basics of graph reading and interpreting:

That being said, the most important part is contextualizing the information given on the exhibit. So you ALWAYS have to look at a chart against the backdrop of what you are currently trying to find out/solve/address in the OVERALL case. This is why an overly "algorithmic" approach as outlined in your question will only be of limited use I'm afraid.

Cheers, Sidi

Francesco replied on Jan 28, 2019
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Hi Anonymous,

your approach is generally good. I would add a few comments:

  1. Repeat the question the interviewer asked you when provided the graph as part of your step 2. May sound silly, but many candidates answer the wrong question when they receive a graph. Repeating the question ensures you are going to answer to what was indeed asked
  2. When you provide connections with the next steps in step 3, I would recommend to formulate a hypothesis on what could be ways to move forward, and proactively ask the interviewer if there is any information on that.

As for how to practice, the best thing would be to do live practice on graph-intensive cases with a partner. If you cannot find partners for that, a second-best option would be to filter casebooks, looking for charts and practicing in identifying the main insides there.

Hope this helps,


Vlad replied on Jan 23, 2019
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Several things about analyzing the tables / charts:

  1. Take a minute to look at the graph / table. It's important ot gather the thoughts!
  2. Read the graph title
  3. Look at the graph type and define the type (pie chart, line chart, etc)
  4. Look at the legend (ask for clarifying questions if necessary)
  5. Identify whats going on on the graph. Look for: Trends, % structures,
  6. Look for unusual things (consultants love to integrate these traps in charts) - correlations, outliers, etc
  7. Make 3-4 conclusions from the graph. Think of potential hypothesis on what could be the root cause / what are the consequences
  8. Prioritize the most important for your current analysis and move forward with the case

Sources to learn from (prioritized):

  1. "Say it with Charts" by Gene Zalazny
  2. "Pyramid Principle" by Barbara Minto
  3. Learn basic statistics (Any GMAT or MBA prep guides)
  4. Check all available MBB presentations and publications. Practice to derive conclusions and check yourself with the actual ones from the article / presentation
  5. GMAT IR part (Official guide and Manhattan prep)
  6. "Consulting Bible" and "Vault guide for consulting" - check the chapters on cases with graphs in these books

Good luck!

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