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How do you react when you get stuck in an interview?

getting stuck
Recent activity on Dec 10, 2018
4 Answers
2.7 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Dec 08, 2018


So let's say you don't understand the company objective at all, get stuck at structuring (and hence a long moment of awkward silence), just needed more time to digest lots of data or just panicked because you got the math wrong, how should you react under such situations? I did a case yesterday and the objective is to 'achieve the investment amortisation period in 4 years'. I tried clarifying the objective but I still don't get it after clarifying twice - which is a lot and I ended up getting stuck there confused. How should I respond to such moments? Thanks!

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replied on Dec 08, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

First, you never want to force the issue and try to make something up on the fly. I teach the following 3-step process, which has saved me and my clients a number of time:

- First, do a quick recap of where you are and what you found; restate hypothesis if needed. This should give you time to think; if still stuck, move to next

- Second, go back to the framework and explain what has been done; restate hypothesis if needed. This should give you even more time to think; if still stuck, more to next

- Third, ask for a minute to gather your thoughts. When done, come back with a framework to move forward

Getting stuck is normal, it's happened to just about everyone at least once. Key is to not panick, remain focused and structured. Good luck

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replied on Dec 10, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers


I think there's a couple of things you can do in that situation.

  • First, take a deep breath (and/or a sip of water if you have a glass nearby)
  • Then take a moment to recap what you have learned up to this point and what you still need to find out in order to adress the main question at hand (this helps you regaining clearness on the big picture and where you are on your "roadmap" as defined by your initial structure)
  • Outline how these sub questions can be answered, and what kind of data/information you will need to do that
  • Double check whether data or information provided by the interviewer at an earlier stage is now getting new relevance
  • Don't forget to take the interviewer along and let him participate in your thinking process - think out loud!
  • If you are puzzled by some obvious contradiction, actively discuss this with your interviewer! Oftentimes an interviewer will wait for you to explicitly verbalize what combination of findings is puzzling you before gently giving you guidance.

This process should allow you stay calm and composed while regaining a grip on the problem at hand.

Cheers, Sidi

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replied on Dec 08, 2018
Ex-McKinsey Engagement Manager / Ex-Diplomat - Perfect choice for non-traditional candidates. Let's get you an offer!

It happens. Try not to freak out, ask for clarification and (if necessary) restructure your thoughts. In any case: Try to be authentic about the situation - it is fine to admit that you are struggling, it is ok to laugh about yourself if you made a mistake.

In the end, the case interview is a personal fit interview. We all make mistakes, the question is if you are able to recover gracefully.

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replied on Dec 08, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


In your particular case, you should ask the interviewer to explain further / in other words. It's better to ask for clarification rather than solving the wrong objective. I believe the interviewer meant that your investment should become breakeven in 4 years.

In general, when you get stuck there are 2 options:

  1. You ask further questions
  2. You make a new structure to drill down further

1) You ask further questions. There are 4 types of questions that you can ask. Basically you can never get stuck if you ask one of these questions:

  1. You can ask for a historical data
  2. You ask for the comparable data of the competitors / internal benchmarks
  3. You can ask for a further segmentation
  4. You ask to describe the process behind the particular number

The 4th question is probably the most important if you get stuck. For example, if you know that the sales department is not performing you can ask the interviewer: "Could you please tell a bit more about existing sales process?"

2) You ask for 30 seconds and build a new structure. The most common feedback on the interviews is "You are not structured enough". To avoid this you should always be structuring. These structures can be both fully MESE issue trees or frameworks or a combination of both.

For example, if you find that we spend more time on cleaning the job shop than the other division you go with the following:

  • The frequency of cleaning * Time spent per one cleaning
  • If we find that the frequency is the same, we structure it further into People, Process, Technology


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Guennael gave the best answer


Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews
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