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How to give impressive answer when facing a conceptual question?

Case Interview McKinsey
Recent activity on Nov 23, 2018
2 Answers
1.9 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Nov 23, 2018

Hi all,

I just had a tele-interview and am received the feedback of “not strong enough in conceptual thinking”.

Is there any tactic for me to improve that??

Thanks a lot!


Thanks for Guennael's comment! I have updated the question to make is more clear!


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Best answer
replied on Nov 23, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


My understanding of conceptual thinking is Brainstorming and Creativity.

Here is how you can answer these questions:

  1. Ask an interview for a minute to think
  2. Think of several buckets of ideas (e.g. scope / value proposition). Remember to think as big as possible
  3. Narrow down to each bucket and generate as many ideas as possible (e.g. scope: vertical growth, horizontal growth, new products. Value proposition: additional services, improved quality, etc.)
  4. Present the structure (buckets) and then your idea

Creativity is in direct correlation with your business judgment. Business judgement is directly related to industry knowledge. Focus on the most common industries in the following priority (sorted by probability of getting a case): 1-retail and CPG; 2-airlines; 3-Telecom; 4-banking; 5-natural resources; 6-tech

There are several sources of info to develop industry knowledge:

1) Cases - you simply solve 50-70 cases and get a broad knowledge of different industries, common pitfalls and questions. The key here - find good partners who already had case interviews with MBB companies

2) Company reports, equity reports, IB roadshow docs - usually have a good overview of company and industries. Annual company reports are probably the best source of information about the industry

3) HBS cases - quite useful, but not sure if lot's of them available publically. Probably worth buying

4) Books - one good book about airlines with numbers and industry analysis can give you all needed industry knowledge

5) News, Industry blogs

For each industry, you should understand:

  • Revenue streams
  • Cost structure
  • Margins
  • Key performance indicators
  • Key revenue drivers
  • Industry trends

Also some comments about particular industries:

1) Retail - make sure you understand key retail metrics (P&L lines, same store sales, revenue per square meter and per person, etc) and how distribution works as well as its metrics (share on shelf, etc)

2) Airlines - read about profitability issues, different routing models, cost structure, industry metric s like load factor and make sure you know all possible additional revenue streams

3) Telecom - I would read industry reports and try to understanf how telecom is transforming with internet penetration and tech innovations

4) Banking - you should know the key products in corporate and retail banking and how they earn money (Interest, commision, transactional)

5) PE / M&A - go through available case examples and read about different PE strategies

Good luck!

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replied on Nov 23, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

I'm sorry, really have no idea what "narrowly missing the strong performance of conceptual thinking" means. Are you sure that is what you were told?

In general, you need to do two things to improve:

- First, you have to understand the mechanics of the case (how, when and why) so well it becomes second nature. This in turn allows you to dedicate all your brain power to...

- Second, crack the case: what is the question, how best can you address it. This will require some business sense, mental math and overall skills that come partly with practice

If I were you, I might want to ask the interviewer again for some actionable feedback. "narrowly missing the strong performance of conceptual thinking" definitely doesn't qualify!

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Vlad gave the best answer


McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School
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