How to handle big exhibit / data dump during case interview?

Data Analysis exhibits
New answer on Feb 05, 2021
8 Answers
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Kyle asked on Feb 03, 2021

Very early in a recent case interview, the interviewer pulled up 4 different multi-section charts on one page, with terms / segment names that hadn't yet been introduced. How should I begin tackling a huge information dump like this, while remaining structured and composed?

I asked for maybe a 20-30 second pause, and then started to think out loud and make basic observations. But there was no way I could have come up with a coherent thesis in that time while mentally processing the new terms ("What the heck is a "one-and-doner"? Oh they must mean how often the customers shop with us...Is this pie chart industry wide or for our client only, because it's not labeled clearly..."). My instinct was to drive it towards the question that I had asked before the interviewer delivered the charts, but that seems like the bare minimum, and the path forward wasn't obvious at first.

(edited)

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Denis
Expert
replied on Feb 03, 2021
Ex-Bain 5 yrs | Goldman Sachs Investment Banker NYC | MBA Chicago Booth | Passed > 13 MBB > 20 IB interviews

Hi Kyle,

it sounds like you are still waiting for feedback from your interview. Good luck!

Regarding the question:

1. Understand the bigger picture

  • What kind of analysis do they show?
  • How is the data roughly related to the case? Make sure you recognize unimportant or irrelevant info (you may sometimes, on purpose, get flooded with data)
  • Are the different exhibits, data related, i.e. is there a logical connection?
  • Do the depicted data require certain assumptions to make sense?

2. Understand the nitty gritty

  • Footnotes, sources, notes etc
  • Make sure you 100% understand what kind of data is shown, how it is structured etc
  • Units
  • X-Axis, Y-Axis
  • Make sure you understand on a PRACTICAL level what the data means and how it is related to the bigger picture

3. Understand the so-what

  • What story is the data telling? What is the so-what / consequence for the client?
  • Are there any more follow-up analyses required? Is the segmentation of the data useful and applicable?

4. Communication

  • Present the data on a big level first, this way the interviewer understands you understand
  • Then talk about the so-what - very precisely - this is where you should shine

Best,
Denis

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Anonymous A on Jan 22, 2022

Hi Denis, do you do step 1-3 silently and how long on average do you take for the steps? If I want to think out loud, is it okay to let the interviewer know that's the case before my more structured step 4 delivery?

Francesco
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replied on Feb 04, 2021
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.400+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com) | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

Hi Kyle,

It seems one issue you had was not to clarify the terms of the graph before moving to the analysis and have a full clear picture of it.

If you see something you don’t understand in the graph, you should clarify it before you start to analyze it. If you don’t, you may do a wrong analysis.

As general steps on how to analyze a graph, I would consider the following:

1. Read the graph

  • Ask for 30 seconds to understand the graph
  • Summarize what the graph is about. Read in particular the graph title (often forgotten), the axes and the legend

2. Analyze the graph and find the main insights

  • Repeat the question you have to answer. Many people don’t spend time to clarify the question; consequently, they answer the wrong question. Don’t be one of them and be sure to restate what is the main insight you have to derive
  • Provide an analysis related to the question. Analyze how the graph can help to answer the question you just repeated and provide an answer

3. Propose the next steps

  • State your hypothesis or suggestion or what to do next. As a last step, a great candidate will present what should be done next to help further the client
  • Ask a question related to what you need to move forward. This will show you are a proactive candidate

Best,

Francesco

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Ken
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replied on Feb 04, 2021
Ex-McKinsey London final round interviewer

Always clarify upfront if you have terms that you don't understand instead of making wild assumptions. The exercise is intentionally designed to see how a candidate distinguishes the known vs. unknown as well as relevant vs. irrelevant information and so it is expected for you to do so. When you are clarifying, it's completely ok for you to just go sequential through each chart (as opposed to being top-down and structured in your response) to make sure you understand what is on the exhibit(s) first before sharing observations and insights.

Secondly, you're absolutely right by having an overarching question that you are trying to answer using the exhibits. This is how you will be able to more efficiently sift through the relevant vs. irrelevant instead of spending your entire time going through every single detail. Unless the exhibit has be given due to you posing a specific question, I would always clarify the question first as well to make sure there is no misunderstanding with your interviewer.

Lastly, your point on gathering your thoughts vs. thinking out loud is a super difficult one. My suggestion is always to go with what gives you most comfort as the most important thing is for you to be able to perform well. Having said that, a small but important consideration is also maintaining the momentum with your interviewer and adapting to their style as well. Often times, especially with senior interviewers, they want to openly discuss the case as opposed to pausing every time they ask you a question. My rough guideline on this is ideally to gradually shorten the time you take to gather your thoughts as you approach the end of the case.

Good luck!

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Kyle on Feb 04, 2021

Ken, thanks so much for the reply. My question was fairly open-ended, but this really hit the nail on the head for me!

Ken on Feb 04, 2021

Great to hear! Fingers crossed that you will be getting some good news soon :)

Ian
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replied on Feb 03, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hey Kyle,

If you get a bunch of charts at once, you need to process what each of them is generally saying first. So, look at one, say "ok, this chart is about x", then move on to the next one "this chart is about y".

Only after you've looked at all charts should you then say "ok, I'm going to go and get x insights now". So, look at each one quickly, then dive in deep one by one.

In terms of being able to interpret charts/graphs effectively

1) Read the title - and understand it

2) Read the legends - and understand them

3) Remind yourself of the objective / hypothesis in the case, to see where this might fit

4) Find the differences - where does the line graph plummet or spike? Which column is a lot smaller or bigger than the others? Where does change occur? The differences are what matter

5) Talk outloud while interpreting - first, it helps you think and process your thoughts, second, it lets the interviewer provide guidance and course correct if needed.

Best Rote Practice

Rocket Blocks: https://www.rocketblocks.me/

Best Practice Strategy

1) Read the Economist (especially the daily graph and Financial Time frequently

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/05/29/america-first

2) Ask case partners to focus particularly on your chart-reading skills (i.e. by providing you with cases with many charts) - Bain and Deloitte cases tend to be chart heavy

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Florian
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updated an answer on Feb 04, 2021
#1 rated McKinsey Case and PEI Coach | 5 years at McKinsey | Mentorship Approach | 120+ McK offers in 18 months

Hey there,

Whenever you approach a chart interpretation, follow this approach

1. Briefly look at all charts and describe everything in your own words (headlines, rows, columns, axes, etc)

2. Clarify with the interviewer anything that is unclear for you (+the objective)

3. Take time to digest all charts. Here, it is key to focus on the 2-4 key insights, which are usually outliers in some way (see below)

4. Communicate the insights-top down, using signposting and clear structure

5. Come up with a hypothesis and a so-what. What does this mean in relation to the case?

----

What are typical outliers?

  • Some number or group of numbers is very small or very large compared to the others - basically a comparison of patterns and correlation (often a bar or a line chart)
  • Some number or group of numbers show high growth or low growth compared to the others
  • There is a specific trend or trend reversal (usually a line charts)
  • There is a specific relationship or (negative) correlation between two or more numbers
  • There are absolute or relative changes in one value vis-a-vis some comparable values
  • On average, the numbers look good, however, when digging deeper into specific segments we see certain issues or deviations
  • Keep in mind that when you have to look at more than 1 chart, the insights will likely be drawn from a combination of all information

I have written a more extensive post about chart interpretation here: https://strategycase.com/how-to-interpret-charts-and-data-in-case-interviews

Cheers,

Florian

(edited)

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Gaurav
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replied on Feb 03, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hi Kyle!

Thanks for sharing, it's an interesting question.

How did your interview go at the end? From your question I had an impression you've done a good job?

Cheers,

GB

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Kyle on Feb 03, 2021

Hello Gaurav - thanks for the kind sentiments! It was yesterday, and I'm told that I'll hear soon. But given that I've never case interviewed before, I can't accurately gauge my performance.

(edited)

Antonello
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replied on Feb 03, 2021
McKinsey | MBA professor for consulting interviews

Hi Kyle,
I recommend following these 5 main points:
1. get an overview (title, main trends, grand totals, ...)
2. look for connections, in case of multiple items or slides
3. deep dive on details and footnotes
4. generate insights and synthesis relevant to the client problem
5. reformulate your hypothesis, state the next steps, and ask for other data

Hope it helps,
Anto

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Kyle on Feb 03, 2021

Thank you Antonello. So to clarify - as long as I'm following the top-down approach you mentioned, it's ok not to have a clear hypothesis / thesis right away?

Clara
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Content Creator
replied on Feb 05, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

Could you share in which industry or company this happened?

Cheers,

Clara

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Denis gave the best answer

Denis

Ex-Bain 5 yrs | Goldman Sachs Investment Banker NYC | MBA Chicago Booth | Passed > 13 MBB > 20 IB interviews
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