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Not given time to come up with a structure

Case Interview Structure
New answer on Oct 08, 2023
5 Answers
2.9 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Jan 23, 2019

Hi there,

I have been to a couple of interviews (BCG, McKinsey etc.), and during a few of these interviews I feel that I am not given the possibility to come up with a structure. It will go down something like this: Regular case presentation (e.g. cost reduction for train company), and then without stopping (and giving me the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, objectives and come up with a structure) the interviewer asks a brainstorming question.

Typically, I hesitate a little, ask the most important clarifying questions, ask for time to come up with ideas for the brainstorming and then present it. After that the interviewer typically wants to dig deeper into the different ideas I had, and we never get back to writing up a structure for the case.

How should I handle situations like this? Could it be that the brainstorming question indicates that we are only focusing on that particular issue that the brainstorming indicates (and that the structure for the brainstorming question in a way becomes the issue tree for the case)? Should I just go with the flow and forget the issue tree (like I've done)? Should I ask if the interviewer want me to draw up a structure for the case before I answer the brainstorming question?

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Ved replied on Oct 08, 2023
Building case interview tools for applicants to simplify your prep process

When I first heard this, I used to just blurt whatever came to mind.

Now, I look for ways to ‘steal’ 2-3 seconds extra time.

The question is, how do we get time? 

(without annoying your interviewer)

There are general tips like:
a. Speak slower
b. Drink water (+ 💯 for awkward silence)
c. Repeat the question back to the interviewer

But, here's a better way: frame your points with signposting.

This has two benefits:

✅ Your interviewer is primed to listen to your points.
✅ You sneak in more time for your brain (without wasting anyone's time).

There are multiple phrases.
Some I like to use, especially at the end of a case interview are:

"Here are three reasons why.."
"Based on our analysis, we recommend.."
"To answer the question X, we identified.."

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Sidi
Expert
updated an answer on Jan 23, 2019
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous,

the basic rule is: you follow the guidance of the interviewer! So if he immediately asks you a brainstorming question (and these questions typically indeed aim at you coming up with a structure that covers the deep dive areas which the interviewer wants to discuss later on), then you do the following:

  • Say something like: "Interesting question. Let me quickly check whether I have completely grasped all information that you just conveyed." --> then check wheter all is clear. If not: "Before adressing your question I need to clarify two points: ..."
  • After clarifying you state: "Okay now all is clear. I'd like to take an instant to think about all the relevant aspects to consider in order to answer your question" --> take time, outline your approach, and then walk the interviewer through your thinking.

If the interviewer then wants to directly deep dive into one ore several areas - just follow his guidance. You have already defined the structure which will guide the rest of the case.

Typically, such cases are much easier than "classical" candidate-led cases if you have properly learned how to approach and navigate through business problems. Essentially, the "issue prioritization" aspect is outsourced to the interviewer, which reduces the complexity of your task.

However, one caveat to be aware of: when learning cases, candidates have to lead. It is practically impossible to build robust case skills by focusing the practice on the candidate-led style. Once your case muscle is properly built, then interviewer-led cases are not a problem either.

Cheers, Sidi

(edited)

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Simon
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Aug 30, 2022
50+ successful coachings / Ex-Mckinsey JEM & Interviewer / Industry + Engineering background

Dear A,

in general a good structure can be evaluated by a certain depth and breadth. The “depth” should be at least 3-4 levels while the “breadth” should cover the entire solution space. You can cross-check this with the MECE principles (For details see respective article on Preplounge), but the CE (collectively exhaustive) part is basically defining your breadth.

Finally, make sure to check for inter-linkages in your structure and point them out.

Simon

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Vlad
Expert
replied on Jan 24, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

Obviously, the brainstorming question requires the structure as well. The key thing here is that you hesitate to ask for time and hesitate to ask the clarifying questions. You should solve it for yourself.

Best

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Anonymous replied on Aug 31, 2020

Dear A,

From the one side, you should follow the instructions of the interviewer, but you have to follow them in a smart way - if you need a time for brainstorming or claryfying questions - you have to ask for this.

Best,
André

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