Public sector/government case interview question (MENA)

Government MENA Public policy Public Sector
New answer on Dec 16, 2023
9 Answers
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Karolína asked on Nov 29, 2023

Hello!

I would like your insights on how to approach broad strategic case interview questions, such as following:

Ministry of foreign affairs of a Middle Eastern country wants you to develop a 10-year strategy for its diplomatic efforts. What would be the critical factors to prioritise/rank different countries?

No additional information was shared (no clarifying questions possible).

Would you create a typical “consulting” structure or create some kind of scoreboard? How would you approach this particular case?

 

Thank you in advance!

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Florian
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replied on Nov 29, 2023
Strategy consultant focused on energy & industry, I've led dozens of recruitment interviews at BCG

As the case do not allow for clarfying questions, I would suggest to be even more hypothesis driven, and check at each stage that the interviewer is ok with the direction you're taking. 

 

  1. First, you will need to define typical key priorities of diplomatic engagement 
  2. Then,  as Pedro mentioned, use an issue tree to highlight potential way to develop 1. Key things to consider in this section would be : 
    1. Make hypothesis on key issues/ opportunities relative to 1. for the country and start to map potential stakeholders with this
      1. Example, if you focus on "Economic Development", you may want to make hypothesis on key sectors important for the country GDP (e.g, Oil & Gas) and how these sectors could evolve
  3. Once you will have highlighted key issues / opportunities on your issue tree, you may want to start structuring criteria for the countries. You could for example include : 
  • Strength of existing relationship between the 2 countries 
  • GDP & GDP growth of the country 
  • Potential for future development with the country (e.g, through strategic economic partnerships)

 

  1. At the end of 2, you will have highlighted i) your key priorities, and ii) the prioritization criteria. You can then showcase high-level examples of diplomatic engagement (multi-national trade, strategic partnerships, participation to global forum, etc.
    1. Important here is to show which actions are long-term and which are short term and their potential returns on investment, to start framing the overall initiatives into a roadmap 

 

In terms of framing this could give at high level : 

  • "Key topics for diplomatic engagement often results around economic development, security, scientific collaboration. 
  • Hypothesis: As we are working for a ME country, I make the hypothesis that we should focus on economic development. Is it ok for you ? 
  • Interviewer says yes
  • Focusing on economic development, it is important to better understand what are the key sectors for the country GDP. 
  • Hypothesis :  Oil and Gas is a key sector for these countries so I will focus on these sectors, is it ok for you ? 

 

Etc. etc;

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Ian
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replied on Nov 30, 2023
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi Karolina,

I don't know. That's because I don't know their objective. I need to better understand what it hopes to achieve from its diplomatic efforts. I need to know the country. And, I need to know where we stand and where we're hoping to go. Finally, I have no idea what they mean by “prioritizing/ranking” countries. Is this who we should work with? Who we should speak to? Who we should develop better ties with?

Clarifying Questions (And answers) AFFECT the framework.

My approach

Public sector cases are tricky because they feasibly be any case type (Product Launch - new service for citizens; M&A - merging two departments; even Profitability - cost cutting mandate). For any public sector case, I recommend:

  1. First identifying the type of case it is.
  2. Second, leverage your knowledge of the public sector as constraints/considerations.

Considerations/Constraints

Regards #2, you know that public perception is particularly important to consider in any public sector move. Additionally, you can count on bureacracy/slowness in implementation. You should identify the goal/mission of the organisation as well and keep this top of mind (if it loses money, but achieves it's goal of helping the poor, no problem). Howvever, just because the government sector doesn't have profit as a target, doesn't mean you should ignore the profit tree altogether - governments are still obliged to take into costs (and sometimes revneues) in decisions (example: setting up a public transport initiative). Don't get tricked into thinking you can't consider the economics of the case!

Other items to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • Politlcal landscape (i.e. upcoming elections, special interest groups)
  • Sustainability
  • Private-public partnerships
  • International vs governmental vs state vs local partnerships/alignment
  • Income = taxes/budgetary landscape
  • Digitialization of government
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Pedro
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updated an answer on Nov 30, 2023
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The problem of not being able to ask clarifying questions, is that you won't be able to get clarity on what is the goal. So you have the talk, but you don't know what you will be optimizing for.

So your first task is exactly that one: to define potential goals. Only afterwards you can define priorities.

What are the typical goals for diplomatic efforts? First is security; Second is economic cooperation; Third can be other relevant goals (technological interchange, cultural, influence, environmental, etc.). 

Within each of these you need to drill down. For example, regarding security, you need to think about what are your threats, and who can be your allies. Also, what are your interests at home and abroad (e.g. if you have a significant number of emigrants, you need to protect them, and also serve them while they are abroad); etc.

The right “approach” for this is to define an issue tree. 

Then you can do a scorecard, or simply list the top 10 countries for each topic and define priorities based on that.

Please note this defines what and who - but doesn't define the how. So that should be listed in your issue tree as well for each topic. Questions around your presence in international organizations, diplomatic representation abroad, international treaties (multi-lateral and bi-lateral treaties), etc.

So… going back to the beggining. You need a consulting structure. “I am going to define”:

  1. what my priorities are: security; economic; technological interchange, influence (and build an issue tree on these)
  2. what are the possible ways to achieve them (this is more like a structured “brainstorming”)
  3. which counties should be my priority (top X, based on certain criteria)

(edited)

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Raj
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replied on Dec 16, 2023
FREE 15MIN CONSULTATION | #1 Strategy& / OW coach | >70 5* reviews |90% offers ⇨ prep-success.super.site | MENA, DE, UK

Hello Karolína! Thank you for your question. When approaching a broad strategic case like developing a 10-year strategy for a Middle Eastern country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it's important to demonstrate a structured and analytical approach. Here's how I would approach this particular case:

Start with a clear framework: I would begin by creating a framework to guide my analysis. In this case, I would consider factors such as geopolitical importance, economic potential, cultural ties, security concerns, and diplomatic relationships. This framework will help organize your thoughts and ensure a comprehensive analysis.

Prioritize critical factors: Within each factor, I would prioritize the critical factors based on their potential impact on the country's diplomatic efforts. For example, geopolitical importance could be assessed by considering factors such as regional stability, influence in international organizations, and strategic alliances. Economic potential could be evaluated by analyzing trade opportunities, investment potential, and market size.

Develop a scoring system: To rank different countries, I would consider developing a scoring system based on the prioritized factors. Assign weights to each factor based on their relative importance and assign scores to countries based on their performance against each factor. This will provide a quantitative basis for ranking countries and help identify the top priorities.

Consider qualitative factors: While a scoring system can provide a structured approach, it's important to also consider qualitative factors such as historical relationships, cultural ties, and political dynamics. These factors may not be easily quantifiable but can significantly impact diplomatic efforts.

Validate and refine the strategy: Once the ranking is established, it's important to validate the strategy through stakeholder engagement, expert opinions, and benchmarking against best practices. This will ensure that the strategy is robust and aligned with the country's goals and objectives.

Remember to communicate your approach clearly, justify your choices, and consider potential trade-offs. This will demonstrate your ability to think strategically and provide valuable insights to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I hope this helps you approach this case. Good luck, and feel free to reach out if you have any further questions!

 

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Hagen
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updated an answer on Nov 30, 2023
#1 Bain coach | >95% success rate | interviewer for 8+ years | mentor and coach for 7+ years

Hi Karolína,

I would be happy to share my thoughts on your question:

  • First of all, and contrary to what other coaches have said, it is rather uncommon to provide a rather vague prompt and forbid any clarifying questions that might help in understanding the client's goals. It's a bit like working on a real consulting engagement without being able to read the RfP or talk to the client.
  • Moreover, given that the prompt explicitely states the critical factors to rank different countries, I would highly advise you to follow this instruction and establish a framework that can handle the complexity and cover the potential client goals. This would allow for the evaluation of countries based on various relevant factors like economic ties, political stability, strategic interests, and cultural connections.

If you would like a more detailed discussion on how to best prepare for your upcoming interviews, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.

Best,

Hagen

(edited)

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Cristian
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updated an answer on Nov 29, 2023
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Hi!

That's a great question. 

And this type of case reflects the sort of cases that firms are giving out to candidates these days to really test their thinking. 

But there's no short answer that I can offer you. Basically, you need to do the opposite of ‘typical’. You need to be structured AND creative. 

In practice, that means that you need to learn to think from first principles and then build from there. You need to build a structure that is specifically designed for that particular client situation. 

Sharing with you a guide (as a starting point) on different structuring techniques:

Good luck!
Cristian

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Practicing for interviews? Check out my latest case based on a first-round MBB interview >>> CodeWave  

(edited)

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Alberto
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replied on Nov 30, 2023
Ex-McKinsey Associate Partner | +15 years in consulting | +200 McKinsey 1st & 2nd round interviews

Hi Karolina,

I suggest you tackle this case as any other, following this high level approach:

  • Ask clarifying questions to uncover additional objectives, constrains and the solution space
  • Create a framework for you analysis
  • Offer and justify some hypotheses connected to the case

Happy to keep talking about this in private, just send me a message.

Best,

Alberto

Check out my latest case based on a real MBB interview: Sierra Springs

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Nikita
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replied on Nov 30, 2023
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Hi Karolina!

I used to work at a Public Sector practice at PwC and have several good public sector cases in my library.

I can teach the approach to doing such cases during a class. DM if interested, 1st session is 50% off.

Regards,
Nick

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Frederic
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replied on Dec 05, 2023
ex Jr. Partner McKinsey|Senior Interviewer|Real Feedback & Free Homework between sessions|Harvard Coach|10+ Experience

Hi Karolina, funnily I am a public policy advisor with focus on Middle east. Happy to give you some tips over a free coffee chat, just ping me. Warm regards, Freddy 

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Florian gave the best answer

Florian

Strategy consultant focused on energy & industry, I've led dozens of recruitment interviews at BCG
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