Should I try to turn % to absolute number at the clarifying question stage?

Clarifying questions
New answer on Jan 20, 2022
4 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Jan 20, 2022

Hi guys, I've seen coaches recommending always try to turn % into absolute number. While this is correct, I'm wondering whether it's important to do this at the initial “clarifying question” part? For example, let's say the client objective is to improve profit by 5%. Is it appropriate to ask what is the current profit number?

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replied on Jan 20, 2022
#1 EY-Parthenon Coach | Bain | Roland Berger | RB Former Head Recruiter | Market Sizing Expert

Yes, it is appropriate and can give you more context. Just don't forget that the objective is that 5%. 

If we are talking about improving profit margin by 5%, you have to realize that what is critical is getting from say 10% to 15%. So if the revenue changes… you'll be chaging a moving target if you are using an absolute number.

In short: be aware of what the objective means in absolute terms, but don't ever change the metric that is your objective.

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Content Creator
updated an answer on Jan 20, 2022
ex-McKinsey EM & Interviewer | 7/8 offer rate for 4+ sessions | 90min sessions with FREE exercises & videos

As the others suggested, it’s good to turn % in $ to get a sense of proportion. 

However, the same is true for the reverse. If the goal is to reduce expenses by 10m US$ and you know that total expenses are 100m US$, you should be talking about a 10% reduction in cost.

So why is this initial bit of math important (whichever direction between % and $)? It shows the interviewer that you’re not just repeating the prompt word for word (which many candidates do) but can actually think on the fly and make this problem your own.

Hence, my recommendation is always to learn how to paraphrase properly and crunch some numbers at the initial stage (if applicable) to really show that you own this!


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replied on Jan 20, 2022
Former BCG Con and political advisor here to help you crack the case (MBB, Europe & MidEast, non-business backgrounds)

Hi Anon,

Yes, I would say it’s always a good idea to talk absolutes to get a sense of scale, even at the initial stage of the case when you are being presented the information.

Think about it: adding 5% to a 30bn$ business will require a different approach than adding 5% to a 20mn$ business.

It also shows you are aware of this and it helps you get additional context and info - so go for it.



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Content Creator
replied on Jan 20, 2022
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there,

I generally stray away from “always” advice/answers.

That said, in the scenario you point out, 100% you should try to figure out how big the business is…and this is regardless as to whether they have a % target or not! 

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