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Stuck with a Brain Teaser question: what is the best reaction?

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Recent activity on Nov 06, 2017
11 Answers
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Anonymous asked on Nov 01, 2017

What is the best reaction to have during an interview if you happen to be stuck with a Brain Teaser question for which you don't find the answer?

It doesn't happen to me so often...but yet it happens. I wonder what is the most professional reaction.

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Originally answered question:

How to proceed when I get stuck?

replied on Mar 07, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers


I think there's a couple of things you can do in that situation.

  • First, take a deep breath (and/or a sip of water if you have a glass nearby)
  • Then take a moment to recap what you have learned up to this point and what you still need to find out in order to adress the main question at hand (this helps you regaining clearness on the big picture and where you are on your "roadmap" as defined by your initial structure)
  • Outline how these sub questions can be answered, and what kind of data/information you will need to do that
  • Double check whether data or information provided by the interviewer at an earlier stage is now getting new relevance
  • Don't forget to take the interviewer along and let him participate in your thinking process - think out loud!
  • If you are puzzled by some obvious contradiction, actively discuss this with your interviewer! Oftentimes an interviewer will wait for you to explicitly verbalize what combination of findings is puzzling you before gently giving you guidance.

This process should allow you stay calm and composed while regaining a grip on the problem at hand.

Cheers, Sidi

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Anonymous replied on Nov 01, 2017

Hi, good question!
Probably somewhat depending on your interviewer, but this is my view on it.
In this situation it's important to try to showcase as mluch of your consulting skills as possible. Be transparent and admit you're stuck with this. Communicate clearly, explain why you do not see the appropriate solution and suggest to brainstorm together about it.

  • You show reliability. You're honest and open and don't start making stuff up
  • You show communication skills. You can explain concise and accurate why you're stuck.
  • You show proactivity by suggesting to brainstorm together and make a first attempt/proposal for a solution

Hope this helps!

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replied on Sep 17, 2018
ex-Manager - Natural and challenging teacher - Taylor case solving, no framework

Hi Kay,

During the case interview several dimensions are evaluated.
It happens that a candidates get stuck on a specific topic and yet perform very well on other dimensionss. In that case this can work out.

In addition keep in mind that the level of expectation is higher as you progress in the rounds. So this has better chance to work out on 1st round than on 2nd. However there might a special note on your folder for the next interviewer to specifically check one particular dimension

To be completely clear, let me give you a few examples of situations wehre candidate did not perform 100% welle but could work as well ;

- Situation 1 : candidate stuck at brainstorming, but perfomed well in case resolution and structuring of the initial issue

- Situation 2 : candidate stuck at calculation, but performed well in reasoning and case progression and generating insights.

Hope this helps


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Originally answered question:

How to proceed when I get stuck?

replied on Mar 07, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


When you get stuck there are 2 options:

  1. You ask further questions
  2. You make a new structure to drill down further

1) You ask further questions. There are 4 types of questions that you can ask. Basically you can never get stuck if you ask one of these questions:

  1. You can ask for a historical data
  2. You ask for the comparable data of the competitors / internal benchmarks
  3. You can ask for a further segmentation
  4. You ask to describe the process behind the particular number

The 4th question is probably the most important if you get stuck. For example, if you know that the sales department is not performing you can ask the interviewer: "Could you please tell a bit more about existing sales process?"

2) You ask for 30 seconds and build a new structure. The most common feedback on the interviews is "You are not structured enough". To avoid this you should always be structuring. These structures can be both fully MESE issue trees or frameworks or a combination of both.

For example, if you find that we spend more time on cleaning the job shop than the other division you go with the following:

  • The frequency of cleaning * Time spent per one cleaning
  • If we find that the frequency is the same, we structure it further into People, Process, Technology


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Originally answered question:

Lost in middle of case?

Content Creator
updated an answer on Mar 07, 2017
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi Anonymous,

as for your first question, there are two things you can do when you get stuck and want to avoid silence:

  1. Repeat all the information until that moment
  2. Ask for one minute of time to think

You may also do both the steps together in the mentioned order. At the below link, you can find an example of how you can do so when you have to brainstorm, together with some suggestions on how you can structure brainstorming:

As for your second question, there may be two scenarios:

  1. The information is relevant, but not critical to solve the case. In this case you should keep analysing the current branch you are, and then potentially move to the other.
  2. The information is relevant and critical to solve the case (you should understand that as you should get hints from the interviewer that he would like you to concentrate there - eg he repeated a couple of times it could be interesting to analyse something else, or stressed a bit more that particular area). In this case you want to move to the new branch, making clear that you are doing so in order to prioritize the action to meet the client’s goal. In case you don't do so, you may lose points, as the interviewer may assume you are not able to follow hints and prioritize tasks.




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Anonymous replied on Sep 18, 2018

Hey Kay,

Really good answers above (or below?). One important thing to add is that an interviewer evaluates your process more than anything else. He / she is not interested in the answer to the case (they know it already...) but in how you get there. If you get stuck, it's a great moment to display that you have the composure and attributes to get out of the pickle while keeping a professional attire. As such, an interview is a bit like show business - The show must go on!

A great correction or recovery from a case that has gone slightly south is often a great way for the interviewer to get insight in your process. Do well, and you'll be surprised by the results. After all, how good can you evaluate somebody's problem solving ability if during the case performance, they don't run into the slightest little problem themselves. In short - see those moments of friction as an opportunity to display how you deal with challenges in real time!

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replied on Nov 03, 2017
Ex-McKinsey EM | 100+ interviews including final round | Cambridge Engineer | INSEAD MBA | London & Sydney Offices

A similar situation is very common in case interviews, and I would suggest the same advice applies:

- Ask for a minute or two to think through the question. It may feel a little strange but I don't know a firm which will have an issue with you taking this time

- Secondly, the interviewer is not trying to trick you, so if you start suggesting some reasonable idea's your interviewer may well help steer you. They are not testing your ability to answer an individual question, but far more how you think. The best candidates don't always get the answer right first time

Hope that helps!


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Originally answered question:

Lost in middle of case?

Anonymous C replied on Mar 06, 2017


Regarding your first point: Try always to think aloud. Explain what information you have so far, what you want to determine and what information is missing, then ask for ths information. This also helps when you get lost. Do a quick synsthesis and link the new information to the objective - is it sufficient to answer the question or do you need more data.

Never skip branches, this seems as if you are not structured. I would suggest you note the interesting fact for yourself or remark that you will look into it in more detail once you finished the branch which you are analysing at the moment.

Hope this helps.

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Originally answered question:

How to proceed when I get stuck?

updated an answer on Mar 07, 2018

Hey anonymous,

There are two major strategies that can help you in those situations:

  • go back to your framework, evaluate what have you already analzsed and what you're still missing and try to "recompose yourself" from there
  • you should always have on the back of your mind what's the client objective and what should be your final goal with the case, so that you can think what do you need to do in order to have an answer or recommendation for the client (based on his ask)

Hope this can help



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replied on Nov 06, 2017
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


I would say in this case you should demonstrate something else. What can it be?

  1. Structured approach - try to make a step back and lay out a structured way to find a solution. Even if you can't find it, you can at least do a roadmap. Tip: ask an interviewer if you are going the right way
  2. Creativity - think of alternative solutions / multiple approaches / generate ideas
  3. Visualize - start drawing the details on paper, discussing it with the interviewer. It helps


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Sidi gave the best answer


McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers
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