Take time (Chart Interpretation, Brainstorming Q and recommendation)

Bain BCG BCG McKinsey and Bain MBB Mck
Edited on Sep 25, 2022
7 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 25, 2021

Dear Community,

Recently I have been thinking if it's always appropriate for asking time during the interview once we get Chart Interpretation, Brainstorming Questions and recommendations section. I want to take time so my answer will be better but worrying about interviewer perception and time of solving the case.

1) When it is appropriate ? When it's not ?

2)How long should we take? if they allow

3) How many times during the case can I ask for time ? (on top of the structuring) I know it's tough question as every case is different but rule of thumb will be good

4) Particularly on recommendation, if they say (like in case book). "The CEO is walkingto the room" Should I take time ?

Any other advice would be appreciated. thank you

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Content Creator
replied on Mar 26, 2021
Ex-McKinsey final round interviewer | Executive Coach

1. It's always appropriate to ask for time if it benefits you. The case interview is not an assessement of how quickly you can finish the case

2. At the start, taking 2-5 mins is completely ok but as you progress through the case, I would encourage you to avoid taking as much or longer or else you start losing momentum with your interviewer

3. It's ok to ask for time in each section of the case but if your interviewer is looking impatient or wanting to be more conversational with the case then it's worth trying to adapt a little as well (i.e., taking less time). Don't forget that a case interview is a conversation not a monologue/presentation

4. (For McKinsey) the recommendation is not an official part of the case. It's ok to take time but taking more than 30-45 seconds will just create unneccessary waiting time for your interviewer. Often times, your interviewer is testing whether or not you have kept the overarching objective/question of the case in mind as you pursue individual sections. Taking time to gather your thoughts is fine but if you are having to go through every single detail to do so then it's clearly not a good sign that you have done so

Good luck!

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Content Creator
updated an answer on Mar 25, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

Great questions here! You're going about this the right way.

1) It's approriate when you need it. If you don't see the answer, you have to take time. That's it. Ideally you don't need it for exhibits around 50% of the time.

2) As long as you need. Aim for 10-15 seconds, but, again, if you don't have insights, you can't force it.

3) When you need it. Ideally only when you hit an exhibit, and once in a "general" situation where you're stuck.

4) No you cannot. If the CEO is calling, or walking in, or bumps into you, you cannot take time. This is rare in an interview, but it's good to practice this.

Now, Instead of spending all this energy wondering "am I fast enough, what counts, what are my limits, can I take x seconds", I HIGHLY recommend you focus on just getting better. Here's how:

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


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

Hire a Coach - pick one that suits you best


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replied on Mar 25, 2021
Ex-McK Experienced Hire and EM - I show you how to perform at your best

Great questions! As you state, it's hard to give precise answers because every situation is different and every interviewer's preferences are different, but here are some general guidelines:

1) If you need time, it is ALWAYS appropriate for you to take time. Yes, in general, the quicker you answer the better, but being right is more important than being quick. There's a general feeling among candidates that you take time in the beginning of the case to think up a structured approach and then zoom to the finish line. Not true. You can always pause later to think.

2) You never know. 60-90 seconds at the start of the case. <30 at any other point if you need it.

3) I would be very comfortable with 2-3 times during the case. More than that is pushing a little too much. But every case is different.

4) If you need it, take the time. Being right is better than responding right away. Sure, the interviewer might be looking to see how fast you can respond, but if your summary is poor, it doesn't help if it's fast.

Consider the following: In all my interviews at McKinsey, I occasionaly said, "The answer was great and very structured, but a bit slow." I never said, "The answer wasn't very good, but the candidate was fast!" That proves that Correct and Fast > Correct and Slow > Incorrect and Fast.

Finally, my advice is to practice without worrying about speed. Once it's working, then you can improve your speed.

Hope this helps!


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Content Creator
updated an answer on Sep 25, 2022
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com) | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

  1. You can always ask for time whenever needed to structure (eg. brainstorming or interpreting the graph). Sometimes the interview may pressure you to answer without time if he/she wants to replicate a stress interview, but that’s pretty rare. In any case, you can always ask
  2. As general rule: 1-2 minute for the initial structure and 1 min during the case. They are not strict rules. If you spend more time writing down the initial structure, you won’t lose any points. However be ready to have the interviewer ask if you are ready. You can spend a few mins to present (also depends on the company, at McKinsey usually you have more time to present due to the interviewer-led format – you can find more on the differences here)
  3. As many as needed
  4. You can definitely ask for a few seconds to structure your notes. However, the interviewer may say “We don’t have time, give me the answer right now”. In any case, you can always ask

Hope this helps,



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Content Creator
updated an answer on Mar 26, 2021
#1 rated McKinsey Case and PEI Coach | 5 years at McKinsey | Mentorship Approach | 120+ McK offers in 18 months

Hey there,

This varies a bit across firms. I can give you a McKinsey perspective

1. Always! However, there won't be any recommendation questions in McK.

2. Structure (2 minutes), Math (1 minute for approach, 4 minutes to calculate), Exhibit (1 minute) - these numbers are an indication; no hard rule here

3. Every time you are asked a new question (that is not a follow-up question from the question you are currently working on)

4. n/a for McK, however for other firms it does not hurt to take 30 seconds to synthesize your findings and prepare a top-down answer




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Content Creator
replied on Mar 28, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hello there!

Taking time is always a good thing to do if it benefits your calculations and structures. You can take as much as you need (in the particular framework of course), but it's better to be fast and not exceed 2 minutes. However, when the CEO walks into the room, you cannot take any more time.

If you have any other questions - feel free to reach out!

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Content Creator
replied on Mar 27, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


Good point, I get this question a lot from my coachees:

  1. It never asks to ask for a minute to structure your thoughts, if you need it
  2. A minute or so
  3. I wouldn´t think there is a limit for this
  4. NO, this is the clear time in which you can´t :)

Hope it helps!



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Content Creator
Ex-McKinsey final round interviewer | Executive Coach
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