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Taking pauses in interviewer led cases

Case Interview interviewer led McKinsey
Recent activity on May 23, 2017
3 Answers
4.3 k Views
Bernd asked on May 16, 2017
Looking for Case Interview Partners

Hello Community,

I have a question regarding taking pauses to think and order my thoughts during interviewer-led cases. To give you a concrete example. In the beginning, I tend to take my time and think of a structure and communicate it to the interviewer. Afterwards the case is led by the interviewer with his questions. In case the questions are more qualitatively, is it acceptable to always take a short pause, think and structure my answers to reply in a structured manner: e.g. For that question, I can think of 5 reasons why investing in abc would be a good idea: 1) edf, 2) xyz, ... etc.

The advantage is that I can always give well structured replys but it breaks in a way a dynamic back and forth between the interviewer and the interviewee.

In the other case, if I start answering directly, I can be obvious that I do my brainstorming on the fly but it feels like a real conversation.

Which behavior would you recommend and why?

Thank you for your help,



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Anonymous replied on May 17, 2017

Dear Arian,

If we safely assume that your question relates more specifically to case studies delivered in McKinsey’s recruiting exercises, then my response would be that the best approach is ALWAYS to take the time, as you yourself have mentioned, to pause, order your thoughts in a structured fashion, and then communicate the response in a McKinsey-preferred manner to your interviewer.

This should be done EVERY SINGLE TIME you are posed a question as you progress through the case, and you should always state your intention to the interviewer in every instance that you do this.

A rough (and wholly unscientific!) consensus seems to be that an acceptable amount of ‘pause time’ is as follows:

I - Initial question: 60 – 90 seconds

This is only true if the initial question asks you to develop a structure, come up with the pertinent issues to test in the case study, elaborate on a few initial ideas, etcetera, etcetera. This seems to be a common opener question with McKinsey case studies. However, if the initial question is not as described above, then please see below.

II - Case questions as Case progresses: 20 seconds (preferably less)

Focus on being structured, exhaustive, creative, and all with a demonstration of business judgement and insight in all cases. Also follow this standard if your opener question is not a question related to initial problem-structuring.

III - Recommendation/Finale question (if asked): 60 seconds (less if you can)

This question does not always appear. Or, when it does appear, it may not always be worded in such a way as to be obvious that it is a recommendation/finale/wrap-up questions. However, for a final question, this amount of time would seem appropriate.

4 Things to Note:

  1. The above commentary relates only to McKinsey-style interviews to which my limited knowledge of interviewer-led Cases concerns.
  2. You should follow this approach even when a question is purely qualitative and straightforward.
  3. I agree that dynamic conversational flow is impaired by this approach, but McKinsey consultants themselves will (usually) preface the start of the session by warning you that you may be severally interrupted during the interview as they take the Case in different directions. That a comprehensive dynamic conversation for the entirety of the interview will not likely be possible is well-understood and accepted.
  4. Off-the-fly responses with McKinsey can be penalised. In the event this does happen, it will possibly be cited in your post-interview feedback as an area to address as you progress through successive rounds.

Source for this information:

a few consultant colleagues presently with McKinsey, feedback from a McKinsey coach I have worked with, feedback from trusted Case partners who have interviewed with McKinsey, miscellaneous anecdotes from forums where candidates have discussed their experiences with the McKinsey interview process.

All the best in your upcoming interviews!

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Anonymous replied on May 17, 2017

Consultants want to see if (1) you are thoughtful and (2) can think on your feet.

You will need to develop a muscle through practice about what are the turning points in a case vs an opportunity to really think on your feet. For the turning points (e.g., "what do you think are the risks" "how would you do X"), ask the interviewer "can I take 30secs to thinking through this" and then come back with a good structured response. The trouble here is that once you ask for 30seconds sometimes your mind starts an automatic count-down 30, 29, 28... and then you soon realize you've only got 10 seconds left and have nothing to show for it. Get better at clearing your mind and realllly focusing for those 30 seconds.

For the "think on your feet" scenarios, they are typically questions like "so, why do you think this happened" or "what other costs do you expect" etc.. Mostly follow up questions or just generic questions that are more or less "discussion" topics. Easy to find out what they are. For these, just respond as soon as you can - you shouldn't ask for extra time.

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Anonymous replied on May 23, 2017

Hi Arian,

I know exactly what you mean and it can feel like a catch 22. Any extreme either way will not work. Sometimes it is not the most experienced candidate but the one that builds a rapport with the interviewer.

What I mean by this is yes of course your answers still need to be logical and structured, but try to build a conversation and respond as a conversation also. They are testing your ability to think on your feet and communicate in a stressful situation. You may be panicking inside and trust me even after years of working in Consulting we still have to fake it sometimes.

My advice is to practise cases where you respond a little quicker to try and make it seem conversational, with time it becomes more fluent. There are a couple of tricks also - such as double checking info and bouncing ideas with consultant that help you catch your breath but all comes with a bit more experience. For now - practise your approach but also communicating confidently and making it look like a conversation rather then pausing at every stage.

Hope this helps!

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