Verifying the problem statement

approaching a case Bain & Company
Recent activity on Jan 31, 2019
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Anonymous A asked on Jan 31, 2019

This may be somewhat intuitive but I have been hearing various approaches, so I am looking to gain more perspectives. When I verify the problem statement in the beginning of every case, I either repeat back word-to-word in order to absolutely make sure that I understood the problem or simply paraphrase. Of those times I paraphrased to show my ability to synthesize a set of information, I ended up losing a very important key information via phraphrasing, which the interviewer never pointed that out to me (which is not their job anyways, so it's expected, but it was fatal in recognizing the key step). So, what do you suggest for verifying a problem statement in the beginning of the case? Once I re-state (or vs. paraphrase), I always make sure to state the goal of the case I understood and confirm with the interviewer.

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Content Creator
replied on Jan 31, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


I recommend the following approach:

1) Clarify the business model. Ask how the company actually makes the money. For several reasons:

  1. Even if you think you understand the business model, you need to make sure that you understand it correctly.
  2. Some cases have pitfalls related to a business model (re profitability cases with several revenue streams
  3. You need to understand the revenue streams to make a proper structure. E.g. if the case is about oil&gas company which revenues are declining, ask if it is Up / mid / down-stream problem. In this case, defining a revenue stream is critical to setting up the right structure. (At the end of the day it may be the decline of snack sales at the gas stations:). In case of telecom company it may be the problem of the core business (wireless) or non-core (landlines, internet)

2) Clarify the objective. Here make sure that your goal is:

  • Measurable
  • Has a time-framed
  • Has / has no limitations

e.g. Should I invest 100k in this business for 1 year if I want to get 15% return?

3) Ask the questions that will help you build a relevant structure and remove ambiguity.

E.g. in the market entry case ask whether we are entering the country organically or non-organically

4) Do the recap of the most important things (Objective and the key elements of the business model) AFTER asking the clarifying questions. Although most of the case books suggest to do it immediately at the beginning of the interview, it makes much more sense to clarify the situation first and then to make sure that you understand everything correctly.


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updated an answer on Jan 31, 2019
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous!

There is not much more you can do! Paraphrasing should be the way to go - repeating the problem and precise question in your own words. Then you ask: "Does this properly cover the client's problem and question, or did I miss something?". A properly trained interviewer will then either confirm, or point out the gaps. If he doesn't do this, then he is not a properly trained MBB interviewer. Period.

Cheers, Sidi


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Anonymous B replied on Jan 31, 2019

I normally say something like:

"Just to ensure i have captured the right key question, im going to repeat it back to you:

I'd synthesize the objective/s here

Does that sound right? Have i missed anything?"

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Vlad gave the best answer


Content Creator
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School
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