What questions should you ask before taking a minute to form your structure to tackle the case?

Before structure case questions Forming structure Generic questions Overview questions
New answer on Dec 31, 2020
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Andrew asked on Apr 08, 2019

I never know what questions to ask before diving into a case. I know that it is necessary to ask questions so that you can make sure you start off your structure correctly, but I either ask questions that are too detailed or I can't think of questions that will be useful. Would appreciate it if someone could give me a list of generic questions that I could adapt depending on the case.

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Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Apr 08, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

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.

Best!

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Sidi
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replied on Apr 08, 2019
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 300+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi!

The questions you ask at the beginning have the following objectives:

  1. Completely understanding the context/situation (including, unclear terminology, but also, for example, the business model of the client if unclear!)
  2. Understanding the question(s) of the client
  3. Understanding (and quantifying if applicable) the underlying objective(s) of the client

These questions are NOT meant to start the analysis already!!! They are aiming at understanding the initial setting, hence forming a precondition to outline your structure towards answering the core question (the issue tree)!

The later questions that you ask while navigating through the case are then aiming to verify the actual relevance of each sub-branch in your tree. So if you have defined and disaggregated the criterion to answer the client's core question in a clean way, all these leater questions follow a this precise "roadmap" as layed out by your tree. These questions then oftentimes also comprise enquiries on current performance metrics (revenues, costs, growth rates etc.), which normally should never be asked in the clarifying questions (before making explicit your structure).

Cheers, Sidi

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Ian
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Content Creator
replied on Dec 31, 2020
BCG | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi,

There is always more that you can understand. For example, if you understand the goal as improving profits, there's so much more you can ask - do they have a % change target in mind, how long do we have to turn this around, do they prefer this to be done through raising revenue or cutting costs, etc.

I always write BOTMG at the bottom of my framework page to help myself think of things I'm missing in case I'm stuck.

This helps "trigger" you to consider questions around B = Business Model, O = Objective, T = Timing, M = Market, G = Geography.

However, you should never just say "so, what is their business model?" Obviously, ask questions that help you frame your hypothesis, understand the situation, and ultimately drive your case better.

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Anonymous replied on Aug 15, 2020

Dear Andrew!

I recommend to ask you 2-3 clarifying questions before diving into a case to understand the objective of the case interview:

What is the measurable metric of success?

What is the time frame?

What are the potential restrictions or limitations?

If you don't then go for this type of clarifying question

questions about the information that strengthens your understanding of the company

You can also ask a question about the definition of a term you are unfamiliar with.

Most consulting interviews do not require you to have specialized knowledge or expertise in an industry. Therefore, if you come across a term that you are unfamiliar with, it is completely acceptable to ask the interviewer for the definition.

Hope this helps and speak soon,

André

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Sibren
Expert
updated an answer on Apr 11, 2019
Arthur D. Little Consultant | Coached 150+ cases | Created 10+ cases | Multiple offers

Dear Andrew,

That's a very important question. Especially since these first 5 minutes of the interview can make or break your case.
Below my experience, with the consulting day-to-day job as inspiration:

  • We as consultants are supposed to solve client's problems. However, often big part of the magic is in cristalizing the real problem. All too often a client will come with a specific problem, while the real questions lies deeper. (e.g. "why are revenues for latests products X & Y down" --> real question could be "why are we not in sync anymore with market demand?"
  • Secondly, as a consultant it's key to be able to alternate between high level views and deep dives. On a project you will have to spend time on the storyline, bringing concise & clear messages to CxO level. However, other days you will be very deep down in a data analysis, to get out the deepest insights... it's very important to be able to do both

All that in mind, what the interviewer is really looking for is this ability to "feel when to go deep in analysis" and to really understand the clients problem. That's why the clarification problems are so important. Here you should really stay at the high level, resisting the temptation to jump to the analysis. What you should do is get a really good understanding of the problem, make sure all terms / business models / ... are cristal clear and form a basic hypo as to have a guidance on where to focus the analysis in a later stage.

I really hope this is somewhat clear, it's much easier to explain with a real case, but I truly believe you always have to keep the why of this interview in mind. Basically we just want to test if you would be able to perform on a real project, and therefore these case interviews are very well thought through! :)

Cheers,
Sibren

(edited)

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Vlad gave the best answer

Vlad

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