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When to ask which questions: Which questions do you ask before you come up with a structure and which do you ask after?

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New answer on May 31, 2024
16 Answers
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Marilena asked on Mar 06, 2017
Looking for partner to practice.

After a few mock cases, I found that I have difficulties deciding which questions to ask before I come up with a structure and which questions to ask after I come up with a structure.

I keep wanting to ask all the questions I have as soon as I hear the explanation of a case, but then I find myself already starting with the analysis by asking relatively specific questions.

Is there a rule for this?


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replied on Mar 07, 2017
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Pre-structure questions

1) Clarify the business model. Even if you think you understand it, try to repeat it to make sure that you understand in correctly.

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. if the case is about oil&gas company which revenues are decling, ask if it is Up / mid / down-stream problem. In this case defining a revenue stream is critical to seting up the right structure.

Post-structure questions:

It's kind of hard to generalize all the cases. I will try to provide a general algorythm here:

  1. Ask for a piece of data / info you've defined in a structure
  2. Compare the data with historical trend / becnhmarks
  3. If you find something interesting ask for the root / cause or state the hypothesis
  4. If no root/cause at this point available - ask for segmentation to drill down further
  5. Once you are done with analysis in one branch of your framework (found the root-cause / found nothing interesting) - summarize what you've learnt so far and move to the next one

Again, the last one is super high-level and the devil is in details:)

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replied on Mar 06, 2017
Former BCG consultant and teacher/adult trainer with experience in US, India, and Middle East

Good news here - there is no hard and fast rule, although I'd say watch it on the time - you definitely shouldn't be asking 2 minutes of questions before you come up with your structure. Here is what you definitely need to do before the structure.

1) Replay your understanding of the situation

2) Clarify that you understand the exact objectives, ensure there aren't any others

3) (This is what I think you are asking about it) - ask any quick questions before your structure. I'd start by thinking "What would be general parts of the analysis that I would do?" And leave that to be covered in your structure and later. This would include any trend performance, number data, market/competitor/company information/performance, etc. It's hard to define everything that you would cover in your structure, so I'll move to some of the common things it would be okay to ask before the structure.

Definitions - if you simply don't understand a term or description that was given, it's okay to ask. In fact, it's best to ask early (either before or shortly after the structure). Asking later can look pretty bad, whereas asking early shows you aren't afraid to get clarification on things early and avoids the embarressment later. This is especially acceptable if it's a very technical/nuanced industry, or for example you are from a different country/industry etc and lack some basic context (for example, if you are an Indian national and don't know what exactly an American interviewer means by a "strip mall", better to clarify than assume it has something to do with stripping - you may laugh, but I've seen that go wrong in the past)

Scope of the problem/options - related to objectives, but you can clarify what exactly the focus/options for consideration are. For example, for an large MNC, you might want to clarify if adjacent markets/products/ or divesting is something the company can consider or if there are any "sacred cows" which can't be touched. Don't force this though, and only bring it up at this stage if you have some interesting potential insight or it would shape your framework. You can also address this within the structure itself and discover it through your analysis.

Major contextual scenarios/assumptions - If I were to give you a case on an oil producer, you may want to clarify the time period before assuming the structure. If we are in the post 2015 world with low oil prices, that's very different than 2013 with $100/barrel prices. You can see how the different contexts would influence your framework and where you focus your analysis. Again, don't force this, but if some elements of the context would greatly change how you approach the case, good to quickly ask. It isn't essential, but it can help shape your framework and make it more contextualized, less generic which is always a good thing.


The rule of thumb I'd give is to always stop short of getting data or analysis related to the case - if you find yourself asking for detailed information, that's too much before a framework. Think quick questions, especially with a focus on definitions you don't understand and any major scope/context questions if it would help you better frame the case.

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replied on Jan 29, 2019
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi JT!

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 aiming at understanding the initial setting, hence forming a precondition to outline your structure towards answering the core question (the issue tree)!

Please note: the clarifying questions are NOT meant to gather information that will be later used in the analysis. This will come across extremely random and arbitrary! Such questions should be a direct consequence of your approach/structure, but not come before.

Cheers, Sidi

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Content Creator
replied on May 31, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

First of all, don't assume you need to ask questions. 

If the prompt is clear and you'd just like to get started at this point, then go for it. 

Typically, you should ask questions either to clarify the prompt OR if you already have a faint idea of a hypothesis and would want to increase your level of confidence in that hypothesis. 

That's about it. 

Don't ask clarifying questions just for the sake of it. 


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Content Creator
replied on Dec 31, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate


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 31, 2020

Dear Marilena,

Before you make structure you can ask for clarifying questions.

Actually there are 3 main types for clarifying questions:

  1. questions that clarify the objective of the case interview

Here the basic things you have to know about the case objective:

  • What is the measurable metric of success?

  • What is the time frame?

  • What are potential restrictions or limitations?

2. questions about information that strengthens your understanding of the company

In this chapter the main things you have to know are:

  • Business model: How does the company make money? Do they sell directly to customers or do they sell through retailers or partners?

  • Products and services: What products and services does the company sell? What benefits do these products and services provide?

  • Geographic location: Does the company have one location or are they a national chain? Does the company operate in just one country or do they have an international presence?

    3. question about 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.

So these are three main types of clarifying questions. If you asking too many questions, the interviewer will probably reply to you smth like this: we don't know, we'll see later, it'’ ot relevant

Hope this information was useful. If you need some help with other questions, just drop me a line!



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replied on Jan 29, 2019
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

You need to make sure you understand the problem:

1. Can you restate the whole question?

2. Do you understand the terminology?

3. Are you clear with the objective? How long do you have? What does success look like? How much improvement is good enough

Basically any other type of question is best kept for after you build a framework / plan of attack. Hope this helps

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Content Creator
replied on Aug 30, 2022
50+ successful coachings / Ex-Mckinsey JEM & Interviewer / Industry + Engineering background

Dear Marilena,

in general a good structure can be evaluated by a certain depth and breadth. The “depth” should be at least 3-4 levels while the “breadth” should cover the entire solution space. You can cross-check this with the MECE principles (For details see respective article on Preplounge), but the CE (collectively exhaustive) part is basically defining your breadth.

Finally, make sure to check for inter-linkages in your structure and point them out.


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replied on Aug 20, 2018
ex-Manager - Natural and challenging teacher - Taylor case solving, no framework

Hi Kay,

Indeed calrification question should be asked with the objective to fully understand the situation.
In some cases, you might receive on purpose a limited info, and this will be your responsibility to ask theses question to fully understand the scope of the case and clearly identified the issue of the client.
The answer to these question should help you to focus your structure on the main issues in case the case opening is to wide.

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Anonymous replied on Oct 05, 2017


You are right that there are a lot of possible fit questions. And while the fit interview may vary by firm, the fit questions sometimes are actually the same. It seems you are referring to the opening explanation of the case situation. In that scenario, you usually want to want to do the following:

  • Play back your understanding of the case, clarifying any points that you missed or didn’t understand
  • State your understanding of the objectives
  • Spend about 90 seconds gathering your thoughts and outlining your structure
  • Develop a logical, MECE structure that includes at least 2 but usually 3-4 logical buckets with 2-4 2nd level questions / thoughts

In the opening case scenario, you usually are not going to ask for more information. That will come after the first question. You should still feel free to ask for clarifying information should you see fit, but most likely the interviewer will defer.

It is also very important to understand that there is a big difference between first round interviews with Associates and Managers that “go by the book” and have recently received interview training and 2nd / 3rd round interviews with Associate Partners, Partners and Senior Partners, many of which had no formal interview training at the time when they joined the firm. This is why I encourage candidates to practice cases with a range of different people (i.e., other candidates, PrepLounge Experts that were Associates / Managers and PrepLounge Experts that were Associate Partners / Partners). You will not only experience a different interview style and receive different feedback, but it is also more cost effective for you and allows you to gain more practice experience.

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DianeAult updated an answer on Feb 01, 2019
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Vlad gave the best answer


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