Case Interviews – #2 Asking Questions

Case interviews require a candidate to listen/review information about a situation and work through the data to offer and evaluate possible solutions.  If you have never been part of a case interview, you can view one on McKinsey’s career site:

Asking questions is very important, and encouraged, in a case interview.  You will not be given all the information you need to solve the problem and this is done for a couple of reasons.  First, one could not possibly handle (in an interview format and timeframe) the volume of information pertaining to the scenario that could be given by the interviewer Second, the hiring manager wants to test the candidate to see what additional information you deem necessary to attack the issue.  By asking questions at the beginning of the interview, one can gain additional details needed in crafting an answer to the question.

Objectives Question:

As mentioned in yesterday’s post (#1 – What is the Real Question), there are often additional objectives to be considered when formulating your answer.  A case interview may ask an individual to evaluate the merits of entering into a new market.  Upon asking if there are any additional objectives the company would like to take into consideration with regards to evaluating the market entry proposition, one may then find out that the firm only wants to enter the market if they feel they can immediately sell 10,000 units annually.  This puts a different spin on your options for market entry (ex: acquiring an existing company in said market may be a serious option).

Clarification Questions:

Although the interviewer will give you information, the data is not always clear.  It is not safe to make assumptions, instead either ask a clarifying question or talk through your assumption.  For example:

Clarification Question:

In the example case interview video on the McKinsey site, the interviewer uses a term that is not clear to the candidate.  Instead of making an assumption, and possibly being wrong, she asks for the interviewer for more details on what is meant by the term.

Talking through an assumption:

Ex: if a case asks you to evaluate the potential US market for new bodyspray for men 20-40 years old…a candidate could talk through an assumption on population numbers:

For the purposes of our discussion, I am going to assume 350 million people live in the US and half the population is male.  That gives me 175 million males living in the US, and again assuming there are about equal number of males in each decade of life between 0-80, 25% of 175 million would be just under 44 million…

Now one would have to use some of the market share data the interviewer provided or use follow-up questions about % of males who use body sprays, competitors, etc. to whittle the 44 million number down to a realistic market size potential.

Ask Questions for information and not answers:

The only drawback of asking questions is if the candidate takes the idea too far and begins to ask for answers instead of information.  What do I mean?  In the above example about the market size for a new body spray, the candidate could have asked the interviewer, “How many males are there in the US between the ages of 20-40?” instead of working through his/her assumptions.  Case interviews exist so an employer can evaluate your thought process, and thus asking for answers instead of additional information that would help YOU formulate an answer is frowned upon.

Tomorrow: Case Interviews – Not a Library Setting

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About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
This entry was posted in Career Management, Case Interview, Interview, Job Search and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Case Interviews – #2 Asking Questions

  1. Pingback: Case Interviews – #3 Talk It Out | Career Seeker's Guide

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