I was recently at a case workshop for McGill students and I shared a story about one of my first ever case experiences. I thought that it would be worthwhile to share here as well. The following is an explanation of the right and wrong way to ask a question in a case interview.
One of my first interviews was with a top consulting firm, and I had about 2 days notice before the interview. Being wholly unprepared, I did my best to memorize case in point over the next 2 days, and showed up to my interview ready to kick some ass (not.)
It was a case about the telecommunications industry, and I will never forget my cringe-inducingly-generic questions about the client. Straight out of Case In Point, I asked -
"Soo.... what is the competitive landscape like for this client?"
"Have they had any large changes in revenue?"
"Do they have barriers to entry?"
and so on and so forth. Anyone who's ever read Case in Point (P.S. your interviewers have, too!) will recognize these type of questions. My interviewer kept replying with - "well, what do you think?"
In possibly the most average case performance in history, I stumbled my way to an answer and my interviewer was wholly unimpressed. Thankfully my second case went a lot better when I decided to ditch the framework and just ask questions that made sense, but I learned something from my first interviewer, and this is now something I refer to as "Assumption-Question".
DON'T just ask your interviewer a question. It shows that you've memorized the right questions to ask.
DO make an assumption before you ask something.
To give a simple example, here are right and wrong questions:
Wrong: "Our client is in the telecommunications industry. Can you tell me what the competitive landscape looks like for the telecommunications industry?"
Right: "From my knowledge, the telecommunications industry tends to be fairly consolidated because of high barriers to entry such as how much it costs to get the network set up. In Canada for example, we have an oligopoly of just 3 major providers - Rogers, Bell, and Telus. Would it be fair to assume that our client is also in a highly consolidated industry?
Sure, the second answer is a bit wordier and you might not want to be that specific for every question you ask, BUT it shows that you're not just taking a standard framework and regurgitating it. By making an assumption, you're showing your interviewer that you are actually thinking about the industry and making some logical assumptions about it.
Hence the phrase - "Assumption-question".