How to Deal with Case Studies
In a typical case study, you’ll be asked to analyse a business-related scenario and to come up with a proposed solution to it within a set period of time. These are usually based on actual situations or cases that the business has dealt with in the past.
This not only gives candidates greater insight into the industry before they decide to join, it also gives recruiters an accurate estimate of how you would perform on the job.
Depending on what the recruiter is looking for, case studies could be fashioned as either a group or individual task. If you’re asked to complete the task as a group, then you can expect teamwork skills and emotional intelligence to be part of the criteria that recruiters are looking for.
Alternatively, if the case study is fashioned as an individual assignment, then recruiters most likely just want to assess your technical skills and ability to work independently.
What do case studies involve?
Recruiters will give you a scenario, along with an information pack which may include emails, charts, reports, letters, memos, or news article excerpts.
Your job is to sift through these documents to draw out the chief problems that need to be solved, and then come up with and present a solution.
Take note that not all of the information given may be important. Some of it may be relevant or irrelevant, depending on your approach to the problem. Recruiters expect you to be selective and cautious about what you use to justify your final decision.
In some cases, recruiters may even withhold certain bits of information from you on purpose. This is to test your attentiveness, observation skills, and ability to handle a continuous flow of data.
Will you notice the missing information? If you do, will you speak up to ask for it, or will you fill in the gaps with your own assumptions? More importantly, how do you deal with incomplete information that may only come in bits and pieces?
Here is an example of an actual case study so you have some idea of what to expect:
A large publishing company is looking to acquire a former competitor and absorb their products into its portfolio. It has approached a number of investment banks for recommendations on this potential deal as well as a target price. Based on these recommendations, the publisher will decide whether to proceed with a bid and, if so, which bank to select as their advisor.
Your team represents one of the investment banks bidding for this mandate. You need to analyse the relevant figures, review the marketplace, your potential client (the publisher), and the target company. You must then prepare a five-minute presentation giving your recommendations.
How to prepare for case studies in advance
Start by familiarising yourself with the organisation. You’ll be playing the part of a company representative, after all, so you’ll need to know what the company stands for.
Begin with the organisation’s resources. Start by browsing their recruitment materials, press releases, newsletters, or past client case studies. Use these to get a feel for the types of skills the organisation might look for in hires, as well as its broader direction and approach in doing business.
Next, read up on the latest movements that are taking place in your industry to gain a general knowledge of what’s happening out in the marketplace. While you’ll be given most of the required information when you’re doing your case study, having updated industry knowledge will help you process and contextualise information better.
Plus, the ability to relate a case study to recent real-world scenarios will definitely impress recruiters.
Your university careers services should also organise workshops and presentations that can help you prepare for case studies. Why not sign up for a few? You can also try asking university alumni working at your targeted employer about how they handled their own case studies back in the day!
How to approach the case studies on the day
Before you go charging into the task, make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you. Start by reading through the information provided to you, and then pinpoint the problem(s), your role, and your objective(s).
As you scan through the provided documents, highlight or underline the relevant information to keep yourself focused on the task. It’s not uncommon for recruiters to plant unrelated or misleading information to test your awareness, so make sure you consciously evaluate everything as you go along.
Keep an eye on the time as you work, though. Many applicants make the mistake of spending too much time discussing and planning, especially when they are allowed to work in groups.
Consider the tasks that you will need to perform. Do you need to prepare slides to present to the “management”? What are the most important issues that your solution must address even if you have to miss out on others?
Assign or volunteer a timekeeper if you’re in a group, and be realistic about what you can and cannot achieve.
If you’re assigned to this exercise in groups, then your ability to work and communicate with people is also one of the criteria being tested.
Rather than treating this as a competition, work together with your group to achieve the best results possible. Divide up the tasks to make the most efficient use of everyone’s time, and make sure everyone gets to play a part.
Balance contributing and listening during group discussions. Make sure both your group mates and recruiters can clearly understand your approach to the problems. Some candidates will be more outspoken than others, but do your best to include the quieter ones in the discussion as well.
Ultimately, make sure that you stay focused on the task! It’s easier to lose sight of the main points of the exercise than you may think after being immersed in it for a couple of hours.
Tips for great presentations at graduate assessment centres
Depending on the requirements of the exercise, you may have to present your findings to assessors either formally or informally. A formal presentation may call for slides and a panel presentation, whereas a less formal one may be more discussion or meeting-like – where recruiters will join you at the table to discuss your findings.
Either way, you’ll have to structure your presentation in a coherent manner, with a proper opening, body, and conclusion. Organise your points according to importance. For instance, if your task is to make a recommendation or to provide an opinion on a situation, then start with that before you present the logic or analysis behind it.
Again, time is an important factor. Most recruiters will spend no more than five to ten minutes on this, so be sure to distribute your time accordingly. If you have three to five points, then that leaves you approximately one minute for each point. Make sure you get straight to the point as fast as you can.
Most recruiters rate a presentation based on its organisation, how thorough your points are, and your confidence and conviction during the presentation. It isn’t going to be easy, considering that you may not have time to practise beforehand.
However, as long as you are clear about the steps taken to reach your solution and have confidence in those methods, you should do just fine.
What skills do you need to show during a case study?
Some of the skills that are most commonly evaluated during a case study include:
1) Analysis: Your ability to assess and make sense of unfamiliar information.
2) Problem solving: Using the information provided to respond appropriately to a crisis or to make an informed judgement about a situation.
3) Flexibility: How you accommodate uncertainty and/or constant changes in a situation.
4) Time management: How well you make use of the given time to complete your task.
5) Teamwork and leadership: Your ability to work effectively and efficiently with others, as well as motivate them.
6) Commercial awareness: Being aware of the latest trends, principles, and developments in your chosen sector, and knowing how to use that knowledge to make educated decisions.
7) Communication: Being able to present your findings clearly in an organised and confident manner.
8) Numerical ability: Showcasing your ability to work with numbers, with high levels of accuracy.