What Are Case Studies?
Case studies are a common component of graduate assessment centres. Candidates will be given a simulated situation or problem they might encounter on the job, and be asked to propose a solution. These case study exercises are designed to evaluate how candidates process information, solve problems and react to ambiguous or hazy situations, as well as demonstrate teamwork.
What Do Case Studies Involve?
Depending on the recruiters and nature of the job you’re applying for, case studies may be administered either individually or in the form of a group exercise.
You will usually be given some information about a recent industry-specific challenge along with some accompanying data. You’ll need to examine the brief, crunch the numbers, and have a group discussion before presenting your findings and solutions – either verbally (in a presentation or case study interview) or in written form.
Take note that recruiters may also decide to change the case study presentation rules or introduce new information at the last minute to throw you off. It’s their way of putting you under pressure to see how you handle the situation – either alone or with your team – in the allocated time.
Do Your Research in Advance
Although there’s no way for you to know exactly what topic you’ll get, a good first step is to understand the nature of the prospective employer’s business as well as current trends in the line of work that you applied for.
For example, if you’re applying for an HR position, make sure you have at least a basic understanding of the field and what an HR practitioner actually does on the job. You should also catch up on recent HR industry news. Go online and read up as much as you can about recent HR best practices, trends, or industry movements. Then spend some time thinking about what you’ve read and how you might apply those within the context of your job.
Pay special attention to any announcements or press releases that your prospective employer has made or have been named in, as they might use those events for their case studies. Read up on how they’ve been covered in the news in recent months, or what they’re posting about themselves on their social media channels. Try to think about possible challenges they may have faced recently, and what kinds of solutions you may offer to them.
Practice Makes Perfect
When it comes to case studies, there’s no substitute for actual practice. A good first step would be to check in with your university career centre to ask if they offer mock case study practice sessions. If they do, then sign up for a few to get a taste of what to expect on the actual assessment day itself. The career centre staff will be able to give you plenty of useful feedback and helpful tips as well.
If you just want to see what a case study brief might look like so you can practice coming up with solutions for those on your own time, you could always do a quick online search for sample case studies. We’ve also compiled a few sample briefs for you to practice within our article here.
With that said, try not to practice for case studies alone. It helps tremendously to work through them with a friend, a senior, or a mentor. That way, you get to bounce ideas off each other, discuss the problems, and get new perspectives on the situation described in the briefs.
How to Prepare for a Group Case Study
Group case studies are meant to give recruiters an idea of how well you would work with a real team if you do get the job. So you will need to show the recruiters that you can work with the team harmoniously even when you’re under pressure.
Once your team receives the brief, start by breaking up the problem into smaller tasks and then dividing those up among your group members so that you’ll get through them far quicker. Be sure to allocate time for everyone to get together and piece together all their individual parts into a complete proposed solution as well.
There are different personalities in your group and recruiters will be watching to see how you interact. They will also be looking for evidence of leadership and teamwork. Don’t dominate the discussion or shut down ideas from your team members, but pitch in and contribute where appropriate. Remember, being a good leader also means being a good listener too.
When presenting as a group, actively participate but don’t talk over your teammate when they’re presenting. That will just make you look rude. If you do not need to present for a group exercise – which is rarely the case – consider nominating yourself to handle the Q&A session.
Other Important Tips
- Remember that there is probably no truly right answer to the problem outlined in the brief. Recruiters aren’t necessarily looking for a “right” answer. What they really want to see is your thought process in tackling this complex problem, and how you work through an unfamiliar or ambiguous situation.
- Manage your time carefully and plan your approach based on the allocated time.
- Consider all possible solutions – whether it be as a team or alone – and analyze them carefully before choosing a decision. Once again, don’t stress too much about whether your decision is the “right” one. Focus on planning out how you’re going to justify your decision to recruiters instead.
- When putting together your presentation/proposal, ensure that you have a solid foundation for the proposal and a solid plan of action for implementing your chosen solution.
- When presenting, make sure you take extra effort to communicate the logic behind how you arrived at your conclusions or proposed solutions.