Chapter 6: Case Study Exercises
A resource guide to help you master case study exercises
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Case-study exercises are a very popular part of an assessment centre. But don't worry, with a bit of preparation and understanding, you can ace this part of the assessment.
What is a case study exercise?
Case study exercises are a popular tool used by employers to evaluate candidates' problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, and decision-making abilities. These exercises can be in the form of a written report, a presentation, or a group discussion, and typically involve a hypothetical business problem that requires a solution.
The case study presents the candidate with a series of fictional documents such as company reports, a consultant’s report, results from new product research etc. (i.e. similar to the in-tray exercise except these documents will be longer). You will then be asked to make business decisions based on the information. This can be done as an individual exercise, or more likely done in a group discussion so that assessors can also score your teamworking ability.
How to answer a case study exercise
Before you start the exercise, it's important to carefully read and understand the instructions. Make sure you know what you're being asked to do, what resources you have available to you, and how your performance will be assessed. If you're unsure about anything, don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
Once you've read the case study, it's time to start analysing the problem. This involves breaking down the problem into its component parts, identifying the key issues, and considering different options for addressing them. It's important to approach the problem from different angles and to consider the implications of each possible solution.
During the exercise, you'll need to demonstrate your ability to work well under pressure, to think on your feet, and to communicate your ideas effectively. Make sure to use clear and concise language, and to back up your arguments with evidence and examples.
If you're working on a group case study exercise, it's important to listen to the ideas of others and to contribute your own ideas in a constructive and respectful way. Remember that the assessors are not only evaluating your individual performance but also how well you work as part of a team.
When it comes to presenting your solution, make sure to structure your presentation in a clear and logical way. Start with an introduction that sets out the problem and your approach, then move onto your analysis and recommendations, and finish with a conclusion that summarizes your key points. Make sure to keep to time and to engage your audience with your presentation.
What skills does a case-study exercise assess?
A case study exercise is designed to assess several core competencies that are critical for success in the role you are applying for. There will be many common competencies that will be valuable across most roles in the professional world, these competencies typically include:
- Problem-Solving Skills: The ability to identify and analyse problems, and to develop and implement effective solutions.
- Analytical Thinking: The capacity to break down complex information into smaller parts, evaluate it systematically, and draw meaningful conclusions.
- Decision-Making Abilities: The ability to make well-informed and timely decisions, considering all relevant information and potential outcomes.
- Communication Skills: The capacity to convey ideas clearly and concisely, and to listen actively to others.
- Teamwork Skills: The ability to collaborate effectively with others, and to work towards a shared goal.
- Time Management: The capacity to prioritise tasks and to manage time effectively, while maintaining quality and meeting deadlines.
By assessing these competencies, employers can gain valuable insights into how candidates approach problems, how they think critically, and how they work with others to achieve goals. Ultimately, the aim is to identify candidates who can add value to the organisation, and who have the potential to become successful and productive members of the team.
Different companies will prioritise certain competencies; the original job description is a great place to look for finding out what competencies the employer desires and so will likely be scoring you against during the assessment centre activities.
What questions will be asked in a case study exercise?
The type of questions that may be asked can vary, but here are some examples of the most common types:
- Analytical Questions: These questions require the candidate to analyse a set of data or information and draw conclusions based on their findings. For example: "You have been given a dataset on customer behaviour. What insights can you draw from the data to improve sales performance?"
- Decision-Making Questions: These questions ask the candidate to make a decision based on a given scenario. For example: "You are the CEO of a company that is considering a merger. What factors would you consider when making the decision to proceed with the merger?"
- Group Discussion Questions: In a group case study exercise, candidates may be asked to work together to analyse a problem and present their findings to the assessors. For example: "As a team, analyse the strengths and weaknesses of our company's current marketing strategy and recommend improvements."
The questions are designed to test the candidate's problem-solving, analytical thinking, decision-making, and communication skills. It's important to carefully read and understand the questions, and to provide well-reasoned and evidence-based responses.
It has been known for employers to use real live projects for the case study exercise with sensitive information swapped for fictional examples.
Information from the case study exercise lends itself to be used as scene-setting for other exercises at the assessment centre. It is common to have the same fictional setting running through the assessment centre, to save time on having to describe a new scenario for each task. You will be told in each exercise if you are expected to remember the information from a previous exercise, but this is rarely the case. Usually the only information common to multiple exercises is the fictional scenario; all data to be used in each exercise will be part of that exercise.
Case study exercise tips to succeed
Here are some key tips to help you prepare for and successfully pass a case study exercise at an assessment centre:
- Understand the Brief: Carefully read and analyse the case study brief, making sure you understand the problem or scenario being presented, and the information and data provided. Take notes and identify key issues and opportunities.
- Plan Your Approach: Take some time to plan your approach to the case study exercise. Consider the key challenges and opportunities, and identify potential solutions and recommendations. This will help you structure your thoughts and prioritise your ideas.
- Use Evidence: Use evidence from the case study, as well as your own research and knowledge, to support your ideas and recommendations. This will demonstrate your analytical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Stay Focused: During the exercise, stay focused on the task at hand and avoid getting sidetracked by irrelevant information or details. Keep the objective of the exercise in mind, and stay on track with your analysis and recommendations.
- Collaborate Effectively: If the case study exercise involves group work, make sure to communicate clearly and effectively with your team members. Listen actively to their ideas, and contribute constructively to the discussion.
- Be Confident: Have confidence in your ideas and recommendations, and be prepared to defend your positions if challenged. Speak clearly and confidently, and use evidence and data to support your arguments.
Here is the summary of what case-study exercises are and how to pass them:
- A case study exercise is a type of assessment where candidates are presented with a hypothetical business scenario and asked to provide solutions or recommendations.
- These exercises assess a range of competencies such as problem-solving, analytical thinking, decision-making, communication, teamwork, and time management.
- To pass a case study exercise, it's important to carefully read and understand the brief, plan your approach, use evidence to support your ideas, stay focused, collaborate effectively, be confident, and manage your time effectively.
Fully understanding the format of the exercise, taking practice case-study exercises and following our tips outlined above will drastically improve the chances of you standing out as a star candidate at the assessment centre.