Case Study Exercise At Assessment Centres
A case study exercise is a practical assessment commonly used in the latter stages of recruitment for graduate jobs. One of several activities undertaken at an assessment centre, this particular type of exercise allows employers to see your skills in action in a work-based context.
What is a case study exercise?
A case study exercise consists of a hypothetical scenario, similar to something you’d expect to encounter in daily working life. You’ll be tasked with examining information, drawing conclusions, and proposing business-based solutions for the situation at hand.
Information is typically presented in the form of fictional documentation: for example, market research findings, company reports, or details on a potential new venture. In some cases, it will be verbally communicated by the assessor.
You may also have additional or updated information drip-fed to you throughout the exercise.
You could be asked to work as an individual, but it’s more common to tackle a case study exercise as part of a group, since this shows a wider array of skills like teamwork and joint decision-making.
In both cases you’ll have a set amount of time to analyse the scenario and supporting information before presenting your findings, either through a written report or a presentation to an assessment panel. Here, you’ll need to explain your process and justify all decisions made.
Historically, assessment centres have been attended in person, but as more companies look to adopt virtual techniques, you may take part in a remote case study exercise. Depending on the employer and their platform of choice, this could be via pre-recorded content or a video conferencing tool that allows you to work alongside other candidates.
What competencies does a case study exercise assess?
There are multiple skills under assessment throughout a case study exercise. The most common are:
In itself, this involves various skills, like analytical thinking, creativity and innovation. How you approach your case study exercise will show employers how you’re likely to implement problem-solving skills in the work environment.
Show these at every stage of the process. If working in a group, be sure to make a contribution and be active in discussions, since assessors will be watching how you interact.
If working solo, explain your process to show problem solving in action.
How you present findings and communicate ideas is a major part of a case study exercise, as are other communication skills like effective listening.
Regardless of whether you present as an individual or a group, make sure you explain how you came to your conclusions, the evidence they’re based on and why you see them as effective.
Commercial awareness and business acumen
Assessors will be looking for a broader understanding of the industry in which the company operates and knowledge of best practice for growth.
Standout candidates will approach their case study with a business-first perspective, able to demonstrate how every decision made is rooted in organisational goals.
At the heart of every case study exercise, there are key decisions to be made. Typically, there’s no right or wrong answer here, provided you can justify your decisions and back them up evidentially.
Along with problem solving, this is one of the top skills assessors are looking for, so don’t be hesitant. Make your decisions and stick to them.
Group exercises show assessors how well you work as part of a team, so make sure you’re actively involved, attentive and fair. Never dominate a discussion or press for your own agenda.
Approach all ideas equally and assess their pros and cons to arrive at the best solution.
What are the different types of case study exercise?
Depending on the role for which you’ve applied, you’ll either be presented with a general case study exercise or one related to a specific subject.
Subject-related case studies are used for roles where industry-specific knowledge is a prerequisite, and will be very much akin to the type of responsibilities you’ll be given if hired by the organisation.
For example, if applying for a role in mergers and acquisitions, you may be asked to assess the feasibility of a buy-out based on financial performance and market conditions.
General case studies are used to assess a wider pool of applicants for different positions. They do not require specific expertise, but rather rely on common sense and key competencies. All the information needed to complete the exercise will be made available to you.
Common topics covered in case study exercises include:
- The creation of new marketing campaigns
- Expansion through company or product acquisition
- Organisational change in terms of business structure
- Product or service diversification and entering new markets
- Strategic decision-making based on hypothetical influencing factors
Tips for performing well in case study exercises
1. Process all the information
Take time to fully understand the scenario and the objectives of the exercise, identify relevant information and highlight key points for analysis, or discussion if working as part of a team. This will help structure your approach in a logical manner.
2. Work collaboratively
In a group exercise, teamwork is vital. Assign roles based on individual skill sets. For example, if you’re a confident leader you may head up the exercise.
If you’re more of a listener, you may volunteer to keep notes. Avoid conflict by ensuring all points of view are heard and decisions made together.
3. Manage your time
Organisational skills and your ability to prioritise are both being evaluated, and since you have a set duration in which to complete the exercise, good time management is key.
Remember you also need to prepare a strong presentation, so allow plenty of scope for this.
Make an assertive decision
There’s no right answer to a case study exercise, but any conclusions you do draw should be evidenced-based and justifiable. Put forward solutions that you firmly believe in and can back up with solid reasoning.
5. Present your findings clearly
A case study exercise isn’t just about the decisions you make, but also how you articulate them. State your recommendations and then provide the background to your findings with clear, concise language and a confident presentation style.
If presenting as a group, assign specific sections to each person to avoid confusion.
How to prepare for a case study exercise
It’s unlikely you’ll know the nature of your case study exercise before your assessment day, but there are ways to prepare in advance. For a guide on the type of scenario you may face, review the job description or recruitment pack and look for key responsibilities.
You should also research the hiring organisation in full. Look into its company culture, read any recent press releases and refer to its social media to get a feel for both its day-to-day activities and wider achievements. Reading business news will also give you a good understanding of current issues relevant to the industry.
To improve your skills, carry out some practice case study exercises and present your findings to family or friends. This will get you used to the process and give you greater confidence on assessment centre day.