An interview is all about you telling recruiters what you can do. The case study is about showing them.
Case studies at graduate assessment centres allow an employer to see you in action. An interview is all about you telling recruiters what you can do; the case study is about showing them, and so it’s arguably one of the fairest and most realistic components of a typical assessment day.
The move towards virtual or digital assessment centres by some graduate employers, as a result of the social distancing measures brought about by coronavirus, may mean changes are made to the type of case study you are given (an individual one could be easier to manage on the platform the employer chooses, for example). This won't necessarily be the case, however, so it's a good idea to be ready to take on both group and individual types.
What do graduate assessment centre case studies involve?
The case study exercise can be for individuals or groups. You will usually be given some information about a work-related scenario and invited to examine the evidence before presenting your findings and solutions – either verbally (in a presentation or case study interview) or in written form. You may also be drip-fed additional information to assess and respond to throughout the allocated time.
Example assessment centre case study exercise 1
The following group exercise is a genuine investment case study. Candidates have to work together to find answers and respond to incoming news and data. They then have to make a presentation to a ‘management board’.
A publisher of scientific journals and books is looking to make a significant acquisition. It has identified a target company and approached a number of investment banks for their views on the merits of a potential deal and a target price. Based on these presentations, the publisher will decide whether to proceed with a bid and, if so, select one bank to act as their adviser.
Your team is one of the investment banks bidding to win the mandate. You need to analyse the figures provided; to review the marketplace, your potential client (the publisher) and the target company; and to prepare a five-minute presentation giving your recommendations, eg whether to go ahead, go ahead under specific conditions etc.
Example assessment centre case study exercise 2
This is a similar example of a case study used for commercial and marketing graduate programmes. In this case, the groups are given a pack with details of the product range, sales figures, marketing campaigns and news clippings. The basic problem in this type of scenario is that a product range or the company receives some negative publicity on the eve of a new product launch or marketing campaign; assessors are interested in whether and how you would respond to it.
You are a member of marketing team at the global organisation, Choc-O-Lot Ltd. It manufactures and distributes chocolate products throughout the UK and Europe. Its flagship bar is ‘Dairy Dream’, but the business has expanded rapidly over the past eight years, launching new products and diversifying into new areas (such as running chocolate-themed experience days). The company is planning a huge brand relaunch. Just as Choc-O-Lot is about to launch a marketing campaign, an article appears in the national press alleging that Choc-O-Lot treats its workers, and members of its supply chain, poorly. It is widely shared on social media, with calls for a boycott. What would you do?
Tips for preparing for the case study exercise in advance
- Read the organisation’s graduate recruitment literature and check its website for sample case studies and recent press releases. Try to get a feel for the type of work it’s involved in and the kind of business decisions it has to make or advise clients on. Read up on issues affecting the industry the employer works in by reading industry news; it might give you an advantage when evaluating options.
- Practise your mental arithmetic, as you may have to demonstrate your quantitative ability without a calculator.
- Practise mock case study exercises. Go to AssessmentDay, our commercial partner, for free and paid-for example case studies. Check, too, with your careers service, as many run workshops on how to successfully prepare for case study exercises .
Tips for approaching the case study exercise on the day
- Be clear about what you’re being asked to do. Understand what the problem is, what your role is and what your objectives are.
- Start by reading through the information pack and assessing which parts of the information are relevant – you should be able to annotate the pack. Then, you might want to list key points to be considered when coming to your solution or to brainstorm possible solutions, before considering the pros and cons to each one.
- Manage your time to ensure you complete the exercise. If you’re working in a group you could volunteer to be the timekeeper or ensure that someone else takes on this role. Allow time to prepare for the final presentation at the end of the session, if one is required.
- If you’re working in a small group you could divide up the tasks between you. You could nominate someone to assess any new information passed to the group during the course of the exercise. You could also nominate a note-keeper.
- In a group exercise, don’t dominate but do contribute to discussions. Articulate what you’re thinking so the assessors can see how you approach problems. Ask for more information or clarification if you’re unsure.
- Don’t lose sight of your objectives. The final presentation or written report should be relevant, clear and concise, and should include a summary of your conclusions and recommendations.
Tips for great presentations at graduate assessment centres
- Make sure the presentation is delivered in an appropriate style for the target audience. If you are asked to make a recommendation or give a view, make this the start point of your presentation, and then present your reasoning and analysis.
- Think carefully about who and how many people will present back – switching between presenters needs to be quick and slick. If you don’t present back, nominate yourself as someone who will respond to questions.
- How to structure and deliver a great presentation at an interview or assessment day.