Case study activities
Career Snapshopt: case study interviews
Case study activities can take the form of either an individual interview or a small group activity with other applicants. You’ll usually be presented with a business problem and given time to evaluate the information, discuss options and propose a solution.
Start with the short video Career Snapshot: Case Study Activities which gives an overview of what to expect and how best to prepare.
Case study activities allow an employer to see you in action so it’s arguably one of the fairest methods of assessment of analytical, reasoning and communication skills.
Case study tabs
Case study activities are typically used by management consultancies however they can appear in pretty much any industry as part of the selection process. You’ll usually be presented with information related to a business problem and will be tasked to identify key issues or challenges and to develop effective solutions to address these.
The activity allows an employer to see you in action so it is arguably one of the best methods to assess how you work. During the activity you will be assessed on a variety of competencies including your analytical, reasoning and communication skills. Your judgement, ability to analyse information from a business scenario and express your ideas in writing or verbally in a clear and logical manner is also being assessed.
It is also important to be able to demonstrate your commercial awareness, and you will find it helpful to have a basic understanding of key business concepts such as revenue, fixed and variable costs, profit, market share, customers, competitors and stakeholders.
Types of activity
Case study activities can be for individuals or groups. In both situations you will usually be given some information about a work-related scenario and be invited to examine the evidence before presenting your findings and solutions. Assessment can be verbal in the form of a presentation or interview or in a written format such as an email to a client or executive summary for a senior manager.
The actual topic and content of the activity can vary greatly but they can typically be defined into three broad groups:
The back of the envelope
Used to test analytical skills, logic and numeracy. You are usually given very little information but you will be expected to present an answer. Frequently the actual answer is not important but your thought process is, so you must show your workings and calculations plus any assumptions made.
The great unknown
Used to test your ability to question and probe for information. Very little information is given so you need to compose what information you do have and structure your approach to acquire new facts. You should identify issues, prioritise them and find possible solutions. It’s often useful to start with quite broad questions to help establish key facts or assumptions and then to narrow your questions to a finer focus.
The parade of facts
Used to test abilities to analyse information and distil key issues. You can be given a large amount of information relating to an activity or project, for example, the launch of a new product or the relocation of a factory. The task will normally be related to the business of the organisation but does not require any significant knowledge about the company. You may be asked to choose a course of action from a variety of options and outline your reasons or put forward your own proposals backed up with evidence from the material which you have been given. At the end of the task you may be asked to make a presentation on your recommendations or discuss them with a recruiter. There may not be a ‘right answer’ but the recruiter will be looking for a coherent and well thought through argument which uses the information you’ve been given.
Structure your answer
There are many frameworks that can be learned and applied but the key to a successful case activity is not to be too rigid with your application of a framework. You’re being assessed on your cognitive flexibility and approach to problem solving and as each task is unique you should create a custom framework for each one and if necessary find your own step-by-step approach to a solution and explain your thought process. You should however be aware of some of the following fundamentals.
Profit = revenues – costs
Revenue is the price per unit multiplied by the number of units made or sold. Costs included fixed costs (e.g. rent) and variable costs (e.g. resources). Find out more with BBC Bitesize: Profit.
This strategic planning technique can be used to help identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition or project planning. Find out more with BBC Bitesize: SWOT or LinkedIn Learning: SWOT.
The analysis technique helps gather the ‘big picture’ to understand the environment. Find out more with BBC Bitesize: PESTLE.
5 Why Analysis
This simple tool helps to solve problems. The aim is to find a specific reason for a problem by asking a sequence of “Why” questions. Find out more with Kanbanize: 5 Whys Analysis.
It is important to find your own approach and framework but the following steps may keep your answer logical and concise:
- The first objective is to understand the situation and identify the problem. You may need to ask clarifying questions to make sure you’ve fully understood the task as it’s impossible to solve a problem if you don’t understand the detail.
- Next try to organise the facts and your thoughts to help clarify your approach to finding a solution. Make sure you discuss why you are approaching the problem in a certain way and how you plan to tackle the issues through a step-by-step approach.
- You may need to make some calculations so ensure your mental arithmetic is at a good standard and if you’re using estimated numbers or assumptions make the calculations easy; for example let’s call the UK population 70 million not 68,886,011.
- Keep the core problem central to your thoughts but have awareness of any secondary issues you may need to consider or mitigate.
- If you’re facing a case interview make sure you pick up on any hints from your interviewer as they can help steer your direction.
- Don’t rush to present an answer as it’s the process you go through to form an answer that’s of real value and try to remain calm and instil confidence; nobody wants to hire a panicky person.
Ultimately you will need to present an answer and this could be in the form of recommendations. Summarise the problem, state your approach and put forward clear and pragmatic recommendations that are practical and could be implemented. It’s also perfectly acceptable to state any additional areas you’d like to confirm or explore further.
Hints and tips
- Make sure you know what is required, read the information and/or listen to the interviewer and ask any clarifying questions to ensure you understand the task.
- Don’t panic and try not to feel overwhelmed; you need to appear confident.
- Keep an eye on time as you work through the exercise.
- You can’t always absorb all the detail, so try to grasp the key points and explain why you believe they are important.
- Structure the problem – try to break the task down into components that could be easier to tackle and form a framework to approach the problem.
- Remain focused on your task. It can be easy to be distracted by irrelevant information or issues that are not related to the main task.
- If the task demands innovation be creative in your thinking.
- Use numbers and quick calculations to form opinions and guide decisions.
- Be alert to any situations where you would need to demonstrate ‘political’ awareness and respond sensitively.
- Think before you speak. It’s OK to pause and gather your thoughts but don’t fully internalise your thought process.
- Summarise your approach and present your conclusions in a logical and well-structured form. There is very rarely a right or wrong answer.
- If challenged on your answer consider alternative perspectives and re-examine your process accordingly.
We run regular Case Study Labs as part of our central programme of events booked via JobsLive where participants work through three case study activities with other students and we frequently host employers to run case study workshops and practice interviews. The Imperial College Consulting Society can also give practical hands on experience through project work and they run frequent workshops too.
Most management consultancies provide preparation resources and material but you will also find lots of other online resources offering help to prepare you for case study activities. While much of this information is good do treat online content with caution and question the integrity and authority of the author.
Below are some collated resources that offer information and practice assessments to help you prepare for case study activities. Those listed were found to contain useful material at the time of their inclusion, but we do not control the contents of the sites and all links are provided in good faith. Typically the websites listed provide some free to use material and it should be noted that a link to a website does not constitute a professional endorsement or recommendation of their services.
If you have any concerns about the content of any site or, if you have additional resources you feel would benefit other students, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
- LinkedIn Learning – How to succeed in a case study interview. A 35 minute quick tour explaining the basic components of a case study interview, how to prepare, and what to do to project confidence and engage your interviewer.
- A graduate guide to “job speak” - This TargetJobs article demystifies some of the common business terminology such as low-hanging fruit, imagineering, on bench, slidedeck and strawman.
- Impress your case study interview – This TargetJobs article gives some top tips on how to prepare for consulting case study interviews, and tips for impressing your interviewers on the day
- Bain & Co – a few tips to help you prepare for your interview
- McKinsey – getting ready for selection interviews.
- Caseinterview.com – a large collection of free instant access to videos, frameworks, and case interview training resources.
- PrepLounge – access to a wide range of practice materials and tutorials.
- WikiJob Investment Banking Case Study Interviews – helps you prepare with confidence for banking case study activities.
- JobTestPrep – Case Study Interview - provides many interview questions, tips and information.
- InsideCareers – Case Study Interview Tips – advice to help you prepare and succeed at case study interviews.