Companies like to evaluate candidates by using case studies to see how they’d handle real-world scenarios. I did a few when I interviewed in the Education sector. One thing I learned is that companies like the case study. It helps them to gauge not only how well you will think through problems on the job, but it gives them a chance to hear you talk about your values and how you use your own personal qualities to tackle real-life kind of issues. A case study interview allows you to show off your problem-solving skills by tackling a hypothetical dilemma. Here are some tips you can use to study for a case study interview:
1. Get the Question Right
Case study questions are purposefully designed to include as little information as possible. The case study question is like a puzzle. Employers want to see how you put together a narrative using the information that is given. Try to find something in the question that relates to your own experience and run with it. State the question back as an articulation of your own values. So for example, if the question is about what you would do if on an educational field trip and one child is missing, answer the question in terms of your values about the group. Then go about explaining how you would find the kid, but remember to answer the question in such a way that displays your problem-solving skills, as well as how you would help find the student, but also help the group.
2. Practice a Lot
Rehearse responding to practice questions by saying your response out loud. Delivery is key. Take a moment to think out a strategy. Case study questions are complex. There is no one definite answer. For business strategy questions, there are a million ways to explain how a company should promote a new product, or how to increase workers’ productivity. And hey, if you have an unusual solution to the problem, don’t be afraid to say it.
Practice a lot. Then practice again. No one gets a case study perfect on the first try. Don’t be afraid of getting the answer wrong. For estimate-style case study questions, you will be asked to guess numbers, for example, how many mobile devices will be completely touchscreen in 2019, or estimate the number of public telephones in New York City. Get used to doing basic multiplication and percentages in your head. Most companies won’t allow you to use a calculator.
3. You Don't Have Much Time
On the job, you’ll be dealing with real people’s hard questions all the time. Employers want to see how you’ll react. You’re expected to engage with the other interviewers in the room. Maximize your resources: they’ll give you supplies, like writing utensils and paper, so don’t be afraid to jot down ideas as they come to your mind.
You won’t have much time to tackle the case study question, only 10 or 15 minutes at the most. To help with the time crunch, time yourself responding to your friends' questions, like how to set up a mutual fund. Or even a quick one minute summation on how to butter your toast. Or how to fight a bear.
4. Structure Your Answer but Talk Like a Human
Questions like why a company has a drop in profits or whether a company should make a new acquisition do not have a right answer. You’re being screened not for your ability to correctly answer the question, but for how you go about analyzing the problem. Show you understand the question by summarizing it out loud for the interviewer. Use pauses to let others in the room speak. If they give helpful advice, use it.
Articulate out loud how you’re breaking down the basic elements of the problem. For example, in a discussion about how a company’s new product should be marketed, break it down into parts. What do you think the price of the product should be? What are some strategies you think could better promote the product? Do people use the product in ways that differ from how it was intended to be used? Remember, you may not finish the question. That’s not a bad thing. It’s how you thought out the problem that counts in the end.
5. Mine Resources
Thankfully, there are resources available for free online that can help you practice case-study questions:
- Check out your local university’s consulting club. Duke University has a succinct guide which includes a transcript of a successful interview. They also provide Vault’s in-depth guide for all things case study, too.
- Harvard Business School has plenty of case studies to peruse along with a list of concepts to frame your answer. Not only do they provide a list of practice cases, HBS guides explain common marketing strategies.
- The London School of Economics and Political Science’s case study page is a useful index of curated case study resources. Articles and links are updated regularly, and you can view a six hour case study video tutorial.
With the rigor of practice, thinking out loud, and navigating a novel response, it is possible to be prepared for this kind of employee interview.
Image Courtesy: Matt Vance