Case Study

A case study assessment can form part of an interview process and simulates a practical problem that the participants have to analyse and solve, either alone or together with other applicants, under time pressure. The case study aims to test the analytical and organisational skills of the applicants as well as their solution orientation, stress resistance, and ability to concentrate. If case studies are worked on in groups, the teamwork skills of the individual participants are also put to the test.

Case study types

Business cases: This is the classic case study in which practical problems are analysed and tested in small groups or individual exercises.

Market size estimations: In these questions, candidates are asked to determine the size of a sales market. The aim is to test logical thinking and general knowledge.

Brainteasers: Puzzles or riddles that test the candidate’s problem-solving ability, logical thinking, creativity, and comprehension skills.

What is the purpose of a case study assessment in a job interview?

Case studies are used for several reasons. Recruiters use them to test applicants on a range of soft skills that are not apparent from the candidate's CV or cover letter. HR managers want to use case studies to find out how applicants react to stressful situations in practice, how they deal with challenges, and how they approach tasks.

What skills are assessed via a case study?

Stress resistance: If an applicant receives a case study and shuts themselves off from the challenge, disqualifies themselves with statements like "I can't do that" or reacts extremely nervously, this is usually an indication for many HR managers that the candidate is not the right choice for the open vacancy. If, on the other hand, the candidate is very communicative in the interview, faces an unexpected problem, and shows the will to find a solution even under time pressure, this indicates that the candidate is also capable of coping with unexpected challenges under time and performance pressures.

Creativity: In everyday working life, challenging problems often arise, usually unexpectedly, for which a solution must be found quickly. Creativity is needed in such situations. Whether an applicant chooses an ordinary and safe solution to a case study or is prepared to take a risk and think outside of the box, shows the interviewer how creative a candidate could be in the workplace.

Logical thinking: Whether an applicant can think logically depends on whether they can recognise structures and rules. Logical thinking is particularly important in a professional setting. Keeping track of a large number of tasks, working through them according to priorities and structure, and being able to analyse and assess certain situations are key competencies that have a strong influence on success. Logical thinking and the ability to find solutions not only give recruiters an insight into a candidate's cognitive abilities but also provide information about the applicant's development potential.

Ability to concentrate: Working productively in the shortest possible time is becoming an increasing challenge in everyday working life. Access to countless quantities of information makes it difficult to concentrate on the essential things. This means it is all the more important not to be distracted and to have an eye for the crucial information. This ability is tested in the case study assessment, in which candidates must find a solution to the case study from countless pieces of information under time pressure.

Ability to quickly familiarise oneself with complex topics: Time is a scarce resource in everyday work. This makes the ability to quickly familiarise oneself with new topics very important. This ability is essential when working with different clients. Candidates who have to solve a case study as part of the job interview are also confronted with an unknown and complex topic. The short preparation time is intended to give candidates an insight into the everyday working life of the advertised position and HR managers can use the results to assess the candidate's receptiveness.

Entrepreneurial thinking: People who think and act in an entrepreneurial way can identify very well with the goals of their own company and act efficiently and effectively, i.e. they set the right priorities and think about how processes and procedures can be optimised, always with the aim of increasing the success of the company. Based on how candidates deal with a case study and try to find appropriate solutions, HR managers can assess their entrepreneurial thinking.

Preparing for the case study assessment

  1. As with exams in general, the ability to concentrate during an assessment often depends on how well-rested a candidate is. The night before, you should go to bed on time and have pre-planned the route to the potential employer (if the case study assessment is happening in person). This way you will not be unnecessarily stressed and pressed for time on the morning of the interview.
  2. Case studies are always industry related. Therefore, you should inform yourself well in advance about the sectors and companies, as well as looking at company key figures. These could provide you with important clues while solving a case study. Current developments or challenges can also be important for understanding case studies.
  3. Find out in advance about the process and the different types of case studies and work through some sample case studies yourself. This will make you more confident in finding solutions.
  4. Practice mental and written arithmetic in advance. Under time pressure, smaller arithmetic problems can cause nervousness, especially if the solution is crucial to progress further with the case study. It is therefore all the more important to be able to perform small calculations in your head within a short time period, especially if you are not allowed to use a calculator.
  5. Familiarise yourself with common business models. These include, for example, the profit equation, the BCG matrix, or Porter's Five Forces. You will have to apply these when unsure during the assessment.
  6. At the end of a case study, you will be asked to present your results. Therefore, practice your presentation and moderation skills in advance.

How is a case study solved?

Careful reading of the case study: The first step towards the solution is careful reading of the case study. To do this, it is a good idea to filter all the important information from the less important information and to write down the relevant facts and figures on a separate sheet of paper in bullet point form. You should then summarise the case study in your own words to help you better understand the problem to be solved. This way you have all the relevant information in view and won’t run the risk of leaving out anything important when solving the case study.

Structure the problem: If the case study is very detailed, it is a good idea to break the problem down into individual sub-problems. It will be easier to solve each of the individual sub-problems than to attempt to solve the entire problem in one go. When solving the sub-problems, it is important to keep an eye on the whole case study and not get lost in the details.

Solution of the case study: To solve the case study, it makes sense to include so-called frameworks. These are business models that help, for example, with the strategic analysis of entrepreneurial planning (Porter's Five Forces analysis) or the determination of profits (profit equation). If there are several solutions, advantages and disadvantages should be weighed up and then a decision made. In the interview, however, all solutions should be presented, including the solution chosen. This is how you convey creativity and the ability to assess problems from different perspectives. In addition, applicants should always refer to the company and the industry relevant to the industry they are being interviewed for when solving the case study.

Presentation of the solution: When presenting the solution to the case study, applicants should explain the solution and process clearly and understandably. It helps if applicants use a flipchart or a blackboard (if available) and sketch the solution. A self-confident appearance is also an advantage - especially if the interviewer tries to unsettle the candidate by asking difficult questions. A firm yet friendly and communicative interaction with the interviewer is the right way to leave a positive impression.

How much time do applicants have to work on their case studies?

That depends on how extensive the case study is. Shorter case studies can take a few hours, longer case studies even a whole day. In order to solve a case study within the allotted time, it is important to have good time management skills. A guideline is the Pareto principle, which states that with only 20% of the effort 80% of the total result can be achieved. To this end, it is crucial to identify and prioritise important tasks and to focus on what is essential.

What formats can case studies take?

Case studies are either individual tasks or group discussions. Which of the two approaches is chosen depends entirely on the interviewing company. If the case study is to be solved as group work, then team skills are required. In this context, HR managers want to learn more about the softer skills of each participant and to check which roles the candidates could take on within the team, what their willingness to cooperate is like, and to what extent they can hold their own in a group.