This is definitely assessment centre season. Lots of you will be researching your prospective employers, polishing your answers on why you want to work for them and getting ready to be proactive without being domineering at the group exercise. But what about the case study exercise beloved of many “City” employers? Here are 9 top tips on how to approach it.
It really helps if you can go into the exercise with some thoughts on structure in your mind. For example you might have to advise on the possible takeover of a company. What would you want to consider? This might include transaction financing, synergy (or otherwise) between the businesses, competition laws, real estate, plant and machinery, employees, how is this going to play in the markets. Get some rough headings in your mind.
2. Don’t panic if there’s too much to read in the time.
Giving you a weighty file of papers and woefully inadequate time to read it all is a common tactic. Don’t panic, that’ll only cause you to lose reading time! This is where your pre-planned structures are important. Think about your broad headings and slot information under those headings as you find it. Make sure you get an overview of everything, rather than an in depth understanding of only the first four pages! If you’re going to be able to hold onto the papers during the discussions try to get a grasp of where information is, so that you can look for it quickly when challenged. If you’re doing a presentation, make sure that you take time to structure it. Employers tell us that it is the structured answers which impress them.
3. Plan your argument.
If you have to advise or comment on something it’s very likely that your opinion won’t matter. The employers are looking to see how you argue something and whether your arguments support your conclusions. There isn’t a right answer for most case study exercises. So, stop worrying about right and wrong – decide on your stance and organise your arguments to support that position.
4. Use straightforward language.
You might be writing a response to the case study or preparing a presentation. In either case make sure that you think about how you communicate. If you’re writing, use short sentences. Make sure that your meaning is clear and that you get your grammar correct. Don’t ramble or waffle, there won’t be any points for that! Similarly if you are presenting, try to spend a bit of extra time on the introduction and the ending so that you start and finish strongly and with impact.
5. Show you know what is meant by commercial awareness.
Commercial awareness is often seen as something weird and marvellous. It isn’t! It’s about understanding the markets relevant to any organisation, how those markets impact that organisation and what its own drivers and aspirations are. If you’re in any doubt do check out our previous posts on the subject. The case study exercise allows you to demonstrate you are really commercially aware. Make sure that you show that you understand what is going on in markets relevant to the exercise and show how this impacts whoever you are supposed to be advising. Job done!
6. Be prepared to react to the discussion.
You are likely to be challenged to defend your arguments, be prepared to do this but be sensible. Sometimes the pressure of the exercise might mean you have missed some salient point which potentially alters everything. If so, you can be sure that this is going to be drawn to your attention. It may be that what you’ve missed changes your perception of the matter and renders your argument untenable. Be prepared to acknowledge this. Don’t defend an indefensible position!
7. Give yourself time to think when you need it.
Employers tell us that it’s common in case study exercises for there to be periods of silence while interviewees think through questions and formulate responses. Don’t worry if you find you need some time to think. You might just acknowledge this by asking “could I just have a moment?” but take the time you require. No employer wants to take on the employee who is going to give the knee jerk reaction rather than the considered response and you won’t be penalised for thinking!
8. Project a confident image.
Easier said than done when you’re panicking, feel that you’ve been put on the spot and that you’ve got something wrong! Try to keep your poise. Remember that these exercises are meant to be difficult and that nobody expects you to get it right all the time. Smiling goes a really long way to build rapport. Most employers are much more likely to take on the cheerful candidate that the one who looks as though he or she just wants out!
9. And finally?
Try to enjoy yourself. The candidates who land jobs often say that assessment days and case study exercises were fun!