Case study exercises
In these exercises, you are given a set of papers relating to a particular situation and asked to make recommendations in a brief spoken or written report. The subject matter itself may not be important; you are being tested on your ability to analyse information, to think clearly and logically, to exercise your judgement and to express yourself in writing or in a discussion with the assessors.
These are business simulation exercises in which you are given an in-tray or electronic inbox full of emails, company memos, telephone and fax messages, reports and correspondence, together with information about the structure of the organisation and your place within it. You are expected to take decisions, prioritise your workload, draft replies, delegate tasks, and recommend actions.
Designed to test how you handle complex information within a limited time, this exercise allows you to demonstrate that you can analyse facts and figures, prioritise information and make good decisions under pressure. Employers may want to discuss with you later why you have taken certain actions.
Tips for tackling an in-tray exercise:
- Start by reading the instructions carefully and thoroughly – so that you know what is expected of you before you start.
- Read any background information you are given about the organisation, the staff and your role. Focus on key points, and make brief notes. This will help you to get a feel for what is important.
- Quickly read through all items in the in-tray or email inbox – so that you are not surprised by anything later in the task that may affect the decisions you are making early on.
- Prioritise – according to what is most important and most urgent. Decide what can be delegated, forwarded or deferred.
- Identify key issues and any action that must be taken – detailing how, by whom and any timescales or deadlines.
- Highlight – any possible resource restraints, conflicts between tasks, or implications for the organisation.
- Remember that there is often no right or wrong answer – so demonstrate that you have identified key issues, and give your reasons for all the decisions you make.
- Try to stay calm – and watch the clock to ensure you pace yourself correctly.
- Work as quickly and as accurately as you can.
Most graduate jobs involve working with other people and so assessment centres usually involve an element of group work. Whether you have to complete a practical task or take part in a discussion, the assessors are looking for your ability to interact with other people. Remember that good team working is not always about getting your ideas taken forward, but listening to and building upon the ideas of others too.
Here are a few tips:
- In light of the information given, decide objectives and priorities. Make a plan and follow it.
- Be assertive and persuasive, but also diplomatic.
- Remember that the quality of what you have to say is more important than the quantity.
- Make sure the group keeps to time, and help to steer things back on track if the group appears to have gone off on a tangent.
- Keep calm, and use your sense of humour where appropriate.
- Find a balance between advancing your own ideas and helping the group to complete the task.
- Actively listen to what everyone has to say, using nods, smiles and eye contact. Try to get the best contribution from everyone and do not assume that quiet members have nothing to contribute. Be inclusive.
Do not be distracted if one member of the group dominates the conversation, not allowing anyone else to have a say. The worst way to deal with this is to try to compete by shouting over them. A good way of dealing with the situation is to listen to their views and then suggest that other members may have input too. Even if this doesn’t stop them, the assessors will have picked up on your efforts, which will reflect well on you.
You may be asked as a group to use equipment or materials to make something – a tower, using only straws and string, for example. The assessors are usually more interested in how the group interacts than in the outcome of the task. They will also be assessing your planning and problem-solving skills and the creativity of your individual ideas. As with any group activity, get involved however silly you consider the task to be.
Discussions and role plays
You may be asked to take part in a leaderless group discussion or in a role-playing exercise where you are given a briefing pack and asked to play a particular part. The assessors are looking for your individual contribution to the team, as well as your communication and influencing skills.
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