Case Studies in the Recruitment Process – An Assessment Method for Gathering Data on a Candidate

Recently I started recruiting for a management consulting company who uses client case studies as part of their selection process. For them, it has proven to be an effective way of gathering information on a candidate to assess suitability.

To better understand the use of case studies in the recruitment process, my assistant Laura and I did research into the topic, this blog post is to share that information with you.

An overview of case studies in the recruitment process

Case studies are used as a method of competency measuring. Competency methods can focus on technical abilities, social and behavioural skills, or a combination of the two.

Case studies are most popular in management consulting (though they are used in some other industries) since they are able to mimic the kinds of tasks that would be required in the job.

They are done face-to-face during a specified time slot or given to the candidate to complete in their own time.

See Hiring by Competency Models, Patty Grigoryev (2006)

University of Sydney, Case study interviews

Research on case study efficacy

The premise behind administering a case study as an assessment method is that it offers a level playing field, to some degree, by allowing shortlisted candidates to demonstrate their technical abilities and personal qualities irrespective of past experience and qualification(s).

Case studies enable interviewers to see the strengths and weaknesses of candidates in action, including:

  • Engaging in logical and analytical reasoning.
  • Thinking creatively and generating innovative solutions.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Working under time pressure.
  • Effective communication skills, including presenting in front of one or several interviewers and using a whiteboard to express concepts.

Case studies are detailed in their nature, add cost to the overall recruitment process (because they require time and resources to administer) and are often one of the final stages in the recruitment process.

Reducing the risk of a bad hire

It is well-established that the costs of a bad hire for a business are huge, especially in leadership roles where it can affect the performance of the whole team.

The hard costs of a bad hire are estimated to range between 50% and 200% of the first-year salary. In management consulting, a bad hire cannot only affect the internal team – a poor client experience can have significant impacts from a brand and billing perspective.

Finding ways to reduce the number of bad hires isn’t easy, case studies have been developed to provide additional data points to make a more informed hiring decision. Using competency modelling methods such as case studies, it has been shown to increase success in hiring decisions, with the most significant improvement stemming from a better culture fit.

See Hiring by Competency Models, Patty Grigoryev (2006)

Talent Management 360, Using case studies to recruit talent

Case studies and management consulting companies

Big 4 accounting firms and strategy consulting houses like McKinsey and Bain consistently use case studies in their recruitment process, for example:


PWC appears to only use case studies in relation to taxation and when hiring recent graduates. They are described as “provide students with realistic fact situations in which a number of tax problems and opportunities can be identified”. They acknowledge that law students and business students may choose to approach them differently and give some background regarding the issues and deliverables expected, such as that students are expected to “incorporate a certain amount of tax planning into their solutions”.


By contrast, Deloitte’s approach is broader. The case interview is designed to assess problem-solving and analytical skills, as well as logic and strategy. However, it is also designed to give candidates an insight into their prospective role, since the cases align with real projects. They clearly step out a five-step approach that candidates should use to address the case interview and give a list of helpful tips that they recommend will help interviewees get the most out of the experience. There is also an interactive case interview practice website ( designed to assist.


McKinsey & Company who are notorious for gruelling recruitment methods, with some prospective employee’s having up to 20 interviews before receiving an offer, including a compulsory case interview.

McKinsey offer four example case interviews, which can all be found at this link:


Bain states that any candidate applying for a consulting role should expect a case interview, and those cases will be based on Bain’s client work. They provide two examples, as well as a mock interview for candidates to watch:

Capital One

Capital One also has a detailed case study guide which demonstrates what they will assess (problem solving and analytical skills) as well as providing examples:

Time allotted

The PWC case studies are to be done in the student’s own time, but there is a general guideline offered: “The time required of the student to complete the case requirements will vary greatly, depending upon the level of tax knowledge of the individual student, their software skills, and the number and type of issues in each case. As a very general guideline, each case study, with all issues included, should require not less than 10 hours of issue formation, research, and analysis by a graduate tax student, before the final deliverable(s) are developed.”

Deloitte’s case interview preparation page states that each case is 15-20 minutes long but does not give any set time limits and there is no suggestion that responses are timed.

See PWC Case Studies in Taxation

Measuring the responses

PWC’s case studies are designed to test both technical skills (tax knowledge, Excel ability) and broader skills such as problem solving and creativity. It is stated that the ‘deliverables’ can be in many forms including “a letter to the client identified in the case study, a memo to the client file, or preparing a ruling request for the IRS. Some case study users require oral presentations. These may take the form of a straight presentation or role-play in the setting of a client meeting, resolution of an audit, or representation of a client in a court.” Actually measuring these is not expressly dealt with, but the document does provide a set of solutions to each case study for comparison, akin to a marking key.

By comparison Deloitte is focused less on finding the ‘right answer’ and emphasises that candidates will do well by clearly demonstrating a logical thought process. Having a clear structure and acknowledging any assumptions are listed as recommendations. Possible answers are given in the example attached and they focus on having both justifications and implications for each point. It’s all about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’. For numerical/technical questions however, there is a clear right and wrong.

Other methods of work sample testing

There are alternative methods for collecting data points on a candidate, these include: written questionnaires, take home or in office real life job tasks, online assessment tools and group assessment centres.

One hiring manager I was recruiting for would take a full two hours to conduct an interview with a candidate. In the first hour he would cover off behavioural and company ‘fit’ questions, in the second hour he would launch into a long list of technical questions, including real case study examples from working at his company.

This thorough approach made the hiring manager more confident in his decision to hire the individual (or not hire if the candidate wasn’t strong enough).

Here are some other quality articles on evidence based interviewing and testing.

When I’m engaged to conduct a recruitment process for a client I recommend gathering as many data points on the candidate as possible – including a type of work sample, if possible.

I’m always looking for ways to help organisations recruit better. Leveraging years of experience in corporate recruiting I can assist with finding the bottlenecks and weak points in your hiring process and improving hiring outcomes.

Find out more about my services here:

To talk with me about how I can help, make contact today.


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