Assessment centres and case questions


What is an assessment centre?

An assessment centre is an event held by an employer as part of their recruitment and selection process. Employers hold assessment centres to recruit people for a job or entry into a graduate recruitment programme.

What happens at an assessment centre?

Assessment centres vary in length - they might be just a couple of hours or spread across a couple of days. During the event you will undertake a series of exercises and tests that will be held on the employer's premises, at a specialist assessment centre or in conference venue.

Generally, you will be in a small group of six to eight other applicants. You will be observed by one or more assessors.

Check your invitation for information about what to expect. If there isn't any, feel free to ask the employer.

Activities may include group discussions, presentations, in-tray exercises and social events.

How the employer will assess you

The various activities at the event are designed to give the employer a balanced evaluation of each candidate. Most assessors have a standard rating scale for each candidate and exercise, and a team of assessors consolidates their findings at the end of the session. 

Depending on the activity, employers may be assessing how the group interacts and who takes a natural lead.

Employers will also assess how you:

  • work with other people (your interpersonal skills).
  • would fit into the workplace.
  • behave under pressure.
  • cope with work-related tasks.
  • approach problem-solving.

How to prepare

It's important to prepare for the types activities and questions that will come your way so you can perform to your full potential.

Refresh your memory and knowledge

  • Re-read your original cover letter, CV and application form. Remind yourself of the attributes the employer is looking for.
  • Keep up-to-date with current issues relevant to the job or organisation by reading up on their website and checking out other appropriate industry newspapers, articles and blogs.
  • Ensure you know what the format of the day will be - ask if necessary.

Practice doing tests

  • Practice online aptitude tests.
  • Practice an in-tray exercise.
  • Practice working on case studies and questions.

Practice doing puzzles

Practice doing puzzles, word games, mathematical teasers and puzzles with diagrams. These may help you get in the right frame of mind for the day. Brush up on your maths skills — practise mental arithmetic with and without a calculator.

Practice your reasoning skills

Practise your verbal reasoning skills by reading manuals, technical reports, academic journals and business journals. Extract the main points and summarise.

On the day

Be yourself 

Don't try to be the person you think they want, compete against other candidates or try to dominate the group. Employers look for a range of different leadership styles. Simply present the best version of you and your personal strengths. 

Show your interest

Be enthusiastic. Show interest in the other candidates. Talk to senior staff if you get the opportunity.

Ask questions

Ask questions and join in discussions. Listen carefully to instructions, and ask if you are not clear about what you have to do.

Go the extra mile

Want to know more? Have a look at this video from Career Player for more tips and advice on assessment centres.

Case questions

A case question is an example of a business dilemma facing a particular company.

Your interviewer will give you some basic facts and then ask you an open-ended or specific question.

You will be asked to:

  • Analyse the situation.
  • Identify key business issues.
  • Discuss how you would address the issues.

Types of case questions

A case question may take one of these formats:

  • You may only be given basic information to work with to come up with a solution. 
  • The interview may proceed as an open dialogue between you and the interviewer. You may ask questions to uncover key information and move towards resolution of the problem.
  • You may be given a pack of information to work on (for example company reports, financial statements or graphs) and be asked to report your findings to the interviewers.

Example case questions

  • "You are heading part of a government task force looking into whether to introduce electric cars into New Zealand. As the head of this project, what would you do?"
  • "You are part of a consulting team working on re-launching a supermarket product which is losing market share. How do you approach this problem?"
  • "The government has decided to abolish daylight savings. As part of a consulting team advising on this change, what steps would you need to take?"

How to answer a case question

  • Listen carefully to the question. Take notes if permitted.
  • Summarise the question to ensure you have understood it and are answering it effectively. 
  • Analyse the problem and ask questions - this demonstrates that you’re confident enough to take the initiative, and creates a conversation. This is more interesting to the interviewer than listening to a monologue.
  • Stay focused on the question and don't get so caught up in the detail that you can't get to the resolution.
  • Manage your time well. 
  • Be creative in your thinking. 
  • Try and offer a fresh new perspective.
Also:
  • Don't feel pressured to rush your answer - you can pause to think before you speak.
  • Be enthusiastic and positive. 
  • Structure your answer and quantify it if possible, as this demonstrates that you are comfortable with numbers. 
  • Be aware of the interviewer’s responses. Read their body language - do they look interested? Are you on track? 
  • Summarise your findings and make recommendations.

Remember:

  • There is no "right" way of approaching case questions.
  • Often there is no one correct answer.
  • You are demonstrating that you can think in a logical process.
  • Practice is the key.

Why do employers ask case questions?

Employers ask case questions to:

  • Measure your ability to solve problems — how you identify, structure and think through problems.
  • Examine your creativity in coming up with solutions.
  • Measure your ability to cope with ambiguity.
  • Test your communication skills.

Who uses case questions?

Management consulting firms, research industries, marketing companies, consumer product management and investment banking.

Case questions are often used at assessment centres as part of a group exercise.

These are examples of companies that use case studies in their recruitment processes:

McKinsey and Company
John Bain Interview Preparation
Case Interview

Check out more insider tips on assessment centres at caseinterview.com.