The hiring process in the financial services sector often involves more than just a traditional interview. A growing number of employers are adopting a case study style interview to give candidates the opportunity to showcase their skills rather than describe them.
A survey conducted by the Corporate Executive Board Company (CEB) found that while only 30% of finance departments are currently using the case study interview in their hiring process, 87% of CFOs surveyed don’t believe they have the right talent mix on their teams to achieve their goals.
One solution to this talent gap is the case study interview. Instead of candidates responding to a series of interview questions, they will receive a set of questions concerning a business-related problem.
Kruti Bharucha, Senior Director at CEB, added that sometimes candidates are given information prior to the interview or will be asked to put together a presentation for an interview panel.
A case study interview can also involve meeting with multiple interviewees.
“Others may be put through a set of case rounds with different interviewers – where each interviewer asks a different case and they then get together to assess the candidates’ performances,” Kruti said.
Traditional interview techniques test for functional and technical expertise, but neglect to assess the applicant’s softer skills. These soft skills include communication, persuasion, business acumen, team management and collaboration, all of which can be demonstrated in case-study interviews.
“Case study interviews assess hard-to-teach and hard-to assess competencies, such as simplifying and communicating complex ideas, influencing stakeholders by adapting communication style, and explaining insights in a compelling manner to the business,” Kruti said.
Evidently, the case study approach offers a multitude of benefits to employers.
Four tips to succeed in a case study interview
1. Deconstruct the question before you construct your answer
Break the question into ‘sub-questions’ that you can answer prior to solving the whole problem. With each sub-question, ask yourself why it’s important and where it fits into the overall problem.
Case studies often include a plethora of information and more than one question — it’s your job to sift through the information and pull out what’s most important.
2. Explain your reasoning
Explaining your thought process to your interviewer will help them understand why you may have answered the question in a certain way. Even if you make a mistake, you’ll still be giving them the chance to observe how you reason.
If you’re unsure how to answer one of the case questions, this is a good method for earning points even if you make a mistake.
3. Listen to any leads or cues given by the interviewer (and if you need additional information, ask for it)
Any additional information that your interviewer supplies is probably something he or she wants you to remember, so take note of it and use it in your answer! Sometimes you’ll be assessed on how well you can probe for more information, so if you feel like you need a little more information to create an informed answer, then ask for it.
4. Don’t stress about finding the right solution
Often times in case studies, there isn’t one right answer. The employer is assessing how you solve the problem, not necessarily the ultimate conclusion you draw.
“In a case interview, the candidate could come up with a completely different solution to what seems like the ‘right answer’ but that could be because the candidate displays creative thinking or explores a line of reasoning that hadn’t been considered by others,” Kruti explains.
A sample case study interview question:
After being given information about a firm’s history, structure and finances, you could be asked something like this:
After reviewing their company’s financial records, a group of partners in a hedge fund firm feel that they should act on one or more expansion opportunities that have been presented to them. The company has considered hiring more staff or investing money in a new technology. What would you recommend the firm do?
In addition to general company information, case studies often provide case-specific information to help you answer the question. In this case, you would likely be given information on the two expansion options.