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Tackling Case Studies Tests Job Interviewees’ Potential for Success

The Harvard Business School pioneered the concept of using case studies to sharpen students’ mental agility and also to identify exceptional participants.

One expert, a former longtime Harvard career adviser, urges job interviewers to use the case studies as a way of evaluating potential hires.

According to Marc Cosentino, case studies when used effectively can provide insights into a candidate’s ability and equally important how he or she handles business situations.

While not an easy way of gaining information about a candidate, case studies are effective in identifying key traits that spell success or failure within the organization.

Firms give case interviews to:

  • probe intellectual curiosity
  • test analytical ability
  • observe thought process

The interviewer should evaluate:

  1. the interviewee’s logic, original thought and intellectual curiosity
  2. the types of questions the interviewee asks
  3. the structure and organization of his/her notes
  4. how the interviewee handles himself/herself when the interviewer cuts him/her off in midthought
  5. whether the summary of the case is short and on point
  6. overall communication skills; eye contact and posture, listening skills, enthusiasm
  7. Pittsburgh Airport test – chemistry – Do I want to work with this guy?

Cosentino says the interviewer should “pose questions that will take the candidate outside [his/her] comfort zone, put pressure on [him/her] to think and brainstorm and test [his/her]  overall business acumen.”
“There is a lot of math in these questions, and the candidate can’t use a calculator. We’re not looking to see if he can multiple and divide, but whether he thinks before he speaks,” Cosentino says. “The interviewer constantly challenges the candidate, telling him he is wrong and getting in his face. Can he defend his answer without getting defensive?”
As with the Harvard Business cases, “It’s not about getting the right answer. It is about seeing how the candidate thinks, the structure of his thought, his level of confidence, and how well he can articulate under pressure,” Cosentino says.
“We collect and analyze the candidate’s notes at the end of the interview. Were they well-organized, how did he do his math, and can I read his handwriting?”

Cosentino suggests managers and HR Leaders provide an oral case from the company’s experience and develop details as the candidate moves through the process of solving the case.
Marc Cosentino is the president of and for 18 years was associate director of career services at Harvard. He is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School, Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and the University of Denver.

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