How to approach a case study based Group Discussion
Wednesday, January 17th, 2018
The process of a case-study group discussion is almost similar to that of a topical discussion in that there is a preparation time of about 5 minutes, the panel starts the discussion and observes the discussion without moderating it, and the group is at complete liberty to understand, analyse, and interpret the case as it deems appropriate in order to make a recommendation.
There are however 2 key differences.
The first is that instead of an opinion-oriented or a descriptive topic, the participants are given a case statement, which they must read so as to prepare within the given prep time a basic response, which allows them to give their perspective on the problem at hand.
The second, and more important, difference is that unlike the conclusion of a topical GD – in which the panel does not expect a particular outcome – the ideal conclusion of a case-study discussion already exists in the minds of the panellists. They expect you to arrive at it, or at least near it.
Therefore, a topical GD is similar to a ‘free-response’ question, whereas a case-study GD is similar to an ‘objective’ question.
The cases invariably feature a business problem, but often have a social, a personal, or even a political dimension(s) that must be taken into account while solving the problem, and part of the evaluation involves testing the participants’ ability to understand the problem in all its complexities.
Case studies are usually of two types: Those in which the group must make a decision, and those in which a decision has already been made and the group must discuss and determine whether the decision is ‘right’. The former is the norm and the latter, an exception. The former, in my opinion, is much easier than the latter because it is always easier devise a solution of your own than to evaluate that of someone else, who applied their own evaluation criteria which you must first infer and compare with your own. Luckily, only in the rarest of cases do we get to see the latter type.
The Six Steps of Approaching a Case-study based Group Discussion
A participant must approach the case by NOT beginning their thought process by impulsively thinking of what solution would best answer the question that follows the case, for we cannot solve a problem that we do not fully understand. Rather, I recommend the following steps:
Step1: Situational analysis
Step 2: Problem definition
Step 3: Statement of objectives
Step 4: Evaluation of alternatives
Step 5: Recommendation
Step 6: Plan B, if any
Let us understand these steps by examining a famous caselet that I have often referred to in my sessions.
“A software engineer is hired as a trainee by a company that specialises in hardware. As the end of his mandatory training period approaches, his job performance is found below par, and he is informed that he must leave the company at the end of his training period. His immediate superior, out of kindness, writes him a recommendation letter, which may help him in getting the next job. However, this engineer uses the letter to take the company to court and challenges his dismissal.
How should the company resolve this situation?”
I recommend that before you read further, try to answer this question in your own way, and then compare your thought process with what follows.
You can also see Group Discussion – Definition, Tips, and other rules to follow
Step 1: Situation Analysis
Some case studies are as short the one above, or they could have a long case statement that runs beyond 20 to 25 lines. With case studies, it is usually easier to deal with the longer ones than the shorter ones, as the shorter the statement the lesser the data, and the more the number of assumptions we need to make in order to proceed towards a solution.
Please remember that in a case study you – both the individuals and the group – must solve the problem from the perspective of the entity in the question at the end of the case statement – in the above case you are ‘the company’. Nobody is allowed to role-play in such discussions. However, you should certainly examine how the given situation affects all the concerned parties.
Situation analysis, contrary to what usually happens, should not begin by a word-by-word repetition of the case, as every participant is familiar with the case details. If the first person to speak in the discussion does this, he or she will be quickly silenced by someone louder who wants enter the discussion, even if the latter has very little to contribute.
Instead begin analysing the situation by asking the questions about what we do not know about the situation, and what assumptions we need to make in order to solve the problem.
For example, is this recommendation letter personal (made on the basis of a personal relationship) or professional? Has it been issued on the company letterhead? The facts definitely point in that direction.
Therefore, the assumption we need to make is that this is a professional recommendation, and hence potentially damaging to the company.
Was the superior aware of the potential consequences of his action?
We cannot necessarily assume that he was, as he may not have received appropriate training. Would that mean that he is not responsible? Certainly not.
Why was a software professional hired in hardware company?
We cannot necessarily assume that there was a need or a perceived future need of a hardware professional at the time of his appointment. His appointment may have been a result of factors other than his qualifications or the company’s requirement, factors such as nepotism.
Who are the parties directly involved in this problem? The employee, the superior, the company management, the court.
Who are the parties indirectly involved in this problem? The rest of the company staff, the shareholders of the company, and the general public. The potential court case and its proceedings will eventually affect the first two, and the third’s perception of the company may also be affected by a potentially lengthy and publicised court case.
Observe what we are doing here. We are not trying to hijack the discussion by the usual “I think the company should…” kind of beginning. We are trying to understand the situation better. Unless this is done, we cannot go to step 2.
Step 2: Problem definition
This is the most important stage of the discussion. If the situation has been analysed properly, we can not only see all the inherent problems but also determine the order of priority in which they must dealt with.
Problem 1: What to do with the court case? We cannot merely wish it away. This is priority number 1 because it involves a factor superior to us and hence one we do not control: The court.
Problem 2: What do to with the superior? His error in judgement – it could very well be deliberate – has brought the company into trouble.
Problem 3: How to ensure that such an incident is not repeated in the future? This re-examining two processes: recruitment, and recommendation.
It important to agree on the order of priority so as to ensure that all participants are on the same page, and the limited time is most effectively utilised.
Step 3: Statement of objectives
What do we hope to achieve out of a range of solutions we are going to discuss? Where will we absolutely not compromise, and where we might? This must also be determined in the order of priority.
Objective 1: Whether the case proceeds in the court or not, we are not going to retain the candidate in our employment. Any solution we agree on must achieve this.
Objective 2: Whether the case proceeds in the court or not, we must minimise the damage that may be caused to the company’s reputation both within and outside the company. The achievement of this objective is conditional on the fulfilment of objective 1, e.g. if we retain him in our employment, all problems will be over in a minute, but that is not in the best interests of the company or the employee.
Objective 3: We must take appropriate steps to ensure that such an incident is never repeated.
Step 4: Evaluation of Alternatives
You must have realised by now that discussing a course of action is not really possible without a proper discussion on step 2 and 3. You are always going to solve only those problems that you have identified, and only up to an extent determined by the objectives you have set out for yourselves.
Most participants will have their own perspectives on the case in Step 1. However, from step 2 onwards, there needs to be a clear agreement among the group members. The ‘leader’ of the group must achieve this, and ensure that the discussion does not start at step 4.
If the discussion starts directly at step 4, it cannot end in anything but chaos. Any course of action must always be weighed against the objectives in the given order of priority.
I am not going to suggest any alternatives for the above case! I leave that to you.
Step 5: Recommendation
Upon discussing alternatives, the group may make a unanimous recommendation, or the opinion may be divided. In case of such division, a majority recommendation is made to the panel. The group is under no obligation to come to a consensus. The panel is primarily interested in how logical the participants are in their execution of Steps 1, 2, and 3. First I need to see if you can understand the problem. Solving it comparatively easier (if you have identified it correctly).
Step 6: Plan B
Actually, it is plan B, C, D, E, F and so on.
What I mean is the panel does not expect a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. The panel expect you to identify all possible scenarios in which the case may end, and have a plan of action for each. Therefore, a case-study should ideally end like this: If A happens, we will do X; if B happens, we will do Y, and so on till you have identified all that can possibly happen.
In order to successfully solve the case, all 6 steps must be rigorously followed. It is a completely logical process. Take one step out of it, and the discussion will collapse like a computer programme without one crucial digit.
You can also see Group Discussion Tips – How to approach a topical Group Discussion
Do not deviate from the 6-step process.
If the rest of participants deviate, it is wiser for an individual to keep trying to bring them back to the process than to deviate with them. The panel will notice that you tried to approach the task methodically, and did not abandon logic in the midst of chaos. That is a BIG positive.
The case can be solved only if the entire (or at least the majority of) the group works together. Work in the spirit of the team, but do not forget that the team spirit does not mean that you blindly follow the majority of the team.
You must have realised that to understand a problem in all its complexities, you must be able to observe it from the points of view of all the concerned parties. In order to be able to do this – both now and in future – cultivate empathy within yourself. Develop a habit of putting yourself in the shoes of others and feel what they feel.
Nobody said it more eloquently than Aristotle: “To perceive is to suffer.”
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How to approach a case study based Group Discussion
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Case Study Interview Examples: Questions and AnswersYou will need to prepare for an interview where case study questions will be asked. While preparation is required for every job interview, extra time is required to adequately prepare for case study interviews.
Providing an answer to a case study question involves much more than simply recounting the issues and problems set forth, it includes identifying the most important issues, employing sound and logical analysis, developing an action plan for addressing the problem(s) and making recommendations. Depending on the firms you're interviewing with, and the industry you work in, case study questions can be presented in verbal or written format, and address a number of topics.
In case interviews, it's not uncommon for interviewers to exclude important details when asking candidates to resolve hypothetical business problems presented. It's okay to ask interviewers for more information, and it's expected. They want to see if you can identify what information is important, and what is not.
Occasionally, interviewers provide no detail at all to test your analytical skills when adequate resources are unavailable. In these situations, it's okay to make assumptions, but they must be based on sound logic and analysis of information that is provided.
Interviewers asking case study questions are primarily concerned with how effectively you can analyze a problem, determine key factors, brainstorm ideas, and propose workable, pragmatic solutions that are supported by your analysis.
Answering Case Interview QuestionsIn the case interview, coming up with the "correct" answer isn't nearly as important as the process you use for getting there. When answering a case interview question, you want to showcase your ability to analyze a situation or business dilemma, identify the important issues, and develop sound conclusions that flow from your analysis. For this reason, it's important to use a logical framework for breaking down and analyzing the case. Some of the more common business analysis frameworks that can be employed include Porter's Five Forces, Value Chain Analysis, Four P's of Marketing, and SWOT Analysis. The framework you decide to use should be a function of the type of case you're presented.
Where a specific framework for analysis isn't readily available or applicable, a general framework or analytical approach can be applied. The most important thing is that your approach to answering the case interiew question is structured and logical.
Regardless of the type of case you're presented, there will likely be a few main parameters and several factors that influence those parameters. The first thing you want to do is identify the parameters and factors, the then determine which are key to the case output.
For example, assume the case involves a company's declining profitability. From your initial review of the case information you determine the main parameters to consider are total revenues and total costs.
After defining the two main parameters, you'd then drill down further to the factors influencing each of the parameters you've identified. You determine the factors influencing total revenues are average price of goods sold and volume of goods sold. And for total costs, fixed costs and variable costs.
With both the case parameters and factors clearly identified you give yourself the ability to steer the conversation and begin to identify possible solutions. To identify areas of concern, you'll want to explore the history of the four influencing factors. At the end of your discussion with the interviewer you may determine that it's rising variable costs that are having the biggest impact on profitability. You'll then drill down even further to determine what is causing variable costs to rise and come up with more specific recommendations.
Building a graphic representation (tree, decision diagram, etc.) of parameters, factors and other influencing elements will help you structure your thought process, keep from missing key aspects of the case, and make a strong argument for the recommendations you'll make.
Using a framework or structured approach to developing a recommendation for a case study interview question provides the added benefit of giving the interviewer something to take back and present to his or her superiors to make the case that you're the right person for the job.
Whatever you do, don't force-fit frameworks. If a particular framework doesn't apply to the case, don't use it. Most frameworks incorporate universal concepts that can be applied to various business issues. Use the concepts you've learned in school or through prior work experience to support your analysis of the case. Show your interviewer that you understand these business concepts well enough that you can apply them to the specifics fo the business issue being presented in the case.
Below we're going to present several case interview questions organized by question type. To perfect your ability to perform well in case interviews, we recommend reviewing each question and then developing a logical framework or approach for answering each one.
Standard Case Interview QuestionsAs is the case in real life, there is usually no single correct answer to standard case interview questions. As long as you're able to prove your case, using sound analysis and by demonstrating an understanding of the main case issues, you're likely to do well. Below are some common standard case interview questions that provide great practice for case interviews.
- What would be your approach for introducing a product into a foreign market? What are the risks and benefits to consider i.e. producing in your own country vs producing in the new country, etc?
- Company ABC is struggling, should it be restructured? Identify the three main problems it's facing. What is the most important problem the company is facing? How would you recommend the company address this problem? How would you turn this company around? Provide your reasoning for your recommendation(s).
- A toy company has been experiencing decline sales for the last two seasons. Research suggests that introducing several new product lines is the solution. Develop a marketing strategy for the company's largest product line, including pricing, product packing, etc.
- A large chain of retail clothing stores is struggling with profitability. Bases on your review fo the company's financial statements, what problems can you identify? Can this company be turned arounds? How would you go about deciding?
- A new Eddie Bauer Store is being opened up in London. Discuss all the marketing issues regarding the opening of this new location.
- Take in information quickly and remember what you hear.
- Identify key issues, prioritize and logically solve problems.
- Make quick, yet accurate, decisions.
- Manage time efficiently.
- Perform under pressure.
- Be aware of resource constraints.
- Identify customer needs.
- Be original and creative.
Market Sizing Case Interview QuestionsA market sizing case interview question is one where you're asked to determine the size of market for a particular product. These types of case interview questions are popular, and actually not difficult to answer if you practice. The following a few examples of market sizing case interview questions.
- Please provide the total weight of a fully loaded Jumbo Jet at the time of take off.
- How many light bulbs are there in the United States?
- How many photocopies are taken in the United Kingdom each year?
- How much beer is consumed in the city of New York on Fridays?
- How many people sell AMWAY products in the United States?
- If there are 7,492 people participating in a tournament, how many games must be played to find a winner?
- How many golf balls will fit in the Empire State Building?
- How many car tire are sold in Canada each year?
- Given thhe numbers 5 and 2000, what is the minimum number of guesses required to find a specific number if the only hint you're given is "higher" and "lower" for each guess made?
- How do you determine the weight of a blue whale without using a scale?
- Take time to think before you answer the question.
- If given a pen and paper, take notes and write down key information. Use the paper to make calculations, write down ideas and structure your answer.
- Ask additional questions if you feel you are missing information. The interviewer is often expecting you to ask to find missing information.
- Use lateral thinking and be creative. There isn't always just one right answer. Just make sure your answer is backed up by sound logic and numbers that make sense.
- Make sure you know your math. At minimum you'll need to perform some basic arithmetic or mathematical calculations.
- These quesitons are often used to test your ability to structure, as well as your ability to think laterallly, make logical links and communicate clearly.
- Make mental calculations quickly by making sensible estimates and rounding numbers up or down.
- Does your answer make sense? If you're answer doesn't make sense, chances are you've made a bad assumpation, estimate or calculation. Go back and carefully check your work and provide a new answer.
- You can use business frameworks (SWOT, Porter's Five forces, etc.) or mind mapping to support your analysis and answers, as long as it makes sense.
- Many market sizing questions revolve around issues being faced by an organization or industry. Commercial awareness can be very important to answering market sizing questions.
Logic ProblemsQuestions involving logic problems are designed to test your ability to think quickly and logically. These questions also require you to be able to perform numeracy quickly, while under pressure. The following are a few logic problems followed by their answers. Review the questions, develop your own answers, and then check your answers to see how well you did.
1. At 3:15, how many degrees there between the two hands of a clock? (J.P. Morgan interview question).
2. A fire fighter has to get to a burning building as quickly as he can. There are three paths that he can take. He can take his fire engine over a large hill (5 miles) at 10 miles per hour. He can take his fire engine through a windy road (7 miles) at 9 miles per hour. Or he can drive his fire engine along a dirt road which is 8 miles at 12 miles per hour. Which way should he choose?
3. You spend 21 dollars on vegetables at the store. You buy carrots, onions and celery. The celery cost half the cost of the onions. The onions cost have the cost of the carrots. How much did the onions cost?
4. You spend a third of all the money you have on a piano. Half of your remaining money you use to buy a piano chair. A quarter of the rest of your money you use to buy piano books. What porportion of you original money is remaining?
5. Why are manhole cover always round, instead of square?
6. In the Chicago subway system there are two escalators for going up but only one for going down to the subway. Why is that?
7. You find three boxes at the store. One contains onions. Another contains potatoes. The third contains both onions and potatoes. However, all three of the boxes are labeled incorrectly so it's impossible to tell which box contains what. By opening just one box (but without looking in) and removing either a potatoe or onion, how can you immediate label the contents of all the boxes?
8. There are 8 bags of wheat, 7 of which weigh the same amount. However, there is one that weighs less than the others. You are given a balance scale used for weighing. In less than three steps, figure out which bag weighs less than the rest.
9. There are 23 rugby teams playing in a tournament. What is the least number of games that must be played to find a tournament winner?
The following are the answers to the 9 logic problems above:
If you thought the answer was zero degrees, you'd be incorrect. At 3:15, the clock's minute hand will be pointing at 15 minutes, exactly 90 degrees clockwise from vertical. At 3:15, the clock's hour hand will exactly one quarter of the distance between 3 O'clock and 4 O'clock. Each of the 12 hours on the clock represents 30 degrees (360 degrees divided by the 12 hours on the clock). Consequently, one quarter of an hour is exactly 7.5 degrees, so at 3:15 the minute hand will be at 97.5 degrees. So there is a difference of 7.5 degrees between the hour hand and minute hand at 3:15.
Driving his fire engine 5 miles at 8 miles per hour takes 37.5 minutes. Driving his fire engine 7 miles at 9 miles per hour takes about 47 minutes. Driving his fire engine 8 milles at 12 miles per hour takes 40 minutes. So he should choose to drive his fire engine over the hill.
Answering this problem just requires some simple algebra. If we assume the cost of celery = x, then the cost of onions = 2x, and cost of the carrots is 4x, such that the total cost of all vegetables = x + 2x + 4x = 7x = 21 dollars. Consequently, x = 3 dollars. Hence, the onions cost 6 dollars.
You spend a third of all the money you have on a piano, so you're left with two thirds (2/3). You spend half (1/2) of the remaining two thirds on a piano chair, which leaves you with just one third of what you started with (1/2x2/3=1/3). You spend a quarter (1/4) of what you have remaining (1/3) on piano books, which leaves you with one twelth of the original (1/4x1/3=1/12).
A square manhole cover can be dropped down the hole if turned diagonally to the hole, where round covers can't be dropped down manholes.
People coming into the subway tend to arrive at different times, so the flow of people down the escalators is a more even stream. Conversely, when people get off the subway they typically all arrive at the escalators at about the same time. Consequently, two escalators are need to handle people leaving the subway, where only one is required for people arriving.
Just open the box that is labeled "Onions and Potatoes". Since none of the boxes are labeled correctly, this box must contain only onions, or only poatatoes. If you remove a potatoe from this box, the box must be the "Potatoes Only" box.
One of the remaining two box has to be the "Onions Only" box. However, the only you currently have it labeled "Potatoes Only", and the other is label "Onions Only". So the box labled "Potatoes Only" must be the box that contains only onions, and the box labeld "Onlions Only" must be the box that has both potatoes and onions.
Bags of Wheat
Immediately, take any 2 of the bags and place them to the side. Weigh 3 of the remaining six bags against the other 3 bags. If these bags weigh the same, that means the bag that weighs less must be one of the two that you immediately placed to one side. If this is the case, weigh the 2 bags you placed to one side against each other to find out which one weighs less. You've now found in your bag.
However, upon weighing the sets of 3 bags against one another you find that one set weighs more than the other set, place one of the bags from the set of heavier bags aside and weigh the remaining two bags to find out which one is heavier. If they are of equal weight, the you know that the bag you place to one side is the bag you're looking for.
In a tournament, every rugby team except the winner is eliminated from the tournament after being defeated just once. Hence, the number of games required to find a tournament winner is going to be one less than the number of teams, or 22 in this case.
Business Case Interview QuestionsThe following are examples of common business case interview questions:
- How would you work with a subordinate who is underperforming?
- You're consulting with a large pharmacy with stores in multiple states. This company has improved sales but experienced a decrease in revenue. As a result, it is contemplating store closings. Explain how you'd advise this client?
- You are working directly with a company's management team. It is organizing a project designed to significantly increase revenue. If you were provided with data and asked to supervise the project, what steps would you take to ensure it's successful?
- You have been assigned to work with a small company that manufactures a popular product. However, a competitor begins selling a very similar product which incorporates state of the art technology. What would you advise your client to do?
- You have been assigned to advise a company with a large Western European market. Company management wants to open the Chinese market. What advice do you have for this company?
- The firm has assigned you to consult a company intending to drop a product or expand into new markets in order to increase revenue. What steps would you take to help this company achieve its objective?
- You have been assigned to consult a shoe retailer with stores throughout the nation. Since its revenue is dropping, the company has proposed to sell food at its stores. How would you advise this client?
Case Interview ResourcesIn addition to the guides and articles presented on our website, there are several other good resources, including workshops, mock interviews, books and interactive online resources, that will prepare you for case interviews. Some of the resources we recommend are listed below.
- Vault Guide to the Case Interview
- Vault Career Guide to Consulting
- Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation
- Mastering the Case Interview
- Ace Your Case! Consulting Interviews (series 1-5)
Interactive Online Resources