How to Use Case Studies to Qualify and Hire Top Candidates

  When you’re evaluating candidates, there’s only so much you can glean from their résumés. Sure, past experience and education matter. But what you really need to know is whether they can do the job for which you’re hiring — and a case study can help tell you that. Case studies give candidates an opportunity to showcase their skills. They also provide hiring managers reassurance that a candidate is worth moving forward in the interview process. Not only do case studies indicate a person’s skills, they also highlight their attention to detail, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and how interested they are in the job. Someone who is keen to work with you is going to put substantial effort into the project to let you know they’re serious about their performance.

Getting Case Studies Right – Ask Yourself These Two Questions

Before you incorporate case studies into your hiring process, you need to answer two questions:

How much weight will the case studies have?

The first question to consider is how much a candidate’s case study will influence the hiring decision. Some companies put a great deal of stock in the case study because they are hiring primarily for technical ability. Other organizations view it as just one part of the whole. They might weigh personality or cultural fit more heavily than technical performance, but they use the case study to determine a person’s basic competency. Get clear on how case studies fit into your process, so you can use them to identify the right people for your team.

What are you trying to learn?

The second aspect to consider is what you want to learn about your candidates because this will inform how the studies are designed and how you’ll evaluate the results. Establish objective criteria, so you can avoid unconscious bias in the hiring decision. Everyone is susceptible to bias, so it helps to have clear guidelines for choosing the right hire. You may gel with someone personally, making you feel inclined to offer them the job. But once you look at the results of different candidates’ case studies, you may see that someone else is clearly the better choice.

Tips for Administering Case Studies

Once you’ve decided the role case studies will play in your hiring process, you need to decide how to implement them. You can issue them via email and allow candidates to complete them at home within a certain time frame, or you can have them complete the case study on-site. The former is useful for seeing how thorough and meticulous a candidate is given ample time to work through a problem. But the latter approach enables you to see whether someone works well under time constraints. Also, consider the level of complexity necessary in each case study. You may issue assignments with varying levels of intricacy based on the role. A junior-level accountant might only need to show he can manipulate data in a spreadsheet, whereas a CFO candidate will need to demonstrate deep analytical and planning skills.

“Not only do case studies indicate a person’s skills, they also highlight their attention to detail, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and how interested they are in the job.”

Structure case studies as win-wins for you and the candidate. While you gain insight into their skills and abilities, they should also be able to get a sense of the company and their day-to-day responsibilities based on this assignment. Use their results as a jumping-off point for the next stage of the interview as well, offering feedback and asking them to walk you through their thought process. If the case study doesn’t have clear value for you and the candidate, they may feel that you’re simply roping them into doing free work and they may decline the job.

How to Minimize the Drawbacks of Case Studies

Although case studies offer many advantages when it comes to hiring, they’re not without their drawbacks. They add another step, and therefore more time, to the interview process. That’s a liability in a tight job market, because candidates might be turned off by having to jump through too many hoops. The best candidates will have several options, and they may decide to take whichever offer comes first. The key to maximizing a case study’s effectiveness is to ensure it doesn’t take up too much of a candidate’s time. They should spend no more than five hours on the assignment, preferably less. Don’t delay on the next steps in the process either. You want to keep them moving through the hiring pipeline, so they don’t become frustrated or lose interest. When you assign the case study, encourage candidates to ask questions. This is a chance for them to “try on” the role for which they’re applying, so you want the case study to enhance the conversation rather than stifle it. You’ll also get to see whether they’re the type of person who will ask for help when they need it or who is naturally curious about the work they’re given.

Make Case Studies Work for You

If this is your first time using a case study in the interview process, try reverse engineering the process. What do you hope to learn about your candidates? What do you want the case study to achieve? Work backward from your desired outcomes, and you’ll have an actionable, results-oriented plan.  

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