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The Use of Case Studies in Senior Executive Hiring

Everyone agrees that when you hire, ideally it is to add value to the organization. When you consider strategic level hiring or business-critical hiring, the importance of a strong hire / right fit becomes all the more consequential.

C-level hiring can be sensitive, however, after a host of interviews, behavioral / personality assessments, reference checks – how can you really tell if this individual will set your stage on fire?

Case studies, when used appropriately, can be the leveler / make a difference. They can serve as method of competency measuring and allow shortlisted candidates to demonstrate their technical abilities and personal qualities - irrespective of past experience and qualification(s).

They enable interviewers / stakeholders / boards to have an insight on the strengths and weaknesses of candidates in action, such as, logical and analytical reasoning, innovative thinking, communication skills, a reflection of what they consider is the potential of the company they are interviewing with and the like. A little bit like “try before you buy”.

The onus of administering an effective case study and evaluation of responses is on the company that is hiring as is clarity on what they would like to derive out of the process. For example, some businesses focused less on finding the ‘right answer’ but emphasize on bringing out a demonstration of a logical thought process - having a clear structure and acknowledging any assumptions listed as recommendations. It’s all about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’. 

Case studies through an Executive Search process can take many forms. We suggest keeping it simple - a written prompt with relevant information will suffice. For the process to be effective there are several things that must be done:


• Reserve the case study for your top two or three: Your interview process should do the filtering. The case study is meant for the very best candidates to see how they will act in the real world.

• Communicate the process early: Preparing a case means a significant investment of time and energy. If candidates make it past the first-round interview let them know a case study will be part of the final evaluation process. Prepare them for the time commitment in advance.

• Ensure your questions reflect the needs of the role: If you are not specific about the real-world challenges the candidate will face, the less validity the test will have. You will be wasting your, and the candidate’s, time.

• Make it transparent: Let the candidate know how they will be judged. If you have multiple questions let them know your priorities. Communicate the process early - prepare them for the time commitment in advance. Finally, make it open book - ensure the candidate knows that they can ask questions as they work through the problem. Encourage them to reach out. If the candidate gets hired they will have access to you and the team to ask questions – the test should be no different.

• Allow candidates to get creative: Give candidates a minimum of 5 business days to come up with a solution. The goal is to see their planning and execution in action, you can’t get that by giving them an hour to work on a problem in the office.

• An Hour: 50% presentation, 50% Q&A is ideal. We recommend an hour total for the case presentation.

• Internal discussion after: This is key. After the candidate has left, ensure that the selection committee spends time discussing the evaluation criteria and the candidate’s performance – immediately after is always better.

• Follow up: You owe timely feedback to candidates who have committed the time to a case. This call should happen in no more than 48 hours after the case. If you don't have a final answer for the candidate let them know the specific timeline for a decision.

• Equal weightage: The case only works when you have all your final round candidates complete one.


Do the candidates enjoy it?

The short answer is no, the process is more laborious for them of course. However, candidates worth their salt are excited about the prospect of ‘showcasing’ their ability and some even see it as setting a ‘blue-print’ for when they are appointed.

A good case study makes the candidate put “skin in the game” driving up engagement. It doesn’t take much to say yes to an interview. It takes real effort to spend personal time solving a business problem. Candidates won't do it unless they are serious. At the same time, candidates who go through the process are more likely to say "yes" when presented with a fair offer. They are invested, have a clear idea of what their job will entail, know the challenges, and have already thought through solutions. 

When handled well, case studies in senior leadership hiring can be a powerful tool and differentiator.

Author: Renee Tauro - Head of Client Engagement at www.ecap.ae

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