Case Studies-for Hindustan Times Campus

by Sidharth Balakrishna on Friday 19 August 2011, 11:36 AM | Category: Strategy| View: 1700 views

Several Management Institutes are now using Case Studies as part of their selection process along with the Personal Interview, rather than the more-conventional Group Discussion. How should you prepare for this? Sidharth Balakrishna, an IIM Kolkata alumnus gives some valuable tips.

The reason is two-fold. One, a Case Study is perhaps a better way of assessing a candidate, since everybody who is provided with the Case has the same information, which they have to analyse. Your prior knowledge of the topic or a particular subject, which would be important in a conventional Group Discussion, therefore doesn't matter. The focus thus shifts primarily to your Analytical Ability-which is what the panel wants to test.

Second, a Case Study aims to simulate a real-life situation. It puts the candidate into the role of being an actual decision-maker, rather than a mere participant in a discussion. Thus, the manner in which the candidate arrives at a decision-his methodology, framework, approach etc is laid bare-and this is what the panel wishes to see.

Now let us take an example of a simple Case Study. The idea of picking up this example is just to illustrate the approach that candidates could follow. So I shall keep the case itself simple for the purpose of this article.

The Case Study basically states that you are the Head of Sales & Marketing in a company whose sales have been consistently declining for the past couple of years. Some figures may be given to you to affirm this statement. In addition to declining sales, you face another problem-your sales force is getting de-motivated and therefore, key staff are quitting and joining rival firms.

You are asked as to how you would go about tackling the issue.

Going about the Case Study

1. Analysing the problem

The first step in a Case Study discussion is to understand the problem. More importantly, you need to separate the problem from its symptoms.

For example, in this case where you are supposed to play the role of the Head of Sales & Marketing, it may be that declining sales is actually the symptom of the problem, and not the problem in itself.

You have to ask the Interviewer questions to ascertain where the real problem lies. Looking at additional data that may be provided could also help to a great extent. For example, the reasons behind declining sales could be any of the following:

  • The product itself has become obsolete and therefore, no amount of marketing plans would make the consumer buy the product.
  • New alternatives are now available in the market which were not present earlier. For example, the market share of Nokia's phones has substantially declined in recent times in the Indian market. One major reason is the presence of several new alternative handsets.
  • The pricing is not appropriate; thus the ‘Value Proposition' is not good enough.
  • The sales force has become de-motivated over time. Maybe this could be due to an incentive structure that is not appealing enough to them.

There could be several other reasons, asking the right questions of the Interviewer will help you to identify the real reason. It is here that your Analytical Ability is first tested.

2. Coming up with Alternative solutions

Having now identified the real problem, the next step is to see what can be done. It is advisable to come up with alternate possibilities for action-do not just state a single solution.

The Interviewer will then test your Analytical Ability further by making you go through the pros and cons of each possible solution that you have suggested. This is where the crux of the analysis of the case study lies-can you demonstrate an ability to analyse all aspects of the solution that you suggest?

Let me give you a simple example based on the above Case where you are expected to play the role of the Head of Sales & Marketing. You could suggest alternatives such as a decrease in price of the product to increase its demand, better packaging, coming up with a catchy advertising campaign, appointing a brand ambassador, refurbishing the product to appeal more to the customer etc.

Indeed, it is fairly easy to generate alternatives. But you have to analyse their efficacy-for example, if you decrease price, you might indeed increase demand, but what would be the effect of the brand image-may it suffer a negative impact? Asking further questions of the Interviewer is now necessary to narrow down your alternatives into a workable recommendation.


3. Recommendations

Now you are in a position to make some recommendations. There are a couple of things to be kept in mind here:

  • You might find that there is a short term issue that needs immediate attention (like your staff quitting) and one that can be addressed in the medium/ longer term. In that case, you must clearly spell out the steps that should be taken in the short and medium/ longer term separately.
  • Whatever alternative you choose is likely to have some repercussions. Business School panels prefer candidates who demonstrate an ability to understand how things are inter-linked and therefore affect each other. For example, the launch of a car like Nano by the TATAs is likely to affect not only the sales of its competitors, but also the sales of other cars that TATA produces like the Indica.

4. Summary

After you finish, it is advisable to summarise your recommendations. Keep your summary short and simple.

Remember that a Case Study is all about analysis and logical thinking. Make sure you demonstrate this ability from beginning to end!

About the Author

Sidharth Balakrishna is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta, a well-known author, and an MBA preparation expert. He has been part of the Interview Panel to select students for MBA institutes in New Delhi and has written the best-selling 'An Introduction to CAT-Tips from an IIM Alumnus' published by Pearson Education as well as several articles for reputed publications. He has also held seminars across the country and can be contacted at: [email protected] Sidharth's forthcoming books are ‘Reading Comprehension for the CAT-Tips from an IIM Alumnus' and ‘Marketing Case Studies', both to be published by Pearson.

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