Case studies during job interviews: how to protect your work

Jul 29, 2021

4 mins

Case studies during job interviews: how to protect your work

You’ve landed an interview for your dream job, but making sure you get hired is a whole other story. The recruitment process can be long and demanding with five or more steps. One of them may include asking you to do a case study interview. What are case studies exactly? How common are they? Can it be unlawful for a recruiter to ask for one? Here we look into this particular step during the hiring process and how you can protect your work.

What are case studies?

Are you new to the concept of case studies during the hiring process? The first thing to note is that a case study interview puts you in the driver’s seat. You’re given a real business problem or scenario to work through and solve. You will probably be required to do one if you’re applying for a role in management consulting, although they are also used in other industries. Most case study interviews are conducted face-to-face with a recruiter or a panel in a session that usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes.

Case study interviews are different from standard interviews, as they involve working through a business problem to reach a logical conclusion. The idea is to put you in a situation that mimics the work you will be doing and give the interviewer an insight into how you might perform on the job. The case may be given to you verbally or in writing. Then you’ll be asked to describe the assumptions, strategies, and steps you’re using to solve the case out loud or in writing within a specific period.

The type of problem will vary depending on the employer and the role. There are a few common types of cases you may be faced with: real or theoretical business scenarios; those that test your numeracy skills and ask you to estimate figures; those that expect you to interpret graphs or charts; those that test your skill at developing corporate and business strategies; those examining profitability or growth opportunities.

If the scope of the issue worries you, remember that having in-depth knowledge of the industry on which the question is based is not necessary. Nonetheless, it is useful to have an understanding of basic business principles and current affairs in the corporate sector. Doing some research on the company before the interview to find out more about its work and clients is helpful.

Working through a case study allows you to show your skills and your ability to work through a problem in real-time. The recruiter may also be assessing personal qualities such as your capacity to stay calm in a stressful situation.

Are case studies legal?

Case studies have become common in some hiring areas, but does this mean they are always entirely legal? According to Suzanne Staunton, an employment barrister and partner at JMW Solicitors LLP, asking an interviewee to do a case study is unlawful only when the company looks to flout the law. “By way of example, if the request is in some way harassing or discriminatory in nature, it will of course be unlawful,” she said. “If the case study request is not genuine and it is an attempt on the company’s behalf to get free work, then potentially it could amount to negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation.” If this happens, can the interviewee do something about it? Yes, but it can be “expensive to pursue” and it is “usually hard to prove,” said Staunton, adding that costs may be recoverable if the interviewee wins.

Should you be paid to do a case study?

An employee must be paid by an employer. But what happens when the person performing the work is not employed by the company? Is it legal for a recruiter to ask for a case study, which is a type of labor, without paying the interviewee? According to Staunton, as long as it remains a genuine recruitment exercise with no intention on the firm’s part to use the work, “then there is no limit to what a company could ask you to do and it is a matter for the interviewee what they will accept,” she said. In other words, as long as you agree to perform the work during a hiring process, it is legal for the recruiter not to pay you.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have done a case study but didn’t even get a response from the recruiter, you are allowed to ask the company “to irretrievably delete the case study,” said Philip Partington, an intellectual property partner at JMW Solicitors LLP. However, “taking this course of action is likely to result in the interviewee not being considered for future roles,” he added.

Your work was stolen, now what?

If you realize that the recruiter has used the work you did for the case study afterward, you may be tempted to consider taking legal action. So what are your options? Partington says the interviewee owns the copyright of the item or piece of work. Hence, “if the interviewer uses the item or piece of work, then it infringes their intellectual property rights,” he said. If the company didn’t hire you, Partington says you can bring a claim against it for that item or piece of work. But “this could be very expensive for the interviewee and may not result in much by way of damages,” he said.

Moreover, if a recruiter ends up using the work you’ve done for a case study, “it could potentially amount to theft,” said Amy Shaffron, a criminal partner at JMW Solicitors LLP. “But as it is very hard to quantify the loss, it is unlikely the Crown Prosecution Service would seek to prosecute it.”

While case studies may be demanding and may sometimes be on the verge of legality, the means you have to protect your work and your rights are limited. At the same time, you have the right to refuse if you are asked to do one although doing so may prevent you from getting the job or being considered for future roles within the company.

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