Case competitions are great fun. I did 9 of them during my MBA days. It’s a chance for you to compete with students and see how good you are at ‘cracking the case’. The format differs considerably:
- Some competitions last 3-4 hours, while others can last a month
- Some are among several schools, while others are within your school alone
- Many are company-sponsored: goodwill + see which students have potential
- Some have cash prizes, while others give you bragging rights and corporate gear
Easy to find. If you Google “case competition” you will find dozens of them – sponsored by consulting firms, business schools, and other groups. If you are at a B school – ask around and participate – you will learn a lot. If your school / department does not have one, think about how to start one. It’s a chance to rally the larger community (faculty, recruiters, students) for a useful pedagogical exercise.
- Harvard global finance case competition here with $10,000 in loot; 126 schools compete
- American Marketing Association (AMA) has a case on Mary Kay this year here
- National Black MBA has a case competition dating to 1992 here
- APICS (supply chain organization) / Deloitte case competition for undergraduates here
Hard to do. Here are my tips for consulting case competitions. Some of these you have control over, and some you don’t Either way, it’s a chance for you to put your thought process, teamwork, and presentation skills to the test:
Before you go:
- Given a choice, pick your team well; lots of trust among participants, diverse skills, fun working
- Know the audience; faculty? recruiters? finance / marketing / consulting folks?
- Talk to your peers who participated in the past; what worked? what did not?
- Look at last year’s case (it is usually published) and reverse-engineer a smart solution
When you get there (assuming it’s in person):
- Get settled. Sometimes the competitions are over-night and kinda exhausting
- Pay attention to all the instructions; always tons of small cues, and hints they leave for you
- Stay classy. In the end, you are representing your school. Never forget that.
Think through the case:
- Read through the case carefully, but focus on the key points. 1/2 of cases are needless details
- Work backwards from the hypotheses. Don’t aimlessly put together slides.
- Frame a general outline for a presentation; what are the main sections and what you want to say
- Time-block. How much time for “architect” vs. “carpenter” vs. “judge”; time management is key
Do the analysis:
- Put the data into excel; business schools (in particular) want to see that you modeled it out
- Divide and conquer; what are your hypotheses and analyses that need to be finished
- If outside resources are allowed; analyst reports, S&P industry surveys, investor relations decks,
- For unconventional data, be unconventional: linkedin, glassdoor, forums, chatboards
- Even if you 90% of this does not make it into the deck, it makes for great appendices
- Tell a story. “How would you tell this story to your (not so smart) cousin?”
- Use the pyramid principle; put the executive summary first
- Use slide titles effectively; titles are the key real estate on each of the pages
- Titles should tell the story. . Slide 1 leads to Slide 2 leads to Slide 3 etc. . .
- All graphs, tables, data, should support your point
- Make the graph axis and numbers legible; don’t forget some people in the room older than you
- No clip art, or cheesy photos, ever. Not needed. Trust me, McKinsey does not do that
- Focus on the main points. Boring details can go in the appendix
- Use data when you can. A partner once told me, “specificity provides credibility”
- Make sure you cover implementation & considerations & risks; this shows realism and maturity
Judge your slides ruthlessly:
- Ask, “So What”; all slides should have a point. If it does not . . . uh, <Ctrl, E, D>
- Time your presentation. If you have 15 minutes, I am thinking 6-7 pages
- Put it in the appendix; love it when the judge asks you a question you have appendix for
- Assign someone to be the “red team” and poke holes in your arguments; be ready for Q&A
- Show some management acumen. Sprinkle in some marketing, finance, ops, IT, human capital
- Make sure your presentation has a point of view. Strong opinions loosely held.
- Stick to the story; judges will hear 5-6 versions of the same thing; be memorable and salient
- Practice the mechanics; who presents ? how to hand off? who flips slides? who leads Q&A
- Smile and be gracious. Pretend the audience is the client who is paying the bills
- Make eye contact with the key judges. Make sure they understand your points.
- Be human. No one likes a robot. Also, business robots are the worst. Boring, un-fun. Be human
- The Microsoft CEO said here that new hires need to bring energy & clarity; yep, do that
- Pace yourself – the worst thing is to run out of time. NB: this is also why you do the executive summary up front
- Finish strong. Studies show that people remember the 1st thing and the last thing you say.
- Be confident. Fake it until you make it. Optimism and confidence is contagious
- Answer Q&A eagerly. Be thankful for the feedback, as if you were solving the problem together
- If you (and your team) don’t know; admit it. Say you will investigate and get back to them
- NB: Please don’t read your slides. The audience can read faster than you can talk.
- Meet people and have some fun. If you make 2-3 great connections, this whole thing was a win
- Forgive yourself. You need to be your own best fan club. If you made a mistake, no worries
- Thank your team mates, and your sponsors. This is all a great opportunity