14 Secrets to Winning a Case Competition
The case competition is a hallmark of a business education, but a few missteps can keep even the brightest challengers from victory. Here McCombs School of Business students share their insiders' tips on how to win. And with six wins under their belts this year alone — including four national championships — they should know.
Build a balanced team
From Josh Stillman, MBA '11, member of the team that won the Ross Renewable Energy Case Challenge:
- Build a balanced team with different backgrounds and strengths
- Plan time wisely
- Have strong presentation skills across the team
- Make sure the presentation has a logical flow, and practice!
- Choose a solution that you think will be unique and stand out from other teams
- Back up your recommendations with analytics
- Choose who will answer which types of questions in the Q&A. Often times these competitions are won and lost in the Q&A session.
Anticipate the judges' questions
From Karson Chang, BBA '11, member of the undergraduate team that placed 2nd in the all-MBA CFA Investment Research Challenge:
- Anticipate questions by the judges: It is always a good exercise for team members to ask each other questions that they think judges will ask. The disparity between what you think you know and what you actually know is often surprising, and it forces you to do extra research.
- Be able to justify all of your assumptions: You must go into the competition with the mindset that every single assumption you make will be questioned by the judges. If you are unable to justify even one of your assumptions, then the rest of your presentation can lose credibility.
- A polished presentation and PowerPoint goes a long way: In an ideal world, judges would score you based only on the content of your presentation. However, in reality, the look of your PowerPoint slides and the way that you present yourself are both a reflection on your team.
- Most importantly, do not lose sight of the big picture: While details are important and often are the difference between winning and losing, it is also vital that teams do not get bogged down debating about minute details. A strong core hypothesis or main idea is more important in the grand scheme of things.
Understand industry trends
From Alison Rubinson, MBA '12, member of the team that won the GE ECLP Case Competition:
- Understand industry trends: Judges at both the regional competition (in Los Angeles) and the national competition (in Connecticut) commented that our industry research set us apart. Understanding the changing face of the industry — where there was movement and growth — helped us to better craft and pitch our idea.
- Explain why this for them: Show why your idea is a fit for this company. Feedback from the judges indicated this was very important. Judges said to some teams, "This is a good idea, but why should we, as GE (or Company X), do this? Why us and not one of our competitors?" Clearly show how this idea is strengthened when its executed by this company — which of the company’s business units, resources, knowledge and technologies are you able to leverage with this idea? This seemed to make the pitch more tangible for employees present in the room and enabled them to actually develop ideas around implementation. Professor [John] Doggett prompted us to also establish what holes in the company's current product/service offering would be filled with the idea. By doing so, we demonstrated company research, made it relevant, and established credibility.
- Remember the small stuff: A team with diverse experiences and skills; a few extra facts and figures saved for Q&A; and some of it really does come down to luck. Maybe build up a bit of good karma the week before — give up your seat on the bus or something.
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