The MBA program is an amazing opportunity to experience something new. However, it is much easier to get involved in something if you have some idea what it is. Here is my attempt to explain, describe my experience and hopefully promote joining case competitions. As a non-business student entering my MBA, I have to admit I didn’t even know what a case competition was. So for those of you entering an MBA from a non-business lens, here is a description of what a case competition is and how my first experience went:
A case competition is effectively a puzzle that a group of students try to solve. These puzzles range in scope from finance, entrepreneurship, strategy, marketing, and more often than not include multiple elements of business. They also range in time frame; some are sprints where you are given 3 hours to read, discuss, find a solution and build the presentation. Others are more like a marathon where the time frame is either weeks or months to complete the process and prepare the presentation. In either case, the goal is still the same: create a solution that is better than your competitors and sell it as such to a panel of judges.
My first experience with the concept of the case competition was with the internal primer. The internal primer was an introduction to the process but was not a real competition. The goal of this exercise was to work in a small group to see what could be produced in a very quick time frame. I have to admit that it was like being shot out of a cannon. Trying to organize thoughts with almost complete strangers at this point (we are now great friends), was an ordeal on its own. We ended up running out of time and slapped a presentation together with no time to practice. We certainly tried our hardest yet the end product was less than stellar.
I guess two things should be said about this experience. First, although I didn’t know what I was doing, I had a pretty good time doing it. Before I started, I decided that due to my lack of business skills I would be less than useless to my team. This in my opinion is a major myth of case competitions. Obviously business skills are necessary; however, having an outside perspective is a great asset to any team. Well rounded teams perform better than a whole team of marketing experts or strategy specialists. Second, the more experience you get with cases the easier they become and the easier many classes in the MBA program will be. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, many classes use cases to test business ideas and use a similar format to what you would see in a case competition. Knowing how to go through a case in a timely and effective manner will make life easier down the road.
Alright, so that was the primer and although our team could have been more effective, we certainly learned a lot. As we entered into the Fall Internal case competition we had a much better grasp of what we needed to accomplish. It could be said that my team and I were by no means perfect in the fall internal competition. In fact, our first presentation was rough (very rough) but we had a much better handle on how to present and what the judges were looking for. We ended up presenting 5 times that day and placed third in our first case competition.
As a side note, there are internal case competitions (like the one I am describing) and external case competitions that happen all over the country and United States. It is a good idea to get your feet wet in the internal competitions prior to applying for external case competitions as that is another totally different experience.
I have had the pleasure of being on multiple case competition teams since then and have learned something new in every one. I would recommend getting involved in case competitions early in your MBA career as it is a great way to meet people, work in a team, and have fun!
Tim Buckland, MBA Candidate