5 Tips to Nail Any Case Competition

Nariman Ziaee
Nariman Ziaee

Nariman Ziaee has masters in biomedical engineering and has worked in R&D for medical device laboratories. He joined the Global MBA program at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in 2016, with concentration in ERM and Finance. Upon graduation, Nariman is seeking to work as consultant within the technology field.

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After weeks of hard work, it was finally time to enter the competition. My teammatesMarcus Tan, Chirag Potdar, Ryan Douglasand I gathered in our hotel room and decided to practice our presentation for the 20th time. The clock was ticking, and we only had 10 minutes until leaving the hotel for the case competition. Why were we so nervous? We had precisely 8 minutes to present, and the smallest mistake from a team member could have put our sleepless nights to waste. Once the last round of practice ended, I told the team, “It’s enough! Let’s breathe deeply and relax our minds until we get on stage. We are surely prepared to show the judges what Blue Jays are made of!”

On December 1st of 2017,  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted its second annual case competition. For the competition, the Chamber Foundation invites MBA students from around the world to form teams and provide solutions to the most challenging business problems of the day. In 2017, the question was themed around the reasons the general public has a negative perception about businesses, and how this perception can be changed. The teams should have come up with a solution that was practical, effective, and most importantly novel. Our team from the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School was able to make it to the four finalists after the first round of submissions.

During our time working on our MBA degrees, each member of my team participated in 3 – 5 case competitions. We were finally able to bring all of our refined skills to the table and devise a winning solution. We proposed a 3-tiered solution that would demand implementation of annual business summits, collaboration data banks, and blockchain technology to secure business platforms. All three of our approaches were aiming to narrow the gap between businesses and the public, and create a trusting relationship between the two.

Alongside Johns Hopkins, the other finalists came from UC Berkeley, Stanford University, and The George Washington University business schools. The judges included representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, FedEx Corporation, and an economics professor from Dartmouth Tuck School of Business. The judges felt impressed by all teams, but the factors that made Johns Hopkins stand out were creativity, organization, and a data-driven approach that was backed by research. The judges finally announced Johns Hopkins as the 1st place, GW as 2nd, Berkeley as 3rd, and Stanford as the 4th place.

The announcement of the winning team was certainly a glorious and thrilling moment for our school, our families, and ourselves. We are planning to participate in a few more cases before graduation and create an effective solution that can make a difference in our community.

Many first-year students have reached out to us for pieces of advice on success in case competitions. I try to stay away from cliché and repetitive tips, but there are a few ground rules that truly make a difference, and can help students beyond their case competitions as well. Here are some of the must-haves:

  1. Team: Who you work with is extremely important. Try not to stick to your close friends, since they may not be your best co-workers. Make the team diverse, both in terms of personality and background. A combination of optimistic and skeptical people can help create and refine ideas toward the solution.
  2. Research is foundation: If you cannot support your claims with resources, don’t put them on the PowerPoint. Spend a large portion of your time on relevant research, and put any additional useful information in the appendix to show your underlying work during Q&A.
  3. More hours, more reward: Most of the winning teams in case competitions work between 50 – 100 hours on the case. If you think it is not worth the try, calculate the hourly wage that you would receive if you win. I would consider $30/hr a reasonable wage, and this is no different than a part-time job. Try to be efficient at your meetings and use your time wisely towards perfection of your presentation. In addition, don’t forget to practice the speech multiple times and use catchy presentation techniques to keep the audience engaged.
  4. Make it pretty, it matters! A great solution without great presentation is like a skeleton with no flesh. Believe it or not, people enjoy great graphics, animations, and presentation tools, so why not use them? Dedicate a good portion of your time to design slides.
  5. X-factor: You should not only be better than other teams, but you should also be different. Every winning solution has an x-factor that is unique and revolutionary. You have to convince judges that your solution has not been done before, and that is exactly why it is going to solve the problem this time. Coming up with acronyms or unique brand names for your solution is a plus, and makes your presentation unforgettable.

Good luck on your next competitions, and don’t forget to make Blue Jays proud!

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