Updated: Feb 26
Throughout your time in college, even if this is your first semester, you may have seen fliers, posts, or other advertisements for case competitions. Most campuses have dozens of them each term, on various subjects and sponsored by various companies or organizations. Between studying, working, and having a social life, you may think you just don’t have time to participate in a case competition. That’s a big mistake, and here are the top 3 reasons why.
1) Gain experience in real business scenarios
As much fun as it is to use matrix algebra to prove the Gauss-Markov theorem, read the entire works of Shakespeare in 8 weeks, or discuss the symbolism of Plato’s cave, it can often be hard to relate the skills we learn in our classes to what we will be doing in our careers.
You want to bridge that gap? Do a case competition. Trust us. Once you’re out in the real world, you’ll be working with teams solving real business problems—most college classes don’t give you that kind of experience. And that blaring hole usually shows on your resume, and in your job interviews. That’s why case competitions are one of the best ways to prepare for your future career. The entire point of the case is that you are thrown into a situation a real company might face, and you have to get them through it. It doesn’t get much more “real world” than that. You’ll be able to apply all of that matrix algebra or critical thinking you learned from Shakespeare in exciting, practical, and marketable ways.
2) Practice your strategic and critical thinking skills
Once you start your career, most problems won’t be as black and white as they are in school. You absolutely need the mechanical skills, but employers care just as much about how well you can think through a problem. Case competitions are one of the best ways to practice this essential skill.
These unstructured, open-ended scenarios require you to produce a working solution with little to no guidance—just like facing a problem in the real world. That’s not an easy thing to do! Most people struggle with unstructured work. Algebra is plug-and-chug; business isn’t. Failures and “dumb ideas” are surprisingly common. And guess what? That’s a good thing.
Failure is an important part of the critical thinking process: the more you screw up, the faster you’ll grow your creativity and confidence, and figure out how to get to the best solutions. As Thomas Edison famously quipped, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Every student should participate in at least one case competition simply because there is no better way to force yourself to think creatively. Fail or succeed, your #1 guaranteed prize is growth. Learn to innovate in a case competition, and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running at your first job.
3) Network with business decision makers and peers
This point is probably the most important. When a company hosts a case competition, they don’t send schlubs to be the judges. Depending on the purpose of the case, they’ll send heads of different departments. If you can impress those people with your strategic insights and applied skills, you just got yourself a leg up in the recruiting process. In case you hadn’t heard, networking is the key to landing that internship you wanted. And case competitions are one of the best ways to meet the kind of people you want to rub shoulders with.
On a different angle of networking, getting to know other students who have similar ambitions to you is one of the most underappreciated aspects of these competitions. We often get so anxious about the whole recruiting process that we look at our peers as the competition—when in reality, these people are often treasure troves of knowledge and can help you in your recruiting journey with advice and connections. When you do get a job, they’ll be the ones you’re in the trenches with.
There are many other good reasons to participate in case competitions. There’s a lot you can learn from them, and if they offer cash prizes then that’s extra nice. But practicing critical thinking, gaining experience with situations you may see in your career, and networking with decision makers and with your peers are what make case competitions a must for all students. You may not win each one you do, but there is no reason you can’t be successful at them just the same.
Case competitions will give you the leg up you need—and while we’re on the subject, we’re hosting one! Check out the details at internationalhub.org/beyond-borders.