It is a sunny afternoon and, while you are enjoying a well-deserved ice-cream, you receive a notification. You have been accepted to that company event that you applied for, and there will be a business case to solve. Great!
Although wait a minute, what will you actually have to do? Seems tough, you feel pressure. But don’t worry, it is actually simpler than you may think. Why? Well, just think of it as a nice exercise for all the skills that you have been learning throughout your studies and by reading that paper while studying all night for the exams, but didn’t have the opportunity to apply. Let’s see what it is all about then.
Before the case
It is good practice to first do a little bit of research about the company that will give the case. Nothing too in-depth, just the basic info such as what do they do, their main focus or just if they have recently been in the news. A fast way to do this is to google the company name and go to the news related tab of the browser. You can note down maybe one or two questions to ask the company the next day. It is common practice that companies first introduce themselves and give a brief explanation about their current challenges (sustainability is THE challenge, so having one question about it never hurts), and asking a smart question will give you a bit of visibility.
The company presentation
Listen carefully and do take notes. This can help you in two main ways:
First you can have conversation topics for later on (yes, usually there are networking moments with the company representatives!) and second, there may be some hints for the case. The things that they share with you are the things that are in the company “attention basket”, and if you show your interest they will also be willing to share more.
Also, listen carefully to the way they communicate and their presenting style. If you can match their style during when you pitch your case solution it will help you to score some points!
During the case
Here we go, you get the info and the business requests and now it is all up to you and your fellow team members to shine. In my personal experience I have worked with cases that have either extremely detailed information and numbers breakdown, as well as cases with barely two pages of text or cases with no paper support at all. Keep in mind that there is no way (or at least I do not know) to know which kind of case you will get, so you need to be flexible and be very good at reading the situation and then decide for a matching strategy.
The base step for any of these cases (except for the one without paper info) is to read, read and read. A good advice is to read everything, and if the time allows it do it twice. This will help you to assimilate the information. Keep an highlighter or pen with you, and note down some ideas while you go, it will help you to find things easier later. This is particularly important for big hefty cases, where you really have to dive into loads of info. In this specific situation you will be tempted to skip content but really try to make time for it, it will save precious time after.
Analyze the data and try to make first rough connections with what the company desires from you. As a rule of thumb, a big case will look a lot at your capacity to make sense of a (literally) overkill of information, your practical approach and the ability to divide a big problem in chunks. In these cases a good team task division is also a must. Divide et impera, just saying. On the other hand when facing shorter cases, you will be probably pushed to think out of the box, to be creative and to make use of few information to steer further investigation.
While you are working your way through, do not forget that it is good practice to already arrange your findings in a presentation-like manner. This will have two beneficial results, first it will give your thoughts structure and second it will highlight the possible connections among the topics and the requests in a simple manner, allowing you to build a storyline for your solution. Lots of bonus points.
Finally collect your thoughts and try to make a business-like presentation, be clear and concise and always show your reasoning. It does not matter if it turns out to be an unrealistic idea, they will appreciate the fact that you have followed an analytical way of thinking.
Finally after the round of presentations, perhaps you won or not but, do not forget to listen carefully to their feedback, or to ask further questions if they show you how they solved the case.
But above all, my personal advice is try to be yourself and to not be afraid to make mistakes, after all, these are wonderful learning opportunities.