The case for case competitions

Mike Hurley, BS’17, likely would have never found his job after graduation if it wasn’t for a case competition.

“The case competition opened doors that I never expected to be open,” said Hurley, now using his supply chain management major in a position at Allison Transmission. “We had dinner the night before with executives in the industry. A recruiter took my résumé and gave it to the right people, who were looking for help at that time. They called me back. If I hadn’t participated in that case competition, I doubt I ever would have spoken with them at all.”

And to think, Hurley almost didn’t participate, at all.

“As I went through college, I avoided most anything that was outside of class. But as I got into my senior year, I realized I wasn’t getting any bites on my job applications. Maybe I needed to do something different. Professor Mark Ippolito had mentioned case competitions several times, so finally, I said I would do it.”

“And, wow. Look where it got me,” Hurley said, laughing. “I wish I would have done a case competition every time it came up.”

VIDEO: Kelley students explain why case competitions helped them to excel, network, and find jobs in their field of study.

So, what is a case study competition?

Teams of students from a number of universities and colleges independently analyze a case study that presents a business situation or problem.

Based upon each teams’ analysis, students develop a recommendation for a course of action the business should follow. The recommendation, with the supporting analysis and rationale, is presented to a panel of judges, made up of business executives. The judges rank order the presentations, and they provide detailed feedback to each team.

“These competitions provide an opportunity to test your analytical and presentation skills in an unstructured environment that replicates what you’ll be facing on-the-job after graduation,” said Mark Ippolito, senior lecturer in operations management at the IU Kelley School of Business at IUPUI. “They also are a great résumé builder and provide visibility to a group of business executives, many of whom are looking for new talent. They help you stand out from others in a job interview, and they help you build your professional network among students from other schools.”

“Sometimes it comes down to the smallest detail on whether or not you get an interview,” said Hurley. 

At these events, executives see you and talk to you. This gives you exposure in front of executives that you can’t get anywhere else.  

Mike Hurley, BS'17

In addition to supply chain management and logistics competitions, Kelley School students have participated in human resource management case competitions.

“It was exciting to dive deep into HR practices, and it was fun to work with a team of like-minded students,” said Emily Gaffney, BS’18.

“I recommend this to any student looking to be challenged in a very different way,” said Morgan Vonderheide, BS’18.

“You’ll get to know your teammates well, and you’ll come out with a whole new mindset. You’ll know how to handle anything that comes your way.”

What’s the timing like?

“We were given about 18 hours to get ready for the presentation,” said Hurley, who participated in the 2017 Conexus Indiana Logistics Case Competition. “We stayed up late, got up early, stayed up late again, got up early again and we presented. It’s great practice for public speaking. You can’t get comfortable talking to people unless you go out and talk to people, and these competitions allow you to do that.”

Martina Fialova, BS’17, participated in several case competitions during her time at Kelley Indy. She, too, found her job because of a connection made at the General Motors Case Competition in Detroit.

CLOCKWISE: A student team prepares before a case competition presentation, HR students stop for a photo after their case competition, and a team presents at a supply chain case competition.  

“Every case competition was different, and they were each challenging. But it was all so worth it,” said Fialova. “For Kelley-Krannert (a competition between Kelley students and business students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management), we got together the week before, and we quickly learned to work together. All our egos were set aside. It showed me I can work with people, and that teamwork is really important.”

“For the HR case competition, we actually got the case a week beforehand, unlike some of the other case competitions,” said Gaffney. “We had a week to prepare, then submit our analysis and suggestions to the judges.”

“Once we got to our practice room, the competition organizers added an additional piece to the case,” said Vonderheide. “That addition made the experience more like a real-world scenario: Something comes your way that you’re not expecting, and you give it your best effort with the resources you have. It’s a new way to learn. It also helps you learn to manage your time – between typical course work and work for this competition.”

 "After so many case competitions, I am more confident in how I speak to people. The interviewing process is an easier conversation for me because of my experience in public speaking."

“I came here as an international student, so that was just another barrier I had to work with,” explains Fialova. “But because of these business competitions, there’s easier access to people from your field, and you have a unique opportunity to talk to so many different professionals. That makes you memorable, as well.”

Fialova says before she signed up for case competitions, she didn’t like public speaking.

“I just told myself: This will be a good way to push myself, to practice public speaking and to gain some confidence,” she said.

Fialova says while she was doing the GM case competition, she interviewed for a position there.

“The GM competition gave me another level of confidence. The interview went well. After so many case competitions, I am more confident in how I speak to people. The interviewing process is an easier conversation for me because of my experience in public speaking and because of all the presentations I’ve done.”

"My advice to any student: Take advantage of opportunities that are handed to you because they don’t always come, and they may not be there later."