How to win a student competition: The ultimate guide to hackatons

Sep 24, 2023 |By Tomas Jindra

Ever wondered how to win hackatons and student competitions? Or how they fit into the whole career development puzzle of CVs and interviews? Trust me, I've been down that road. From late-night prep for the final presentation to those sweet 'We did it!' moments. Get ready to unlock some real insights and level up!

Why Compete? Unraveling the Mystery of the Case Competition

Ever wondered what drives students to spend sleepless nights, huddled over laptops, brainstorming, researching, and rehearsing for student competitions?

It's not just the vision of the cash prize in your pocket. It's about the thrill of the challenge, the opportunity to test one's grit against the best minds, and the chance to showcase skills on a global platform.

Imagine you enter the Harvard Global Case Competition. The Olympics of student case competitions. But why is it such a big deal? And more importantly, why should you, dear reader, even consider joining?

Firstly, winning or even participating in such esteemed competitions is a golden feather in your cap. It's not just about bragging rights (though those are pretty sweet too).

It's about the invaluable experience, the networking opportunities, and the doors it can open in your career.

Imagine walking into a job interview and casually mentioning that you were a finalist in the Harvard Global Case Competition. Not bad, right?

But it's even more than the prestige.

Competing at such a high level hones your skills like nothing else. It's a crash course in research, teamwork, problem-solving, and presentation skills. You're thrown into the deep end, and you learn to swim fast.

And let's not forget the community. The friendships forged, the mentors met, and the connections made can last a lifetime. It's a melting pot of brilliant minds, all coming together with a shared passion.

So, the next time you come across a poster or an online ad for a student competition, don't just scroll past it.

Rather continue reading so you know how to win it. 

Research Mastery: How to Stand Out in International Case Competitions

In the world of student competitions, research isn't just a task—it's an art. It's the backbone of your entire presentation, the foundation upon which your arguments stand.

But how do you ensure your research is top-notch, especially when competing on an international stage?

  1. Go Beyond Google: While Google is a treasure trove of information, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Dive into academic journals, industry reports, and specialized databases. Sites like JSTOR, Google Scholar, and industry-specific portals can offer insights you won't find on a standard search.
  2. Primary Research is Gold: Surveys, interviews, and firsthand data can give your case a unique edge. It shows initiative and a commitment to understanding the problem from all angles. So, pick up that phone, send out those questionnaires, and gather data that's tailor-made for your case.
  3. Validate Your Sources: In the age of misinformation, ensuring your data comes from credible sources is crucial. Double-check facts, cross-reference information, and always, always cite your sources.
  4. Think Like a Detective: Research isn't just about gathering data; it's about connecting the dots. Look for patterns, trends, and insights that others might miss. It's these unique observations that can set your presentation apart.
  5. Organize and Synthesize: With a mountain of data at your disposal, organization is key. Use tools like Trello, Evernote, or even good old-fashioned index cards to categorize and synthesize your findings. Remember, it's not about how much data you have, but how well you use it.

In the cutthroat world of international case competitions, your research can be your secret weapon.

It's what gives depth to your arguments, credibility to your claims, and conviction to your presentation. So, the next time you're prepping for a competition, remember to dive deep, think critically, and let your research shine.

You know what they say… preparation is half of the win. 

The Magic of Focus: Crafting Solutions that Win Competitions and Impress Recruiters

You've done the research, you've gathered the data, and now comes the most crucial part: crafting a solution.

But how do you ensure your solution doesn't just solve the problem but resonates with the judges and stands out from the crowd?

  1. Less is More: It's tempting to throw in every idea, every strategy, and every possible solution. But remember, focus is the key. Zero in on one compelling solution and flesh it out in detail. It's better to have one well-thought-out strategy than a dozen half-baked ones.
  2. Make it Actionable: Theoretical solutions are great for textbooks, but action is king in the real world (and in competitions). Ensure your solution can be implemented. Provide a clear roadmap, a timeline, and potential challenges. Show the judges you've thought of everything.
  3. Think Outside the Box: While it's essential to be practical, don't be afraid to get creative. Sometimes, the most out-of-the-box solutions are the most effective. Remember, judges have seen hundreds of presentations. Give them something they haven't seen before.
  4. Back it Up with Data: Your solution might sound great, but without data to back it up, it's just words. And no one likes bullshitting (jokes on you BCG). Use the research you've gathered to bolster your arguments. Show the judges that your solution isn't just feasible; it's the best one out there.
  5. Keep the End Goal in Mind: Whether it's increasing profits, improving customer satisfaction, or launching a new product, always keep the end goal in sight. Every part of your solution should work towards that goal.

Crafting a winning solution is a blend of art and science.

It requires creativity, critical thinking, and a deep understanding of the problem at hand.

So, the next time you're faced with a challenging case, remember to focus, get creative, and let your solution shine. 

But now, let’s talk business. Even the best solution is not enough without proper storytelling. Let me explain.

Storytelling: Your Secret Weapon

In the world of case competitions, facts and figures are essential. But there's another element, often overlooked, that can make or break your presentation: storytelling. Here's how to weave a narrative that captivates and convinces.

  1. Start with a Bang: First impressions matter. Begin your presentation with a compelling anecdote, a surprising fact, or a provocative question. Grab your audience's attention from the get-go.
  2. Make it Relatable: Remember, judges are humans too. They resonate with stories that tug at their heartstrings. Whether it's the tale of a struggling business owner or a customer's journey, make it personal.
  3. Build Suspense: A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Set the stage, introduce the problem, and build suspense. Make the judges eagerly await your solution.
  4. Use Visuals: A picture is worth a thousand words. Use visuals to enhance your story. Charts, graphs, and images can make complex data digestible and drive your narrative forward.
  5. Conclude with Impact: End your story on a high note. Summarize your solution, reiterate its benefits, and leave the judges with a lasting impression.
  6. Practice Makes Perfect: Like any good storyteller, practice is key. Rehearse your narrative, refine your delivery, and ensure every member of your team is in sync.

In the competitive arena of case competitions, storytelling can be your secret weapon.

It's what makes your presentation memorable, relatable, and persuasive. Once you have a good research, solution, and story, the only way to f*ck it up is to miss on the delivery. 

And how do you deliver on the case competition? Ofc, presentation. 

Stealing the Spotlight: How to Deliver a Presentation that Leaves an Impression

Standing in front of an audience, especially a panel of judges, can be nerve-wracking. What you say matters, but it’s not all. How you say it is the real deal.

Here's how to ensure your presentation skills are on point and leave a lasting impression.

  1. Confidence is Key: "I used to get these jitters before going on stage," recalls Alex, a finalist in multiple case competitions. "But then I realized, I knew my stuff. I'd put in the work. That confidence changed everything." Remember, you've done the research, crafted the solution, and now it's just about sharing it.
  2. Engage, Don't Just Inform: Liam, who's known for his dynamic presentation style, shares, "I always start with a question or a fun fact. Something to grab their attention. From there, it's about keeping them engaged, making them a part of the journey." Use anecdotes, ask rhetorical questions, and ensure your presentation is interactive.
  3. Visuals Matter: "A slide full of text? That's a sure-shot way to lose your audience," quips Mia, a two-time competition winner. She emphasizes the importance of visuals, infographics, and charts. "It breaks the monotony and makes complex data digestible." Also, there are plenty of free templates available, so it’s not that much of a science.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice: It might sound cliché, but there's no substitute for practice. "I must've rehearsed my presentation at least 20 times," says Noah, who clinched the top spot in a national competition. "By the time I was on stage, it felt like second nature."
  5. Handle Q&A with Grace: The Q&A session can be unpredictable, but it's also an opportunity. Zoe, known for her impeccable Q&A sessions, shares, "It's not about having all the answers. It's about handling the questions with grace, poise, and sometimes, even a bit of humor."

In the world of case competitions, a stellar presentation can set you apart.

It's your chance to showcase not just your solution but your passion, your conviction, and your personality.

If you got even this part right, no one stands in your way to victory. Or is it?

The Final Push: Preparing for D-Day

The clock is ticking, the hours are dwindling, and the big day is almost upon us. It's the culmination of weeks, if not months, of hard work, and the anticipation is palpable.

But as any seasoned competitor will tell you, the final hours are as crucial as the days, or even weeks of preparation that preceded them.

Sam, a seasoned competitor, once made the rookie mistake of pulling an all-nighter before the finals.

"Big mistake," he recalls ruefully. The grogginess, the lapses in memory, the sluggishness - it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The lesson? No matter how tempting, get a good night's sleep. Your brain, and your performance, will thank you for it.

The morning of the competition is a flurry of activity. There's the final team huddle, where you go over the game plan one last time.

Tara, a three-time champion, swears by these last-minute pep talks. "Those moments of camaraderie, the shared determination, the collective focus - it sets the tone for the day," she says.

Dressing up for the occasion is more than just about looking good. It's about feeling good. You remember how we talked about confidence? That’s it. So, put on that suit, wear those heels, and walk in like you own the place.

But amidst all the chaos, don't forget the basics.

Stay hydrated. Grab a light snack. Now I feel like your mum, but you don’t want to stand on the stage with empty stomach. 

So now you know why to join a case competition, how to win it and even when to eat! 

But is it worth the sleepless nights? (Spoiler alert - it is!)

From the Stage to the Boardroom: Translating Competition Wins into Real-World Triumphs

Imagine standing at the crossroads of opportunity, with paths leading to uncharted territories. Like the Indiana Jones, but smarter and in a suit. 

That's the essence of student competitions. It's not just about the immediate thrill of the contest but the wave it creates in the vast ocean of your life.

When Alex first stepped into the world of student competitions, he saw it only as “easy” cash to grab. 

But as he delved deeper, he realized it was a treasure trove of experiences.

The late-night brainstorming sessions were lessons in analytical thinking and creative problem-solving. Every discussion, every disagreement, was a masterclass in collaboration and consensus-building.

But the learning didn't stop there.

The scenarios and challenges posed mirrored the complexities of the real world.

For Alex, it was like getting a head start, a sneak peek into the professional challenges awaiting him.

As he navigated these challenges, he built a network of connections that would serve him well in the years to come. Peers became collaborators, mentors became guides, and industry professionals became doors to new opportunities.

Yet, the most profound impact was on Alex's personal growth. The highs and lows, the victories and setbacks, shaped his character.

He learned the value of resilience, the importance of adaptability, and the joy of perseverance. And with every challenge he overcame, his confidence soared, preparing him to take on bigger battles. Or at least he says so. 

Did I talk about the job offer? 

Well, Alex got his dreamjob at consultancy quite easily thanks to the experience there. In the end, the case competitions often serve as a huge hiring event. 

So, if you ever find yourself contemplating the value of student competitions, remember Alex's journey. It's a prove to the fact that these competitions are not just contests; they're catalysts, shaping futures and forging destinies.

Final Thoughts: Executive Summary

I know, executive summary should be in the beginning, but would you scroll so far if I tell you everything right away? 

Anyway, let’s sum it up! 

  1. Embrace the Challenge: Dive headfirst into competitions, seeing them as opportunities rather than obstacles.
  2. Research Relentlessly: Understand the competition's theme, past winners, and what judges are looking for.
  3. Assemble a Dream Team: Build a diverse team with complementary skills. Every member should bring unique value.
  4. Strategize Smartly: Develop a clear, concise strategy. Break down tasks, set milestones, and regularly review progress.
  5. Practice Presentation Skills: A great idea poorly presented can falter. Rehearse, refine, and captivate your audience.
  6. Avoid Common Traps: Don't overcomplicate. Keep solutions practical, feasible, and aligned with the competition's theme.
  7. Stay Adaptable: Be ready to pivot your approach based on feedback or new insights.
  8. Engage in Mock Runs: Simulate the competition environment. Get feedback, iterate, and improve.
  9. Network and Learn: Engage with past winners, mentors, or industry experts for insights and advice.
  10. Reflect and Iterate: After the competition, analyze what went well and what didn't. Use these insights for future competitions.

Now you are ready, my dear padawan. If not, we don’t give money back, mainly because you didn’t pay as any.

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