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Four lessons that case competitions taught me on how to be a better consultant (and person)

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

About a year ago, along with my teammates Pierce and Anna-Sophie I had the privilege of participating in the 2018 edition of Aarhus Case Competition.

I keep vivid memories of the experience: our first meeting on the train to Aarhus, the late-night-Red Bull-fuelled struggle to juggle Excel, PowerPoint, and Tableau to come up with some good-looking slides, and the celebrations on the last day.

All in all, my memories from ACC 2018 still bring me great joy for the fun that I had, for the friends that I got to know, and for the luck of meeting my future colleagues of NNIT. Nevertheless, I now realize that along with the memories I took away with me something equally important. As I had the time to reflect on my experience in trying to crack cases, I understood four lessons on how to be a better consultant and individual.

Thus, what I would like to share with you, fellow students, case competition fanatics and recently-hired consultants, is my humble perspective on some key points that I believe can be valuable for who like me is starting a career in this challenging yet highly rewarding industry. I am aware that some of these points may sound obvious, so please take them with a grain of salt for what they are: a neophyte consultant’s words to other aspiring consultants.

1. Always, always, always be humble.

a. Be humble with your teammates, for they are in the competition for the same reasons: to learn new things, to meet new people, and to have fun along the way.

b. Be humble with your clients, as they (most likely) know their business way better than you. You do not always need to change their business models from top to bottom, but rather you should identify their most relevant challenges and address them with clear and understandable solutions.

c. Be humble with yourself. It is true that you must face some of the brightest contenders and judges, but do not fall for the pressure of portraying a distorted version of yourself. Do as much as you can but do not overdo things, as being your normal self is the best way to work with others.

2. Listen first, draw later.

a. Resist the temptation of immediately going to the whiteboard to brainstorm ideas. This may create biases over any “pet idea” that will distort your judgment for the rest of the project. Rather, take the time to properly read the documents and understand the client´s business and needs.

b. Also, make sure that you agree with your teammates on what you have heard or read. It is better to address divergences at the beginning rather than 10 minutes from the hand-in.

3. Creativity is important. Credibility is more important.

a. If you are asked to find out how to brew better coffee, maybe coming up with an original IOT-connected AI-empowered blockchain-supported coffee machine is not the best approach. Does it sound cool? It surely does (at least it does for me). Will the client believe you? Hardly, unless you have made extensive research and built a solid business case around the idea. Maybe just changing the filter would suffice.

b. Nevertheless, do not give up on finding innovative solutions to problems! If solving a case was as easy a mechanical process, learning by hard some books would be enough to become a successful consultant.

4. The devil is in the detail.

a. Means often lie. As compelling as they sound in their simplicity means frequently hide vital information in their subcomponents. Thus, segmenting averages can be an easy way to find vital information that can take your case very far with a relatively small effort.

b. Choose your words carefully. Sometimes the choice of a word instead of another may seem trivial but may change significantly others´ perception of your recommendation. For instance, saying to clients that they “must” do something gives them a different feeling than knowing that they “could” do something.

On a last note

Finally, I would like to mention another key benefit of participating in case competitions: the possibility of using them as an entryway to your first job in consulting.

Indeed, after ACC 2018, I had the luck of being contacted by NNIT, the Digitalization Partner of the competition and the firm where I currently work as a Business Consultant. Indeed, NNIT gave me the unique opportunity to combine my passion for strategy and data science by working together with seasoned consultants and data scientists on innovation-focused projects. All in all, I can say that I finally managed to find a job where, if I ever pitched a super high-tech coffee machine, I would be rightfully shut down; but just before someone approached me and asked: “Cool, does it really store data in a blockchain? Let´s make a POC and let´s pitch it again”.

I wish to all of you aspiring consultants and ACC/Aspire participants to have as much fun as I had last year, and, as in my case, that the competition may help you find a great first consulting job. Good luck to everybody!

Best regards, Michele, NNIT

PS. In case any of you would like to hear more about case competitions, how it is to work as an NNIT consultant or if you just want to grab a cup of coffee to ramble about tech, I would be more than happy to get in contact with you via my email

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