The MBA summer internship is a major part of the business school experience, and getting the right one is important. Good internships are extremely competitive, and the struggling economy has made it harder than ever.
We spoke to a number of second year MBA students and recent graduates who have recently gone through this process and compiled some of the best advice they had on finding and landing the best internship opportunities possible.
What It Is And Why It Matters
In the summer between the two years of their programs, nearly all business school students work as interns. Competition for the best internships is incredibly fierce, and they often come with lavish pay and perks (or, at least, they did in happier economic times.)
What’s all the fuss about? Well, for one thing, it’s simply part of the program. For most MBA students, it isn’t about the love of learning, it’s about the career advantages that being an MBA brings. A good internship is an important part of that resume-building.
What’s more, for many MBAs the internship is a direct path to their first job out of school. Surveys show that around three quarters of companies that offer these internships look to former interns first when making new hires. Many firms look at the internship as a straightforward tryout, hiring a significant percentage of their interns right away.
Let Your School Do Most Of The Work
Many business school students won’t ever need to look for help or advice on getting an internship; their university takes them through the entire process.
Business schools organize events for recruiters to come pitch to their students. They provide information about what is available and how to apply. Often, they have fellowships and standing internship slots reserved for their own students.
If you are a part of this process, and happy with what it has to offer you, some of this advice will still apply to you. But the people who need help most are those who choose to go outside this system in search of a better opportunity than they can get within it.
Get Everything You Can Out Of Career-Services At Your School
Along with just about every other form of employment, MBA internships have taken a hit during the recession. Last summer, many firms that traditionally offered internships cut back or removed them altogether.
This is obviously bad news for students, but, importantly, it’s also bad news for universities. Business schools have gone into high gear finding and creating new internship opportunities for their students. Last summer, Yale University spent $100,000 creating in-house internships to deal with the short-fall.
There is a lesson in this that applies in good economic times as well as bad: your school needs you to succeed. We aren’t suggesting that Yale wouldn’t spend $100,000 out of the goodness of its heart, of course, but the fact is that the success of their graduates is one of the primary ways in which these schools are evaluated.
Even if you strike out on your own to find an internship, lean on the career-services people at your school to help you out wherever you need it.
Seek Out The Start-Ups
Setting up summer internship programs isn’t generally at the top of the to-do list for entrepreneurs starting new companies. That can work to your advantage.
Get to know what’s going on in the industry or industries that most interest you; there’s a good chance that exciting work is being done by companies who haven’t yet thought to establish a presence at business schools. Getting a job with them is extra work for you — it means you have to sell them on the very idea of taking on MBA students. But it also means you can stand out and make your case, rather than just being another face in the crowd.
Avoid an unpaid internship at all costs. And not just because, as one MBA we spoke to put it, “money is good.”
If a firm isn’t willing to pay you anything, there’s a good chance they don’t have a sense of what you can really offer them. They likely haven’t put much thought into what to do with an intern, and thus won’t have any interesting work for you to do. That doesn’t make for a valuable learning experience.
Some business schools offer matching funds for students interning at start-ups or nonprofits. They understand these places might not be able to afford a lavish salary for summer interns. But, again, those are matching funds; they aren’t interested in putting you through an internship that the company isn’t invested in.
Reach Out To Alumni
Find out where the graduates of your MBA program are working within your industry and reach out to them.
You can research this from both directions: business schools aren’t shy about telling the world where their most successful graduates end up, while many companies pride themselves on the fancy degrees their employees have earned. Even if they aren’t directly involved in hiring interns, a lot of these people will be eager to work with you, and can help generate leads.
Keep an eye out for alumni from your undergraduate institution too. It might seem silly, but a lot of people are willing to go out of their way for their fellow alums; that’s where endowments come from, after all.
Make Use Of Your Personal Network
Everyone knows that, as a general rule, a huge percentage of jobs are filled with the help of personal connections. Resumes are great, but a lot of times you need to know someone before yours even gets read.
When it comes to these summer internships, it’s easy to lose sight of this, however. They are a very special type of opportunity that only a small fraction of employers offer. Your school brings connects applicants and firms, and the process is fairly standardized and straightforward.
Don’t buy it. The perfect meritocracy of our dreams may exist somewhere, but this isn’t it. Of the handful of students we spoke to, two ended up interning somewhere that wouldn’t have been on their radar through normal channels. If you know people doing work you find interesting, don’t be afraid to reach out.
Search For An Internship The Old Fashioned Way
The Internet is chock full of job-listing sites of every kind, and MBA summer internships are no exception. For the most part, they aren’t much good.
In part, that is because anything of this sort should be a last resort. If you aren’t happy with anything you find through your school, you don’t have any luck targeting start-ups or other companies that don’t already have internship programs, and your network is no help, then, well, things aren’t going so well. But it happens.
If you find yourself in this position, grasping at straws, we recommend InternshipsGPS. It’s a powerful search engine, considerably better than anything else we looked at.
Do Your Homework
Once you are offered an interview, it’s time to read up. If you are serious about interning at a company, you should know it inside and out before you talk to them.
The expectations here are much higher than at a typical job interview. It’s easy to forget, but you are a student of business, and supposedly very interested in the industry in which you are trying to land an internship, so you should know what you’re talking about.
So do some serious homework. Take a look at the financials. Know who the major competitors are. Don’t go in with questions you could have easily answered for yourself by Googling them.
Don’t Let It Get You Down
The internship is important, but it’s easy to overstate this. If you are at a top school, you are likely surrounded by people who think the world will end if they don’t intern at McKinsey or Goldman.
This is silly. If business school is just a two-year vacation from your already-in-progress career in finance or consulting, great. But if you came in to the MBA program without a clear idea of what you wanted to do when you got out, and you still aren’t sure, don’t panic. You have an internship that isn’t the most glamorous in the world, and you aren’t even sure the industry is for you?
Take a deep breath, that’s just fine. Make sure you find something that will be a valuable learning experience and keeps you from accumulating any more debt over the summer. When you figure it all out, this won’t be the thing that holds you back.
- Your school is the resource for getting your internship. Many MBA students will follow the process laid out by their school 100% of the way.
- Keep in mind that you aren’t the only one with skin in the game; your school builds its reputation on your success. Make the most of that.
- Pitch yourself to start-ups. Some of the most exciting work is being done by companies too new to have established an internship program. Tell them why they should start one for you.
- Avoid unpaid internships like the plague. If they won’t pay you, they don’t see the point of you, and they won’t give you anything worthwhile to do.
- Reach out to alumni. Complete strangers will often feel like helping you based solely on where you are enrolled.
- Work your network. Internships are like any other jobs — they often go to the guy who knows someone.
- Don’t resort to a crude search if you can help it, but if you have to, we recommend InternshipsGPS.
- Do your homework before you go in for an interview. Companies are looking for someone who knows their business inside and out.
- Lighten up. Whatever internship you end up with, you are going to be just fine.