How To Get The Most From An Internship

The Experts Weigh In

Recently, Poets&Quants surveyed thought leaders, business executives, recruiters, career services professionals, faculty members, and students on their MBA internship advice. From former GE Chairman Jack Welch to Tippie grad Jon Finley, we asked the same question: How can MBA candidates use their internship to build their networks, leverage their skills, enhance their job prospects, and simply have a more rewarding time? Here were their answers:

Jack Welch

Jack Welch


Jack Welch, Founder, Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University

[An internship] is a great chance to take a swing at a dream, with a startup, a charity, whatever you might want, whatever your hidden passion may be.

The biggest lesson of all when you take a job like this is, I don’t think it is about fun. I think it’s about showing extraordinary capability. Because in today’s crowded field, with more openings than there are jobs, you want to really stand out. That means you have to treat your summer internship with far more intensity than people took them five or 10 years ago. You take it as a serious commitment. You over-deliver. You surprise the people on the assignment. You do more than is asked of you. Surprise your bosses, with more depth and breadth from what they ever would’ve expected from an intern. Breadth and depth! Bring new insights. That’s my two cents worth.

I did internships at Columbia Southern, which is a chemical company. I did one at Santa Oil. In my day, jobs were plentiful. So I might not have taken this internship advice myself.

Eric David Johnson

Eric David Johnson

Eric David Johnson, Director, Graduate Career Services, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University

The summer internship for an MBA is not only a rewarding time, but is an excellent training ground for the first 100 days after graduation. To get the most of the experience, here are a few tips to remember:

1. Understand expectations from your supervisor on (or before) day 1. You should know upfront exactly how success is being defined for you – whether you achieved the organization’s desired results and/or how they will determine whether or not you are getting an offer. You won’t know if you’re making progress toward that goal during the summer if you don’t know what you’re aiming at. This practice is directly applicable to every job after graduation, so you should get used to this conversation now. In a similar vein, clarify exactly what you are expected to deliver at the end of the summer – are you giving a presentation, producing a report, or compiling something else? Beginning with the end in mind is the best way to succeed over the summer.

2. Manage your timeline. A typical summer internship lasts between 10 and 12 weeks. However, you won’t find many of your stakeholders in the office during the week of July 4th. You should also expect your supervisor to have at least one vacation planned, separate from the holiday. And it’s likely that your final presentation will be given on the Monday of your final week. You just “lost” three weeks of maximum productivity, leaving you seven to 10 weeks to complete your tasks. To be efficient, you should spend no more than one to two weeks on background reading and research. You should take the next two to three weeks to do all stakeholder interviews, data collection, and data analysis. Then you will need a week or two to flesh out your hypothesis and begin pre-selling it to your supervisor and stakeholders. Take one week to prepare your presentation, one week to practice it and get feedback, and the last week to give it and complete your follow-ups. Everything else is gravy. The primary mistakes that we see are that an intern spends too much time with the research or doesn’t leave enough time to practice the presentation and incorporate feedback. If you plan upfront, you won’t make these mistakes.

3. Get out and enjoy your “new” city. Should you be fortunate enough to receive an offer from your internship, you will base part of your decision on the quality of life in the city you could soon call home. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have incomplete data on this important factor. When you aren’t at work, go exploring. Have your co-workers recommend unique hometown restaurants for lunch and dinner. Take time on the weekends to view the community hot-spots like museums, theaters, live sports events, city parks, hiking and running trails, and night clubs. Your goal is to be able to answer the question, “Would I be happy living here?” Too often we see interns come back from their summers and admit they worked tirelessly on their projects to earn an offer, only to have no idea what the city has to offer beyond the company’s campus.

Jon Finley

Jon Finley

Jon Finley, Associate, A.T. Kearney (2012 Graduate of the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa)

The internship advice I give to MBA candidates looking to make an internship successful is based on two points: “focus on the fit” and “keep pushing.”

For focus on the fit, my advice centers around getting to know the people and the company that you are working for and how you would fit in there. During my MBA internship, I identified around 10 people within the company that were senior to me – managers and above – regardless if they were in the same area or department as me and asked them for coffee or lunch over the summer. I got to ask them about their roles, departments, history with the company, and where they thought it was going. This helps the intern in a few ways – it gives the decision-makers in the company a chance to know you; you get an idea of where the company is going and what interesting projects may be coming up; and it gives you a good sense of the company culture and how you fit in. I was told that the interns with the best chance for an offer were those who met a lot of people, networked, and fully engaged (along with having a great work product), and that the ones who came into the office, put their heads down on their desk, and didn’t socialize weren’t as successful.

The second piece of internship advice is keep pushing. What I mean by this is an intern can ask these new people to help with an interesting new project, gain new experience, and develop new skills. It’s always good to be known as the intern who was hungry to help with more, even if it’s outside of his or her direct area. This shows engagement and also a desire to take on more responsibility. By asking to do these things, you can get involved in the areas you really find interesting, and get to do what you really want. As John Waters recently said, “A ‘no’ is free.” So keep asking until someone says “yes!”

Darden Dean Bob Bruner chaired the globalization task force.

Darden Dean Bob Bruner

Bob Bruner, Dean, University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

Increasingly, companies are using the summer internship as a screen for offers of permanent employment. This makes the internship a loaded experience. As a result, my first piece of internship advice is, “Do Not Coast”— give the summer job your very best effort; try to make a difference on behalf of your employer; and develop positive relationships with those around you.

At Darden, we find that almost two-thirds of summer interns return to us in the fall with offers of permanent employment. I suspect that the success rate is not too different at many of our peer schools.  What this means is that the odds may be in your favor, but the chance of failure is high enough—and the consequences undesirable enough—that you should take nothing for granted.

The second piece of important internship advice is “Close the Sale.” Too many interns simply show up, work, and then return to school, assuming that their hard work and good intentions will have been noticed. To “close the sale” means that you should not hesitate to let your supervisor know what you accomplished over the summer and that you would really like to work there after you graduate.

Of course, if you don’t get the offer you seek, then you should strictly adhere to the third and final piece of internship advice: “Leave Gracefully.” Don’t moan, beg, or threaten to sue.  Instead, do a lap around the organization, thanking anyone you worked with for the summer experience and expressing the hope that you might work with them again (say this only if you can do so sincerely). Taking the high road always leaves the best impression—and just might prompt the company to call you back later with an offer.

(See next page for internship advice from the Boston Consulting Group)

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.