If your interviews were auditions, then your summer internship would be your rehearsals. Before you play to the crowds, you have 10 weeks to step into your character, learn your lines, and build rapport with castmates. By nature, rehearsals are tedious and thankless, as you sharpen your timing and grow comfortable with your surroundings. In the end, there’s no greater reward than taking a bow to the whistles and applause.
Thinking about it, maybe acting isn’t the best metaphor for internships. For starters, employers often toss MBA interns on stage to face an audience. Supported by seasoned performers, they draw on their wits and training to win over the crowd. And internships are designed to strip away the artifice so employers can see the real you. In an interview, they can’t gauge how you’ll act under pressure. They can only guess if your past excellence can translate to their industry, role, and expectations. When it comes to hiring, employers always wonder if you truly follow their values.
“We want to understand the student’s values and what motivates them, says Michelle Hay, head of human resources of the Americas at A.T. Kearney, “so that we know if they fit with our very collaborative culture and truly care about the work that we deliver and about our client’s success.”
EMPLOYERS LOOKING FOR DIFFERENCE-MAKERS
Of course, employers expect you to fumble lines and miss cues during your internship. They aren’t expecting a flawless performance. Instead, they are searching for signs of something deeper. They are looking for hunger, ideas, and leadership – someone who can elevate the mind-set and performance of their peers. They want interns who aren’t boxed in by precedent and fear. They don’t need MBAs who just fill a seat; they crave talent who can re-define and transcend roles. In a word, they’re searching for “difference-makers” who’ll become their future directors, partners, and chief executives.
“You should be trying to make a real difference,” says Keith Bevans, partner and head of global consultant recruiting at Bain & Co. “In that sense, you’re not on a tour or a safari looking at and experiencing different things, you should be making a meaningful contribution to the organization that you joined.”
While results are key to successful internships, intangibles play an equally important part. Ultimately, these habits reflect whether success is achieved the right way and sustainable. “Over the years, I’ve had several different interns,” Bevans notes. “The ones who stand out to me are the ones with a great attitude about being ready to learn. They’re eager to make a contribution to the team. I’ve had a couple come into the team who were just eager to go and they’re willing to work hard and learn and study the industry and get all that behind them. And then they’re constantly think about, ‘how does what do fit into the bigger picture?’ How does this work stream fit into the case and how does this case fit into the overall relationship with the client? And knowing how to think big picture really makes them successful on the case side of things.”
SUMMER INTERNSHIPS ARE A TWO-WAY STREET
Internships may be a proving ground for MBAs, but employers are also under the microscope. “Essentially, an internship is a mutual interview between the intern and the firm,” says Kristen Williams, global head of campus recruiting at Blackstone. “It gives the MBA candidate an ability to make a well informed decision on future employment – it’s a bit of luxury of time for someone to refine career interests and aspirations. In return, it gives a firm the opportunity to make better educated full time hiring decisions.”
After being pulled in every direction during their first year, summer internships are also a time for MBAs to step back, think, and focus. Returning to work after a year-long absence – with their skills honed from countless cases, models, and projects – internships are a chance for MBAs to apply their learning to real people and situations every day. As with business school, MBAs often gained the most by stepping up and getting heavily involved.
“I embraced every opportunity I was given to gain exposure to different areas of the company, whether it was taking on an additional project, attending an industry event, or participating in store visits,” says Isabel Lagdameo, who’ll be graduating from New York University’s Stern School of Business this spring. “This was also an opportunity to demonstrate how my previous work experience in advertising translated to a marketing role within the beauty industry.”
SET GOALS AND NETWORK
Interns can immerse themselves in a company and excel in every assignment that comes their way. To be truly successful, they also need a goal in mind ahead of time. “I had clear goals for what I was doing such as leading a launch, says Namrata Dilipkumar Kothari, who graduates from Kellogg this spring. “But I also shared with my manager very early on what my goals were.” As a result, when a launch was moved up in the schedule, Kothari was thrown into the fire by her ever-busy manager. In the process, she gained unexpected management experience by leading a team.
Networking is another must, adds the University of Wisconsin’s Tosan Olle. For Olle, networking – and the company intelligence you gain from it – is like currency. “The more you know about how your assignments fit within the overall organization and how different parts of the organization work to make a whole, more likely you are to build networks, possibly enhance job prospects both inside and outside the division and have a more enriched experience overall.”
Recently, Poets&Quants reached out to leading recruiters and graduating MBAs and asked this 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 some of their answers:
Miriam Park, director of university programs, Amazon
Internships are a two-way street. And the MBA interns who find their time at Amazon the most fulfilling are those who have an insatiable curiosity and a desire to hit the ground running. A strong MBA intern will use the summer to dive into the critical inputs and outputs of processes that impact their summer project. Our best MBA interns develop a great depth of understanding for what they’re working on. They know how their product or service affects – or will impact – Amazon’s customers, and they can speak to this in a data driven way.
For example, one intern spent his summer internship assessing whether Amazon should pursue a new opportunity. He used data to define the size and profitability of the opportunity, and was able to give a recommendation of whether moving forward made sense for Amazon customers. His business team ultimately implemented the strategies that he outlined – a great example of the opportunities in an Amazon internship as well as how a thoughtful and thorough approach to an internship at Amazon has the potential to impact customers.
The summer is also an opportunity to make connections across Amazon. Interns who reach out to folks across the company – whether leaders or those in peer positions – better understand the breadth of activities and opportunities at Amazon. That knowledge can really help interns when they’re weighing next steps after their internship and MBA program end.
(Go to next page for advice from Bain & Co.)