In spring 2020, I was anxiously awaiting my start date for my summer internship. I came to business school to pivot careers and had been successful in obtaining an internship in consulting. After the euphoria of landing a spot at McKinsey, the reality began to set in: I was going to be re-entering the workforce again.
As a former people manager and trainer, I recognized the challenge that comes from starting work in a new organization. The learning curves with technology, knowing the critical people in an organization, and understanding nuanced internal processes are steep. When you combine those anxieties to the innate stress of trying to demonstrate that you can add value from the very start, the nerves can get overwhelming.
The fact of the matter is that you have to embrace the change that’s coming. That means you can use the final weeks of your semester to get ready to crush your internship and maximize your opportunity to walk away with a full-time offer. And don’t worry if you don’t have an internship confirmed. These tips are still helpful to make sure you’re prepared for day one once you have your internship secured.
BUSINESS SCHOOL ISN’T REAL?
As I approach graduation, I’ve been thinking about how I could get ready for work. I texted a friend to ask how she was able to transition back to working full-time. First, she asked if I considered failing a class to stay longer. After some laughs, she offered up something I didn’t expect. “After a while you realize business school isn’t real,” she told me. “You can lean into the transition that way.”
Well, of course business school is real! I had just spent the last year working hard and learning as much as I could. Here’s something you sometimes forget as a student: School is not work. What I loved about business school is that you get to learn in a low-stakes environment. The professors are engaging. Class discussions can be meandering, but they generally do offer value through hearing different viewpoints from others. In general, you’re learning theory in a safe environment with minimal consequences for making a misstep.
Theory is great, but it has to be applied. The first two semesters had been a gift. With my internship, I had an opportunity to take the lessons I’d learned and apply them in the real world. So recognizing that point is the first step to getting ready for your internship. This prepared me to enjoy the privilege of being a student, but recognize that as a step in the process of becoming a stronger businessperson. I focused on taking classes, such as modeling and advanced finance and accounting courses, in order to as much as possible so that I could deploy those skills as a working consultant. At the same time, I also focused on leadership opportunities, such as being president of the Management Consulting Association and a board member for the Association of Hispanic and Black Business Students.
A POSITIVE MINDSET IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL IN YOUR TOOLKIT
A lot of anxiety comes from making sure you have the necessary skills to perform well on the job. Last year, I spent time emailing people I connected with during the recruiting process for McKinsey. I let them know when I was starting and asked for advice on what to study to be ready for the internship. The common advice from everyone was to focus on being positive and engaged because I would learn what I needed on the job. What was important, they said, was that I got the offer. That’s because it showed that I had what it takes to be successful through the interview process. And the same applies to you.
If you go to a larger organization, there will be structured orientations and training sessions, maybe even throughout the entire summer. But what can’t be taught is attitude. In order to be flexible and open to learning, you need to maintain a positive attitude. When you first start you’re not expected to be perfect. However, making mistakes runs counter to the type-A personalities that tend to go to business school.
Being positive isn’t just about staying optimistic in spite of everything. What it means is recognizing that you will make mistakes and those mistakes provide learning opportunities so that you can do the work better moving forward. That, in itself, is the definition of learning of the job. So swallow your ego, embrace the mistake, and stay positive. Your team will recognize your effort and will be much more willing to swoop in to help you be successful.
My way of doing this was by having a session called “Flop o’ clock”. During my summer, I would flop down face down on my bed, take a deep breath, and remember I’m not going to be perfect to start. Over the weeks, my “Flop o’ clock” sessions became less frequent as I got more comfortable with my team and with the work I was doing. I recognized that learning on the job and adding value early on aren’t mutually exclusive. This helped me to release a lot of stress, volunteer for more tasks, and enjoy my time even more.
That being said, attitude can only take you so far when you have to build a model and prepare a client walkthrough. My advice is to look into programs offered by professional organizations and your school. For instance, the Management Consulting Association at Stern offers a session called “Hit The Deck,” which trains students on how to build a consulting deck. Academic Advising and Affairs offers sessions throughout the school year on Excel, design thinking, and current topics such as blockchain and fintech. Such sessions are a great way to strengthen your toolkit in anticipation of your internship, outside of what you’re learning in your standard coursework.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF THE INTERNSHIP
In order to make the most out of your summer, spend a bit of time reflecting on what you’re hoping to experience. A great place to start is to review the plan you set out for your year and see how it can apply to your summer.
For example, my goal in business school was to develop strong analytical skills. McKinsey set up an initial meeting with my professional development manager (PD) before I was staffed on my first project. I used that meeting to explain that goal as context and requested opportunities to do modeling and prepare slides. She delivered, and I was able to get experience observing and building parts of a working model.
When my summer project wrapped up in mid-July, I still had several weeks left on the job. My PD and I met again and referenced our first conversation around my summer goals. From there, she found a new team for me that needed associate support for finalizing analyses and a presentation deck. In that project, I built out several analyses and slides that ultimately made it to the final deck presented to our C-level clients. Who’s to say that I could have gotten that experience without saying exactly what I wanted out of my summer!
Remember why you came to school and what you want to get out of it. That will help to frame what you ask for in your internship to build on those goals and get the most out of your summer and beyond. Moreover, if you find during the summer that you aren’t getting what you need, it’s ok to proactively seek out those opportunities.
Call to Action
- Research upcoming webinars being offered by your school’s professional clubs and office of career development.
- Think about the kind of projects you would want to work on and the skills you’re looking to develop over the summer.
- Once you know your start date, don’t forget to follow up with anyone you connected with during recruiting and let them know when you’re starting.
Cortne Edmonds, who claims both New York and New Jersey as home, is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern School of Business. Prior to business school, she worked as a general manager in the language services industry for eight years, with experience working in New York, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. After school, she will be working in management consulting. Each month, she offers her advice and perspective for prospective and current students looking to maximize their MBA experience.