Pre-MBA Internships: Kellogg Admit Shares Key Lessons

Kruti Malkan, a rising first-year MBA student at Northwestern Kellogg, says her decision to do a pre-MBA internship — in fact, she did two — was one of the best she’s made. But she also bemoans the lack of available information on such internships, urging schools to do more to promote them as a way to prepare for the rigors of an elite MBA program. Courtesy photo

Some want to travel and relax before starting their MBA, and some want to study and prepare. Increasingly, MBA admits are pursuing a third path: seeking summer work experiences that will help them adapt to the rigors of elite programs. Though most business schools are officially agnostic on the pursuit of pre-MBA internships, the overall sense is that they are growing in popularity as students seek an edge in the experience sweepstakes.

Kruti Malkan is one of those students. Admitted to Northwestern Kellogg School of Management’s Class of 2023 that enrolls this fall, the Houston, Texas native hopes to use her MBA experience to pivot into tech. Malkan, a project manager and procurement analyst for a bank holding company that primarily operates in the southern U.S., is looking to use her MBA at the premier marketing program in the U.S. to explore that side of business while moving into technology management. But that’s not all. She also wants to explore a strategy pathway.

Malkan has so many diverse interests, in fact, that one pre-MBA internship wasn’t enough. So — taking advantage of the continued remote nature of work amid the coronavirus pandemic — she did two, and didn’t even need to leave her day job.

A PRE-MBA INTERNSHIP WAS ‘CRUCIAL FOR ME’

Kruti Malkan. Courtesy photo

It’s about building skill sets, Malkan tells Poets&Quants. After earning a marketing bachelor’s from the University of Texas-Austin and spending the next three years in finance, she didn’t want to begin her MBA at Kellogg with any blind spots.

“The reason why I didn’t do the courses route, or I didn’t travel, was because I knew that I needed to solidify certain skillsets that I had not built at all over the past three years, let alone in the function that I wanted,” Malkan says. “So I thought the pre-MBA internship would solve — or at least help solve — the problems. When employers look at your resume saying, ‘What type of background experience do you have?’ that’s just something you’re going to need to be able to answer.”

Besides her day job and a couple of internships in marketing, Malkan has felt for a while that she didn’t have enough professional experience. So when her bank, BBVA, was acquired recently by PNC Bank, she used the opportunity to sign up for a leadership rotational program “where I could get my hands in everything.” The experience renewed her interest in leadership development.

“Whether it was marketing, whether it was supply chain, whether it was working with our web services team, I wanted to gain cross-functional experience before I settled myself into one particular area,” she says of the program. “Now, upon completing the program, I joined the supply chain and procurement team because they had a specific analytical and project management role that I was very interested in. So over the past three years, I’ve been in project management, supply chain analytics there.”

Looking ahead, though, she is interested in product management or product marketing management — and that’s why “I thought it was crucial for me to do a pre-MBA internship” before beginning the intense program at Kellogg.

HARD TO FIND INFORMATION ABOUT PRE-MBA INTERNSHIPS

Looking for suitable pre-MBA internships, Malkan was hoping for hands-on experience in the startup world, knowing that she would be working closely with company founders and CMOs. And that’s where she hit her first big snag. The problem: a dearth of information about pre-MBA internship opportunities. One of the few articles she was able to find was a 2020 Poets&Quants story about a Stanford admit’s remote internship with Paintru, a 2019 startup that creates artwork based on customer photos.

Malkan spent hours trying to gain more information on pre-MBA internships, but besides a general overview of the programs offered by some companies, she came up empty-handed.

“There’s just not a lot of information about it,” she says. “I know that there are programs. But tech doesn’t really have a lot of pre-MBA programs — it’s mostly consulting or investment banking that have a lot. In the tech world, there are not many, and I think it’s because tech recruiting is piped all over the place — some tech recruiting is in the fall, some tech recruiting is in the spring.” To enhance her skillsets, Malkan was looking for specific product marketing and general marketing experience. She reached out to several people but came up empty and discouraged.

“I absolutely would love something else to be out there regarding MBA shifts, because a lot of people think that they maybe have to join certain programs to pivot in their careers,” Malkan says. “And I think if a person really wanted hands-on experience and they wanted something different than what they’ve had previously, they definitely should look into pre-MBA internships.”

LEARNING THE STARTUP ROPES

Eventually, she found a retail opportunity at LUKH, a South Asian company with offices in Chicago that rents high-fashion Indian garb for big events, starting a remote internship there in February. Then, because of the 2020 P&Q article, Malkan decided to try Cleveland, Ohio-based Paintru, where she secured another remote internship in May.

Malkan says she had great experiences, and learned a lot, in both internships.

LUKH “means a lot to me because I am a South Asian woman minority, and I could relate to a lot of what the business is about,” she says. “I wanted to work there because (co-founder Karen Desai) was also a Kellogg student. She needed to rebuild her team this summer and kind of revamp everything that she had done last year, and I joined the team with the purpose of not only just learning more about marketing, but really understanding how startups work, understanding how technology works and really getting hands-on experience with everything that I can.”

At Paintru, “I kind of wanted to see another side of marketing, so I did a lot of customer research,” Malkan says. “And so my project was focused more on researching who our customers are, what their hesitations are, purchasing and how they feel about our company in general. They were kind enough to give me projects that I personally wanted to do, as well as help their business to grow.”

Malkan says she especially wants to give a shout-out to Desai, CEO and co-founder of LUKH; Purvi Vyas, director of confidence of LUKH; and Aidan Casey and Brendan Aronson, CMO and CFO, respectively, of Paintru, saying they all mentored her throughout her internships and gave her the opportunity to jump-start her MBA journey.

A VALUABLE & LASTING CONNECTION

Pre-MBA internships carry a little-discussed but distinct advantage: the possibility that they will lead to a summer internship between an MBA student’s first and second year, thus eliminating the need to spend time and energy finding one (a major consideration for everyone in two-year, full-time programs). Kruti Malkan thinks her path lies in the direction of tech, and she is likely to pursue a summer internship more in line with those plans, but she also wants to go back to work for LUKH at some point, having made a strong connection with its founder.

“Hopefully I can work there after my first year after I get summer internship,” Malkan says. “I think what my plan is, is second year, if all goes well with my schoolwork and I have some time on my hands, then I would love to go back and work for the company. It’s a mighty group. Currently, I think we have six women, all minorities. And so we really have a mission to bring it forward. And I love what we’re doing — we are selling different South Asian attire, particularly for Indian weddings or different events. A lot of students go to Indian events during school, and they don’t have any outfits. And so we are the rent-the-runway for South Asian fashion. So when I looked into her company I thought she was a perfect person for me to get in touch with. And I did a lot of general marketing, product marketing, and marketing strategy with her.

“At the end of my internship, I told the founder, Karen, that I still would want to recruit for tech. And so, even if I do an internship at a different company between the summer of my first and second years, I definitely want to come back and work for her in the second year and just help her grow her business in general, and maybe get into a different avenue other than marketing, because I know I definitely didn’t get to see a lot in the supply chain space or the finance space during my internship. So I think that’s something that I definitely could get my hands on. It was good for me to make the connection and have her as a mentor, too, because she had a similar career path as to what I wanted too.”

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