As the lead MBA recruiter for one of my company’s executive partner schools, I’m often asked about making the most of the MBA internship. Obviously every company is different but here are four things that almost always come up as I talk to full-time-hire-hopefuls.
1) The MBA internship is never what you expect it’s going to be. It’s filled with uncertainty and ambiguity. The project you were assigned to might change. There may not be a project at all and your manager may have no idea what to do with you. Be prepared to get dirty and assert yourself without being that over-confident MBA. That means asking thoughtful questions with all the stakeholders in your business and coming to your own conclusions. Be prepared to scope and pitch your own project! “Nobody had anything for me” is not going to go over very well when you’re jockeying for a full-time role.
2) Focus on what’s measurable and set clear goals up front to objectively evaluate your contributions. You know those sexy, game-changing strategic projects that will forever change the face of business? You know the ones I’m talking about… Buyer beware. While on the surface this can lead to some good learning and exposure – what can you REALLY accomplish in 12 weeks when tackling something of that magnitude? If expectations are not managed from the beginning, you may have nothing to show for heading back to your second year of business school.
3) Know how your business makes money. This probably seems obvious to a lot of you but I’ve met too many candidates who, when explaining their internship, had no idea how what they did contributed to the bottom line. I’d say this is especially true in complex revenue recognition businesses like financial services. Be prepared to defend how what you’re doing translates to growth. Even if you can’t prove a direct impact (which you probably can’t in the short time you’re there), intuitively drawing line of site to revenue (or costs) will really help your audience understand what you you were up to for 3 months.
4) Remember the gatekeepers. Don’t be the guy who doesn’t have time for someone unless they are equally busy and important. I was once stood up by an interviewer (the guy just didn’t show up). My gut reaction was to take the hint and pack my stuff. But on my way out I chatted with the admin who I had greeted earlier in the day and thank goodness I did. She made a few phone calls and within 15 minutes I was interviewing with someone else. The gatekeeper is the gatekeeper for a reason. They are empowered to make judgment calls and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of those.
I’m sure I could go on but these are the big ones I come across with eager-beaver MBAs. For the readers out there, what other knowledge would you impart as interns prepare for final presentations and interviews in the coming weeks?