You’ve landed an MBA internship. Congratulations! Now the real work begins, as you embark on what is essentially a three-month-long job interview. It’s not just about producing great work; you also have to decide whether the company is a fit and (if that’s the case) find ways to express your interest in working there full time.
Here are 11 tips from directors attached to four top business schools in the US to help you navigate your way through an MBA internship.
1. Make sure you know what’s expected of you during the summer internship
“Understanding how success is defined as an intern is the first step to meeting that standard,” states Sheryle Dirks, associate dean of career management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Continuing to network after you land your MBA internship is one way to get answers about how success is defined. Conversations with former interns or classmates who have undertaken a similar role in the past can provide insight into what’s important to specific companies. They can also give you an idea of what kinds of projects to expect.
At the start of your summer internship, you should have a goal-setting conversation as part of the on-boarding process in order to find out how success is defined and to clarify what’s expected. According to Chris Weber, director of career advising and corporate outreach at UCLA Anderson’s Parker Career Management Center, even if you don’t get a definite answer, “at least you’ll get some insights into your employer’s expectations as well as the benchmarks you need along the way, including what their expectations are in terms of sharing information, checking in or validating your work and who might be your resources that you can work with to get things done. All those questions come about from that initial conversation.”
2. Get employer feedback
During the initial goal-setting conversation, you should also set up checkpoints so you can receive employer feedback on whether you are meeting expectations. “I think it’s very important that interns build in several checkpoints along the way – both with one’s supervisor as well as with other key influencers or mentors – to make sure they understand what is expected of them on the job, both on specific projects or deliverables as well as overall,” says Dirks.
If your boss doesn’t agree to regular meetings, you should look for another way to get employer feedback on a regular basis. In cases where your supervisor states that he or she only wants to communicate via email, Weber advises that you should be “very diligent in making sure there’s a summary email for every conversation you’ve had, to go over agreed-upon next steps or maybe a weekly recap in order to make sure you are doing the things you need to do”
3. Treat your MBA internship as if it were a job interview
The MBA internship is essentially a job interview that plays out over 10 to 12 weeks, in which you are being evaluated for a full-time job with the company once you graduate. For that reason, Jonathan Masland, director of career development at Dartmouth’s Tuck Business School, states that MBA interns should “err on the side of being a little more professional.” Avoid being too casual or too friendly early on in the internship since people are still getting to know you.
4. Manage your workload
In addition to the day-to-day duties of your internship, you may be asked to work on extra projects. Plus, you may need to take some time to network with co-workers and express your enthusiasm in returning to a company after graduation. Stephen Rakas, executive director of the Career Opportunities Center at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, encourages students to “manage their workload and ensure there’s time to express genuine interest in other people and their work.”
Managing your workload effectively can also open up opportunities to help others, a move which Rakas states “can pay off in many ways.” Just remember to check with your supervisor first before taking on extra tasks and don’t let any extra projects get in the way of achieving your main work goals.
5. Show your enthusiasm for the company on an everyday basis
Expressing enthusiasm during an MBA internship is an important part of demonstrating your interest in working for a company full time. Fuqua School of Business’ Sheryle Dirks advises MBA interns to “Let your enthusiasm show through in how you approach your work and how you interact with others.” Ways to do this might include: Being direct and specific in stating your interest (see tip nine); asking what else you can do to express your interest and commitment; and following through on any recommendations your supervisor makes.
While it’s a good idea to tell your employer about your enthusiasm for the internship and the company, your actions and mannerisms need to match your words. “If you say you want to work at a company, but you’re not acting that way, it’s hollow and it comes across as disingenuous,” states Dartmouth Tuck’s Masland. It’s also important to demonstrate your enthusiasm on a consistent basis, as opposed to waiting until you are nearing the end of the internship.
6. Ensure your work is of the highest quality
Doing great work is “the best way you can show enthusiasm for the firm,” according to Masland, who adds that “whatever you do, do it at the highest possible level of quality. It’s better to take a little extra time and a little extra work to in order to produce a higher quality work product.”
You may be thinking that doing good work should go without saying, since no one wants to go into an internship and do bad work. Yet, if you take on too much or focus on the wrong things, the quality of work on display in your main project could conceivably suffer. Masland thinks that, in general, “it’s better to do less work at a very high level than to take on too much.”
7. Attend internship socials
While internship socials may sound like they are more about fun than business, most HR departments keep track of whether or not you attend these types of events as well as how you behave while in attendance. “Part of getting hired is also the social part – how you get along with co-workers. At events, employers are taking a look at that in a less formal setting because that is part of the work life,” Masland explains. That’s why you should attend any appropriate social activities during the internship, provided it doesn’t compromise the quality of your work.
8. Develop a rapport with co-workers at all levels
“At the end of the day, co-workers are the ones who will decide whether you get an offer or not,” states Masland. Many of the people you work with during the MBA internship will have a say in whether you receive a full-time job offer at the end of the summer, not just those at the top. That’s why, in Masland’s opinion, “it’s important to have a good relationship with the assistant or the analyst underneath you. They all count.”
9. Express interest in working for the company full time
In many cases, companies are upfront about whether or not there’s a chance of a full-time position being offered at the end of the summer. If securing an offer is your aim, MBA interns should let their boss know how much they enjoy the work they are doing. “Be open and honest about the fact that you really enjoyed the summer internship experience and your hope that there will be an opportunity to come back,” states UCLA Anderson’s Weber. You should also remind your employer of what you’ve accomplished during the summer by summarizing the contributions you’ve made as well as what you’ve learned during the internship.
10. Stay in touch with the company even if the internship doesn’t convert to a full-time job
If you don’t get a full-time job by the end of the MBA internship, then it’s time to work on a plan for staying in touch with your contacts there. You can start by emailing your supervisor about your fall classes. You can also volunteer to continue helping out. One potential way to help is by continuing to work on your project through a paid internship that runs during the new academic year. In addition, Weber raises the example of a student who helped her internship company with on-campus recruiting. Since she was able to raise brand awareness for the company, they had continued interest in hiring her.
11. Use the MBA internship experience to help guide your career search
An MBA internship allows you to have a new professional experience and this experience can inform your subsequent career search. Whether or not a student receives a full-time offer to return to their internship company should also influence how an MBA pivots their career search, according to the Tepper School’s Rakas.
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