“An internship is essentially a three-month interview”, says Stephen M. Rakas, executive director of the Career Opportunities Center at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. A half hour interview can be a minefield, so you can well imagine the potential for slip ups over three months – though, of course, one can offset this with the greater potential to show of what you are capable. In this article, career services directors from three top business schools share examples of MBA internship mistakes…and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Not knowing the company culture
Failing to understand company culture can cost you the internship, as well as a full-time job offer. Rakas says that it’s “critically important” to understand company culture from the beginning, since, “It’s very likely that people who work closely with you, as well as others who barely know you, will have a say in whether or not you receive a return offer.” If you do your research ahead of time, you will be better equipped to demonstrate that you are a fit.
How can you learn about company culture? You can start by networking. Rakas states that MBA students should network with alumni, as well as people in their extended network who are currently working at the companies they are interested in. “The more people with whom you develop a positive rapport and who can speak positively of you and your contributions, the better.” You should also do your own research and pay attention to details such as how communication is handled.
For more information about how you can use research and networking to learn about company culture, read our MBA internship tips.
Mistake 2: Not having a pre-onboarding meeting before the start of the internship
According to Kristy Posocco, deputy director of the Career Development Office at the Yale School of Management, one common mistake made by MBA interns is not contacting their supervisor in the weeks leading up to their MBA internship. Posocco advises that MBA interns have a pre-onboardingmeeting with their supervisor in order to “ask questions that will expedite their on-boarding and equip them with the knowledge and insight to begin immediately adding value when they hit the ground”. Questions you should ask include:
- Have business needs shifted since you spoke during the interview process?
- What does a successful end-of-summer deliverable look like?
- What do key milestones look like?
- What has characterized the most-effective interns in the past?
Mistake 3: Neglecting your networking contacts after you land an internship
Landing an MBA internship doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop networking. According to Beth Briggs, the senior director of NYU Stern’s office of career development, the most common mistake MBA interns make is not building upon the relationships formed with networking contacts during the first year of the MBA program.
Luckily, this is a mistake that can easily be avoided. “Circle back with networking contacts you met in the first year of your MBA program to let them know where you decided to go for your summer internship,” Briggs advises. “At the end of the summer, get back in touch to let them know what you learned and what you are focusing on in your second year. Share any relevant insights that you have gained – and ask them about their summer vacations!” That way, you can continue to nurture the relationships you have built while demonstrating that you are a valuable part of their professional network.
Mistake 4: Not asking for feedback during the first few weeks of your MBA internship
Even if your MBA internship program doesn’t include feedback sessions, you still need to find a way to get input from your supervisor. “It’s incumbent upon the intern to ask for and capture feedback that can be critical to a successful project,” states Posocco. If you don’t ask for feedback you risk being blindsided by negative feedback in your end of summer review for issues you could have fixed had you known about them earlier on.
Posocco advises MBAs to request feedback within the first few weeks of their internships. Interns who want to ensure that they receive feedback from the very beginning can also ask their supervisors to build feedback sessions into meetings.
Mistake 5: Not reflecting upon your MBA internship
MBA internships can be intense, so much so that it’s easy to focus solely on getting the work done. Yet, Posocco says that it’s also important for interns to “create space for learning and growth”, as this is a “key component to a successful internship experience”.
One way to reflect upon what you have learned is to spend 10 minutes a day writing a journal about the work you’ve been doing and how you feel about it. “The thoughts you capture will be helpful in several ways – from helping you refine your post-MBA goals, to helping you craft your résumé bullets and cover letters, to informing your dialogue and interviews with full-time employers as a second year student.”
Mistake 6: Not knowing your company’s social media policy
“Understanding a company’s social media policy, and the appropriate use of personal devices in the workplace, is becoming more of an issue,” states Rakas. In fact, misuse of social media can get you fired from a job before you even start. MTV News’ list of intern social media fails mentions a 2009 incident where a new Cisco hire tweeted about having “to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work”. Needless to say, that decision became moot once Cisco saw the tweet and decided to fire the new hire before she even started working there. While that was an extreme case, there are many potential ways that your social media use can reflect negatively upon you or your company, so make sure you check with your employer about social media policies.
Mistake 7: Asking for an offer before the appropriate time
“Being too pushy for feedback on offer status can contribute to an awkward environment, or even impact your odds of getting an offer, depending on the company culture,” states Rakas. In addition, some companies don’t make their hiring decisions until the early fall. That’s why interns should wait until the end of the internship to ask about their chances of being hired full-time. Instead, Rakas says that interns should focus on “going above and beyond in their work assignments and doing their best to show their ‘fit’ with a company.”
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