Best Summer Internship Tips from Career Advisors at Top Business Schools

Best Summer Internship Tips from Career Advisors at Top Business Schools main image

Summer internships are a rite of passage for full-time MBA students, with internships now deemed a hallmark of American graduate business education. One of the main goals all interns aspire to is at least receiving an offer of a full-time job by summer’s end. It doesn’t mean every intern, who gets a full-time offer, is going to take it. But they want to have the option.

While there is no way to guarantee an offer, interns can increase their chances of getting one. Recently, QS spoke with career placement representatives at top US business schools to get their tips for winning over superiors during the summer internship.

Cover the basics

Some advice shouldn’t have to be said (or written for that matter). Every MBA student should know to show up on time, dress appropriately, and produce deliverables when requested. Missing days of work, coming in with hangovers, or being inappropriate with colleagues are also obvious no-nos. Basically, use common sense and make good impressions by fulfilling at least the bare minimum of expectation.

Understand the real purpose of the internship

“Internships are summer-long interviews, so put your best self forward, and let your manager know your goal is to receive a full-time offer,” says Eric Young, assistant dean of the MBA Career Center at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “Remember that you, too, are evaluating the organization for fit and alignment.”

Indeed, the summer internship is a chance for both the employer and intern to test the waters and get to know each other better. That is why it is important to make good first impressions and at least meet minimum expectations from the start.

Communicate precisely and often

No one can read minds. Therefore, interns have to speak up from early on in the experience. They must ask questions about what is expected of them, share their thoughts on projects when appropriate, and be part of the conversation at the office.

“Clear communication throughout the internship is critical and is the responsibility of the intern,” says Christine Bolzan, director of Career Education at MIT Sloan School of Management. “If the experience isn’t meeting your expectations, talk about what else you are interested in working on to give the employer time to challenge you and provide a great experience. If you are being recruited by other organizations during the summer, convey in a timely manner to your host company what your timing and other recruiting constraints might be, so that they too have a fair shot at making you an offer if mutually desired.”

Have the right attitude

Internships can be like dating. Interns must strike the right balance between confidence and excitement without coming off as desperate or know-it-alls. “[A big mistake is] not being enthusiastic enough or playing hard to get,” says Jamie Schein, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “If you like the job, and you see yourself succeeding, let people at the company know. Be willing to commit.”

Still, interns should avoid being condescending or big headed. “Some hiring managers have shared with me they prefer ‘humble and hungry’ over ‘arrogant and entitled’ interns,” says Young. “You might have to figure out how to pull your own data or solve ambiguous problems using models and software you’ve never used before. Step up to those challenges with confidence and ingenuity instead of complaint and fear.”

Be respectful

Career coaches, including Young, and even those in admissions at top business schools have repeatedly said for interns to be kind and respectful to everyone in an organization. This means saying hello and speaking respectfully to superiors, colleagues, administrators, and anyone else encountered around the office, including those on cleaning crews or working as temps.

Ultimately, interns, in large part, have control of their own destiny. Communicating clearly and often, being respectful, demonstrating a strong work ethic, and showing passion will go a long way toward earning a full-time job offer at summer’s end.   

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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