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An MBA internship at a pharmaceutical company is a natural and logical fit for those looking to work within the healthcare industry. Collin Watson is a student at UNC Kenan-Flagler who recently interned at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will join the company’s rotational program after he graduates. In this interview, he discusses his MBA internship experience and offers advice on how to secure an offer letter at the end of the summer.
What are you currently studying at UNC Kenan-Flagler?
I am currently pursuing both my MBA at Kenan-Flagler and a master’s in healthcare administration (MHA) at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. In the MBA program, my curriculum focuses largely on the healthcare system and leadership development. Within healthcare, I have taken courses on provider-side mergers and acquisitions, the health insurance industry, healthcare marketing, global healthcare systems and the Affordable Care Act [popularly referred to as Obamacare].
Why did you decide to intern at GSK?
Interning at GSK was one of the easiest and the best professional decisions that I have made. The first thing that attracted me to the organization was the values-driven culture I observed while visiting. GSK’s commitment to patient focus aligns closely with my motivation for working in healthcare. GSK’s leadership development program [known as Esprit] is also incredibly robust with a guaranteed international rotation. In an increasingly global economy, exposure to international markets is critical.
What were the steps of GSK’s application process?
I applied to GSK’s internship through an affinity group called the Consortium of which GSK is a corporate partner. My process involved attending a diversity conference hosted by the Consortium and then applying to the job posting for its US Esprit Commercial internship. I was selected for an interview and heard back within a few weeks. The process would be very similar for applicants applying through their school’s careers center.
What were your impressions of GSK’s corporate culture?
If I had to summarize GSK’s culture, it would be one of patient focus, inclusion and teamwork. To touch upon inclusion, at GSK you will see many different types of people from all walks of life interacting daily. This level of diversity and inclusion leads to an ideal environment for the development of high-functioning teams.
What did you work on during your MBA internship?
My main project over the summer was to develop strategic recommendations for changes to the services that GSK offers to support patient and physician use of potential future specialty products. I was also responsible for launching an idea-sharing platform to improve communication between GSK employees in the field and their counterparts in the home office. Lastly, I coordinated the development of data usage guidelines to encourage, facilitate or ensure appropriate and compliant use of the data which GSK purchases from data vendors.
What did you enjoy most about your internship?
I loved many aspects of my internship, but the one that I enjoyed most was the opportunity to learn from my managers and peers. Being in the healthcare industry for six years and having completed MHA coursework at the School of Global Public Health, I would never have imagined that I would learn so much in three months at GSK. The complexity of the pharmaceutical industry makes GSK a great choice for those who desire to learn over the entirety of their career. While I was exposed to many new concepts and ideas, I was also able to get up to speed quickly due to the support I received from my colleagues and the education I received through GSK’s corporate learning and development system.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your internship?
The biggest challenge I faced over the summer was the amount of industry regulation and how that affected developing ideas and bringing projects to completion, which often meant that timelines and project plans had to be adjusted. The regulation and resulting uncertainty is a characteristic of the entire pharmaceutical industry and is not exclusive to GSK. However, overcoming the challenge can also be incredibly rewarding if you are the type of person who enjoys learning how to navigate unexpected hurdles and challenges.
Of all the things that you accomplished during your internship, what makes you the proudest?
The thing that I am proudest of is the bond I formed with my coworkers. I was able to build credibility and trust with my team so that they could rely on and build upon my work after the completion of the internship. It is not common for an employee directly out of school to earn the respect and trust of industry veterans and be seen as an equal.
What are you going to do after graduation?
I have accepted an offer to work at GSK as an associate in the company’s Esprit program. This is a four-year leadership development program which allows participants to take roles in several business units throughout GSK such as marketing, payer relations, operations, sales and more. I am interested in taking my first rotation in Managed Markets and Government Affairs, the unit to which I was attached during the summer. During my remaining three years, I would like to obtain a role launching a new brand, complete a rotation in one of GSK’s offices outside the US and to take a role leading a team of sales representatives in the field.
What are you doing now to prepare yourself for working full time at GSK after you graduate?
Because healthcare is such a dynamic industry and is constantly in a state of flux, the most important thing I can do to prepare for my full-time role is to stay up-to-date on industry happenings. I do this through industry publications, such as FiercePharma, Modern Healthcare and FierceHealthcare. I have also continued to take healthcare-focused classes while in school, specifically on the health insurance industry. In addition, I am working on maintaining the network I built during my summer at GSK so that I can hit the ground running when I start full time.
What can MBA interns do to increase their chances of getting an offer letter at the end of the summer?
The first and most important thing an MBA intern can do to increase the likelihood of an offer is to enter the internship well prepared. That means researching your team, knowing what they do and going over the project outline provided to you before you start. It would be wise to think about what technical skills might allow you to excel on your project and to begin developing those skills. It is also important to become knowledgeable around current changes within the industry and how those changes could impact the business.
Once on site, organization is key. Projects often don’t unfold exactly as predicted, so interns should make sure they stay organized and develop firm but flexible project timelines. Lastly, it is important to make yourself visible by interacting and networking with a variety of leaders and coworkers. Experience the company, and let the company experience you.