Why MBAs Need to Utilise their Summer Internships

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In 2016, Cristian Chis spent the summer at Fortune 500 conglomerate Danaher Corporation. Although he delivered on the goals, he neglected a crucial component of internships: networking.

While other MBA students reached out to managers who had scrutinised their final presentations, Chis didn’t, he says, “because it didn’t feel very genuine to me”. Chis believes it was one of the main reasons he wasn’t granted a job offer.

Chis returned to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and networked extensively with employers during the second year of his MBA. He received several job offers — from manufacturer Whirlpool and banks BNP Paribas, Discover Financial Services and Citigroup, where he now works in HR.

The importance of networking

Although schmoozing alone won’t get you a job, Chis says “networking is very important, and specifically networking with decision-makers. It sends the message that you’re genuinely interested in joining the company if you go out of your way to meet everyone you can possibly meet.”

Internships are used extensively to recruit full-time staff, especially at investment banks and management consultancy firms. It’s worth noting not everyone receives a job offer, although most MBAs loathe to admit what went wrong.

Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, assistant dean, Career Management Center, Cornell Johnson College of Business says, “Students really need to look at internships for the long-term. More and more companies are hiring for full-time [roles] directly from their internship pool and are cutting back or eliminating full-time recruiting outside of internship conversion.”

However, MBAs working in challenging internships needn’t despair as they can be turned around. While it can be disheartening, interns should see calamities as learning opportunities rather than failures, according to Margaret Weeks, associate director for career education at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

She says, “Employers are looking to see how students fix mistakes, to see if they’re resilient and good problem solvers.”

Independent problem solving

The biggest mistake interns make is seeking too much direction about what they should be doing and how, says Weeks. “Most companies give MBA interns ‘big hairy problems’ to work on — problems companies need to solve, but don’t have the time themselves to do. So students can also run into problems when they try to solve everything in one summer.”

She adds, “The best course of action is to break down these problems into various parts and do a great job of solving part of the problem.”

However, MBAs who don’t connect well with their managers can also struggle to perform well and may be less likely to get a full-time job offer, says Cornell’s Saunders-Cheatham. “Students should set expectations early with their manager and meet regularly: weekly.”

Build a strong network

It’s also important to connect with executives, co-workers and other interns, as well as participate in all social events and executive speaker sessions.

Saunders-Cheatham says, “Students should go above and beyond what is expected. Their response to questions should go beyond the scope of the projects and provide creative, data-driven analysis to support their recommendations. As interns, look for opportunities to provide a solution to problems, even problems that the company may not have identified yet.”

If something does go wrong during your summer internship, it’s important to diagnose what’s happening as quickly and objectively as possible, according Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for career management at Duke Fuqua.

She says, “Identify who within the organization can provide reliable feedback and seek out that input. Be open to ways you can improve your performance, especially if you’re working in a function or industry that is new to you.”

Weeks, at the Darden school, adds, “The first thing an MBA should do [when an internship goes badly] is to call their career center for support. It’s also helpful to talk with your school’s alumni within the company because they can be great sources of information and support.”

Moving forward after the internship

While internships can be turned around, thorough preparation can ensure MBAs avoid making big mistakes in the first place.

At Fuqua, a series of workshops designed to make the most of an internship is held on technical skills in popular roles and advice about on-the job networking and expectations.

The school periodically sends out reminders with best practices, to help interns stay on track. Careers advisers are also made available for check-in calls if students want to talk through their personal situation in more detail.  

With preparation, networking and fast diagnosis, MBAs can avoid internship blunders. But messing up may not be such a bad thing after all.

According to Darden’s Weeks, most of her MBAs secure full-time jobs after internships, but some discover that they aren’t as interested as they thought in a particular company or industry and they seek other full-time opportunities in their second year.

She says, “Some of our students are also career switchers, so having the summer internship to try a new job allows them to get to know that company and the work they do, to see if it’s a good fit. The summer internship is a great and unique opportunity to ‘try something on for size’.”

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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