I Know What You'll Do Next Summer

Posted by Francesca DiMeglio on June 16, 2011
I Know What You'll Do Next Summer

Getting a summer internship with a top corporation is nothing an MBA candidate should leave to chance. It can provide a bird's-eye view of an industry, introduce you to movers and shakers, and offer the chance for meaningful, rewarding work. Oh-and it's also your best shot at landing a full-time job offer. If anything, an internship is even harder to land than a job, since top firms famously hire fewer interns than full-time staffers. But it's a brass ring that can be worth more than solid gold. No wonder that snatching it requires stealth, discipline, and more self-confidence than Rupert Murdoch on a buying streak.

Take the example of Shiraz Rehman, a Columbia B-school student who wanted more than anything to intern at a Major League Baseball team office. He bought an airline ticket to the managers' annual meeting, memorized everybody's name, face, and bio, and waited in the hotel lobby outside the meeting room. He finagled face time with about 20 managers and, after six months of networking, snagged his dream internship in operations with the Boston Red Sox.

It isn't necessary to stalk a potential employer, though, in order to impress him. More traditional routes can provide the same results. Many people land internships by working through their school's career services office or taking charge of their own independent search. Garrett Dodge, a student at MIT Sloan School of Management, found a January internship at Harrah's in Las Vegas through online job boards, and became the only MBA candidate to apply. He turned the one-month stint into a summer internship, which he grabbed despite offers from Bank of America and Google-his interest in technology dovetailed with Harrah's exploration of high-tech reservation solutions.

Want to score the same kind of success? Here are nine tips on getting the right ammo for internship hunting:

1. Early birds catch worms. The minute you step on campus in the fall, you should already be thinking about the following summer. Landing an internship is hard work, and you want to start narrowing your targets early, so that you can give each one the requisite attention. The first step is to attend company presentations and do some online research within the industries that interest you, developing a wish list of internship employers. Now the serious work begins: have news articles about the companies sent to your inbox, read the annual reports, learn about the top management, and figure out what differentiates one company from the other. Talk to second-year students who interned for the companies on your list, contact alumni with connections, and if possible try to find a way to meet your potential employers. You should be eating, breathing, and stockpiling any information you can get your hands on.

Candidates who wait too long to prepare for the summer miss the opportunity to immerse themselves in their target companies. Their resumes and cover letters are rushed and not properly tailored for each individual organization. If they do get an interview, they lose points by speaking in the tongue of the undecided, unsure, and unknowledgeable.

2. Make Influential Friends. Anyone with a connection to your potential employer-from second-year students to adjunct professors and alumni-can provide insight and contacts that can help you land an interview. Make these people your allies. But Gemma Thompson, MBA recruiter for Goldman Sachs in New York, advises discretion in developing these contacts. Don't bombard them with emails and phone calls: most have their own full-time jobs, and you don't want to seem like a pest. (Just like in dating, it's helpful to apply the three-day rule.) Keep your conversations short. Show your contacts how you can assist them and, for goodness sake, be nice.

3. Act Strategically.
Many B-school students think they have to attend every single event a target company holds on campus. But Thompson advises attending only those related to the department to which you are applying. She says a candidate's time might be better spent going to presentations held by the company's competitors: these will provide fodder for interviews, where it's always good to demonstrate knowledge of the differentiating factors among companies.

4. Lead the Pack.
Let's face it: business school is a two-year job search. Everything you do, both in the classroom and outside, can help you position yourself. Among the activities that can help you stand out in the internship hunt, according to Pamela Mittman, assistant dean of career services at NYU's Stern School: group case work, partnering with professors on research, and volunteering for professional organizations and conferences. Not only will these efforts beef up your resume, they'll help you make powerful pals and give you the scoop on job openings.

5. Follow the Golden Rule. Sim Blaustein, a Sloan student, helped an acquaintance from another school get into a sold-out industry conference. In turn, the guy forwarded his resume to the director of business development at Akamai Technologies-a major technology company and a target employer for Blaustein. The favor that led to an internship. "You never know who you're going to meet and who to be nice to," says Blaustein. Moral of the story: treat everyone as a potential contact. A bit of good manners can go a long way.

6. Practice Makes Perfect. Don't walk into an interview cold. The mock interviews on campus are a useful resource: they'll help you develop responses to likely questions. Seek help from your fellow classmates-even when they're going after the same job. It worked for Frances Nahas, a 2007 Kenan-Flagler graduate, now working full-time at Bain in Atlanta, where she interned between her first and second year. Uncomfortable with the prospect of the case interview her first year, she practiced with a friend. The two women had completely different styles, but both landed the Bain internship. Nahas says the preparation helped her gain confidence for the interview; rather than endure it nervously, she actually had fun, impressing the recruiter and gaining an edge in the hiring process.

7. Blow Your Own Horn. In school, it's fine to play the role of the humble academic and let your work speak for itself. Not in a job interview. You have to use every opportunity to sell yourself and your accomplishments, says Caitlin McLaughlin, managing director of Citi Graduate Recruitment in New York. Some career services departments suggest choosing three strengths-for instance, leadership, team building, and analysis-thenmaking sure that every example you offer during the interview highlights one of those qualities.

8. Scout the Territory. Remember that while you're being interviewed, you're also interviewing the potential employer. Find out as much as you can about the internship, the opportunities it offers, and what you'll be expected to do when you show up. Ideally, you'll find yourself tackling challenging assignments in an environment that will let you position yourself for real career gains. "The last thing you want to do is show up and find out you're responsible for making coffee," says Susan Amey, director of the MBA Career Management Center at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

9. Passion Is Power. Unless you can convince the interviewer that you really want the job, you're never going to get out of the gate. Don't come across as an overzealous nut, but use any opportunity to convey your enthusiasm. Speak eloquently and show an insider's flair as you demonstrate how you're a perfect fit with the company's operations and culture. "Nobody minds competing for talent," says McLaughlin. "But we want to know we're in the game." Even if a person meets all the qualifications, he'll lose the job if it's clear the company isn't among his top choices. Love, after all, should be mutual.

MBA Jungle, August 2008

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