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Finding an Internship at Your Dream B-school

B-Schools have Career Development Centers whose purpose in life is to help you get an internship. They arrange workshops on resume-writing and bring top recruiters on campus for job fairs, help you prep for interviews, give you access to alumni databases, job sites, and give you a shoulder to cry on when you think youíre on a roller-coaster of rejection to hell!

Let’s say you’ve made it to the B-School of your choice, in my case the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. You’re sitting on your new bed in your new apartment, 12,000 miles away from home, ready for some serious learning. The hard part is over. You can sit back and relax now, start soaking in your new environment and oodles of knowledge. No more writing essays, getting interviewed, struggling to sell yourself, waiting for acceptance letters, nursing blows to your self-esteem. Right? Wrong!

A few months into the intensive first-year program and recruiters for summer jobs show up. At some schools, the recruiting period begins as early as October, at others in January or February. One of the first things you need to start worrying about is searching for a good internship linked with the promise of a permanent job offer if the internship goes well. That’s a whole lot more of the same hard-selling. So, how exactly does the internship search work?

A few months into the intensive first-year program and recruiters for summer jobs show up. At some schools, the recruiting period begins as early as October, at others in January or February. One of the first things you need to start worrying about is searching for a good internship linked with the promise of a permanent job offer if the internship goes well. That’s a whole lot more of the same hard-selling. So, how exactly does the internship search work?

All top B-Schools have Career Development Centers whose sole purpose in life is to help you get an internship and then a job. Which means that they arrange workshops on resume-writing and cover letter writing, bring top recruiters on campus for company briefings and job fairs, help you prep for interviews, give you access to tools like alumni databases and paid-for job sites, and give you a shoulder to cry on when you think you’re on a rollercoaster of rejection to hell!

But, at the end of the day, it is YOUR responsibility to get that internship and not theirs. They provide you all the tools, training and grandmotherly advice you can imagine but, ultimately, they can only take the horse to the pond. When push comes to shove, you have got to do the drinking.

Getting the Internship You Want

Fact: Everyone who goes to a top B-School gets an internship. The discussion at hand is really about making it the internship you want; particularly because that’s a crucial step in getting the job you want once you graduate. The first hurdle is really an existential one: what is the job you want? Finding this out is a tedious process. There are people who spend their entire careers looking for that elusive dream job and never find it.

There are others who quit the Fortune 500 world to start their own company so that they can finally have their dream job. The truth? The grass is always greener on the other side. Frankly, I’d like a job that pays me the best consulting salary out there, with a yearly banking industry bonus but has general management work hours and revolves around luxury goods marketing. I may as well wake up every morning and say today is the day I find out that I own Manhattan and that the US government owes me about $2 trillion in late rent payments! In other words: not going to happen.

Keeping an Open Mind

One of the first things you need to start worrying about is searching for a good internship linked with the promise of a permanent job offer if the internship goes well.

You’ll need to introspect and know yourself better. You’ll need to prioritize and you’ll need to do some serious research. Remember: what’s good from far is usually far from good. Lie down on your couch, hopefully with a laptop on your chest, and think things over. What do you really want to do? How does someone who has your supposed dream job, live? What’s a typical day, week, or year? What’s the growth potential? What’s the company’s P/E ratio? Is it a premium company/industry? Running after a salary without career development is like buying a Ferrari when you can’t afford the parking.

Most B-schools do a good job of telling their students to keep their minds open and to not run after, for example, only the banking and consulting jobs. Darden holds career discovery forums where they have alums flying in to talk about both their job profile as well as the industry as a whole.

Personally, this helped me a lot because, coming from a broadcast media background, I knew nothing about consulting or biotechnology or even software business development as regular day jobs. So, don’t come to B-School with your mind made up. You’ll get some great new ideas and learn interesting things about your old ideas. Keep an open mind and psyche yourself into enjoying the discovery process.

The Value of Networking

Running after a salary without career development is like buying a Ferrari when you can’t afford the parking.

One of the most effective skills you’ll need to pick up is that of networking. Do as much of this as you can, without overdoing it. I know people who were far from qualified for the job at hand but were given interviews (which they converted into jobs) simply because of their great networking abilities combined with a genuine interest in the job.
 
So, network as much as you can at company briefings and follow up with emails. Further, try to touch base with alumni at the firm so that they know you’re interested in the internship as well. After all, just a few years ago, they were where you are today and know exactly what you’re going through. In all of this, remember to not overdo it. If you’re too pushy, you’ll just scare everyone off. You’ll have to develop an intuition for striking the right balance.

The internship can be about exploring a new industry or going back to what you know, just at a higher level. But no matter what it is for you, everyone knows that, in the end, it’s about GTO: Getting the Offer. Getting an offer from your internship is important not only because it gives you a safety blanket during the 2nd year job search but also because it destroys the pregnant silence that would otherwise follow when a recruiters asks; “So, did you get an offer from your internship?”

Choosing a Familiar Industry

…don’t come to B-School with your mind made up. You’ll get some great new ideas and learn interesting things about your old ideas.

For me, the search was simple. A lot of great companies come to Darden to recruit and I had three summer jobs offers: Motorola (marketing), Johnson & Johnson (marketing) and ABC News, a Walt Disney company wanted me to work on global strategy.

In the end, I took the ABC job in New York simply because of the higher visibility it offered and the fact that I felt comfortable slipping back into broadcast media. Plus, it sounded like a fun internship. Oh yeah, that’s important: fun.

An MBA intern can earn anywhere from USD 15,000 to USD 20,000 over the two month summer internship. Some companies offer perks such as air travel from your B-school site to and fro, company housing over the two months, and even a company car (if your internship is in a small city). Usually one ends up saving about 30% of the money earned over the summer. This usually leads to you enjoying a better "lifestyle" when you get back to B-school for the second year: aka USD 40 lunches and more deserts!

Akash Premsen got his MBA degree from the Darden School of Business, in the University of Virginia.

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