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How to Find the Right MBA Internship – And Get the Most Out of It

Navigating the MBA internship process can feel intimidating and highly competitive, but don’t let it get you down. It’s also an exciting opportunity to explore potential career options and grow your network. At the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in Chicago, Kellogg Leviland, Director of Career Education and Advising at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, led a discussion on how to “Kickstart Your Internship.” During the event, several successful women with MBAs shared what they learned during their own MBA internships and by working with MBA interns at their current companies.

Not sure where to start the internship search?

If you’re still trying to figure out what kind of internship you want, you’re not alone. “You’re at the beginning of your journey,” Lourdes Long, Corporate Business Development at Chevron, told the audience of MBA candidates. “That said, don’t wait—I think everybody thinks an MBA is two years to explore and test things, and the reality is, recruiting is coming at you pretty fast. So you want to be grounded in what you want, so that you’re prepared to go through that process.” She recommends using your network to reach out to people who work in different industries or at different companies that interest you, and talking to your fellow MBA students to find out about internships they’ve done.

Amanda Roy, Director of Development Programs at Liberty Mutual, added that it can be helpful to reach out to alumni of your school. She suggests using LinkedIn—or asking career services—to find alumni who work at certain companies, and says, “Almost 100% of the time, they’ll be happy to speak with you.”

If you haven’t narrowed it down to a specific company or even industry yet, that’s okay, too. Let your curiosity spark your search. Tracy Dufault, Vice President, Merchandise Operations, at Walmart, was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army before going to business school, and she had no idea what she wanted to do next. While looking for an internship, she focused on finding a job that was a good fit and that aligned with her values.

Nicole Burns, Strategic Partnerships Development Manager at Google, says you can also focus your search by asking yourself, “What is the new area of development that I want to achieve?”

Make a great first impression

When a company comes to your campus, you may only have a few minutes to chat with the company’s representative. It’s important to make the most of that time. Ask questions—but be sure they’re informed by previous research. Don’t ask questions that can be answered online, cautions Nicole Burns. Instead, study up beforehand. Show them that you’ve done your homework, and let them know what you can bring to the company.

If you’re interested in a company, make time to connect with them at different events. Amanda Roy says that while you may only have a few minutes with the company at a career fair, if someone comes back for multiple events, it helps them build a relationship.

Before your interview, make sure you’re as prepared as possible. Roy says one way to do this is by leveraging your network, and reaching out to anyone you know—or that your friends know—at that company. Talk to them to get insights on what the interview process there looks like and what the company is looking for.  MBA classmates who have interviewed at that company in the past may also have helpful tips.

Make the most of your internship

One of the most important things you can do during your internship? Stay humble. Tracy Dufault says, “The biggest mistake that I see MBAs make, either in their internship or after they start full-time, is bringing a sense of entitlement because they’re an MBA.”

Instead, look for opportunities to learn and develop. Focus on being authentic with your colleagues and showing a collaborative spirit. “You don’t want to come in and be trying to do it all on your own,” says Nicole Burns, “Don’t sit in a silo without talking to anyone.”

Whether your internship involves managing others or not, look for ways to demonstrate leadership. Tracy Dufault says, “They’re looking for you to be future leaders of the company, so that means you need to lead people and interact with people.”

Amanda Roy agrees, adding, “It’s not just ‘Here are my objectives, I’m going to execute.’ With our program, it’s what can you bring? Are you asking the right questions? Are you bringing that delivery to the next level?” At Liberty Mutual, mentors are built into the internship program. If your company doesn’t automatically connect you with mentors, seek them out during your internship.

Nobody’s perfect—and nobody expects you to be. If you make a mistake during your internship, acknowledge it and offer a solution. “Bring that humility, and acknowledge that this is an educational and experiential opportunity for you,” says Lourdes Long.

Nicole Burns add that if you’re struggling with something, you can leverage your alumni network within the company as allies and sounding boards. “When you get stuck trying to solve a problem or when you make a mistake, you can go to someone who is not directly related to your core group. You can bring it to your MBA alumni peers and say, ‘I really need your help on this.’”

What you get out of the internship process

You’re on your own career journey. Forget about the competition. There’s really no such thing as “failure.” Lourdes Long says, “We tend to think that you’ve got one shot and it’s the one job that you get out of business school—which for some people might be true, but for most, isn’t. It’s just the next step in your journey, and the next tool you have to drive your own success.”

Long also reminded the audience, “All networking is good networking.” Even if an interview doesn’t result in an internship or eventually a full-time offer, you’ve made connections in your industry. She adds, “This is a very long game, and those relationships are valuable, so treat them that way.”

Gratitude can also go a long way toward building relationships. Kellogg Leviland urged everyone, “Say ‘Thank you’ often.” Be grateful for the things companies do for you—like providing dinner—because a simple thank you note can make a difference, especially if you sent one and another candidate didn’t bother.

If imposter syndrome is getting you down, fake it till you make it, advises Tracy Dufault. She says, “Even if you don’t get it right the first time, you’re all going to be fantastic MBA graduates at the end of this, and you will have opportunities that go beyond business school.”

You may need some help from your network and support from your friends along the way, but you’ve got this!

Learn more about the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference.

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