Level Up Your Career

How To Thrive at Your MBA Internship

This article is sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper School of Business)

One of the most significant parts of your MBA is the internship. It’s where you hone new skills, perhaps branch out into a new industry or function, and make important connections. For many people, it’s where you’ll work after you finish your degree. So you want to make the most of it.

As an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the first things I did was sign up for the coaching sessions offered by the Accelerate Leadership Center. This turned out to be a great decision. Most of these internship tips come directly from what I learned in one-on-one and group leadership sessions.

Write out your objectives ahead of time

Before your internship, write a plan outlining what you hope to accomplish. Once you start in your summer role, you’ll likely be too busy to stop and reflect. By setting it up in advance, you’ve committed your future self to your plan. For example, I set up recurring feedback meetings with my manager from the very beginning, so I was able to build on suggestions in real time.

Be upfront about your goals and values

Your manager wants you to succeed, but they can’t read your mind. Speak up early on about your goals and interests. If there’s something you want to work on, bring it up to increase the chance that you get those opportunities if they’re available. My interests include responsible technology and product inclusion, and I made sure I talked about them early and often.

It’s also important to be upfront about your values. For me, fairness and equity are core values and it’s essential that the work I end up doing reflects that. In my post-graduation role at Humana (where I did my internship), I’ll be working to develop new technologies with the aim of not only improving health, but doing so equitably. For instance, algorithms can be a black box — it’s critical that the inputs and assumptions that power them do not inadvertently disadvantage certain groups.

Be aware that trust must be earned

Realize that trust takes time to build. Managers have different styles and timelines for providing responsibilities and looking for signals that new team members can do the job well. I’d been at my previous job for six years and had established credibility, so being the new person felt a bit odd.

A proactive way to develop trust is through communication. Ask: What aspects of my work on this project are most critical? What potential pitfalls can we work together to sidestep? Then keep them in the loop so they can be assured you are on the right track.

Stay curious

In any role, an open mind and a curious spirit are crucial. For me, this means being careful not to prejudge. I can be very passionate about my closely held values, and I have to remember to give people time to explain alternate views instead of making assumptions. A too-quick reaction can shut down communication and halt progress.

In addition, reach out to colleagues whose work you find interesting, and ask them who else you should speak with. Your role as an intern is a dual one: a contributing member of the team and a learner. Take advantage of the chance to build your network and soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Learn about MBA internships at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.

Dani Grodsky will complete her dual MBA and Master of Science in Health Care Policy and Management in summer 2022.

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