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Tips for Landing a Dream Internship

Landing an internship is one of the most important decisions women MBAs make because it often lays the groundwork for their post-MBA career path. During the Kickstart your Internship Quest plenary at the 2022 Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference, four panelists shared their tips for getting a coveted internship – and making the most of it:

  • Julia Arrhenius: Senior Strategy Consultant, Accenture
  • Rebecca Taylor: Regional Head of Talent – Australia, Vanguard
  • Maggy Warden: Senior Director – Underwriting Operations, Liberty Mutual
  • Jingjia Zang: Enterprise Finance Advisor, Chevron

Some of the stand-out advice they offered:

Exploring opportunities

Sometimes the biggest challenge can be taking the first step. Julia recommended leveraging your networks — with classmates certainly, but beyond school as well. That could include family, friend groups, neighbors, and anyone else in your orbit. “Think about your extended network,” she said. Jingia added that “if you can’t see yourself working with the people you are networking with, perhaps you need to broaden your scope.”

Once you have targeted an opportunity, standing out as a candidate in a competitive environment is essential. Rebecca recommended starting with the “why.” She said, “First, tell me why you’re pursuing an MBA and what you’re looking for in a program. It helps me see where you might be placed in our organization. Also tell me about the impact you had pre-MBA.” She also stressed the importance of doing your homework to understand a company before you apply, suggesting one way to do that is to tap into alumni at your university who work for the company.

In talking to recruiters, Julia stressed “quality over quantity.” For example, rather than having conversations with multiple people at the same company, she recommended having “meaningful conversations with people in the area of the organization you’re interested in.”  Jingjia concurred: “Start with the ones you click with first. Build on what you learn from the first conversation. Don’t have the same conversation with 10 different people.”

Gauging company culture

Matching an internship to your skills and interests is important, but so is finding a cultural fit with an organization. Jingia made a simple recommendation to gauge company culture: “Talk to a lot of people. If you’re buying a house, you wouldn’t look at just one.” Maggy concurred with the direct approach, saying, “Be super direct. Put people on the spot to hear their experiences you can learn from.” Jingia also suggested talking to former employees, as well as current ones, to get a broader, more candid perspective.

Approaches can differ based on the size of a company. Julia offered perspective from working at a large organization. “Accenture is a big company. Cultures can be different across different functions. Connect with people in the areas you’re interested in,” she recommended. Rebecca agreed that tailored tactics are more effective. “Don’t start with ‘Tell me about your culture.’ Be specific with your questions – and ask for the names of people who may be able to provide specific experiences you’re interested in. The more specific questions you ask, the better you’ll be able to prioritize what’s important to you,” she said.

Making the most of your internship

Once you land an internship, time will fly, and it’s important to make the most of it.

Julia shared an experience that highlighted the importance of honesty and risk-taking. She included on her resume that she spoke Spanish because she was proficient during high school. During her internship, she was placed on a Mexico-based project that included Spanish speaking team members. She realized that her language skills were lagging and panicked that the project was a bad fit. When she shared with her team that she was out of her depth, they recommended and purchased Rosetta Stone to improve her language competency. Julia said her internship became a “transformative experience” because she took the risk to be honest, and her team did everything they could to support her success. “Trust yourself, and be careful about what you put on your resume,” she recommended.

What if you find yourself interested in another area of a company outside of your internship?

Maggy recommended, “Bring mentors into the conversation. Someone came to me early, and I helped her think it through and make a transition to another area”. Jinjia agreed, saying, “Almost anyone you reach out to is happy to help you.” She also suggested approaching people more casually. “Be natural, be active, set up coffees, but don’t treat them as recruiting opportunities, which could be off-putting.”

Above all, bring an open mind to an internship – including being true to your needs and interests or forging a path that might be different than you originally imagined. “Use the process to find out who you are,” Jingjia recommended. “Don’t stress. Be confident. Be yourself.” Maggy emphasized the importance of feeling comfortable shifting course if you need to. “Don’t be afraid to completely change your mind …I don’t think many start their MBA wanting to go into the insurance industry,” she said, but Maggy has worked in Thailand and Colombia and had other opportunities she might not have imagined for herself.

Bottom line: Dream big.

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