The Summer Internship: Advice & Alternatives

Tuesday, June 06, 2017 at 12am

The summer internship is often seen as a crucial element of the business school experience, for putting your newly acquired MBA skills into practice – and in making valuable connections to employers that could easily lead to full-time job offers before you graduate.

With summer now upon us, the window for traditional on-campus recruitment methods at leading business schools is quite likely to have closed. But, at this stage there will always be some students who didn’t quite find what they were looking for, or were counting on one opportunity that never materialized. The question is what to do next.

Leigh Gauthier is director of careers for the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Of its graduating class in 2013, 88% of students had secured an MBA internship the previous summer.

In her experience, not securing a summer internship by this point in the calendar usually affects students interested in gaining experience with firms that don’t come on campus and perhaps don’t have a formal MBA internship scheme in place.

With this in mind, Gauthier suggests focusing a late internship search on assessing and clarifying exactly what you are looking for:

Step one: Clarify what you’re looking for

Reflecting on the areas of skills and networking should help you determine what it is you’re looking to achieve from your MBA internship search.

“Think about what skills you have, what skills you would like to develop, and where you would like to develop them,” says Gauthier, before stressing the value of taking a practical approach to networking: “Pay attention to where there are gaps in your network, and who you would like to get to know this summer.”

Step two: Draw up a list of targets

After identifying what you want to work on and the kind of people who’d like to meet, Gauthier says you should be in a position to consolidate your internship search into, “a target list of companies where you think you could add value.”

Step three: Making contact

Now that you know which companies you’d like to get to know better, Gauthier advises drawing on your network, or school’s alumni, to source a connection – and to then look for any overlapping interests.

“See if there are synergies with respect to projects your contacts are working on, and skills and experience you would like to gain over the summer. If there is a fit, it’s appropriate to ask if they would consider taking you on for a summer project where it’s a win-win for both parties,” Gauthier says.

The main piece of advice to take away from the ideas of Rotman School of Management's careers director is that it isn’t too late to find a rewarding summer internship, even if you missed the boat with a school’s main on-campus recruitment. As Gautier surmises, “that doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there for you this summer. Don’t give up!”

Alternatives to the MBA internship

This advice can also be applied to those who may not be sure an MBA internship is how they want to spend their summer. Indeed, seeing the internship as the be-all and end-all could leave you accepting something unsuitable to your individual circumstances for fear of coming away empty-handed.

On the other hand, joining firms without formal schemes and/or a history of taking on interns could be risky when it comes to the suitability of the project given to you and what you can take from the overall experience. Firms that are recruiting for formal schemes later than most meanwhile, can be seen as ill-prepared for the summer projects they intend to delegate to their interns.

So, what’s the alternative for those choosing not to go down the path of an MBA internship search? At Rotman School of Management, Gauthier says some students simply want to use the time to take extra courses – filling in gaps in knowledge or working towards a specific goal which, she feels, is perfectly reasonable.

However, this is by no means the only option – particularly if you entered the MBA with designs on a career change.

The career change: grow your understanding of what’s required

In terms of successfully bringing about a career change with your MBA, the summer period could be the perfect chance to become a student of the industry and function you want to switch to, according to Gauthier. 

“Build a greater understanding beyond the classroom of what is happening with respect to that industry. What keeps executives up at night? What are the possibilities for innovation?” she advises.

Rotman School of Management’s career director believes that talking to as many people as possible and forming a fuller picture of the issues and challenges affecting your chosen route to a career change could really help make it a reality in the longer-term. 

“When the firms come back on campus for fall recruiting, you are in a much better position for interviews as you are much more informed, and most likely a whole lot more passionate about what you’ve uncovered over the summer,” she says, adding that, “you’ve probably built a pretty decent network in the process.”

Ultimately, an MBA is about realizing your long-term career goals after you graduate – a summer internship can play a vital part in this, but it doesn’t have to. Fully preparing yourself for what you want to achieve in your post-MBA career could help just as much as getting hands-on experience, especially if you’re looking at a career change.

Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity
communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees
in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

Originally posted on www.topmba

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