The career value of MBA internships

Even the best MBA degree from the most prestigious business school assumes little importance if the skills you learnt in the classroom don’t find application in the real world of business. As a result, the value of vocational experience for MBA students and recent graduates cannot be emphasized enough.

Often, this vocational experience is through the form of MBA internships.

Both future and current students are thus advised to start thinking about which companies will best help to take their careers forward once they graduate.

The value of an MBA internship

“Internships give students their first exposure to working in an organization and also a flavor of the functional area they are interested in pursuing later in their careers,’’ explains Professor Rajesh Aithal, chairman of placements at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow.

Tina Dickson a student from Strathclyde Business School who embarked on a summer internship program as part of Strathclyde’s Saltire Foundation internship program. She says: "I got a training and marketing internship with a Scottish company called Vets Now. They are currently one of the fastest growing companies in Scotland and last year they had an annual turnover of £22m. This is the first year that the Saltire Foundation has offered placements in Scotland as normally they are based abroad.

"I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard the news… It was very exciting and demonstrated that beyond having a basic internship I had become part of the Saltire family and community which was going to give me a really good opportunity to network with business men and women established in the industry and make good contacts..."

Jessica Trogler, MBA student at Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley is a first-year student who landed an internship that furthers her career goals: she joined Visa for the summer as financial planning and analysis intern in Global Finance. Trogler says she chose the internship placement for its ‘big-picture’ view of the company.

“This role will expose me to the drivers of revenue and profitability for Visa,” she says. Her work includes building in-depth business cases for new projects and partnering with product strategists to quantify the financial impact of new product innovations.

“I will have an opportunity to participate in Visa’s annual forecasting process and to work closely with the business units,” she says.

Alternatives to an MBA internship

But while internships provide students with opportunities to experiment and pursue careers that match their academic and personal interests, others feel that a working environment that is more closely integrated to the MBA classroom is more suitable at business school. There are a few business schools, such as the Indian School of Business (ISB) that in addition to the classroom learning experience provide experiential learning opportunities for students in practical courses and projects.

Professor Dishan Kamdar, senior associate dean at ISB explains that: “Internships have their advantages, but given the prior work experience, international exposure and diversity of the ISB class, we have successfully facilitated live consulting engagements for our students which have received a very positive response from industry.”

However, this methodology is restricted to a tiny segment of business schools as the internship scene has changed dramatically compared to a decade ago. Many business schools that offer MBA internships as part of their two-year programs have added module credits to them in order to ensure that these are taken seriously by students and that companies derive value through their interns.

For the majority of graduating MBAs, therefore, internships provide the chance to develop industry-specific abilities; develop strong teamwork skills; increase the likelihood of building professional networking contacts, mentoring relationships and so on.
Of course there is no guarantee that an MBA internship will give students a full time position but it will certainly enhance their chances as it will help them become viable, experienced job applicants when they are seeking employment after graduation.

“Summer internships can themselves be converted into job offers for a good performer and if the internship is aligned to the student’s functional interest then the possibility of getting a job offer from companies in the industry also increases,” says Professor Aithal.

In fact, many employers consider internship experience in the hiring process, and many look to their own interns as the best potential candidates for full-time positions.

Robert F Bruner, dean of business administration at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia says that internships are very valuable for someone who aims to change careers or industry focus after their MBA.

“An internship gives a low risk look at another field. Also, large corporations are increasingly using internships as a vetting device to determine final job offers. To gain an offer for permanent employment at the end of your summer internship is to relieve uncertainty and give you a valuable benchmark against which to compare other offers that you may receive during the second year of your MBA program. The majority of Darden students gain offers of permanent employment from their summer internships.”

Gauging employer or industry desirability

Professor Aithal makes the point that an MBA internship is not only for the employer to gain a grasp of an MBAs ability, but also for the student to gauge the suitability of the employer, or industry.

“Let's realize that every business student is not only ‘selling’ [trying to find work], but also ‘buying’ [trying to determine the desirability of an employer]. The summer internship helps you buy smarter: you can see what the employer is like from the inside rather than relying on someone else's opinion,” says Bruner.

But two-year MBA programs aside, a lot of students join shorter, one-year courses that due to time constraints don't usually offer the option to enroll on an MBA internship. However, these shorter courses do have considerable vocational value, as the ability to return to the working environment sooner can be a huge plus-point for employers.

“One year programs don't usually offer internships, a disadvantage offset by the speedier return to full-time employment. Students who are returning to the same industry in which they worked before business school will find the fast return attractive. But the two-year format affords experimentation through internship in a field outside your own and the better networking and learning that the summer affords,’’ Bruner points out.

However, if a student enrolled on a one-year program feels they might benefit from an MBA internship, then clearly they are free to apply for one once they have completed their program. If this is the case, then the business school’s MBA career service should be the first port of call.

 

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