One of the most exciting aspects of a graduate degree program is choosing your MBA internship. Most students complete their internships after their first year of MBA studies and use the opportunity to apply what they are learning in real-world scenarios. Beyond the experience that an internship provides, it’s also a key component in both building your professional network and establishing your personal brand.
Because your business school internship is such an important aspect of your overall experience, it’s important to choose one that aligns with your career goals. Because many internship programs are competitive, you should begin the process by identifying your options, so you’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as possible.
Deciding What You Want for Your MBA Internship
There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to internships for MBA students. Some people recommend that MBA candidates choose the best internship they are offered, regardless of how it “fits” with their ultimate career goals. Their thinking is that the prestige and contacts that can come from completing a well-known internship program or interning with a top-tier organization set you up for more long-term success than an internship that is a perfect fit for your career goals and experience.
Others argue that the key to finding the perfect MBA internship begins with determining your goals and identifying the potential organizations that can provide the opportunities. From this perspective, honing specific skills is the ultimate outcome of the program. Given that in many cases, the internship is essentially an “audition” for a full-time job post-graduation. Choosing an internship that is closest to the career you ultimately want makes a great deal of sense. In fact, surveys indicate that about 75 percent of companies that have internship programs look to the pool of former interns first when hiring – working for a company that you are truly interested in can be an advantage when it comes time to find a job.
Ultimately, the approach you take is up to you, but it’s a good idea to have at least some alignment between the internship and your career goals. Applying only to those companies that fit your unique interests and ambitions. Make a list of everything that you want from the internship, and then prioritize that list to determine what you should look for in opportunities. Consider the field, the function, the type of organization, and other factors such as pay, benefits, and location.
Finding Internship Opportunities
Once you know what you want from an internship, it’s time to start identifying opportunities. Fortunately, you have multiple resources for help.
Career Services. The first place to begin your MBA internship search is your school’s career services office. Not only can career services provide information about internship options and help you apply but they also typically host recruitment events in which you can meet representatives from different companies and learn about their internships for MBA students. Some schools also have exclusive relationships with particular companies, ensuring that there are internships or fellowship spots for current students. Don’t overlook this resource, as it can be invaluable to your search.
Internship Guides. Your career services office won’t have information about all internship opportunities, and if you are in an online program, you may not be local to your school. Don’t worry, though. There are plenty of internship guides that you can turn to for help. One of the most popular is The Internship Bible, published by the Princeton Review, which lists thousands of internship opportunities for students at all levels in all fields with descriptions of the internships, as well as detailed application requirements.
Industry Organizations. Many industry groups have extensive job boards that contain internship listings. If you want to apply your MBA experience to a specific industry, don’t overlook the industry groups and the resources they offer.
Networking. Like finding a full-time job, networking is the source of many internships places. Reach out to your professional network to uncover opportunities that might not be listed. Your former colleagues, professors, and classmates, as well as alumni or other students who have completed their internships, can be invaluable sources of information in your search.
Direct Outreach. If there is an organization that you are interested in, but can’t find any information about internships, reach out and inquire about the possibility of working for them. Some companies only list their internship information on their own websites, so don’t forget to look at specific companies if they meet your criteria.
Applying for Internships
Once you’ve identified the internships you’re interested in, it’s time to apply. Most formal internships for MBA students have specific application requirements, including deadlines, so pay careful attention to them. Approach the internship application process as you would any other job; in most cases, you need to submit a resume and cover letter, and depending on the internship, possibly letters of recommendation, transcripts, an essay, or work samples. Many companies also interview prospective interns, especially if they are paid internships.
Always apply to several different internships to ensure that you have a backup option if your first choice doesn’t come through. By focusing your search on only those positions that you are most interested in, you’re less likely to be forced into a situation where you won’t be happy or feel like you’re making progress. At the same time, your internship experience is largely based on what you make of it, so even if you don’t receive an offer from your top choice, if you put in your best effort and try to learn as much as possible, you’ll still gain the insights and experience that will help your career move forward.