by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Two of the most important decisions you'll make is deciding when and where to earn your MBA degree. A third, almost as important decision, is deciding on where you want to intern in the summer between your first and second years of your MBA program. For many full-time MBA students, the choice of an MBA internship is a critical step in achieving career and job-search success.
Regardless of whether you entered your MBA program with years of work experience or with a limited work history, studies show many employers use MBA internships as a critical recruiting tool -- as a three-month trial in which MBA candidates have a chance to participate on key project teams, network with numerous executives, and make a name for themselves within the organization.
In fact, several studies show that organizations that offer MBA internships strongly prefer hiring their interns. In one study, not only did employers say they hired more than half of their MBA interns -- but that they also paid those they hired a higher salary than other new hires. In another study of employers who offer MBA internships, almost three-quarters said they first interview previous MBA interns for new positions before opening the position to other candidates.
Finally, in a study of MBA candidates, almost 90 percent of interns were offered full-time positions with their employers, further stating that the internship helped them make key networking contacts as well as find a mentor. Besides being groomed for a full-time position, some candidates are offered extended internship opportunities as well as part-time positions when they return to school for their final year.
Thus, right after choosing the best MBA program for your needs, you should begin the process of finding the best MBA internship that fits your plans for your future career -- including job function, industry, location, and employer.
This article takes you through a five-step process for finding and applying to the MBA internship programs that best fit your future career aspirations.
MBA Internship Step 1: Determining Your Career Specialty, Choice of Industry, and Geographic Preferences
Three key decisions you first need to address deal with the particular field in which you wish to intern, the industry in which you wish to intern, and the geographic location where you want to intern.
In terms of your particular field, the ideal scenario is that you know exactly what career path you seek. The point of both the MBA and MBA internship is to hone your skills for a particular field. Some people enter an MBA program looking to advance their current career paths, while others enter the program to make a career change. The important thing is to choose your path wisely.
Typical MBA internship job functions include accounting, consulting, financial analysis, general management, information technology, law, marketing, operations, research, and sales.
The second decision involves the core industry you desire. Different industries offer very different challenges and opportunities, as well as differences in pacing, growth, and advancement.
Typical MBA internships can be found in most major industries, including accounting, consulting, consumer goods, entertainment, financial services, healthcare, high-tech, manufacturing, non-profits, pharmaceuticals, public sector (government), services, and retail.
The third decision involves location. If you have no preference for where you live in the future, then you can skip this last part. Many people do have a geographic preference -- and it's important to know exactly where you will and will not live so that when you are researching MBA internships, you can eliminate those that are located in areas you choose not to live.
MBA Internship Step 2: Developing a List of Potential Companies
Most major companies offer MBA internships, but don't limit yourself to the Fortune 500 in finding the best internship experience for your needs. A small list of companies offering MBA internships is included in a sidebar to this article.
If you are at a more prestigious MBA program, a number of companies will actively recruit at your campus. But don't rule out a company just because it is not recruiting on your campus. (It will be much harder to crack to gain an interview, but not impossible.) Also don't rule out a company that does not overtly offer an MBA internship as you still may be able to obtain one through step 3.
Research organizations that match the industry in which you seek to intern/work. Once you have a list, go to each organization's Website and look for information about their MBA internship program and about their corporate culture and core values.
Your goal is to complete this step with a very short list (under 10) of prospective employers.
MBA Internship Step 3: Finding Internship Leads
The two most valuable sources for gaining an inside edge to obtaining the internship you seek are your network of contacts and your MBA career office.
Contact everyone in your network -- friends, family, former co-workers and bosses, clients, and professors -- and ask them if they know anyone who works for the organizations on the list you developed in the last step. Having an inside contact -- even if he or she has nothing to do with the internship program -- may provide you with invaluable insider information. [Learn more about career networking here.]
Your MBA's career-services office should offer a number of key resources to assist you, including a register of previous internships opportunities, a list of organizations coming to campus to recruit MBAs for internships, a directory of alumni who are willing to assist current students, and a collection of publications and other key internship resources.
Don't forget to use these contacts to gain as much information as possible on all your potential internship organizations -- but especially for any organizations on your short list that don't appear to be actively using MBA interns.
MBA Internship Step 4: Finalizing Your MBA Internship Choices
Once you have compiled all your MBA intern opportunities and completed all your research, it's time to make a final list of your top MBA internships.
Some other criteria to consider beyond what has been previously discussed include issues such as pay, reputation, expectations.
Most MBA internship programs pay their interns, but some programs pay more than others -- and you should consider issues like what your expenses will be (if, for example, you need to move for the summer to complete the internship).
An organization's reputation -- not only for how it treats it interns and new hires -- but how well it prepares and promotes its employees -- should play a role in your decision.
Finally, look carefully at each organization's expectations of its MBA interns and make certain that those expectations match your aspirations and competencies. The best internship programs have their interns deeply involved in key strategic decisions and projects.
MBA Internship Step 5: Applying to Your Top Internships
The most important task to complete in this final step is to tailor each of your applications -- including both your cover letter and resume -- to the specifics of each internship opportunity. Tailor everything not just to the requirements of each internship, but also to the culture and values of each organization. Use all your research results and networking discussions when preparing your applications. (The key is using some of the organization's own words to describe yourself in your application.)
Your goal should be that when an internship recruiter or other key manager is reviewing your application that it stands well above all -- or at least most -- of the other applications. You must show your fit with the internship and the organization is the best among the applicants, which will be especially important for an organization that is not recruiting on your campus.
Take your time with each application, and follow all the guidelines as closely as possible. Some applications will require you to input all your information while others may ask you to simply upload your resume and/or cover letter.
Final Thoughts on MBA Internships
An MBA internship can be a major stepping stone in achieving your next career goal -- and you should give the decision about your internship the same time and effort you used in finding and applying to your MBA program. Remember to keep that career goal in mind as you narrow your list of potential internships.
It's never too early to start this process -- and the earlier the better not only for your preparation but also because some programs have very early application deadlines. Exhaust all your resources to locate and secure the best internship for you.
Finally, once you're finished with the applications, it's on to the next step: preparing for the interviews. Use these interviewing tools and resources to help you prepare to wow them into offering you the internship.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Have you seen all our career and job resources for job-seekers considering an MBA, currently attending an MBA program, or who have an MBA? Go to: Job Resources for MBAs or MBA Degree Resources.