An academic director’s tips for making the most of your MBA internship
MBA internships are valuable. They help students explore a career path, build their professional network, and in some instances, may even end with a full-time job offer.
This is echoed by GMAC – the owner and administrator of the GMAT – which says MBA internships often give candidates a leg up in securing a full-time position following graduation.
Alliance Manchester Business School’s (AMBS) MBA assistant director Naomi Blackwell tells U2B that their engagement with prospective MBA students has remained strong in recent months despite recruitment activity moving online.
Application numbers for the incoming class (starting September 2021) is on par with pre-pandemic levels, suggesting that the value placed on an MBA by candidates is still high, says Blackwell in an email interview.
They’re seeing more applications from entrepreneurs and small business owners who might be interested in diversifying their long-term career options and/or seek a return to more traditional employment.
While students pursue an MBA for various reasons, the pandemic has meant that graduates could face stifling competition when entering the workforce.
Last year, many companies announced staffing changes, including reducing working hours, furloughs, and retrenchments. According to reports, many traditional MBA recruiters have shelved or scaled back on their usual hiring plans, which could make MBA students nervous about their employment prospects.
But things are looking up — a recent GMAT survey has found that corporate recruiters are optimistic about the hiring projections for MBA graduates, with nine in 10 of them expecting it to increase or remain stable in the next five years.
A 2020 survey of MBA graduates found that 34% of students who completed an MBA internship were hired by the company they interned. With internships playing such a pivotal role, what can MBAs do to secure and make the best of an internship?
Do some groundwork
Blackwell notes that there are two main elements to securing an internship at any organisation.
“The first is the preparation; research and networking. While a lot of individuals find networking a real challenge, it plays a huge part in securing future opportunities, both internship and full-time,” she says in an email interview.
“Being proactive to build relationships with alumni, who are usually generous with their time and advice, as well as with other professionals in your target area, can lead to very valuable insights. It really helps MBAs to understand the strategy, challenges and culture of an organisation, as well as how they can add value, which they can feed into the formal recruitment process.”
The second element starts with applying for opportunities, says Blackwell. Students can better understand the expectations of the client/internship from their research and networking and then identify how this aligns with their experience and skillset, and how to communicate that match in their application and interview.
During the interview, the client is likely to seek confirmation of the candidate’s ability, as well as their motivation and what they would be like as a colleague.
“This cultural fit is harder to prepare for in some ways but crucial to success, and networking again is very useful. Our students have the opportunity to hone their interview technique through practice interviews and qualitative feedback with the Postgraduate Careers Service,” she explains.
Despite the pandemic, AMBS has successfully built on its existing client relationships to secure internship opportunities with new organisations and ones that have yet to benefit from AMBS MBAs. In fact, 89% of students in the class of 2022, who wanted to complete an internship have secured one, on par with pre-pandemic years.
Many of their MBAs have secured internships with a broad range of organisations, including top ones such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.
The main challenge for interns this year is building relationships with colleagues remotely.
“Some clients have not yet brought their full team back to site, and may be progressing with hybrid working long-term, and the student may not be completely office-based,” says Blackwell.
“Fortunately, our MBAs have already delivered two group consultancy projects remotely before starting internships, so have good experience in building rapport and working effectively in this way.”
Making the most of an MBA internship
“One of the best things students can do to maximise their chance of success during an internship is to discuss with the client what ‘success’ looks like for both parties,” says Blackwell.
While there’s likely a project brief in place, Blackwell notes that there’s scope to explore potential approaches with the client early on, as well as nuances such as project influencers and managing stakeholders; points that can be difficult to capture in a written brief.
There also needs to be an early, clear agreement on logistics such as milestones, remote or office working styles, communication methods, and the like.
“Taking this consultative approach from day one is a great way to begin building strong relationships with the client, pre-empt potential challenges and set a positive approach,” she says.
MBAs are also encouraged to build relationships outside their core team to understand the wider environment, and recognise best practices from other teams to add greater impact for their learning and to the end deliverables.