How to Land an MBA Internship

By Katherine Hobson, Contributor, for US News, 19 March 2019

MBA students should maximize the summer to secure a top job after graduation.

Before Michael Levit arrived at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business to start his MBA, he was already planning his summer internship. He realized it would be critical in helping him make the transition he wanted from computer programming to investment banking.

“I reached out to the school to find out what I needed to be doing to prepare and what the process would look like,” says Levit, now 30. He attended a conference in New York to meet with financial industry representatives and gave himself a crash course in finance so he could better shine in interviews once the semester began. Levit’s work paid off; he landed a summer internship with JPMorgan Chase & Co., and then a full-time job offer for when he graduates in 2019.

Photo caption:  A Carnegie Mellon MBA student (left) meets a health systems manager on campus to learn about internship opportunities. (credit: JEFF SWENSEN FOR USN&WR)

The internship between the first and second years of an MBA program is a key part of the degree. Not every student will end up working full time for his or her internship employer, but the experience is a great way to get a foot in the door.

According to a recent survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the internship remains a solid avenue to jobs for many business school grads, with most U.S. employers surveyed offering them. U.S. News tapped career experts and successful students for their best advice on landing – and capitalizing on – the internship:

  • Start early.
  • Do serious interview prep.
  • Know your stuff.
  • Develop a strategy.
  • Pursue multiple channels.
  • Seize the opportunity.
  • Keep an open mind.

Start early. Career services officials advise getting a jump on things since informal recruiting and company events can begin in early fall. “We reach out to (students) as soon as we know they’re coming,” says Naomi Sanchez, assistant dean of MBA Career Management and corporate recruiting at the University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business.

Incoming MBA students at Foster take an online course covering all aspects of career search and management, including resume crafting, self-awareness, networking and case interviewing. Each September, first-year students undergo six days of training, practicing those skills with each other and with coaches. Like Levit, many pre-MBA students attend conferences or events in the summer to get early insight into different industries. Some conferences target women or specific ethnicities.

Do serious interview prep. Lean on career services for help. You’ll need to be able to articulate who you are and connect the dots between your pre-MBA experience, what you’re learning in your program, your goals and how these fit the employer’s needs, says Jamie Mathews-Mead, senior director of graduate career management at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. Readying yourself for that kind of deep conversation can take a lot of practice.  “Sometimes MBA students rely and focus on technical skills or GPA or GMAT scores,” she says. Those are important, but employers also want to hire people who are likable and with whom they want to work every day.

Know your stuff. Employers don’t expect first-year students to have mastered the entire MBA curriculum. But they do want to know that students understand the industry and the company.  “Research what the position is all about,” Mathews-Mead advises. “Know what employers are looking for and how you can add value.”  Levit wanted to impress his finance industry interviewers with the knowledge that he hadn’t yet covered in his coursework. The career services office at Tepper helped him connect with the school’s graduate finance association, introduced him to an online course and recommended an investment banking textbook. That willingness to put in the work showed “my desire to break into the industry,” Levit says.

Develop a strategy. The internship is a “pivotal experience” for MBA students who want to switch careers, says Toni Rhorer, associate director of career coaching and programming at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. Figure out how to use it to your advantage.

Eve Richer worked for an environmental nonprofit and in other industries before opting for an MBA to help her transition to the private sector. For her internship, she wanted to work for a large company where there was potential to make an impact in corporate sustainability. At school, Richer conducted and presented research on the circular economy – designing systems so there’s no waste – and ended up at Cisco Systems Inc. in the summer of 2017, working in the circular economy group. She’s now a full-time program manager.

Pursue multiple channels. Richer cautions students against putting all their efforts into one recruiting avenue. “Approach the search from different angles,” she says. Richer used traditional on-campus recruiting methods, networked with alumni on LinkedIn and cultivated less formal industry connections; her entree to Cisco came when an executive attended her research presentation on the circular economy.

Seize the opportunity. Career services can help prepare you for the internship itself, not just the recruiting process. Sanchez says that second-year peer advisers help first-years by sharing intel on how to succeed in different internships. There’s also a lot of work on communications – making presentations and working in teams – so students can thrive during the summer.

Once at her internship, Richer says she leapt at the chance to network with people throughout Cisco. “Never be afraid to reach out and ask someone for 30 minutes to learn about their role,” she suggests. And maintain your composure, Levit advises. “You’re going to be pushed to the limit. If you can do that with a smile and a positive attitude, that goes a very long way.”

Keep an open mind. “People think that if Goldman Sachs is their long-term goal, they have to intern with Goldman to get there, but there are 100 different ways to get there,” Rhorer says. “It could be solid work experience at a company that doesn’t have a big name.”

Not every intern will get a full-time offer, either, which means it’s important to take what you learned during the summer and incorporate it into your resume and work goals. And if the internship isn’t all you’d hoped it would be, do your best and consider it a learning experience, says Stephen Rakas, executive director of the Masters Career Center at Tepper.

“I always tell students it’s just as important to know what you don’t want to do as what you do want to do,” he says.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Business Schools 2020” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.


By Katherine Hobson
Katherine Hobson Contributor