Red Flags and opportunities: What to look out for while choosing an MBA internship
You’re halfway through your MBA and are on the lookout for a financial internship. How do you decide where to look? And, if you’re lucky enough to get multiple offers, which one should you take? It’s all about doing your homework, identifying opportunities and sniffing out red flags.
Many candidates, even mature MBAs, fall in love with the name of a bank, consulting firm or accounting giant while disregarding the true purpose an internship. Before getting started, identify exactly what you want to get out of the experience, even if the answer is as simple as a paycheck. Here are a few of the most common goals, courtesy of Dan Bauer, CEO and founder of business school admissions consulting firm The MBA Exchange (mbaexchange.com).
- To explore a new function or industry that you might like to pursue after graduation.
- To get a foot in the door at the specific company that you intend join later as a full-time employee.
- To add a prestigious Fortune 100 corporate brand that will enhance your resume.
- To make as much money as possible so that you're post-MBA debt load is a little lighter.
“Once you have your objective set, then you can identify the companies and opportunities that align best with your end game,” he said.
After developing your short list, do some homework before applying and sitting down for interviews. Talk to the career services staff at your business school and ask how many members of last year's MBA class interned at the targeted firm, how many received and accepted offers for full-time jobs upon graduation, and what level of compensation they received, Bauer said.
“If the numbers are small or inconsistent, then ask whether the company is extending few offers or whether the candidates are opting for better opportunities elsewhere,” he added. You should also grab coffee with second-year students who interned a year ago at the firm in question and ask tough, pointed questions, judging their level of enthusiasm as well as the content of their message.
You’ll obviously spend nearly every bit of energy trying to win over your suitor, but remember it’s a two-way street, especially considering the dearth of young talent entering banking these days.
One great question to ask: where are your interns now? Quality firms – and business units within those firms – can talk about past interns, what their experiences were like, and if they were hired, where they are now in the company, said Wendy Flynn, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm, MBA Admissions Coach.
It’s fair game to ask if you can speak directly with past interns to get a feel for the organization and its culture, Bauer said.
You’ll also want a firm that has a clear goal in mind for you, including a plan for your internship, concrete responsibilities and training along with measurable goals that will be achieved by the end of the internship, said Flynn. You’re also likely to take more away from the internship and gain more contacts if given access to multiple projects that will expose you to a variety of areas of the firm, rather than being pigeonholed into one assignment.
Other things common to strong internship programs include: opportunities to interact with senior leadership, the presence of an internship coordinator (to help keep you from getting run into the ground), and the promise of an evaluation at the end of the program, said Flynn.
Don’t worry too much about a firm’s current performance but always recognize the power of general name recognition, Bauer said. “A firm experiencing flat performance could be the ideal place for you to learn and grow, but remember the company "brand" will become a permanent fixture on your resume for the next 40 years, so be cautious,” he said. “An internship at a troubled or controversial firm (think SAC Capital) is not very career enhancing in the long run.”
While assessing the opportunities provided by each program, keep your eye out for these red flags, courtesy of Flynn.
- A company scheduling internship interviews in April, May or even June has clearly not prepared for the addition of interns for their summer operations. This is the sign of a last minute decision, and as a result, they are likely to hire the individuals who didn’t get hired by any of the other companies.
- Lofty promises, but no clear description of what you will do during the internship. It’s difficult to determine exactly what kinds of experience you will gain during the internship.
- It is not yet determined which area you’ll be assigned to, or who your manager will be.
- Interviewer seems to be more interested in your availability than your skill set.
- Distracted or overscheduled/fatigued interviewer who is not fully engaged with you during the interview.