How to Pick Your Perfect Grad School Internship
Finding the perfect summer internship in grad school is tricky for a number of reasons. First, there’s a burden of opportunity: This summer is probably the last time in your life that you’ll get to try out a new job in a risk-free way, which means there’s a lot of pressure to use the time well. There are also a lot of different directions you could go when choosing an internship program: Should you try something completely new—or work for a company that will help you build up your network in your current field?
Deciding which path is right for you will obviously depend on your unique circumstances, but here are four things you should definitely think about as you make your pros and cons list.
Your Long-Term Plan
The very first thing to consider when deciding which opportunities to pursue is how you want your internship to figure into your long-term career path. Which sectors do you want to build your resume and network in? What skills do you need to learn? What type of experiences will set you up to achieve your future goals?
I know this all sounds very high-level, so here’s an example to help make it more concrete. Say you’re a potential career switcher who thinks you might want to move from consulting to technology, but you’re not sure. You know, then, that you’ll definitely want to use your internship to build new experience, skills, and networks in the tech industry.
But you’ll also need to consider how your role will look on your resume if you end up not liking tech and decide to go back to consulting—or switch to something else entirely. For this reason, you may want to try and work for a big-name tech company in a consulting-related role such as corporate strategy, which will play on your strengths while still allowing you to get your foot in the door and build experience in a new field.
No, not every role will fit perfectly into your long-term plans, but if you’re devoting your whole summer to an internship, it should at least help move you in the direction you want to go.
When it comes to how structured you want your internship program to be, you really get to choose your own adventure. Grad school internships, and MBA programs in particular, really run the gamut: There’s everything from the traditional banking and consulting tracks that put their interns through a very structured summer to startups that will be much more likely to throw interns into the fray of work without any sort of formal program in sight.
I’d definitely recommend talking to your career services office and conducting informational interviews to learn more about what internships will be like day-to-day at the companies you’re interested in. Then, think about which type of program will benefit you the most. My opinion is that it can be good to take advantage of a large company’s professional development resources if you haven’t had access to them before or if you’re not sure where you’ll be in the future. (I’ve been working at a nonprofit for five years, so I want to work at a large organization with a very structured training and development program so I can pick up certain specific skills during the summer.)
On the other hand, if you’re excited about being scrappy and want to make sure you’re doing critical work, you should check out a small company or a startup. Because they have a smaller budget to spend on interns, they’ll typically only hire people they really need to do important work over the summer—and then put them right to it.
It goes without saying that the people you’re working with can make or break any experience. Along with fit, however, it’s also important to consider how the people you’ll be working with over the summer fit into the company structure—and how they’ll fit into your day-to-day experience. Many programs will give their summer interns access to senior staff members and mentors, which can be a great way to get exposure to key decision makers.
You also want to understand whether or not you will be working on a team that is core to what the company is doing. In the consumer packaged goods industry, for example, marketing is considered to be the central function (and it’s where most CEOs come from), so if you decide to intern at, say, Proctor & Gamble, you may want to focus on brand manager positions on the marketing team.
You likely know from experience that a role can sound perfect when you read the job description, but if it’s in the wrong city (or wrong part of the city) then it won’t work out no matter how great it is.
But I’ve found that logistical considerations such as location, timing (i.e., length of the program), and salary to be less important in the internship search than the full-time process simply because internships are so short. It’s not as typical to negotiate a summer internship salary as it is to negotiate a full-time offer, companies are usually flexible about time off as long as you give them a head’s up about dates before you start, and you can probably handle a miserable commute for 8-10 weeks.
These things are worth focusing on, though, if you want to get a full-time offer at the end of your internship. If, for example, you know that your partner needs to live in NYC for work after you graduate, make sure you’re looking at companies with an NYC office so that it would be possible to transfer after you complete the internship.
Finally, a short note on timing: Don’t get stressed out if everyone around you is landing an internship before you are! It’s much more important to be discerning and have a good experience than it is to grab a role just because you want to have something nailed down. Keep at it, and I know you’ll find the perfect internship!
Photo of interns courtesy of Shutterstock.
Leslie Moser attends Harvard Business School where she is pursuing her MBA. Before going back to school she worked at Teach For America where she tried to tackle educational inequity one email at a time. Leslie loves to travel, eat Thai food, and watch reruns of The West Wing.More from this Author