Maximize Your Internship Experience

Fretting about your first day at your internship this summer?  Have no fear! Graduating 2nd-year MBA students give their best advice on how to make your internship a smashing success.

 

Get Organized

Make sure you have access to all of the resources you need.  This may mean people, data sources, reports, or internal communication and information systems within your company.  Every project is different, but make sure you and your boss (and any other stakeholders) have the same understanding of what the final product or recommendation should look like.  Put it in writing, and get sign-off as early as possible.  Establish relationships with the people you’ll need to ask for help.  Having these people on your side will help a lot when you get stuck or need help along the way.  Go into your internship with the right attitude – this will go a long way in getting buy-in from your co-workers. Second-year investments student Seth Goldstein advises first-year students to “be humble and willing to work hard, learn and do work outside of your job description.”

In your first couple of weeks, ask all kinds of questions.  “This is a time to listen and ask relevant questions – not to talk about yourself,” advises 2nd year marketing student Jessie Modi. “Everyone will likely already have a gut feeling about which general direction your project should go in. Listen to everyone’s thoughts and understand their arguments for it – but don’t jump to conclusions. Be a third-party and take in all of the facts and opinions as you work out the details of the project.”

Manage your project’s time schedule.  “Budget an amount of time for gathering data and stick to it – it’s really easy to spend too much time on this step, and not have enough time to get the value-added work done,” says Jessie.  Plan to put together your draft two weeks before your final presentation, then ask for feedback and finalize your presentation one week before you give it.  She also advises practicing your presentation with a variety of people. “Spend the last week rehearsing to other interns, your team, your manager, your director, your mentor, etc. Each group will have feedback – maybe even different feedback. Use it as a chance to either clarify your story, make changes to your deck or just help you prepare for potential questions that may arise on the day of the presentation.”

 

Network

Start with your department.  Set up weekly meetings with your boss to talk about how your project is going, and ask about who else you can meet. Talk to as many people as possible to find out more about their backgrounds, interests, and how they got where they are in the company.  Meet with your director and other senior managers at least once, asking your manager the best way to do this. Think of this as a casual conversation where you can gain different perspectives on the company, different roles and departments within the organization, and how these individuals managed their careers.

Your fellow interns can be the easiest way to network in and outside your department. Set up lunches with the other interns (if you have them) and get to know one another, share ideas and advice. Get to know more about your fellow interns’ projects.  “Not only will this help your network, it will give you an idea of what the company’s priorities are in terms of brands and projects,” says Jessie.

Don’t hide in your cube and drill away on your project all day long.  Meet the people working around you, ask questions about what they are working on, and get involved in the conversations around your office. “Take on projects outside your assigned work. This will allow you to get to know more people and network outside your normal group,” says 2nd-year corporate finance student Pankaj Kumar.  Jessie encourages first-year students to take advantage of the lunch hour as a networking opportunity. “Use this as an opportunity to reach out to other interns or employees to get to know one another in a relaxed setting. Regardless of whether you bring your own lunch, eat in the cafeteria or go to a nearby restaurant, this is a really easy way to network.”

Does your company have events planned for interns, your department, or the company as a whole? Ask around. Find out whether there are volunteer opportunities or networking events outside of work that you can attend.  Deanna Sorak, 2nd-year corporate finance student, shares her experience connecting with co-workers: “I connected with a Tippie alum who sat down with me the first week and told me who to meet with, not only for my project, but also to meet people who had a good perspective on the company. Philanthropy was very strong at my internship company, so I participated in most philanthropic activities that were held over the summer. This allowed me to meet a great deal more people than I would have otherwise, and showed that I was committed to the values of the company. Lastly, I joined the Young Professionals networking group. All three of these components really helped me to feel like I was meeting as many people as possible without feeling forced.”

 

Give a killer presentation.

Use your network to get advice – that includes your classmates, former team members or leaders, but most importantly the connections you’ve made at your company. Every company and audience is different, which means different preferences as to how much content should be included, the best way to present a lot of information in a concise way, and general company “norms” for slide decks and presentations.

Know your audience. “If you have the chance to find out who will be in the final presentation, do your homework on them,” says Jessie.  You’ll likely be presenting to a cross-functional group, so “don’t try to ‘wow’ the team with your vocabulary. Your best bet is to tell the story in a simple, easy-to-follow way that will allow anyone to follow along.” The final presentation should tell a story, so think “big picture” and don’t get lost in the details. If questions come up on details, include this information in your appendix so you can flip to that slide as needed. Assume your slide deck will reach anyone and everyone in the company.  Make sure your notes and appendix are clear enough for anyone to read.  Let the slide deck speak for itself as a report, but also make sure you have additional insights to add during the presentation itself, so you’re not just repeating information stated on the slides.

Give yourself credit. List your name & contact information in your presentation. Thank the people who helped you along the way. Show gratitude but also make sure to take credit for the ideas you contributed. Keep this presentation in perspective. Jessie advises first-year students to “keep in mind that your work quality and ethic throughout the summer is equally important to the presentation.”

 

Moving Forward

Keep track of your internship project and experiences. “When I was completing my projects or working with people, I kept in mind that I would be telling stories about these projects and relationships in future interviews,” says Cody Myers, 2nd-year supply chain and analytics student. “This year I felt much more confident and felt I had much better stories when interviewing for full-time positions.”

Consider putting aside a portion of your earnings for next year.  Depending on your financial situation and job start date following graduation, you may need to save extra money to tide you over for next summer.  You may need to take out extra student loan money in order to do this, but many 2nd-year students mentioned this being something they wish they knew going into their internships so they could have planned better.

Everyone will have a different internship experience. For some students, this is an opportunity to snag their dream jobs, and the internship serves as a three-month long interview. Keep in mind that this interview works both ways – make sure you take advantage of all possible opportunities to find out whether this is the right place for you to work. For others, the internship offers great experience in a new industry or field, and helps students build their resume and work experiences to draw from in future interview stories.

Bridget Dowd

About Bridget Dowd

Bridget Dowd is a native Iowan and 2013 MBA candidate focusing in marketing. She graduated from the University of Iowa in 2008 with a degree in Management Information Systems before working as a Business Analyst at HNI Corporation for three years. Bridget interned at United Airlines in 2012, working in the e-commerce and merchandising division. She loves to travel, and flew over 50,000 miles this summer.