MBA Internships: How to Avoid Job Search Disaster
by Francesca Di Meglio
If you’re a first-year MBA, chances are you’ll be spending the next few months trying to land the perfect internship. This much you already know: It has to help you acquire experience for your résumé, contacts for your network, and satisfaction for your soul. What you may not realize is that there are common pitfalls you should avoid like the plague. These are five biggies:
Trying Too Hard
Let’s face it. MBA students tend to be overachievers. When they see their classmates clamoring for positions at the start of on-campus recruiting in the winter, which often includes only a select group of industries and companies, they feel as though they must throw their hat in the ring. That’s fine if you want a job in banking or consulting. But it may not be right for those aiming to work for a startup or a nontraditional company that might not firm up its hiring plans until well into the spring, says Jonathan Masland, director of the Career Development Office at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.
Overcoming this mistake is as simple as waiting for the right internship. That doesn’t mean doing nothing during the winter, Masland says. Instead, you should be putting out feelers and networking with people now, so that come springtime, you’re top of mind with those who make hiring decisions. And pay no attention to what your classmates are doing. Patience is a virtue, even for MBAs.
Being a Bad Networker
“Networking is not a to-do list,” says Nancy T. Nguyen, author of The Networking Diary (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 2012) and a 2009 MBA graduate of DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. “It’s a lifestyle.” What many MBAs do is attend networking events without really getting to know anyone. “You can do tons of company research, refine your résumé like crazy, do endless mock interviews,” says Stacy Blackman of the admissions firm Stacy Blackman Consulting. “But ultimately you are being hired by human beings, and you have to be able to connect with them.”
This is an easy fix. Get out in the world, talk to people, ask them questions, and make sure they know who you are. Nguyen says she made a list of people with jobs she wanted in human resources, interviewed them, and learned from them. She ultimately decided she hated human resources, but without those connections, she might not have realized it was the wrong path for her until much later.
Knowing Nothing About Yourself
Before you can do anything right, you have to know where you’re headed. Failing to know yourself, your interests, and strengths can put you behind in the internship search. Self-reflection and analysis are the keys to avoid this mistake, says Masland. Then you can prepare properly, network with the appropriate people, and pursue your actual interests.
Entering the Black Hole
Today’s MBA students are used to pushing through applications and résumés from the comfort of their home computers. Sometimes, they are tempted to click on “send” for every job they see because it’s so simple, says Nguyen. Applying to everything usually results in getting no job at all. Instead, customize your résumé and network and look for openings that appeal to you and for which you are a strong candidate. “What they need to be doing,” Nguyen says of MBA job seekers, “is getting out and knocking on doors.”
Becoming a Nervous Ninny
Many MBAs lack the relaxing gene. They get stressed, and then they make silly etiquette mistakes with those who could help their careers. “Don’t be afraid to approach folks from your target companies and chat with them,” Blackman advises. “Research has shown that employers are more likely to hire the people they like and trust than those who are most supremely qualified.”