Summer Internships: There’s One Goal!

Summer manager to you: “IT went OK and we like you personally, but…”

You don’t want to hear a “but” when you’re spending more than $100K all-in on your degree. You came back to pursue your dream and got the perfect internship for summer. Now it’s not working out according to plan.

A surprising number of candidates lose focus during the 10-12 weeks of their final internship. There are social events, networking interviews to set up and all sorts of things to explore.  

Get the offer!

The reality for b-school students is that there is really only one over-arching goal for your summer internship. Get the full time offer!

I was a liberal arts major. I want to be dreamy and philosophical about the importance of learning for learning’s sake. (And I do think it’s important.)

But here’s the reality; the first question recruiters will ask you next fall is “do you have an offer from your summer?” If you answer “yes”, you immediately move on to more meaningful discussion with the positive halo effect of them knowing you’re in play and on the board with an offer.

But if you answer no…several awkward minutes of explaining how you’re really great, but the internship didn’t work out, blah blah blah.

It may not have been your fault. There may not have been a job available. Your boss may have been unfair. It doesn’t matter. The impression is that the most recent organization to assess you didn’t want to make you part of their operation.

You can overcome it, but it will take time you’d rather spend on other things. All things being equal you want the offer, even if you don’t want the job.

So how do you maximize your chance to get an offer?

1 – Clarify expectations: This sounds so obvious, but many candidates forget to do it. “If I just show up and work hard, it will all work out” is a recipe for being offer-less. Do you understand who will be involved in making the final hiring decision? How many people are there? Have you met with all of them? Do you know their priorities?

2 – Focus on delivering: Having told you to make expectations clear, you still have to deliver. So do the hard work required. Be smart, diligent, creative, a good teammate…These are all part of building your professional image. In a 10-12 week span, you need to be willing to push, deal with ambiguity and deliver a result.  

3 – Check in and get feedback: You are spending the summer either confirming or disconfirming initial impressions. Usually the first impression is that they like you, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired you.

So how do you determine your status? Ask.

Schedule regular check in meetings with your manager to present your excellent work, ask for input and advice and check in on how things are going.

What no one tells you is that if things aren’t going well, you may never know if you aren’t actually checking in. I always ask my students, “if you get to week 10 and are surprised by negative feedback, who’s fault is that?” In case you’re wondering, the correct answer is “your fault”.

Here are more thoughts on seeking feedback.

4 – Incorporate input into your work: If asking for feedback, it’s beholden on you to actually listen and do something with it. Even if all the feedback is positive, there will be advice on how to handle your slides, meetings, interviews… whatever. Demonstrate your ability to learn and adapt by visibly incorporating pieces of advice into your work. Hiring managers aren’t looking for people who can’t take input or already know everything.

It’s not really just about getting the offer is it?

Not really. Having just made the case for being very goal focused, there obviously are other important goals for your internship. Just start with the premise that the offer is goal #1.

Other things you get from your internship:

An understanding of the function or role. Do you like what you’re doing? If it’s a shift for you, is it what you thought it would be? For me, a consumer products marketing summer convinced me that it wasn’t a good fit. Looks like management consulting!

A sense of the company. Culturally is it a fit for you? You may love the industry, but can you go to work at the particular company every day? Is the way the company is structured/managed can you see yourself growing there for at least several years? Here are a few thoughts on finding your people.

Tangible experience. Don’t underestimate the value of the actual work you do. Particularly if you are career switching as an MBA or trying to gain experience as an undergrad, you’ll be developing relevant experience and begin to mature as a professional. 

Network. If you spend your summer wisely, you’ll begin to develop a personal network in your new company and industry. It’s a huge plus if a number of people know who you are when you start full time and are looking for ways to use you.

Just remember that if you don’t get the offer, you don’t get to choose.

4 thoughts on “Summer Internships: There’s One Goal!

  1. Phil-

    Thanks for putting this together. I think I need to print this and tape it to my wall above my desk over the summer. Then do the same for 15 other friends.


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