Posts Tagged ‘summer internships’

Although I do try to stay fit I never thought I would describe myself as a triple jumper. It sounds like something a diver or figure skater would attempt in order to win Olympic gold. But in the world of post-MBA careers, a triple jumper is someone who successfully lands a job in a different industry, function, and geography to the one they had before the MBA. I’ve managed to pull it off and here is a bit about how it happened.

I pursued the MBA because I knew I wanted a change. I had spent six years working in politics in Canada, helping to organize election campaigns, use technology to reach voters, and promote a political leader and party that I believed in. I found the work extremely rewarding, primarily because it had a real impact on moving society forward and correcting the many injustices we see around us every day. Despite these rewards I wanted to try something else and learn new things. I didn’t know precisely what would come next, but I had an interest in understanding business and management and was excited about where the MBA could lead.

Throughout my first year I explored the full spectrum of career opportunities. I slowly but methodically built up a network in London by reaching out to LBS alumni, friends, former colleagues, and contacts I met at events. I asked lots of questions and did a lot of thinking about what I was good at, and ultimately what sort of work gave me fulfilment. I found the staff in Career Services to be a great resource, often challenging me to think about things differently. Second-year students were also a major source of advice and support.

My professional soul-searching consistently led me to roles related to marketing. I began to understand how much of my work in politics was similar to marketing and how my skills as a project manager and communications strategist could be leveraged in a commercial context. I was starting to have an idea, albeit vague, of what I might do after the MBA. But to be safe, and to continue learning what was out there, I cut a wide swath through the myriad internships on offer and applied to several consulting firms and almost all of the industry and technology roles.

But applying for summer internships proved to be a frustrating experience as no matter how I reworded my CV and cover letter, no matter how I tried to position myself, I just could not break through. I submitted more than 30 applications and was invited for just one interview. Towards the end of March of last year, I started getting very nervous about my summer internship prospects – and if I’m totally honest – my future career in general.

Just as things were looking dire, all of the networking I had done finally began to bear fruit. One person introduced me to another, and they introduced me to someone else, and before I knew it, I had been offered an internship that ultimately would come to define my MBA.

For my internship, I joined the global Dove team at Unilever to support a senior brand manager working on Dove’s corporate social responsibility program. It was an ideal role because it leveraged my experience in politics and social issues while also exposing me to the inner workings of a world-class marketing machine. I took advantage of being in the Unilever head office to learn as much as I could about the business and make new connections. I poured over the company intranet and read everything I could get my hands on. And I asked almost everyone I met if they would spend 30 minutes telling me about their job and their background – they all said yes.

At the end of my internship I was asked to stay on part-time and have remained on the Dove team since then, taking on progressively more important projects. It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with smart people on a great brand, and continue learning about marketing and fast-moving consumer goods.

My extended internship at Unilever positioned me well for full-time recruitment. Come next September, I’ll be joining the MBA Leadership Program at Marks & Spencer in London. But perhaps the biggest benefit of my time at Unilever is that it helped to clarify what I want to do in the next stage of my career.

If you had asked me two years ago if I wanted to work with consumer products such as soap or shampoo, or work in retail, I would have laughed out loud. But the more time I spent at Unilever, the more I understood the complex strategic questions that underpin a brand and the intense creative work that goes into a successful marketing campaign. Working with products and brands also satisfies my intense curiosity about people’s needs and wants and how they live their lives.

Moreover, consumer products are used by almost everyone, almost everywhere in the world, providing truly global reach and a tangible opportunity to make a difference when products are developed and sold in a sustainable manner. My commitment to progressive politics has not waned, but I have found a new avenue to pursue it, at least for a little while.

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I am staying focused. Like a monk trained in on his breathe exhaling, or perhaps, more apt, the athlete envisioning his actions before the big game. I iron my shirt; cotton press, a squirt of water to rid that stubborn crease. I select my tie; yellow with a confident red stripe, tied in a half Windsor. I place my cufflinks through their holes, the right first, then the left; a pair of silver foxes. I slip my arms through the jacket sleeves. Check. Looking good. It’s winter; I choose a grey striped scarf and wrap it around my neck. Good. I grab my coat and throw my satchel over my shoulder. I hear the door shut as I leave the house. I briefly look down at my shoes; freshly polished. I then turn my head up and walk towards my interview… and my destiny.

I can almost see this playing out as a video montage set to Eye of the Tiger. That, or a stand in for the American Psycho intro. But the former sounds much better.

The preparation is now complete. Many hours were toiled away in the first term refining the CV to stand out and succinctly convey our best qualities. We were assisted with the experience of the second year students both formally through the Peer Leadership Programme and informally over cup of coffees. Career Services reviewed them too and then followed up with drop in sessions to complete the tailoring to near perfection.

The cover letters came next. Picking our skills and attributes that would define us as being unique. Carefully tailoring each to specify why we so desired to work for that particular company. The irony was lost somewhere around Christmas that every company we applied to was the company we most wished to work for. Again, the second years and Career Services assisted. This time too, we had the company presentations to rely on. Each telling us why they were different from all their competitors – each stating the same or similar reasons to their competitors.

With these company presentations came the opportunity to network. To meet real flesh and blood employees. Perhaps with the hope of making that impression that could land you an interview job, or at the very least, some additional information to further make that cover letter stand out.

And finally, the interview preparation. Many hours hidden away in the recesses of the library or study rooms, making sure we knew our finest achievements, the best examples of leadership and teamwork, and crushing cases that may be thrown at us. Second years grilled us with difficult questions, career services advised us and ran various workshops, our classmates rallied questions back and forth as practice.

But now, all that preparation is over. I walk into the office. I greet the receptionist. I wait, and then greet the HR representative. I enter the den. There is nothing left separating me from the battle with the beast. The interviewer enters. The door closes. It all begins here.

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I’m now four from eight.

That first email that comes through offering you an interview is an incredible confidence boost. You finally realize that firms don’t all start their emails with “Thank you for your application. However…” Your foot is in the door, quite literally in some cases when firms host interviews at their offices. But again, a reality check quickly follows. Afterall, this is only a foot in the door; we’ve been reminded numerous times that this is only the first step along a tough and merciless road (nevertheless, a significant step, that could, I feel, be measured in comparable size to those taken by Neil Armstrong). We’ve been culled down to a select few for the first interview. Following that an even more ruthless cut will ensue, succeeded by a minority who are left standing at the end. It sounds like something even Gordon Gekko would be challenged at.

A series of interviews now face me. But what does a consulting interview comprise of? The core is the case problem. These usually start with the premise that the CEO has asked for your advice to solve their problem, whether that be falling profits, market entry, a potential merger, or some other scenario. Your role, no, your duty, is to identify the crux of the issue and resolve it in the short space of 30 minutes or so.

So how does an MBA student prepare when one has succeeded at making it to this first round? Thankfully, it is not too hard, it just requires persistence. You must first turn your head and open your eyes to see all the hopeful study partners all around. I am immensely appreciative for the collaborative and constructive help of my fellow classmates. They, like you, are wanting to succeed. And perhaps in the most illustrative example of a ‘win-win’ scenario, you buddy up and test each other on sample cases. And you do this until you are verging on being repulsed by their company and constructive feedback. You wonder if you even want to be a consultant after you have long forgotten and given up counting the number of cases you have burned through. In these weeks of recruitment you will see the best and worst of your classmates – the built up pressure and stress in their frayed nerves and short tempers, the highs from crushing a case, the lows from screwing up the maths worse than their thirteen year-old cousin. Don’t forget, they see the same in you.

And through all this, you strengthen those connections with your classmates; an incredibly perverse bonding experience.

Now bring it on.

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Life during OCR

Posted by: Carolina

The start of the year signals the beginning of the On Campus Recruiting (‘OCR’) period for MBA summer internships. We returned from the year-end break to face Corporate Partners week – a week fuelled with companies’ presentations, mostly in investment banking and consultancy.

The agenda was hectic and pretty soon completing application forms by the tight deadlines seemed overwhelming for some. But submitting applications was nothing in comparison to the interviewing. The favourite (and sometimes only) topic of conversation in and out of campus during January and February was interviews: how many have you got? What company? What did they ask you? Have you heard back?

It was like a collective obsession that took over us.

We are in mid February now and the interview pipeline has started to dry up for those in banking and consulting. By now, some of us have already accepted offers and stopped interviewing; others are still in the search. For all of us, life in campus has started to feel more normal.

So after attending almost all presentations, filling many application forms and doing my round of interviews, this is my advice:
- Start preparing early. You might think it’s a cliché… Seriously, just do it! Things like cover letters can be drafted in advance and refined after attending the company’s presentation. Same goes for online application forms in which you can start filling in your details.
- Do as many mock interviews as you can, but do leave sometime between sessions to take in the advice you are given and polish your technique.
- Ask the second years because they have been through OCR before and are extremely helpful, especially in sharing tips.
- Don’t forget that your CV is your most powerful tool. But if you are a career switcher you will need to do more networking than someone who already has experience in the area.
- Don’t panic! There’s always that technical question that you didn’t know and that fit question in which you could have used a stronger example. Yes, perhaps you could have done better but don’t despair. Learn from the experience and move on.

It was a tough month for me – more like an emotional roller-coaster, but my hard work paid off, and now OCR seems like a distant memory of a time in which I learnt a lot about myself and my classmates. The challenge doesn’t end here… bring the summer internship on!

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