As an American, when Sara Bagby talks to US employers about her MBA, the first question she gets asked is: “Where did you intern?”
An internship is essential to securing a full-time job in many industries, such as banking, consulting and consumer goods. But Europe’s one-year MBA programs rarely provide opportunities for the traditional summer scheme, at least during the degree.
Sara picked London Business School for her MBA because of the school’s multiple exit points—at 15, 18, and 21 months—providing time enough for an internship.
Many LBS students do them during their second year of the MBA course, and the school claims that 99% of those seeking an internship usually secure one. “As an American, it was a major draw for me,” says Sara, a former management consultant (pictured below).
She spent the summer and part of her autumn working an internship within the business proposition team of Hotels.com, the booking website, in London. She came across the opportunity via a company presentation on the LBS campus, and the school’s alumni network helped prepare her for the competitive application process.
Sara says: “Many students in my cohort had worked for Hotels.com; I had coffee with all of them. They gave me a clear picture of the culture and work style, and advised me to be a strong communicator. The interview process is largely testing for behavioural fit, so that insight from alumni was important.”
Sandy Khan, founder of IN-CO, which runs events where MBA students meet business leaders, says an internship is important for both employees and employers. It tests candidates to see if they’re a good fit for a company long-term. “You get a good outcome for both sides, as you avoid wasting any time,” she says.
Recognizing this, European business schools with 12-month MBA programs are going to great lengths to provide work experience opportunities for their students that are more common on two-year US courses. Sandy says that consultancy projects are a good route into a top firm, should a formal internship scheme be unavailable.
MBA students at the UK’s Cranfield School of Management, for example, work on projects with real organizations. It’s a win-win: they submit a report with key recommendations that the company can implement, while honing their knowledge and consultancy skills.
But, Sandy adds: “It does become a little harder if your school is not targeted by large organizations. Let’s face it, most of the pipeline is filled by students that are at the targeted business schools. So your application could hit a big black hole.”
Still, Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, for instance, helps MBAs find part-time internships, which they complete during the last term of the one-year course, via the career services team.
“We receive a wide range of internships from corporate partners and our alumni, and promote these within the cohort,” says Brandon Kirby, director of MBA marketing and admissions.
He says networking is essential to securing an internship, whether in the US or in Europe. “Reaching out to alumni at the company will give students a good sense of what they are looking for and where the student can add value. And the employee can refer you, making your application stand out from the crowd.”
Once on an internship scheme, what can you do to impress the business and secure a job offer?
Christian Dummett, acting head of the LBS career center, says it’s important to be confident, and to mix with managers. “Work as hard as the regulars do and speak up when you have the opportunity,” he says. “Share your well-thought-out opinions and ideas; you may not always be right, but at least you will be seen to be contributing.”
If an internship is going badly, contact your career center. “You may simply be overwhelmed and talking through your issues will help you put them into context and identify a solution,” Christian says.
“Sometimes it may be the project or manager you are working with, and you need to decide if that is a true representation of what it would be like to work for the company full-time.”
If you're an MBA student, an internship will help you decide what you want to do, and what you don't want to do too.