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Four Questions to Ask Before Accepting an MBA Internship

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Kelsey Radwick is a second-year MBA student at the University of Washington Foster School of Business and a Sr. Business Program Management Intern at Bridge Partners.


In December 2018, I was thrilled to accept a full-time offer to return to Bridge Partners upon graduation from the UW Foster School of Business MBA program. With this decision, I became part of the 30-50 percent of students from leading business schools who return to their summer internship employer after graduation. For most MBA students, the 10- to 12-week summer internship between the first and second year of school is an integral part of the learning experience, bridging from classroom to workplace and offering opportunities for intensive professional growth, networking, and résumé-building. When my first-year peers want to know how to identify the right internship, I encourage them to ask these four questions:

 

Question #1: Why does this organization want to hire an MBA intern?

Companies choose to hire interns for a number of reasons: to develop a pipeline of future talent, to deliver on a specific business objective, or to scale up staffing for a short time. A company’s motivation for hiring an intern provides insight into what can be expected from the experience and helps in evaluating whether the opportunity aligns with one’s professional development and career goals.

During my interview with Bridge Partners, I was impressed by the organizational strategy underlying their decision to hire an intern. They had supported interns in the past, but entered the 2018 recruiting season with a renewed strategic commitment to developing an MBA internship program that would be part of a broader, ongoing effort to strengthen the talent pipeline and offer continued development opportunities to employees.

Throughout the interview process and during the early days of the internship, my manager and the HR team were open and transparent with me about the fact that my internship experience would be one of mutual learning. While I would gain exposure to Bridge Partners’ robust capabilities and impressive client network, Bridge Partners would use my experience and feedback to shape a long-term, sustainable program for attracting, developing, and retaining top MBA talent. I saw their commitment and enthusiasm about the program as an indicator that they would be deeply invested in my success, and I was eager and excited to be part of building something new.

 

Question #2: Will the projects I work on deliver value to the organization and allow me to showcase my best self?

Finding the right short-term projects that provide meaningful value to the firm, measure an intern’s fit for full-time hire, and advance the intern’s learning goals is no small feat. Don’t assume that every company will know what to do with you just because they have a job posted. However, thoughtfully designed programs that align the needs of the organization to the goals of the internship offer a more meaningful, satisfying, and successful experience for all involved.

My projects allowed me to showcase my abilities to achieve stakeholder buy-in, develop and execute a clear and structured approach to a project, overcome setbacks, and work with others. I was given a real sense of ownership over projects that created tangible business value for the firm. Moreover, my work had a high degree of leadership visibility, which culminated in a presentation to more than 30 senior-level consultants and managers as well as the CEO and several partners.

 

Question #3: Will I have a manager and/or mentor who is invested in my growth and development?

As with any full-time job, the relationship with your manager will significantly shape your internship experience. One of my top considerations during the interview process was whether my prospective manager was someone under whose leadership I could thrive.

I immediately recognized this potential when I interviewed with John Tribble, a managing director at Bridge. I reported to John for the duration of my internship and learned a great deal from him. In addition to his subject-matter expertise and industry experience, John was a committed coach and mentor. He encouraged me to voice my ideas, pushed me to stretch my thinking in new ways, and approached setbacks as teaching moments that enabled me to correct course as I went. The bar John set for me was high, but he provided me with the guidelines, resources, and real-time feedback that I needed to find success.

In addition to John, I was paired with two engagement managers who had recently graduated from the UW Foster School of Business MBA program. Kathleen and Taylor were not only approachable resources for answering questions and offering guidance, but they also provided steadfast encouragement and a relatable perspective on the MBA and post-MBA journey.

 

Question #4: Will this internship advance my knowledge of the industry, organization, or job in a way that helps me make more informed post-MBA career-path decisions?

Because of the projects I worked on and the mentorship I received, I was more readily able to envision what a future in consulting might look like and how I might fit at Bridge Partners. Over the course of my internship, I met one on one with 33 different people, including a 90-minute coffee chat with CEO Rich Albrecht. The accessibility, openness, and sincerity of Bridge Partners employees, at all levels of the organization, helped me understand the benefits and drawbacks of working in consulting. I also learned about the organizational challenges associated with rapid growth, their impact on the employee experience, and how Bridge Partners was proactively learning from and responding to those challenges.

I was also able to shadow more than 19 internal and client meetings, which gave me insight into how Bridge Partners engages with and provides value to clients. The meetings I observed spanned all phases of the project life cycle, from early brainstorming and scoping conversations to mid-project check-ins and wrap-up meetings. On a few occasions, teams I shadowed would leverage my extra bandwidth to support one-off client deliverables. These experiences helped me see what the day-to-day work of a consultant looks like at different stages across a diverse range of projects.

Ask yourself these four questions before accepting an MBA internship

Because of my exposure to the inner workings of the firm and interactions with clients, I was able to approach the post-MBA full-time recruitment process with my eyes open to what consulting and a full-time role with Bridge Partners would look like. When interviewing with and considering offers from other firms that fall, I also had a baseline for assessing those opportunities. As I enter the final few quarters of my MBA program, I am looking to the future with excitement and anticipation. I know that by joining Bridge Partners, I will be investing my time and effort with a team that is committed to client satisfaction, one whose values I stand by and who will support my learning and development.

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