Internships can certainly help MBA students gain on-the-job experience, test their newly acquired competences and pave the way for their careers. Gaining experience, finding the right industry, developing skill sets and meeting the right people that might offer you a job after graduation are all the possible outcomes of the right internship.

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Applying for an MBA is a pivotal, career-changing decision. Honing your skills and boosting your qualifications is a sure step towards improving your chances of a better job position or making a major shift in your career path. However, going back to b-school does not necessarily entail retreating from the job market. Quite the contrary. You can get the best of both worlds. Most MBA candidates have a clear idea of the type of employment they are seeking. In fact the majority of them boast impressive c.v.s and have two of more years work experience. Hands-on knowledge is just as important to them as the chance to learn about the new developments and technical skills in a changing business environment. One way to remain involved in the real world and increase your practical competences is to pursue an internship while still at university. The career centres of your b-school will be happy to help you track down the internship placement best suited to your needs and aspirations.

Why choose an internship?

Undertaking an internship programme during  two years of study is considered to be one of the main practical benefits for students studying for an MBA degree. “Working for UBS Financial Services afforded me hands-on experience in wealth management. I was able to work closely with a senior wealth manager who mentored me and inspired me to further pursue my passion in finance. The summer experience provided valuable experience for my on-campus involvement with the Georgetown University Student Investment Fund, as well as for my future finance career. This real-world experience undoubtedly aided understanding of finance beyond the classroom teaching, offering exposure to clients and the corporate environment,” acknowledges Alexander Paranicas from the Georgetown ESADE Global Executive Programme. Indeed recent surveys show that employers offer full-time employment to more than a half of their interns. They are also willing to negotiate higher salaries for those who have undertaken an internship. The belief is that those students who have chosen an internship position have a more realistic and less idealised view of management as they have had the chance to put into practice what they have learnt at school in a work environment. Moreover, an internship offers the opportunity  to establish new contacts, mentors and references, acquire recommendations from business executives and, in the best case scenario, land your dream job.

How to secure an internship?

Planning, researching, selecting and applying are the four key words for those who have their mind set on doing an internship while still at university.

Planning is essential. It is never too soon to start searching for an appropriate position. In fact it is advisable to begin considering your internship options while choosing a business school. MBA candidates are not usually newcomers to the job market. Their previous work experience has more or less outlined the career track they would like to follow. Hence, once you have identified the field in which you want to grow professionally, you should look into the business schools which offer internships in the venue of your preference.

Researching is a step you cannot skip. University career centres are a must-stop for all potential interns. On-campus recruitment fairs are also recommended – you should use them to meet as many people as possible. Seek advice, make contacts and network with people in your desired field. Universities such as Manchester Business School and the European School of Management and Technology have long-standing traditions in securing internships for their students. Manchester Business School Career Management Service, for example, not only helps students find the internship which best meets their needs but also supports them throughout their internship experience by providing them with a company sponsor and an academic supervisor. In addition, students are assessed through a portfolio of reflective reports helping them to settle into the organization and meeting the challenge of scoping projects; applying the business and managerial models and theories in real-life situations; as well as on linking analysis to strategies.

Many students find a wealth of information within internship directories at libraries, bookstores, and some online programmes. Talking to professors, alumni and other students can also be quite helpful. Although your objective is to find out what vacancies are available in the professional field of your choice, you should not limit your search to just a couple of the most popular options. Searching beyond the obvious i.e. placements with large companies located in metropolitan areas, may not only increase your chances of getting an internship but can also prove valuable in terms of the quality of work you will be asked to perform. With large companies you may be assigned small tasks, whereas in a small enterprise you may have to take charge of more meaningful functions. In other words, looking beyond internships which offer prestige, pay, and considerable hours offers students the ability to advance their personal goals while gaining the crucial on-the-job experience necessary to propel their careers.

Selecting is never easy, especially when you have a number of good options to choose from, which should be the case if you have done your research well. There are a number of factors which will help you narrow down your choice. First, check to see if the deadline is not too tight and if the application requirements are not too hard to meet. Then proceed by considering the location and the pay. If you opt for an unpaid but a challenging internship in terms of work load, you must explore options to cover your expenses while fulfilling internship responsibilities. Contacting companies through phone or email can also assist you in the sorting process. Furthermore, you should consider the time you are willing to dedicate to an internship – can you do it throughout the school year (for 4 or 6 months) or are you more inclined to work during the summer breaks during your two-year MBA programme? This is common practice for most American students. Finally, filter out the less desirable from the more desirable internships and apply for the ones which you feel you will get the most from.

Applying for an internship is more than just submitting your application form and recommendations on time. It usually entails meeting your future boss in person for an interview. Iinterviews can be tricky, especially for those who have lost the knack of sitting for a job interview. There are a number of pointers which might prove helpful – do some mock interviews with classmates beforehand, be concise, and most importantly get your "elevator pitch"  practice perfect. Find an interesting topic to discuss unrelated to classwork and previous job experience, for example an organization you may volunteer with or a cause you are passionate about. Also make sure to watch or read the news. Current events knowledge is a must; especially in the areas you are most interested in. With all that in mind you are all set to outshine the competition and spend the next 6-12 months on the job.