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How to rock your MBA internship

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Internships provide valuable opportunities to gain hands-on, real-world experience in your chosen industry. An internship can often lead to a full-time job offer, but you have just a few short weeks to showcase your talents, knowledge and skills you learned in business school to make a lasting impression on the company.

These tips – based on my own internship experience and working with and advising other interns – will help you rock your summer internship.

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Hit the ground running by doing research ahead of time
It takes a new, full-time hire an average of six to 12 months to become fully proficient at a job. Internships only give you 10 to 12 weeks to prove your skills to a potential new employer.

To make the most of your internship, you need to be prepared to hit the ground running. Read as much as you can about your company, role and function. If possible, speak to people at the company who can give a better idea of your role and position, or seek out individuals in similar roles at other companies to learn about the field.

Set expectations immediately and define your own personal success
It is important to understand what is expected of you ahead of time so you can chart your performance throughout your internship. At the very start of the summer, meet with your manager to find the key metrics or milestones they will use to evaluate you. This way, there shouldn’t be any surprises at the end of the summer.

A job offer or positive evaluation from your manager shouldn’t be the only indicator of your internship’s success, though. In addition to setting expectations with your manger, you should also go into your internship with an idea of what skills and capabilities you want to develop through the course of your time with the company. Take the time to define what success looks like, regardless of whether or not you come away with a full-time job offer.

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Learn to add value immediately – even if it means getting the coffee
You only have a short time to make an impact, so finding quick ways to add value is essential. Before you begin your internship, think about things you could do to help the team at any given point – this could include saving people time, doing tasks that no one else wants to do or bringing something different to the table.

Start with the things that you are comfortable with doing – even if it means getting the coffee or ordering lunches. Completing even the smallest tasks gives you a chance to make a positive contribution, helps you meet other people and shows that you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves to help the team.

Know your unique strengths and skills
In order to add value to an organization, you need to have a good understanding of your strengths. Before starting your summer internship, think about what skills you have to bring to the table and how you can leverage them to best help the organization.

Ask yourself what you’re good at, or what things people often ask you to do. Take this exercise one step further by identifying skills that you do extremely well and that differentiate you from others. Showcasing your unique skills will allow you to stand out from the crowd.

Network, network, network
Although it’s cliché, this advice never grows old. You only have a few short months to succeed in your position, and you’re not going to be able to do it alone. You’ll undoubtedly need to work with your peers on some aspect of your summer project. And at the end of the summer, you’ll need people who will advocate for you and your work.

Build a network of sponsors and mentors who will help guide your professional growth throughout your internship. A mentor is a confidante who will help guide you on the road to success and share advice about a company’s people, processes and roles. A sponsor is someone with direct experience managing you or seeing you in action. Their reference or recommendation can help you secure advancement and growth opportunities.

By Alex Dea (MBA ’15), consultant and co-founder of MBASchooled, with Kristen Chung (BSBA ’17)