If the aim of taking a masters in management is to get a well-paid job, it seems odd to be thinking about working for free after you graduate. Yet growing numbers of postgraduate students are doing just that – sharing their new-found skills with employers during a stint in the workplace.
At best, the business school internship delivers an extraordinary learning experience for course participants, as well as a chance for companies to solve problems they might not otherwise tackle.
And the performance in global rankings of French business schools – where the stage, or workplace placement, is often an integral course element – has added impetus to the use of internships in business education elsewhere.
Business schools try to ensure internships are valuable to students and firms. Employers are carefully selected, and both employer and pupil submit reports on the internship for review by professors before the student can graduate, says Judith Bouvard, dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management.
Valérie Gauthier, associate dean at HEC in Paris, says, in theory, its masters in management programme is a two-year course. But, in practice, 98 per cent of students do two internships, typically of 4-6 months, and take a year out to do so between the first and second years of the programme.
What are the benefits? “When they enter the course, few students know which industry they want to work in or exactly what career they want to follow,” she says. “Internships can provide an experience that helps them decide, not just what they want to do, but what they don’t want to do.”
Returning from an internship with ambitions clarified, second-year students can focus on the areas that will be most beneficial to their long-term professional goals, says Gauthier.
There is no doubt that employers, too, see great value in internships. Gauthier says companies are “lining up in front of the school to get interns”. As Lakshmi Narayanan, vice-president and head of Europe at Tata Consultancy Services, says his firm offers internships to more than 50 students annually and takes them very seriously.
“We typically offer 3-12-month internships and put our interns on projects that stretch their minds,” he says. “These projects can investigate anything from go-to-market strategies to revamping our training processes.”
Such benefits have not been lost on business schools outside France. In the UK, masters in management and specialist masters degrees are typically only one year. Yet around two-thirds of students on such programmes at Warwick Business School now do internships at the end of their course and submit a related dissertation, says Olivia Brook, manager for external projects at the school’s personal and career development office.
Projects normally span 10-14 weeks, and involve considerable amounts of analytical work. Typically, they have to produce “deliverables” for the host organisation, which can involve a board-level presentation and a management report. Organisations are expected to fund any costs, but not pay the students.
Used wisely, Brook says, employers can use internship as a “trial appointment”. “It saves them [employers] a lot of time and money because they don’t have to pay a recruitment consultant,” says Brook. “Having learned their way round the organisation, graduates can hit the ground running,” she adds.
Though the nature of internships varies, all agree that a successful posting can help masters students find a job. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, almost 27 per cent of MBA graduates found their first post-graduation job through an internship.