How to turn that MBA internship into a job

Business school students need clear goals if a placement is to lead to a full-time role
Hamish Forwood-Stokes, left, with the founder of Splittable. The LBS student is interning with the Shoreditch tech company © Charlie Bibby

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Key lessons

  • Network intensely
  • The best opportunities come from alumni networks
  • Go above and beyond

Hamish Forwood-Stokes is midway through an internship with Splittable, a financial services start-up with offices above a Vietnamese restaurant in the east London district of Shoreditch. The stint is part of his two-year MBA degree at London Business School.

The company, whose smartphone app helps housemates manage joint bill payments, has no budget to pay Mr Forwood-Stokes and he does not expect to secure a job afterwards.

But the 34-year-old Australian, who worked in strategy and product management for Sydney-based bank Westpac before relocating to London for his MBA, believes the post could still help him switch careers and secure a job in the technology sector.

Like many of his classmates at LBS, where 22 per cent of last year’s cohort found jobs in tech companies after graduation, Mr Forwood-Stokes would like to work in a large digital business, such as Google or Amazon. Or he may decide to be an investor for the kind of private equity firm that backs fast-growing start-ups.

But he faces problems. Private equity firms do not tend to hire directly from business schools, or offer internships to MBA students. Large technology companies prefer graduates with some knowledge of the start-up industries.

Hence the Splittable internship, which was organised through a matchmaking service run by LBS and Seedcamp, an early stage start-up incubator. This unpaid graft offers Mr Forwood-Stokes credibility among those hiring in the entrepreneurial sector, something he says his business school qualification alone would not provide.

“You tend to get a negative reaction when you say you are an MBA,” he says. “They say that studying business rather than doing it is not the real deal.”

Securing an MBA internship is relatively easy, but getting hired in the right role is less so. Experts say those who have the clearest goals are flexible like Mr Forwood-Stokes or can overdeliver on what is asked of them have the best chances.

Although Mr Forwood-Stokes is still hunting for a post-MBA job, he insists his start-up internship has increased his chances of securing one of his target roles. While his classmates with more traditional internships in sectors such as consulting may have more hope of securing a job with their internship company, there are no guarantees.

Susanne Peltz, a career coach at Insead business school and MBA applications adviser for Fortuna Admissions, says only a limited number of internships available through traditional on-campus recruitment lead to paid positions afterwards.

The best opportunities for future employment are often not advertised, and can only be found by tapping into a business school’s network of alumni and graduates, according to Ms Peltz.

“Students need to identify the factors that drive their motivation to work for a company, and should be able to articulate them when contacting alumni,” she says.

Securing a job with your internship employer is often more straightforward if you have worked in the same sector before business school. But the process can be complicated in unexpected ways.

Indian-born Rupinder Singh, who this month graduated from Spanish business school Iese, is about to begin a job at Rakuten, a Japanese ecommerce company, after interning at the company’s Tokyo headquarters last summer.

Mr Singh gained experience in the sector when he worked for Goibibo, India’s largest online travel booking service, before moving to Barcelona to study.

He was optimistic he would excel during his internship in Rakuten’s travel services team. But he was concerned about the difference in cultures between India and Japan, a country Mr Singh had not set foot in before starting at the company. While he admits he still has a lot to learn, including mastering the language, Mr Singh differentiates between the cultural differences he faces living in Tokyo with those he has to deal with at work, which he says are less of a barrier.

Mr Singh credits his success in securing the job to going above and beyond what was asked of him as an intern, generating product ideas that the company is now implementing, in addition to completing the project to which he was assigned.

He also networked intensely, setting up lunches and coffee meetings with different Rakuten team leaders.

Although this took a lot of effort, Mr Singh claims the senior executives he approached welcomed his interest.

“I did not want to waste my time,” Mr Singh says, adding that, although at times the extra work felt heavy going, there were plenty of opportunities to relax after office hours with work colleagues and the other 10 interns, with whom he remains friends.

“It helped that my goal was clear,” Mr Singh says.

He insists he was “100 per cent convinced” he would fit in at Rakuten when he arrived for his orientation session and met the man who is now his boss.

Maria Tsianti, senior manager of the careers service at Paris-based ESCP business school, stresses the importance of being courteous to everyone you meet during an internship, from the security guard at the door to the assistant offering you a coffee.

“Recruiters tend to ask how your behaviour is from the minute you set foot in the building,” she says. “You never know if the person whose face you accidentally slammed the door on is the person deciding on your fate.”

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