MBA Journal: Internship Recruiting

Harry Potter and the MBA Internship Search


"Harry Potter for the business audience?" was the dismissive response I got when first mentioning this journal idea. My friends' rejection of the topic reflects larger impressions about the world of business: conservative and a bit dry. Yet the more time I spend in business school, the more I realize success in today's business world necessitates insight, imagination, inspiration, and sometimes just a little bit of magic, too. I decided to press on—after all, my previous articles on the Potter phenomenon earned me the nickname "Harry Potter guy," and I do attend a school with a gothic tower that employs one Prof. McGonigle. Sometimes, you just can't resist.

Theory and Practice in Muggle and Magical Worlds

Work in Harry's world could not be more different than in ours. Author J.K. Rowling never mentions higher education, so a high school degree from Hogwarts qualifies wizards for all employment levels (no MBA needed—lucky them), while employees seem to stay with one company until retirement. What connects the magical world to business school, despite these differences, is a focus on experiential education, aimed at providing a specific skill set needed for work success. I've always respected knowledge for knowledge's sake, without a corresponding practical application. Now I'm in an environment seemingly designed for one purpose: to get us internships and subsequent jobs. Initially surprised at this switch, I have come to embrace the curriculum's constant return to real-life examples through case studies, enjoying my role as a would-be executive solving real problems.

This spring, I am populating my schedule with electives recommended by alumni and second years that support my interests in sustainability and renewable energy. I am taking Project Finance to learn how infrastructure projects are financed, Entrepreneurship to understand the mind-set of a newly emerging industry, Measuring and Creating Value to analyze how to sustain financial success. I also proposed an independent tutorial in Sustainable Operations to be prepared better for sustainability interviews. I am consciously choosing classes outside of my comfort zone. Even if finance still feels like conjuring money out of nothing, I decided on Measuring Value after hearing an alum talk about how he uses Excel templates from that class in his current job. In addition, I am supplementing the classes with independent projects with the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW) and American Council on Renewable Energy. Similar to Prof. Lupin's obstacle-course exam in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I know that success ultimately means relating theory to practice and testing my skills through experiential learning well before the internship starts this summer.

Destination, Determination, Deliberation

If you're a Harry Potter fan, you would have noticed that—apart, of course, from Hermione—the students never really panic about their academic exams. They do, however, freak out over the Apparition test, which they take at the end of Year 6 and which allows wizards teleportation license. Since the entire class takes the test together and failures are publicly known, the pressure to succeed creates tremendous anxiety.

After spending so much time at B-school, you'll start feeling as if you're in boarding school, too. No past experiences will prepare you for the curious feeling of a significant chunk of your world being engaged in the same activity: internship searching. Since everyone's looking for internships, the cohort mentality helps by creating a support system, so you don't fall behind in your search. On the other hand, constant questioning about summer plans can be terrifying for those who have yet to solidify offers. This emotionally charged environment has challenged even Georgetown's supportive culture: It's impossible not to feel a little bitterness when faced with a rejection.

I offer my search suggestions through the 3 D's advice given by Apparation Instructor, Prof. Twycross, from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: destination, determination, deliberation.

Destination: In my previous post, I talked about the need to understand your interests early. You'll likely take a plethora of self-assessment instruments starting with orientation, but you'll gain most useful insights from alumni and second years, especially when they are asking you self-reflection questions. When asked, "Can you be excited about selling butter?" I knew that while marketing was appealing, it wouldn't be with consumer goods. My research also revealed that the recruiting cycle for my industry doesn't start until later in the spring. I was therefore not discouraged when internship postings didn't appear, although some colleagues already had offers. Unfortunately, I can already see some of my classmates giving in to the panic created by the cohort mentality and starting wildly to apply to postings just to have résumés out there. This nonstrategy is likely only to cause frustration.

Determination: With a rigorous academic schedule breathing down my neck, the internship search was often the last thing on my to-do list. With a deliverable due the next morning, it was easy to put summer plans on hold. What helped me stick to my schedule was the Energy Club. Our president leveraged his previous network to generate new postings relentlessly. I passed conference contacts to our Career Management office, which then established more formal relationships. I also launched an all-out assault on LinkedIn, conducting informational interviews and asking for HR department information on behalf of the club. Your school will prepare you for the search; how you structure your strategy will be up to you. Find a combination of a supportive environment and personal determination to get you through.

Deliberation: "Work more, study less." This powerful advice, given by an alum who is now director of project finance for a startup Indian solar company, has drastically altered my views on education. Because I totally understand this advice, I have to fight to suppress my work ethic, which demands a 100% focus on academics. If you walk away with one suggestion, it is to search for independent projects (startups, nonprofits, alums) as soon as you get to campus. The extra five hours you can spend on corporate finance will not likely land you a job, but talking about how you devised a valuation method for a solar startup just might. While my rudimentary understanding of the need for projects led me to join some of the nonprofits mentioned above, I will be searching for project opportunities for our club next fall. You will need to be deliberate in your choices—my advice is to choose externally faced projects and not worry if your grades are just average. I am somehow managing to do well in both.

I write this entry after having just been offered an internship with the Division of Sustainability & Business Development of Washington Gas. I am incredibly excited about this combination of my two interests. I was introduced to my future supervisor at a networking event organized by SBNOW. I have had many blessings in life, but the one I am most thankful for is my ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. The initial conversation led to an informational interview that I can best summarize as inspirational, and from there came an invitation to apply formally. In the end, Although I was certainly prepared to, I didn't have to interview at very many places, as I landed my dream internship early on in the search. I certainly worked hard, however, cultivating relationships with several other companies well before they were ready to announce internship postings.

In The Half-Blood Prince, the Minister of Magic meets the prime minister from our world to explain the rise of an evil wizard Voldemort and his followers. The prime minister is baffled by this news:

"But for heaven's sake—you're wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out—well—anything!"

"The trouble is, the other side can do magic too," answers the Minister of Magic. There isn't a better metaphor to explain how MBAs feel during their internship search: Buoyed by your successes in school, you may feel you can now do magic. The trouble, of course, is that the competition has the same skill set. Without the Felix Felicis potion to give you all the luck needed to beat the competition, your best tools are destination, determination, deliberation, and the power of networking.

Rusmir Musić is enrolled at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and is expected to graduate in 2011. A war refugee, Musić and his family fled their home in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. Coming to the U.S. on his own at 17, he earned a bachelor of arts in chemistry in 2001 from the College of Holy Cross and a master of arts in humanities and social thought in 2003 from New York University's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. Before enrolling in business school, he was the assistant director of experiential programs at the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University.

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