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MBA Journal: Internship Interviews

Cramming for Interviews

The on-campus interviewing season has come and gone, and I'm happy to report that I am still standing. It was a rough year, however, with anxieties about the economy compounding an already stressful experience.

I found myself being thankful yet again for my Stern classmates, who rallied to support each other through this process. I, like many other students recruiting in the fields of finance, consulting, and marketing, returned to campus before the winter break was over to practice interviewing with fellow students. Second-years helped us anticipate the questions we might get from the different companies with which we were interviewing, but mostly it was a first-year experience.

The first day was an organized event coordinated by the Graduate Marketing Assn., in which we paired off and then rotated through a series of mock interviews across the day. The rest of the week it was up to us to form mini study groups to mock-interview each other. Students elected to participate in these practice sessions to different degrees, with some students present all day every day, and others alternating between in-person practice and polishing their responses to typical questions on their own. I was one of the latter, but I found the practice with my fellow classmates invaluable, as so many have come from marketing backgrounds and were able to provide very targeted, useful feedback about what companies might be looking for in summer interns.

Tell Stories That Highlight Skills

I interviewed for marketing roles in three kinds of companies—consumer packaged-goods firms, financial-service companies, and media companies. I cast a wide net as was advised by our Office of Career Development, and I am glad that I did. The experience of interviewing with three different kinds of companies helped me to see what each kind was looking for in its intern candidates. In the end, however, potential employers are more or less seeking a handful of closely related traits: passion for the marketing role and the company in particular, strong analytical ability, solid interpersonal skills and the ability to work in teams, and initiative/creative problem solving. Some companies emphasized mini marketing "cases" over the more behaviorally oriented "tell me about a time" questions, but all my interviews were heavily behavioral.

This meant that it was crucial to be ready with vignettes from my professional past that exemplified the skill areas I identified just now. It was not enough to have stories that answered the question—the stories had to simultaneously highlight a skill that was directly applicable to a marketing role, and show how you had mastered this skill.

Keep Your Network Fresh

In terms of how this has all shaken out, historically about 50% of the first-year MBA class has secured an internship through the formal on-campus recruitment process. While it's still too early to tell whether that statistic will hold this year, it seems, anecdotally at least, that it's been a tough year. Classmates recruiting for finance and consulting, in particular, are reporting that headcounts seem lower than in years past.

While business school is certainly a better place from which to watch an economic crisis unfold than the unemployment line, the protection of the ivory tower fades when it comes time to look for a summer internship. This is something useful to keep in mind for those who are applying to business school now in hopes of riding out the storm in a safe harbor: That safe harbor is really only available to you nine months out of the year. That leads me to a tip I wish I had thought of before entering business school: Since recruiting will continue to be difficult until the economy recovers, it would be very useful to come into business school with some of the contacts in your own personal network current or even recently refreshed. Several students are finding their pre-business school networks invaluable in helping to identify companies that might not be posting internships, but are still open to having some MBA-caliber assistance during the summer.

Stern Group Shout-Outs

But that's enough about the internship process. I promised in my last entry to talk more about the student groups I'm involved in, and I'd like to call out three in particular. I mentioned the Graduate Marketing Assn. earlier—that's a group that has been absolutely amazing in supporting marketing track students here at Stern. In the fall, there was barely a week that went by without some kind of GMA event, whether it was "office hours" about a specific company featuring second-year MBA students who had interned there over the summer, or a seminar on "branding" yourself with a popular marketing professor, or a session with one of our corporate sponsors on how to ace the marketing interview.

Another great group is Stern Women in Business. I've recognized its exceptional spring conference in past posts, but the club also does fun, bonding-oriented activities throughout the year, including a recent cupcakes and champagne outing to a newly opened, woman-owned business in the East Village—Sweet Revenge—and a yoga and brunch outing on a recent Sunday morning.

Finally, the group I'm an officer in is the Stern Social Enterprise Assn., which encourages Stern students to use their business acumen to influence positive social change in the for-profit, nonprofit, and public sectors. As the club's first-year MBA vice-president for career development, I've been working with a great committee of volunteers to help set up career events for members who are interested in pursuing internships or full-time positions in social enterprise.

Working Smarter This Semester

In the meantime, this semester continues to be busy with classes and one other extracurricular activity I'm involved in—the Stern Consulting Corps. SCC is a program of Stern's New York Initiatives Office, which works to ensure that Stern students are really capitalizing on the school's New York location in all facets of our education. The SCC pairs one or two Stern students with a New York City nonprofit organization in need of business support. The organizations and projects are quite varied. My project this semester involves helping the U.N. Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations develop a marketing plan that leverages new media outlets. It's been a challenging but very rewarding project so far. My colleagues are working with business improvement districts throughout New York, an environmental NGO that plans to fund its activities by selling soil for green roofs, and a historical preservation society.

Overall, it's been a busy semester, but not nearly so much as last semester. I think that's because we're all working smarter rather than less, and perhaps because we've gotten a little savvier in determining which activities deserve our time and which should be phased out. I'm looking forward to getting the most out of the rest of the semester, and to putting all that I've learned to work in my summer internship.

Erin Rupprecht is a member of the NYU Stern full-time MBA class of 2010.

Erin Rupprecht is a member of the NYU Stern full-time MBA class of 2010.

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