The heat is on for MBA and undergraduate business student interns in the summer of 2009. After clawing their way into coveted internship positions in one of the most competitive job markets in memory, the real fight for full-time job offers is happening now, halfway through their 10 or so weeks on the job.
While there is some consolation in the fact that companies hired fewer interns because they planned to make fewer full-time offers for the following year, the chosen few lucky enough to land those internships still have to make sure they stand out. In fact, this is just the beginning of the battle for full-time positions for business graduates at every level. "This year the job search is not going to be a sprint," says Patrick Perrella, director of MBA career development at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business (Mendoza Full-Time MBA Profile). "It's a marathon." If you want to make it to the finish line with a full-time job offer in hand, you'll have to go the extra mile.
Most career placement directors will tell you that one of the first ways to insure a satisfying internship is to communicate your expectations to your direct supervisor and ask what he or she expects of you. If this has not happened yet, you should make a point to talk to your manager and ask for feedback on how you are doing and what you can improve. You should also tell him or her what you think of the internship so far and how you'd like to add more value.
In addition to a midsummer evaluation, Madhu Palkar, a 2009 graduate of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile) who interned at L.E.K. Consulting in Chicago last year, scheduled biweekly meetings with her mentors. "You have to be creative and put out on the table what you bring to the table," says Palkar.
She told her bosses about her experience in health care and took on a health-care assignment in which she excelled. This made a great impression, and when she asked for assignments in completely different fields, her bosses were gung ho. On the last day of her internship, she was offered a full-time position, which she eventually accepted. She is now a full-time L.E.K. consultant in Chicago.
Work Hard and Smart
Worker bees get the honey, say recruiters. A strong work ethic, says Steve Canale, manager of recruiting and staff at General Electric (GE), is the common denominator among those who snag full-time offers at GE. The same is true at Deutsche Bank (DB), and working hard is more important in the weaker economy. "It's not even just about being good now," says Kristina Peters, managing director and global head of graduate resourcing at Deutsche Bank. "It's about being excellent."
Basic rules, such as coming in before the boss and staying longer, still apply. But you also must take initiative to stand out. For example, you could spend some of your free time learning how to use new software to help you work faster or do additional research that wasn't asked of you for the big presentation. Perrella, who used to work at Citigroup (C), says he was always impressed when interns finished their projects early and anticipated what they could do next. Canale says that if you think you could be doing more, you should speak up because most employers will appreciate your willingness and desire to contribute—and they'll happily give you more work.
One of the big differentiators in this ultra-competitive job market is the friends you make at work. The internship is like a 10-week interview for your full-time job. "When being interviewed, you're building a relationship with that person," says Roycee Kerr, director of BBA Career Services at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business (SMU Cox Undergraduate Business Profile). "It's hard for people to not want to have you around if they really like you."
But traditional networking—exchanging of business cards and pleasantries at meetings and events—is not enough in this economy. To take things a step further, you should be introducing yourself to people in the company and its industry, asking them about their functions, and how they got into the role they have. Building relationships might start in the office but it should extend outside the office and online at professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn. Don't just limit yourself to senior execs. You should be getting to know the assistants, younger staff, and anyone who works in the office, says Perrella, who adds that starting with "Good morning. How are you?" is the simplest way to initiate conversation.
Being nice is a must, but so is showing optimism in the face of great obstacles. "When things are so difficult and the economy is so challenging, being the person who is positive will make a difference," says Kerr. Being happy on the job does more than make for a warm-and-fuzzy office. "You must convey interest and enthusiasm in the work you're doing," says Palkar. "No one wants to be a backup option."
Demonstrate Intellectual Curiosity
One of the characteristics that GE wants to see in recruits is a desire to continue learning, says Canale. A know-it-all who doesn't want to work to improve himself will not go far. Reading industry journals and relevant books—and then discussing them with your colleagues or explaining how you're applying what you discovered to your work—is one way to show intellectual curiosity. Another is striving to know more about the company and the various jobs that might be available to you.
In this economy especially, you must remain open-minded and show interest in trying out different roles, says Peters. Indeed, a demonstrated willingness to take a different path to your dream job or even to move to a different location could mean the difference between getting a full-time offer and ending your summer empty-handed.
Of course, you will make mistakes. But you should prove that you are dedicated to constantly learning by never making the same mistake twice and always striving to improve everything from your e-mails to your presentations to yourself.
Tell No Lies
At a time when business executives are getting a bad rep for their part in the financial crisis, employers are carefully considering the ethics of job candidates. "Integrity is a big thing at GE," says Canale. He says that proving yourself begins with simple habits, such as being honest when you're late and straightforward if you're going to miss a meeting. Accepting responsibility for mistakes you've made and considering the influence your work and performance will have on others and on the company as a whole are musts. Although it should go without saying, drinking too much—even outside the office—or conducting yourself in an immature or unprofessional manner are big no-nos that could cost you the full-time offer.
Never Give Up
The people who will get the full-time job offers at summer's end are those who are hanging tough for the long haul. They'll keep up with their contacts even if November arrives and they still don't have an offer. They'll lend a hand on projects even after their internship is over. They won't wait for offers to come to them, they'll go to the offers. They'll keep believing that their full-time offer is just around the corner. "Keep a positive attitude," says Kerr. "With persistence, you can make things happen for yourself."