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BW Businessworld

Grabbing Pole Position

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Arpit Agarwal (name changed), an MBA from IIM Lucknow, after numerous interviews landed a plum international summer internship with the New York office of a leading investment bank. A ridiculously high stipend combined with an accommodation in Manhattan, Arpit is keen to put in the long hours to do well. How can Arpit look at creating maximum impact during his 8 week internship?

The summer internship, an 8 week program at the end of the first year often gives Indian MBA graduates their first exposure to a corporate. Over the last few years, the summer internship is becoming increasingly important as corporates are looking at the internship route to make full time offers. Companies, more often than not, have realistic but challenging expectations from their summer interns. Although sometimes intimidating, there are a few guiding principles an intern can follow to create maximum impact during this period.

Summer Internship, A Good Starting Point
Recruitment for the summer internship program occurs during the much hyped summer placements at business schools. Typical recruiters include management consulting firms (e.g. McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain& Company), investment banks (e.g. Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Edelweiss), FMCG firms (e.g. HUL, Procter and Gamble, Nestle) and general management firms (e.g. Tata Administrative Services, Aditya Birla Group). Over the last two years, leading business schools have seen a huge influx of e-commerce recruiters (e.g. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon).

For most Indian MBA graduates, the summer internship is their first exposure to a corporate. The internship serves as an important exercise in directionally guiding them about the career of their choice. The stipends offered during internships are quite attractive. Leading investment banks and consulting firms offer between Rs. 1,00,000 a month to Rs. 4,00,000 a month depending on the location of the internship while leading FMCG firms offer a stipend of Rs. 25,000 a month to Rs. 75,000 a month.

Summer Internship Route To Full Time Offers
"About 60 per cent associates of the 2013 batch at Citi were hired through the summer internship channel", says Anuranjita Kumar, Country HR Officer, Citi India.

"We save at least 200 man days if we take more management graduates through the PPO route," says Prince Augustin, Executive Vice President, Group Human Capital and Leadership Development, Mahindra & Mahindra.

"Philips India also finds the PPO route a very effective way of hiring campus grads. This year it has announced 23 PPOs and PPIs, translating to a 50 per cent conversion rate across IIFT, MDI, National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development, Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, XLRI and SP Jain, other than a few IIMs",says Yashwant Mahadik, Senior Vice-President and Head of HR, Indian sub-continent.

The internship serves as a win-win proposition for both the recruiter and the intern. The recruiter gets to look at an intern for a period of 8 weeks (instead of a few interviews) before deciding to make a full time offer. The intern gets to experience the profession first hand before saying yes to the recruiter.

An Odd Job Man But Opportunities Abound
The intern, rarely, has the ownership of a complete module. S/he often assists a team member in their work or is the secondary owner of a module. S/he is the typical odd job boy carrying out ad hoc data analysis, carrying out few customer interviews, making a few back up slides, spending inordinate hours googling, etc.

It is but natural that an intern, being new to that profession, will not be given a critical piece of work. However, even in seemingly inconsequential jobs, substantial impact can be created. FMCG companies in India are flooded with examples of new product launches that were a result of an insight that emerged from an intern's interview with customers.

Learning Curve And Attitude Plays Key Role

The intern is not expected to be the expert in that sector. In fact, s/he is not expected to know anything about the sector. However, s/he is expected to grasp and pick up things quickly. The intern can look at reading his recruiter's annual reports or setting up news alerts of his recruiter or clients or his industry. Regularly passing on the latest industry items to his team members will be well appreciated.

In terms of skills, the intern is not expected to be an excel whiz kid. S/he is expected to be proficient with basic Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint. The rest is to be picked up on the job.

Key personality traits that are well appreciated during an internship include readiness to take on jobs which border on monotony or laborious and the attitude to learn irrespective of the type of module the intern is working on. An intern can always add value no matter what the situation. Even a simple exercise like taking notes and following up on action items in a meeting where s/he had no role to play can be a useful activity.

To be better acclimatized during the internship, an intern can choose the right set of electives during the term before the internship. Investment banking interns will benefit by choosing electives in the areas of Financial Derivatives and Corporate Finance. FMCG interns will benefit by choosing electives in the areas of Consumer Behavior. Interns across fields will benefit by opting for an elective in Spreadsheet Modelling.

Don't Be Afraid To Experiment
An intern might be a 'rockstar' at his business school. But an 'I know it all' attitude rarely impresses people at the workplace. Especially for a greenhorn who has little idea about the nuts and bolts about that industry. An intern should never be afraid to ask for help when the work is getting over demanding. Not asking for help and turning in incorrect work later on can crucify his chances.

It can be nearly suicidal for an intern to stick only to his team members. Networking with other people in the corporate is always beneficial. Recruiters often organize multiple events (e.g. plays, visits to a resort, visits to IPL matches, etc) for interns to network and get to know other people at the firm.

Needless to say, basic corporate etiquette errors should be avoided. It doesn't make sense for an intern to Facebook or Twitter all day if he or she doesn't have work. In such a case, voluntarily asking for work can help. Basic grooming is a given. Turning up in hippie clothing or dressed as a Christmas tree is a strict no-no.

Conclusion
The internship is the beginning to a career of two decades ahead. If it goes well, it can result in a full time offer from a leading recruiter giving the intern a good start. Unfortunately, that is all it is. A good start!

Hence, it is important to focus on the summer internship but not treat it as the panache to all problems in life.
In a nutshell, it is equivalent to going 2-0 in the first set in a 5 set clash.

Arpit, during his 8 weeks, plans to make full use of his weekends and enjoy the sights and sounds of New York, Boston, Atlantic City and a trip to Los Angeles before he returns home. Not a bad choice for a 23 year old!

Did You Know?
  • Did you know that the big 4 consulting firms (McKinsey & Company, BCG, Bain & Company and AT Kearney) offered 80 per cent of their summer interns full time offers (PPOs or Pre Placement Offers) for the 2011-13 batch at IIM Calcutta?
  • Did you know that some investment banks (e.g. Deutsche Bank) offer summer interns the opportunity to work across two desks across 2 countries in a span of 2 months?
  • Did you know that some business schools (e.g. NITIE) in India have a winter internship in addition to a summer internship to facilitate greater industry exposure for their students?
  • Did you know that many business schools (e.g. IIM Ahmedabad IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta) have an industry interface club as part of which students can undertake live industry projects in their 2nd year of MBA?
The author is an MBA from IIM Bangalore, the author of "Yours Sarcastically" and a columnist. You can reach him at [email protected]