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Getting an Internship Edge

"Interviewing is an art. You have to get used to it," says the head of Emory's BBA Career Services

Ivy League alumni had better watch out for Emory University's undergraduate business majors, says Douglas Cooper, director of BBA Career Services at Emory. Undergrads at Emory realize they aren't coming from Harvard University or the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and need to work that much harder because of it. Cooper says Goizueta Business School graduates' raw intellectual skills and networking abilities -- emphasized in the career center -- help to give them an edge.

Cooper has held his current position since July, 2003. Before that, he led career placement at the Atlanta University System -- a consortium of schools including Morehouse and Spellman colleges and Atlanta University. He earned his MBA at Pace University and undergraduate degrees in economics and psychology from the City University of New York. Cooper recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online project assistant Julie Gordon. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

In which fields is internship experience most vital?

Finance and accounting. It's also important to get an internship in consulting or marketing, but it's not so important that the internship be in those areas.

In consulting, recruiters look for people who can solve problems and think analytically. You can develop those skill sets from a myriad of different experiences. In finance, you need to have very defined and hard skills.

What's your opinion of interning for a small vs. a large company?

For the most part, I don't know that, as an intern, the level of responsibility will be dramatically different from a large to a small company. If you can get an internship with a firm that has name recognition, then that's going to help you on your resume.

That being said, you can still be competitive even without working at a company with a well-known name. But it becomes as -- if not more -- important to define a specific task you did that would add value when you're competing.

How helpful are the mock interviews the career center offers?

Interviewing is an art. You have to get familiar with it. You have to get past some of the nervousness that you might have, and you also have to start to anticipate the types of questions that may be posed.

Some firms focus more on the behavioral types of questions, and others focus on the case-interview process, particularly in the consulting world. We conduct simulated cases, which tests the students' ability to think logically and solve problems. There's typically no single right answer. The issue that we're trying to help the students understand is how to logically step through and frame a problem and then be able to present their solution in such a way that's clear and coherent to the recruiter.

With which companies does Emory have the best relationships?

I'm happy to say that we became a target school for Goldman Sachs (GS) on April 14, 2006. That basically means that the company will expend resources and physically interview on campus.

We're also a target school for Citigroup (C). We have relationships with Lehman Brothers (LEH), JP Morgan (JPM), all the major banks, Bear Sterns (BSC), Boston Consulting Group, AT Kearney, Deloitte, Grey Advertising, McCann-Erickson, and the big four accounting firms.

Which other companies are you targeting?

Firms such as Deutsche Bank (DB) and Credit Suisse (CSG) for their international presence. We're really working to develop a relationship because we have a good number of international students. We want to make opportunities a bit more available to students who may not be U.S. citizens.

What's the Eagle Opportunities Network?

This intranet allows students and alumni out of school for no more than two years to upload their resumes and submit them to companies to be considered for on-campus interviews. They can also directly send their applications to different companies that may not be coming on campus.

What types of job-shadowing opportunities are available?

As we speak, we're initiating a new job-shadowing program here in the Atlanta area. We're working with firms such as SunTrust Banks (STI), Wells Fargo (WFC), PricewaterhouseCoopers, and AT Kearney.

It's an opportunity for students to physically be in the work environment that they might be in when they graduate to get a sense of what a fairly new person in those firms would actually be doing on a day-to-day basis.

We also offer a week-long trip to New York and Chicago. A group of 35 to 50 students visits a host of different businesses within finance, marketing, and PR. Every year, we do it in January for juniors to position themselves for internships, and in August for seniors to give them some momentum and exposure to firms that they're considering for full-time opportunities when they graduate.

Students have to submit their resumes for consideration. It's really based on first-come, first-served, but it has become so popular that students have to get in their applications by a certain deadline.

How important is a cover letter?

Your resume is the facts, and your cover letter is the story. The cover letter allows you to elaborate on some things about you that wouldn't be quickly seen on a resume -- perhaps why you had always wanted to do finance dating back to when you used to put your pennies in a jar when you were a child.

How should students keep in touch with company contacts after the initial meeting without sounding like they're just interested in getting a job?

Try to time it around different yearly events. Let's say, for example, you met someone over the summer. Maybe the next appropriate time to reach out is when you've begun school in the fall, saying "Hey, Jim. It was a pleasure meeting you during the summer. I've just begun my senior year and wanted to touch base. Thanks for all your support."

Then maybe reach out again at the beginning of the following year -- "I just wanted to say happy New Year, I'm still very interested in your organization. I would love the opportunity to speak or meet with you during my spring break in March." You want to time it so you're not repetitively bugging them, but at least staying on their radar screen.

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