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Running Late

Sure, internship interviews hold their terrors—including a stalled train on the way—but the right attitude and an MBA can bring some surprising results

So what else is going on over here? Second semester, which for us is third mod, entailed elections for student organizations and student government. I ran for social chair, and now I have to plan a 500-person spring formal, buy paper and crayons for kids to draw on while their parents (yeah, we have some families in the program) have a beer and a burger at our spring barbecue, and find a formal springtime dress to boot. Help!

But I still was getting about four hours of sleep a night, which is just greedy. So I applied to be a research assistant for a professor doing work on the biodiesel industry. And I said it before, but I have to mention it because they are the school's greatest resource: the professors—the caliber of educator here makes me feel spoiled.

Do I really deserve this kind of exposure? I'm working with a man who reminds me of a climate-change-focused Albert Einstein. His résumé zapped the ink cartridge in my printer. Honestly.

That is one thing. But find a world-renowned researcher and a natural teacher and let me know, because they are few and far between. Apparently graduate school seems to be a favorite for this kind. At least my experience at Georgetown implies this.

So now let's talk about what keeps students up at night and their appetites confused: the summer internship.

Madcap Monday

Interview at 2 p.m. requires a 7 a.m. train. It should arrive in New York City at 10 a.m., which should leave me an ample four hours to find the bank that is interviewing me.

Hold on. Bank? Doesn't that indicate finance? Well, as a matter of fact it does. You may recall me mentioning that I was a history major who worked in human resources. So how in the world did I end up winning interviews in finance? O.K., so we were on a train, but since that was delayed for over three hours, I can delay for a few minutes.

In answer to the question as to why in the world any bank would want to talk to me: I am one poster child for the idea that an MBA not only makes a huge difference in your preparation, education, and know-how, but most essentially (as any job-searcher will tell you) your marketability.

Market-a-what? You may know this term. I didn't. I just tried my very best to relate my experience to the position (for me, almost laughable), explain how fantastic and differentiated and competitive I thought companies were, and of course I had a Georgetown MBA on my résumé. And lo and behold … my inbox became increasingly full of unread messages with good news.

Well it couldn't have been my experience, because we all know how much human resources has in common with finance. Other than need for follow-up, finding similarities between them is about as easy as men and women truly understanding each other. Sorry, men and women.

Anyway. The companies all knew how fantastic and differentiated and competitive they were. So that could only help so much. What was it?

I did have a top choice—a private banking internship at a bulge-bracket bank. Did I have a fighting chance? In my opinion, no. The closest thing in my résumé to "banker" is my undergraduate institution, which also happens to start with a "B."

Initial Surprise

But then all of a sudden, I was in a group of seven people preselected for a first interview out of 23 submissions. That was my first shock. And this is truly a bittersweet excitement because no matter how fantastic it is to get an interview it only means one thing: You actually have to sit down and interview. Scary. Nauseating. Think Blair Witch Project scary. Because if you don't get selected after your interview it's very hard not to arrive at the conclusion that you clearly are not magnetic, nobody likes you, and you ruined your own chance. But no pressure.

Given my fragile ego (which I don't recommend advertising if you're in graduate school, so that's about how smart I am), it is a very good thing I got the offer. "What?!" you ask? I know because that is what I said. I almost wanted to say: "You know you're calling Rachael Klein, right? Do you have the right person?"

So, yes, history major me, simple recruiter, got an internship offer from a bulge-bracket bank. Now, I'm just waiting for the sky to fall and for them to tell me they were kidding.

So, what is this a testament to? Well, first off, it's a testament to getting an MBA. It is an investment, and if you maximize your investment—meaning work hard, take advantage of resources, and don't shirk opportunity or assume anything—it repays you tenfold.

Because you're not only raising your salary, you're raising your own concept of what you're capable of. And this becomes visible to everyone who speaks to you … provided you talk about what you're learning. Many people forget to talk about what they are doing in their MBA program. Well, why do you think these people are interviewing you in the first place?

New Paths

The MBA program opened doors completely invisible to me prior to Georgetown. So, essentially I am a walking advertisement for the value of an MBA. I went from human resources to interviewing in banking, farther than I imagined I'd ever have a chance to travel in terms of a career. Anyway, back to my favorite interview …

Train stops in Baltimore. Train … doesn't leave Baltimore. Hey, no problem, I can just read the paper for a little. Won't possibly be late as my rescheduled second interview "Superday" is not until 2 p.m. Speaking of which, a "Superday" is not super. It is simply a series of back-to-back interviews with multiple people at a firm.

By the end you are tired, worn down, and have trouble pronouncing your name. Seriously. You really can't pronounce your name anymore. But you've met with multiple people and they are all pretty good about not asking you the same questions so you should be just as good and deliver them the same courtesy, i.e., don't give the same answers, and stay enthusiastic and grateful for their time. Harder than it sounds after the first two hours, trust me.

Long story short, my train was so delayed because of the sunny but horrifyingly cold weather (I know, I had trouble believing it myself, but apparently trains are like me—averse to the cold) that I had to call and say I was going to be late. An hour late.

You can only imagine my horror and fatalistic feelings as I sat on my ridiculously late train to walk into an interview with the worst possible chance imaginable. M-O-R-T-I-F-Y-I-N-G. I was convinced that the career management office at Georgetown would pull me aside and not even mention responsibility and arriving on time for interviews, but instead simply recommend that I get my head checked. Talk about impression. Would you hire me?

Remaining Confident

But now I am going to say something somewhat clichéd. Staying positive works wonders, every time. Does it work miracles? No. But it makes the difference between you walking in with your head up and ready, and you walking in downtrodden and prebeaten, before you've even shaken a hand.

And it's most important when it's the only thing you've got working in your favor because you actually do control it, unlike trains. And so despite my fatalistic feelings and my certainty that I was walking in with no chance of getting these people to even consider me, I smiled and kept my head up, talked about what I was learning, how much I liked it, how perfectly it applied to the relevant position and bank, and a few other things I couldn't possibly believe I managed to squeak out, from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

And guess what—even though they had filled all the offers the Friday before (fair enough) they told me I was an alternate and offered me a chance to go interview in their Chicago office. I interviewed in Chicago and really liked it but preferred New York and they held out for me until they had something in New York.

Was I floored? Um, yeah, you could say that. Because it definitely wasn't my extensive recruiting experience or my history degree that convinced a corporate bank to consider me. Mostly, it was hugely helpful interview preparation from my peers.

All these places want you to relate your past experiences to the job at hand. Which is somewhat of a Catch-22 (great book by the way) since you came to school because you didn't quite have the experience to get the job at hand. So how does one take a résumé like mine and tell an interviewer how "perfect I am for the job because I did a, b, and c." Oh, and I wrote a thesis. Yippee. Hire me to do math.

Pushing One Another

Well, you could try getting into Georgetown. Because you know who played the biggest role in coaching me and helping me prepare? The student body.

The caliber of person you go to school with will dictate your education. I go to school with intelligent people, confident enough to do whatever they can to help out a colleague.

Is it competitive? Of course. We all want the same internships at the same places. We all envy the person that messes up the curve and turns our B-plus into a B-minus. But it is up to us to maximize each other, because as Georgetown perpetually reminds us—we are the brand, and we are only as strong as our weakest link.

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