Searching for an Internship in a Tough Job Market

"My search started during the first quarter when I (mistakenly) decided to become an investment banker. There was no logic to that decision, but most everyone said it could be done. So I listened"

As of this writing, I have completed one-third of my MBA program. It is just as demanding as I expected it to be. And that is a good thing.

I didn't come to UCLA Anderson from the numbers world, so one of my biggest challenges here has been dissecting, digesting, and burping numbers. That is: backing up conclusions with strong arithmetic facts and demonstrating a deft analytical organization of the mind (and body&for all those late nights spent studying).

The second quarter involved a bit more number crunching than the first and the third (present) quarter seems to bring it all together in one very important course at UCLA: Business Strategy. The first homework assignment in this course asked students to perform an industry analysis of the U.S. metal can industry all the way back to 1989. Maybe because it was the first week of class—fresh from spring break—but it seemed to me that most students in my cohort took a qualitative approach to this assignment (based on the expressions on our faces as we watched the professor crunch his way through the assigned case in ways we never imagined possible). There were and always will be exceptional students whose skill with numbers makes me green with envy.

But other students—including myself—have bigger concerns these days. Namely, we want to find the coveted summer internship. Never mind "coveted." In this economy, some students have told me they want to find "summer" or "internship."

Best preparation: School career teams

My search started during the first quarter, when I (mistakenly) decided to become an investment banker. There was no logic to that decision, but most everyone said it could be done. So I listened. But then the federal government began to give banks mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and more important, I began to sense that I had nothing to give to I-banks. So I left that behind, not without having benefited from strong interactions with investment bankers and—even more so—my peers.

My best preparation for recruiting happened with my ACT group, or Anderson Career Team. Almost every student is assigned a group according to industry function (consulting, I-banking, operations, etc.). Each group is led by two second-year students who have spent summers with a firm in that industry, and who share with their first-year counterparts the good and bad aspects of the recruiting process.

After changing course, I returned to the UCLA Parker Career Management Center to find a job helping broken schools improve program models and governance structures—the reason I came to business school. I want to develop and institutionalize benchmark practices to measure and track results for programs supported by the public and by corporate or private philanthropy, creating standards that have been lacking at most of these organizations. An MBA is helping me accomplish these goals by teaching me the skills necessary to understand the business aspect of managing any operation. Such practical and conceptual skills will help me maneuver through a complex job environment, advancing from managing individual projects to creating management strategies that match the diverse intentions of public sector organizations.

Alumni and peers helped me

To succeed in my search, I spoke with UCLA Anderson alumni who, after graduating from Anderson, had gone on to performing similar work in the nonprofit sector. I spoke with second-year students to determine where they had spent their summers and why. I attended events at which local and national education organizations came together to recruit MBA graduates and students. There the competition, while real, was not as intense as it had been when I was recruiting for an internship in investment banking. I think this was because I have a background in education and can speak fluently of dropout rates and crowded classrooms but not—at least not last fall—the language of credit default swaps.

I met with first-year students who had previously interacted with the firms I was targeting. My peers were generous with their evaluations and their advice, as always. They offered their experiences to help me prepare for interviews. They even challenged and questioned my motivations.

At the end of the day I gave my all to a firm that struck me as established and well-connected. The courtship process, from start to finish, took two months. This included several informal interactions and two formal interviews. The first was an individual, hour-long interview and the second was a group interview that lasted four hours, with every move watched and recorded.

Last week the company, Education Pioneers, called me with an offer to join them this summer. I am going to accept.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.