The Summer Internship Shuffle

3/2/09

If you are a student enrolled in a MBA program these days, phrases like “Boy, your timing in going back to school has been perfect!” and/or “This is the best time to be a <fill in your standard business school career choices>” are serenaded quite often in your direction. Typical reactions to this would range from a self-congratulatory smile to a deadly stare. Ah, the wonders of summer internship recruiting season for first year MBA students!

Across most business school campuses, the months of December and January bring with them a flurry of activities: case discussions like your life depended on it, mock interviews on getting your “story” right for a career in finance, and trying to find reasons why your background in Romance languages is a great fit for a career in energy. We first-year MBA students at the MIT Sloan School of Management are no different. If you happened to stumble into Sloan’s main building any day in January you would not have missed the organized chaos of summer recruitment preparations.

With the economy in its current state, students’ anxiety levels are naturally all over the charts. I don’t yet have a quantitative picture of this spring’s recruiting season, but I have come across a range of interesting opinions and statements from students on campus. I have also looked briefly at a few trends in recruiting from past years.

The top recruiting industries at most business schools are consulting and finance. General management, operations, and marketing/sales round out the industry pools that recruit at MBA-granting schools. At MIT Sloan, there’s historically a large group of students interested in entrepreneurship as well. Students have had interesting recruiting experiences in all these industries this spring.

“In most years we would have given you an offer” was one of most common responses students got after their final round interviews at consulting firms. There is no question that internship offers in this industry are down. I went back and looked at the recruiting numbers for consulting the last time we had a recession and noticed an interesting trend. Officially the last recession started in 2001 and ended in 2003. At Sloan, consulting offers dropped from 35-40 percent of of the class in 1999 to 15-17 percent in 2003 at MIT Sloan. It took almost two years for those numbers to climb back up to earlier levels.

Recruiting for finance internships has been equally interesting. It’s a safe assumption that with the financial sector at the center of the economy’s malaise, internships would be hard to come by. Students who poured their hearts out at MIT Sloan (and other schools I presume) preparing for finance interviews found out first hand. The consensus opinion was that the internship pools at most banks have shrunk significantly. One could sense the frustration in a classmate when he saw a posting for “Career in Finances” lecture in mid-January. He said, “Let me guess: they aregoing to tell us how this is the best time to start a financial career. Same **** different day.”

Notwithstanding the lull in traditional hiring, industries recruiting for general management, operations, marketing, strategy and sales functions has been active. Some students who had their minds set on traditional MBA internships are re-evaluating their interests and strengths and are finding other avenues to learn during summer.

There has been an increasing focus at MIT Sloan on entrepreneurship in the past few years. While debates rage as to whether entrepreneurship can be taught in a classroom, students seem to believe so. Enrollment in the entrepreneurship and innovation program at MIT Sloan has been steadily increasing. Some of the students in this program are making plans to either work on their own startup in the summer or spend time at a startup to learn what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

Times may be less than optimal for us MBA students now, but there is still an abundance of optimism on campus. There is a strong belief that most industries will recover to a certain extent by the time our class graduates, in 2010. Until then most of us plan to hunker down, use our time to build a strong foundation, and smile and nod whenever someone says, “Isn’t this the best time to be in business school?”

Mahesh Konduru is currently a Principal at the Potomac Energy Fund. He is an alumnus of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Follow @

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