Executives Through Experimentation: The B-School Internship Experience

10/21/09

Business school applications require many thousands of words’ worth of essay questions, usually dealing with those universal but ephemeral corporate themes of Teamwork, Impact, and Dealing With Difficult Situations. Somewhere within this morass the applicant is generally expected to answer the question, “What are you going to do with an MBA?” To this there are three types of answers:

1. The Exceedingly Grandiose (“Harness the power of sustainable development to change the fate of the Third World”).

2. The Believable But Contrived (“Leverage my current skill set and augment it with a top-notch experiential education”).

3. The True But Obviously Unacceptable (“Get a job that doesn’t make me want to kill myself”).

Needless to say, upon matriculation these claims are immediately forgotten, as the practical matters of schoolwork and socializing take over. But right around the time that everyone starts giving serious thought to their summer internship, the question, unbidden, comes roaring back. What am I going to do with my MBA?

The summer internship, as the mid-point of the two-year MBA, carries far more import than regular people usually ascribe to the word “internship”. It is often assumed that upon graduation the student will give serious consideration to a full-time position at the summer employer or, at the very least, remain in the same general industry. This past January, at the MIT Sloan School of Management, anxieties around internships began to escalate. As a first-year, I found the whole process to be like a pop quiz, blindsiding me into making a life-changing decision before I was ready. I mean, I came to business school to escape the real world.

Eventually, however, an attractive opportunity presented itself. Through an old colleague I was introduced to a startup in Boston called WordStream, which got its funding a year ago and launched its product in January. WordStream is run by Rob Adler, a serial entrepreneur who was brought in a month after the company’s funding to be CEO. Rob, a Harvard Business School grad, exudes enthusiasm, and is one of those mysterious people whose number of connections on LinkedIn is listed as “500+”, which always make you wonder exactly how much larger than 500 people their network is.

WordStream is still at the stage where the company’s strategy is constantly being reexamined and openly discussed amongst everyone in the company (there are currently only 18 full-time employees). Who is our target customer? What exactly is our value? How should the product change?

The entrepreneurship professors at Sloan, veteran entrepreneurs themselves, often speak in quasi-romantic tones about working for a startup as a capitalistic ideal, the intersection of high-minded business strategy and dirty, sweaty reality. They could not be more correct. About a week after starting at WordStream, Rob came over to me, looking grave. “I’d like to speak with you for a minute,” he said. He brought me into … Next Page »

Samuel Hawes is a second-year MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Follow @

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  • http://rbeale.com Ryan Beale

    Great Article, Sam! I had a great time working with you at WordStream and wish you the best of luck in your second year at Sloan.

    Ryan

  • http://changeagentdes.com/ Desmond Pieri

    Sam, sounds like a great assignment at WordStream. Hope your second year goes well. A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in an event for Sloan second years, talking about jobs after graduation. As I note in this post http://bit.ly/bCzBA I’m not so sure that many of the soon-to-be graduates wanted to hear what I had to say!

  • http://www.ricksmith.me RickSmithAuthor

    Great insight, Sam. A common trap is that those in B-school feel a rush to “figure it out”, to make a decision in one direction or another. This is a trap during booming economy – everyone goes in the same direction (consulting or banking), and they “buy into” their decision like it is what they were always meant to do. It may be. But for most, it won’t. I graduated from Kellogg, and spent several years in consulting. I could never do that my entire life, but I can’t image a better place to turbo-discover myself. I ended up an entrepreneur and author, but would have never found this place without experimentation.

    You sound like you are open to a very real discussion with yourself, and this will make all the difference.

    Rick Smith

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  • http://www.blisshealthcare.com Harold Picken

    I’d be interested in getting your advice how to effectively advertise an internship opportunity to Sloan students. I am in an early stage healthcare start up looking for one or two highly motivated students who are interested in entrepreneurship in healthcare.
    I can be reached at hpicken@blisshealthcare.com