So you’ve landed the internship — the coveted summer at one of the Big 3 management consulting firms. If you are anything like I was, you no doubt poured countless hours into case prep, networking, and office visits. Now you are holding your fresh-printed offer letter in hand, with your name written across the top in bold letters, and you have time to think — “What am I actually doing?”
When I joined Bain as a summer intern, I soon realized that I had solicited so much help for my actual recruitment, but had put little thought into actually maximizing my actual summer experience. Ironic, isn’t it, that most consulting clubs in today’s universities do little else than get you through the interview process? Wouldn’t it be nice if they actually did a little more to prepare you to succeed in the job itself?
I’ve spent some time thinking about what I wish I had known at the start of that summer and came up with 7 ways you can get the most from your internship experience. Hopefully these tips save you from a few cringe-worthy moments, help you earn a full-time offer, and enable you to walk away from the summer having grown personally and professionally more than 99% of your peers.
1. Do your research on cases, and request to report to a former associate/analyst level colleague
Most internship programs will let you preference the type of case you would like to work on for the summer—travel, industry, manager, function area. Rarely (if ever) will there be a case that meets all of your ideal criteria, but usually the firms will try to staff you somewhere you find interesting. Reach out to a handful of the younger connections you have at your firm in the weeks leading up to your internship to get a feel for what cases are available, what different managers are like, what clients’ reputations are, etc. This can enable you to go into your staffing discussion having an idea of which actual cases you’d like (remember, staffing cannot read your mind!). I highly recommend also requesting to report to a former associate/analyst level colleague, ideally who had also been an intern. They’ll be most aware of when to push you and when to offer help, ultimately enabling you to perform your best.
2. Ask why
During my internship, my teammates would often have conversations in the team room that seemed well over my head. I’d always listen intently, but often the conversation would end with me more confused than when it started. Let me tell you — this is completely normal. You’re brand-new to the job, chances are you’ve never worked in the industry, and, let’s be honest, you haven’t even graduated from college. No one expects you to know everything. What you can do, however, is ask why. When your teammates are directing workstreams a certain way, or developing a recommendation, or even laughing about a “ridiculous” investor call, jump in and ask them to explain it to you. I promise they won’t laugh at you; they’ll just be impressed you asked. And chances are, you’ll learn something that will enable you to do your job even better.
3. Ask for more
Each of the Big 3 firms tries to provide an internship experience that closely mirrors a full time role. However, full-time work is often very fluid with teammates each working on various workstreams, and interns are typically sheltered from this crossover. Not only will you impress your team if you ask if you can do more, but you also will be getting a better feel for the real job. Picking up an extra hour or two of work is well worth building both your reputation and your skill set.
4. Find a non-case related activity within your firm that you’re interested in, and get involved as soon as possible
At Bain, we call this additional involvement “Extra 10%”. Think of it like extracurricular activities in college. Each of the Big 3 has various opportunities in which you can get involved — such as affiliation groups, non-profit or volunteer work, and recruiting, to name a few. These activities are great ways to meet people outside of your case team as well as show that you are investing in your firm. They’re often a great way to step into office leadership positions early in your tenure, and having the continuity between your internship and full time job can help.
5. Don’t forget your social life outside of work
Let’s be honest — internships are great. You’re likely with a fun group of peers, you actually feel like a productive member of society for the first time in your life, there are seemingly bottomless coffers for intern activities, and you’re still gloating a bit that you’re one of the “select few” that earned the internship. Remember, however, that this summer you get to start setting the tone for your work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not telling you to tell your supervisor to limit your workload at this point — but it’s great to start laying the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Start putting down your roots in your new city. Get involved with a non-profit, a university alumni club, a religious group, a fitness club, or whatever you find interesting. As wonderful as your work colleagues are, you likely will want a few other friends as well, and why wait until your full time job to start finding them? Also, one side note: other involvement doesn’t hurt your business school applications a few years down the road, either.
6. Invest in your mentoring relationships, and stay in touch during your last college year
The Big 3 are industry leaders in promoting the development of strong mentoring relationships. At Bain, I had two formal mentors during my internship and several other informal mentors I frequently went to for advice. These relationships are hugely beneficial, and you will proverbially reap what you sow when it comes to them. You want at least one mentor just a step or two ahead of you to answer your simple day-to-day questions; you also want at least one senior mentor to help you plan out your professional development goals a few years into the future. Many people neglect these relationships during their internship, only investing in them once they return full time. How much better to walk in your first day back as a full time consultant, already with several huge fans in the office?
7. It’s not cool to be the “too busy” intern
During my internship, I noticed a pattern emerging among all of us interns. It became “cool” to brag about how hard you were working. You instantly gained a status symbol if you sent a hurried text to your peers saying, “So sorry, but have to miss dinner tonight. Partner pulled me in for some analysis and I gotta crunch! Jealous you guys get to have fun. Enjoy!” Let me tell you right now — that’s not actually cool. Comparing notes on who is working more or who got more face-time with the partner does nothing. In reality, you all are probably having very, very similar days and are given nearly identical levels of responsibilities. Each of you might have a longer day now and then and once in a while may have to back out of a social outing, but if you compared actual notes across the summer, there are probably few differences between you. Bragging about your workload is nothing more than grabbing for attention by throwing yourself a little pity-party. Suck up the hard days (without letting everyone know), enjoy the easy days (without feeling guilty), and encourage your peers to do the same.
A Big 3 internship is one of the most valuable experiences you will likely have in your life. Not only do you grow professionally, but you also learn a lot about yourself personally. Heading into your summer with a few intentional goals will allow you to make the most of your weeks there, both increasing your chance of a full time offer and boosting your own learning experience. Good luck!
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