Internships

Networking My Way to an Internship

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Last year as I began my internship search I found myself at an event that would require me to confront a situation I had worked hard to avoid in the past, networking at a job fair. I had always found the idea of shaking hands with recruiters and company reps to be almost alien. To me, these types of events always felt very forced and I really don’t like being forced to do anything. I have had coworkers and friends who seem to excel in these types of situations, who could network naturally, almost instinctively. They could walk into a room of strangers and leave with a room full of friends and contacts. When I entered a room, I was met with a paralyzing social anxiety. Oh, I’m affable enough, love telling jokes, sharing stories and the like and when I tell my friends about my anxiety, they refuse to believe that someone who seems so outgoing would be so internally anxious.

Regardless, there I was, a fresh faced first year MBA candidate on the hunt for an internship. I watched classmates converse with the various company representatives, shake hands, exchange business cards and resumes and leave with a solid prospect for an internship at a company that I would have loved to work at. Seattle is home to some of the top companies in the world, across a range of industries ranging from aerospace to software developers. Yet there I was, standing in the middle of a room with the people who could help me get a foot in the door and I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other to go talk to them.

That’s when my career coach, whom I had had previous conversations with in which we talked about my fear of such situations. She could sense my level of discomfort and encouraged me to head home for the day and come by her office the next day to talk about an alternative strategy in regards to finding an internship. So that’s what I did. I grabbed my jacket, headed home to work on my marketing case for the next day and made plans to come by the career center the next day.

After my morning class the following day, I headed over to meet with my coach to start laying out my alternatives, of which I was hoping there were many because I was getting worried that I would never land an internship. During our meeting we talked about how vast the Foster alumni network is and how eager they are to help fellow Foster-ites in the internship search. Knowing my distaste for large recruiting events, we talked about the possibility of setting up informational interviews, which were more personal and far less stressful for me. My coach showed me the catalog of former student resumes that career services keeps on file and encouraged me to look through them to see if any of the alumni were currently working in an industry I was interested in. She also encouraged me to use LinkedIn to reach out to Foster alumni as well as my personal network to see if there was anyone I could schedule an informational interview with. She even went so far as to reach out to her personal network to help me schedule informational interviews. Over the coming month, when I wasn’t powering through a case with my team, I set up a number of interviews with alumni, people within my personal network, second year students who had interned at companies last summer. At these interviews I would ask about their experience at the company, how they applied what they had learned as an MBA candidate and closed each conversation by asking if they new anyone else that they felt I should talk to.

After a number of these interviews, I met a former Foster student who worked at one of the larger advertising agencies in Seattle. We bonded over not just over having both having experienced the gauntlet that is the workload of first-year but non-academic interests as well. We closed our conversation with him letting me know that he would go by human resources in the morning to share my resume and to find out what the situation was with the agency’s internship program. One week later I received a call from the HR director inviting me in for an interview. I couldn’t believe it! My weeks of informational interviews had paid off! I went in that Friday for my interview and on Monday I had an email in my inbox with an offer.

If there was to be a moral from this story, it’s that there are many alternative paths to finding a summer internship, not just the job fairs. Find what works for you, work with your career coach and exercise your network. The perfect internship is out there, the trick is finding it.

~Guest Blogger Ben Reid, Full-time Class of 2013

Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I spent my internship helping to usher in the zombie apocalypse. And by that, I mean I worked at PopCap Games – developer and publisher of titles such as Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled, and Zuma.

These are exciting times for casual gaming, as the industry is shifting at a remarkable pace. There has been a rapid movement away from the premium download model, where players pay once for unlimited use of the game, to a freemium model, where the player can play for free, but is encouraged to make in-game purchases.

Under the premium model, the key to success was convincing a large group of players to pay upfront for your game. Whether those players played the game for 3 days or 3 years had a limited impact on the developer’s bottom line. Under the freemium model, however, player retention is critically important. The more often players play, the more opportunity they have to make in-app purchases.

For one of my internship projects, I wrote a white paper on how competitors used virality mechanics within Facebook games (friend invites, gifting, posting updates, etc.) to enhance viral user acquisition and retention. So yes, I spent a big portion of my internship playing games on Facebook! But when I reflect on what I learned about customer acquisition and retention in casual games, I realize how applicable and valuable this knowledge is even in industries far removed from gaming.

Several of my smaller summer projects involved gaming analytics. Cue first quarter stats (especially regression and hypothesis testing)! With the shift to freemium games, some developers have found success by placing a heavy emphasis on testing and iteration. Imagine your game has a few million daily active users. Will total revenue go up if you decrease the price point of a particular in-game item? Will players invite more of their friends if they see a green “Invite” button or a blue one? Will players send more free gifts if they have one gifting option, three gifting options, or 20 gifting options? Rather than making a game-wide change and hoping for the best, developers can use A/B testing (or even multivariate testing) on small subsets of users, and only implement game-wide changes that show statistically significant improvements over the existing game features.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from my internship was that my MBA experience has given me the skillset to add value, even in an industry where I had no previous experience. As a result, I am confident in my ability to significantly contribute to my fulltime employer – even if they are not in the zombie proliferation business.

~Guest Blogger Ethan Anderson, Full-time Class of 2013

A Software Company Promoting No Software?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The cloud has been all the buzz lately in the tech industry. While some software companies have been slow to adopt this new technology/service-delivery model, salesforce.com has been a pioneer in the space since the early 90’s.

This summer, I worked at Salesforce as a product marketing intern with the Sales Cloud team. One of my main responsibilities was to help with Dreamforce, the company’s annual conference. Over a 4-day span, close to 40,000 attendees will have access to 750+ breakout sessions, where they can learn about our products and hear from our customers. I helped our team manage over 90 of these breakout sessions by finding session moderators, vetting through customer stories, and more. I also helped build out demo stations for the expo grounds, where attendees can experience our products first-hand.

Aside from Dreamforce responsibilities, I was asked to create a demo video for our Forecasting feature. The demo video will go up on the features section of the Sales Cloud website, and is used to attract new customers who want to learn more about our product. I worked closely with the Product Manager of the feature and my teammate to create a storyboard and script, and recently went into the studio to record the voiceover for the video. So if a career in the tech industry doesn’t pan out, there’s always the possibility of being the voice behind commercials or movies.

Outside of those major projects, I got to experience the day-to-day life of product marketers. I worked with and learned from a cross-functional team that had marketing campaigns people, SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) specialists, a software developer, and a copywriter and artist. It was interesting seeing how the different roles worked together towards a single goal.

And of course there were the great intern events and company perks. I got to hear from company leaders including COO George Hu (a former summer intern), Chief Creative Officer Bruce Campbell (who created the “No Software” logo), and even Peter Schwartz (a renowned futurist). And because Microsoft is a competitor, and their summer interns got a live concert at Gasworks Park (ask fellow Foster MBA candidates Taj Mathews, Aaron Shepherd, or Jessica Martin about that…), I have to ask…

Is there a better way to finish an internship than seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers live, outdoors at the San Francisco Civic Center?

~Guest Blogger Nelson Haung, Full-time Class of 2013

Being an MBA Means Being Right, Right?

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

By Gwyn Gaubatz, Full-time Class of 2013.  Gwyn graduated from Smith College with a double-major in Computer Science and American Studies.  After teaching two years in rural Mississippi with Teach for America, she spent five years in the educational testing industry before her interest in organizational behavior and development drew her to business school.

Like many people, I don’t like being wrong.  And I hate being told that I have done something wrong.  For most of my professional life, being told that I have made an error, inadvertently caused a problem, or chosen the wrong course of action has been almost physically uncomfortable, a small spike of adrenaline that twists in my gut as I experience a sinking feeling of, oh no, oh no, how bad was it and can it be fixed ohnoitwasmyfault!

I can’t say this has made me a perfectionist, but I do think it’s a driving force behind some of my detail-oriented behaviors – checking, checking again; verifying authorization; planning in advance; asking question after question – as well as my penchant for trying to guess what people will need from me before needing to be told.

Of all the things I thought I would learn at business school (marketing, stats, networking, etc.), I actually did not expect to master this.  I mean, sure: I thought that an MBA would give me the tools to avoid making mistakes even more adroitly and give me the confidence that I would make the correct choices, again and again.  So, I didn’t exactly think an MBA would make me ‘perfect’, professionally, but I think that there was definitely, in the back of my mind, the hope that it would bring me closer to some kind of magically business-savvy infallibility.

HA!

Over the course of my first year at business school, I have learned that I cannot hope to be perfect-ish or anywhere near infallible.  This became very clear during my first quarter – not just that I would be wrong, sometimes, missing questions on homework assignments and quizzes and midterms – but also that I could really screw up: handling the financials of a case study on behalf of my team and missing a key step, or forgetting to produce exhibits for a deliverable, or pushing others to accept a marketing strategy and completely missing the 2 key drivers that could make that strategy successful. Given the amount of new information MBA students are expected to digest and apply (“drinking from a fire hose” is an apt cliché) over the course of each 10-week term, especially for those (like me!) with no practical or academic experience in the subject matter, it is simply impossible to be avoid doing something – sometimes many things! – wrong.

The point is not that business school has caused me to make mistakes; the point is that business school has taught me how to make mistakes gracefully and responsibly, and to recover from them nimbly, looking forward.  No more squirmy guilty stomach-aches of how could I have done something wrong?  Because there is simply no time for that.  There is only: what is the scope, how can we fix what needs to be fixed, what do we do next, what can we learn from what happened?

I still care dreadfully about devoting my best efforts to my teams, planning proactively, and trying to get it right the first time.  But I know that if I don’t get it right, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not worth feeling sick over.  In fact, one month ago I was required to give a presentation on the research project I had been working on for the first 6 weeks of my internship.  As the first MBA intern to be hired by the company, there was no template in place for defining project deliverables or building out presentations and reports – I basically made that up as I went along, to the best of my ability, with some (but not a lot of) oversight.  And now I had to tell everybody what I did and how I did it!  The audience included the team I had been embedded in, the marketing team, senior managers from both sales and development, and, oh yeah: most of the c-suite, too; all in all, over a dozen people, with more calling in remotely.  The presentation was scheduled for 90 minutes.

Of course I was a little nervous – who wouldn’t be?  But I wasn’t really worried about getting something wrong.  I had been told before hand by multiple parties that the executives would likely break into the presentation at many junctures to comment, question, perhaps refute things they disagreed with.  I was told to expect lots of audience participation; to be prepared to have my arguments picked apart – it was par for the course.  Normally this would have been the worst part for me, but oddly, going into the meeting I wasn’t especially nervous about potentially being told I was wrong.  I was confident in the work that I had done, sure, but it wasn’t just that.  I was also comfortable with the knowledge that the presentation – much like the entire internship – was a learning experience, and that I could handle whatever was thrown at me with equanimity.  This frame of mind allowed me to respond thoughtfully and confidently to questions, and to absorb different interpretations eagerly, integrating them into later dialogues.  And let me tell you: there were a LOT of questions, and a lot of discussions.  I’m not going to lie, I was certainly sweatier leaving than I was going in.  But the comments and perspectives of the executives also helped to stretch my thinking and inform my approach to further projects.  In the end, the presentation was a great success.  But it could have turned out differently – and I think that knowing that and being comfortable with it was what allowed me to be decisive in my conclusions and poised in my speech.

So: if you are considering business school or about to enter as a first-year student, let me gently disabuse you of the notion that earning an MBA will allow you to win at business by being right all the time and by always making the best choice, the correct choice.  But it will teach you how to make a wrong  decision and recover, and being confident in your ability to manage good, unexpected or disappointing outcomes will most certainly enable you to assume responsibilities for big decisions.  You won’t be right all the time, but you will definitely be right for whichever job or leadership position you choose to pursue.

Just Call It “Foster-bucks”

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

As soon as I moved to Seattle for the Foster full-time MBA program, I set my sights on Starbucks. I wanted to be open-minded, but Starbucks was the only company that fit my broad internship vision: a large corporation in the food and beverage industry with ethical and environmental values, a well-known brand, located in the Seattle area. Okay, so maybe my focus was incredibly narrow. Nevertheless, during the Fall quarter I made sure to attend every Starbucks event and network with the Foster alumni that work there. I hoped getting to know partners (what Starbucks calls their employees) would help me receive an internship offer. It’s unlikely it actually did, but my ability to speak to my dedication to learning about Starbucks may have. What I did not anticipate was how crucial Foster alumni at Starbucks would become during my internship experience.

Fast forward to day one of my internship and I’m introduced to my “mentor” who is a Foster alum from a few years back. He’s set up at least 20 “immersions,” brief one-on-one chats, with people in my department and with recent Foster grads throughout the company. Each of the alumni gives me advice on potential internship pitfalls, how to best navigate communications at the company and offers to serve as a resource. I find out that Foster alum have an email group when the other Foster interns and myself are added to it. A lunchtime “coffee tasting” is set up for alumni to share their experiences and spare us from their mistakes while also just introducing themselves. A happy hour for Foster alumni and interns is planned and they offer to listen to our presentations and give us feedback before we present. It is amazing how supported I feel.

Moreover I’ve been very impressed by the Foster alumni at Starbucks in how honest and kind they have been, but also by how professional and accomplished they seem. I’ve been in several meetings where a recent Foster alum is leading the discussion and going through the agenda. I’m proud to say I attend Foster and people seem to respond well to it. UW in general has a huge presence at Starbucks so there is a lot of husky pride going around. It’s cool to see that Foster alumni stick together even after they graduate and that they want to give back by reaching out to current students and offering to help, without being asked to.

~ Guest blogger Laura Peirano, Full-time Class of 2013

All-Access Pass

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

By Gwyn Gaubatz, Full-time Class of 2013.  Gwyn graduated from Smith College with a double-major in Computer Science and American Studies.  After teaching two years in rural Mississippi with Teach for America, she spent five years in the educational testing industry before her interest in organizational behavior and development drew her to business school.

Sometimes, very small things can have a sizable impact.

For example, just this past week I had my photo taken, and within a day was given a picture ID to attach to the set of secure-entry badges I wear clipped to my waist at work.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I felt a very strong sense of place and belonging when I slipped it onto the loop and snapped it into place.  There was my face, smiling back at me!  And there I was, sitting in my cubicle, working away at my computer, pulling together my analyses for my upcoming presentation to the company executives.  Just another workday at my MBA internship.

But the interruption of the photo-ID gave me a moment to pause, and to reflect on the last photo-ID I had worn for work – in a flash of memory I recalled my last day of work at that job, a position I had held for exactly 4 years, 6 months and 2 weeks – how I had slipped the ID badge from my lanyard and deposited it in the HR mailbox before hustling out of the building to make it to my good-bye party, which had apparently started without me!  And in remembering that transition, of course I also had to consider everything that had happened between then and now: my move to Seattle, my decision to apply to business school and the resultant search and application process, my acceptance to, and acceptance of, Foster, and the entire first year of my MBA.  Two whole years had flown by since I last wore a photo-ID!

I have to be honest, there were times in the past 2 years that I wondered whether I was making the right decisions: was it really so smart to leave behind a good job and start again in a new city – in the middle of a recession?  Was an MBA the right next step for me?  Would business school help me learn the skills I needed, or help me find a career that I cared about?  Or, would some of the habits I acquired as I learned to navigate student life again – pulling all-nighters and banging on the snooze button in the morning, rolling into class in yoga pants and a sweatshirt because I couldn’t be bothered to wear anything less comfortable during lecture, working all week with my classmates but also hanging out all weekend with the same group, the lines between ‘colleagues’ and friends ever-blurred – somehow detract from my ability to put on my office game-face and rock it like a professional when I had the chance again?

Well, there’s now a badge swinging from my waist that features a smart young women, sharply dressed in a button-down and cardigan, staring confidently back. I still hit the snooze button in the mornings, but I arrive at the office on time and ready to work.   I’ve certainly re-discovered the business-attire side of wardrobe (and used my first paycheck to expand it!) and take pride in coming into the office dressed like I mean it.  I am on excellent terms with my team and superiors and have maintained a healthy divide between my work life and personal life.

And those other questions, the big picture ones, about my MBA and my career, and the direction of my life?  I don’t have final answers, that’s for sure, but I’m starting to figure some things out.  I’ve discovered interesting new possibilities for a career in marketing and become somewhat passionate about the ways social media can be leveraged to develop a brand.  I’m making connections in the technology sector, and learning how products are developed and released within the SaaS (Software as a Service) space.  I may find full-time work in the area I am now, or maybe the electives I take in my second year will send me in a new direction.  Everywhere I look I see a lot of possibilities as opposed to dead ends; this is definitely something that my MBA has helped me to achieve.

And in the new realities of my day-to-day life, when I encounter a door that’s locked: hey, look at that! My badge grants me access, and I forge ahead.

Rush-Order Internship

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

A number of channels exist to help Foster MBAs find summer internships following their first year of business school, from on-campus recruiting to internal and external job boards, to alumni connections and corporate networking contacts.  Here is one account.

By Gwyn Gaubatz, Full-time Class of 2013.  Gwyn graduated from Smith College with a double-major in Computer Science and American Studies.  After teaching two years in rural Mississippi with Teach for America, she spent five years in the educational testing industry before her interest in organizational behavior and development drew her to business school.

A week ago Tuesday I got a call around 2 PM.  I was still in my pajamas, heating up some pea soup for lunch after an early nap on a grey Seattle afternoon.  I had a To Do list, of course: laundry, cleaning, and a growing list of even more internships opportunities that needed my attention by way of resume revisions, tailored cover letters, research, and networking connections to be made.  But also, I had the whole week wide open in front of me, with plenty of time to do that all…after I caught up on some season finales on hulu.com.  Such was the lovely state of my life after finals!  I turned from the stove to answer my cell and was greeted by an enthusiastic recruiter.  Her company would like to interview me!

Well, this was a lovely turn!  I stumbled through the beginning of the conversation because, you see, I did not know this company off the top of my head – and did not recall directly applying for any position with them.  But once I was told she had received my resume from the Foster School of Business, everything clicked into place.  The career center had put me forward as a candidate for a new internship that had suddenly become available.  So I expressed that I would be delighted to interview, and pulled out my calendar book.  We quickly scheduled a series of three (three? Yes, three!) interviews for that Thursday, beginning at 8 AM.

After I got off the phone (and helped myself to some organic Trader Joe’s soup), I sent a quick note to my career counselor, Susan Canfield, and looked up the company on the internet.  As I was perusing their web site, my career counselor responded – congratulations! and also yes, we should meet to prepare – so I turned it around and arranged to come into the career center the very next day.

My meeting with Susan was very busy, but very productive: we talked about the company and the likely project opportunities, and she gave me a laundry list of further research I should do that night to prepare: reading up on the industry, not just the company; scoping out the LinkedIn profiles of my interviewers, looking into similar positions on the Foster job board to get a better sense of the responsibilities and requirements of typical product management work.  Susan also drilled me on my responses to typical interview questions and helped me brush up (and abbreviate) some stories I tried that felt shaky.  Finally, before I left, she identified a Foster MBA alumn already working at the company, and sent a quick introductory note suggesting we talk.  Phew!  I had a lot to do that evening to get ready!

Amazingly, within 5 minutes the alumn had responded with contact information and a time to call that same night – and I realized how truly phenomenal the Foster network can be.  Later that evening, he spared a half an hour to walk me through the industry, the company, and the staff I would be meeting with the following morning.  I was incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with him and gain his perspective and support.

Armed with his insights and notes from my own research, I put myself to bed.  I slept well for maybe the first 4 hours before waking once to use the bathroom, and then every half hour afterwards in a fit of nerves, glancing at the clock to make sure I had not missed my alarm (I never miss my alarm! But still…).  I finally broke the cycle at 5:30 AM when I arose to shower, eat, and suit up.  And then I grabbed my folio, checking to make sure it was stocked with copies of my resume as well as business cards, and hopped into the car hoping to beat rush-hour traffic to Bothell.

By 10 AM I was turned around and heading back home – all my manic prep work had paid off!  Each of my interviews had gone well, I believed, developing into something that felt more like a conversation than a critical back-and-forth.  I was able to speak about the MBA program, my experience with teams; my interests in the industry and the ties between the position and my experience; my goals for the future and how they oh-so-snugly fit with this company, right here – and this position, right now!  Better yet, after all my  research and this series of conversations, I felt genuinely excited at the prospect of working there, with the team that had interviewed me, on the projects that had been discussed.

Later that afternoon – a mere 48 hours after I became aware of the opportunity! – I got another call, this time one I had been told to expect – and I was offered the internship.

I enthusiastically accepted.

You Won’t Know Until You Go

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

       If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for when you start your internship search (like me), the whole process can be a little overwhelming.  I took full advantage of MBA Career Services to help me make the right decision, going so far as to call them on Super Bowl Sunday via cell phone for some quick tips.  I ended up landing a selective fellowship called Climate Corps, created through a partnership between Net Impact and the Environmental Defense Fund.  Fellows are matched with companies to discover and evaluate potential energy savings while reducing environmental impact.  With an architecture background and a passion for sustainability, this seemed like a great fit.  However, upon receiving the offer, I still didn’t know what company I was going to be matched with or where I would be placed.  Having made such good friends in the program, I was reluctant to consider the possibility of leaving Seattle for the summer.  In the weeks that followed, I agonized over the decision to accept the offer.  Career Services helped me understand that summers go by in a flash and finding a good internship – wherever it may be – was critical.  When I found out that I had been matched with Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, I knew it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. 

       With my summer sublet in place, I was free to fret over the internship.  Would P&G decide in the first week that I’m not good enough?  Would they think they’d made a mistake?  What will it be like to live in a foreign city all by myself for the summer?  Would I make friends?

Julia Li at the Pringles Factory in Jackson, TN

Julia Li at the Pringles Factory in Jackson, TN

       Fast forward now to the third week of my internship and I can say that I’ve made one of the best decisions of my life.  I am loving my internship and am gaining experience of a caliber I would not have dreamed of.  I literally walked in the first day and hit the ground running.  The amount of resources available at P&G is staggering.  I’m working on energy reductions at the Pringles plant in Jackson, Tennessee, and got to fly to Jackson in the second week of my internship and see the production lines first hand.  I met with sustainability experts, facilities managers, engineers in packaging, and the list goes on.  I am scheduled for two more trips in my short ten week internship.  Moreover, I have made great friends to spend my summer with. 

       The moral of this story is you won’t know until you go.  Life is about new experiences and most of them will be scary, but everything usually works out better than you expected.  I can now be proud of this independent step in my life and have a fantastic addition to my resume, which I can speak to in terms of finance, marketing, and sustainability.

       Stay tuned for an update at the end of the summer …

Guest Blogger, Julia Li, MBA Class of 2011