Brace Yourselves, Summers Are Coming!

So you went through the summer placement process, dealt with grueling group discussions and nerve-wrecking interviews, and emerged triumphant at the other end with an internship offer at a prestigious company!

Now is the time you want to kick back and enjoy everything else a B-school has to offer, and while you are entitled to do that, it is imperative to register what is coming around the corner- the actual internship. You will have 8 weeks to work on your allotted project wherein you will hopefully learn a whole lot about your domain, the corporate life and most importantly, yourself. And at the end, if you have worked very hard, you will be rewarded with a pre-placement interview (PPI) or a pre-placement offer (PPO) from the company.

Getting a PPO is easier said than done. Looking at numbers, the PPO conversion rate can be as low as 10 percent, i.e. only one intern in ten lands a pre-placement opportunity. The best conversion rate among companies is around 25 percent. And then there are some ‘crazy’ stories as well. A graduate from a premiere B-school interned in a famous Indian conglomerate puts it into context for us, “Summers can get really crazy. A role of dice decides what company you will be allotted a project in, and you soon realise that some companies are held dearer than others. We were placed in 23 companies but interns from only the top 8 received PPOs. When I entered my post summers interview and announced my company’s name, half the panel didn’t know it existed! Moreover I had received an operations project but I was interviewed by the head of communications and the head of finance, neither of whom knew a lot about operations!”

Usually right amidst the happy ones who ‘lurvved’ their summers, you will seem to find plenty of interns who say, “It’s very random, yaar”, “My mentor wasn’t available”, “My tutor did not give me much time” etc. Yes there are external factors that are uncontrollable, but hard work and dedication always shines through. With the right attitude and preparation you can get the best out of your summers, and a PPO is just a natural culmination of a really good internship.

The truth is that as an intern you aren’t so much being judged on your specific project, or on the role you hope to land a PPO for. You are being judged for your potential for learning & growth that you show. As Keith Bevans, the global head of consultant recruiting for Bain & Co put it, “It’s not about showing you can learn a job in 10 weeks. It’s about showing you can learn the job when you arrive full time.” In this article we will cover a few things you can do to get your head into the game and the next article would put light on the best practices one should follow on a day to day basis in the internship, to get the most out of the summers.

Get…Set…Go!

You might have talked to your seniors and they would have told you how grueling the internship is. As one final year student succinctly put it, “They drop you into the deep end of the pool, and expect you to figure out how to swim”. The company has spent a lot of time and money to carefully select, from a pool of hundreds of students, the chosen few from the premiere B-schools of India. You will have eight weeks to prove your mettle. On one hand this is a much larger time frame than a single interview. Students who are nervous in interviews would consider the summer internship to be a blessing in disguise. Your work speaks for you, even if words fail you. It is hard to keep a good candidate down!

On the other hand, all the summer interns working with you in the company hail from premiere B-schools and are equally eager to land a PPO. This is a conundrum even the company faces – how do you choose among a pool of meritorious candidates? The difference comes from subtle shifts in attitude and behaviour. Interns who are well-prepared and have an enthusiastic bent of mind stand out from the very first day. As any psychologist will tell you, first impressions are important. Humans tend to stubbornly cling on to their first impressions about another. If we form a positive attitude towards someone, it will take a larger proportion of contrary evidence for us to change our opinion. We intuitively tend to retain information that confirms our initial opinion and dismiss contrary information as mere coincidence. This works both ways, however, so you should try hard to form positive first impressions. Ask the right questions and act proactively to create a good first impression.

A summer internship is kind of a trial period, where the company can closely observe the work ethic and behaviour of prospective employees and employ the few who they feel would be a good fit for the company’s culture. You can consider it an extended evaluation of sorts; and a lot of top Indian companies only hire full-time employees from their pool of summer interns

Remember, time isn’t a friend for summer interns. It takes interns a couple of weeks to understand the work and get attuned to the work culture, and it isn’t uncommon to realize that half of the internship duration is over before you even figure out a plan of action for your project and decide how to go about it. Hence ever so much reason to get going right from the start.

Seniors Are a Treasure Trove of Knowledge

Your seniors can provide you with a lot of insights about the summer internship. They were in the same place you are but a year ago, and are familiar with the apprehensions that are currently plaguing you. While it is important that you learn the number of corporate parties the company organises and which food items to try out in the cafeteria, also try and find out the kind of problems your seniors faced during the internship. Ensure that you have lengthy conversations with all previous interns in the same company and/or domain. For example, if your summer internship is in Airtel try to speak to previous interns not only from Airtel but also Vodafone, Idea and other telecom firms. Learn from them about the work culture and the projects they undertook.

Try and talk to multiple people to avoid being influenced by biased opinions, and also to get a more holistic idea about the company/domain.Ask probing questions and try to understand the subtleties of the work culture. It will help you avoid making the same mistakes and identify early cues that you may be doing something wrong.

Start Stocking Up On Ammunition:

Pull up your socks and start prepping skills which might be useful during your summer internship. Microsoft Excel, for example, is something all sales and marketing interns need to be able to use comfortably. Before the start of your internship learn how to use tools like ‘What-if’ analysis, solver, pivot tables and conditional formatting. YouTube videos can be a good resource that you can use.

To get into the groove, read up on popular success stories of brands and campaigns that were successfully executed. Online newsletters and websites like Afaqs, AdAge etc. are good sources to keep up with the marketing current affairs, but remember to try to create your own perspective on the marketing news you read. It is also important to learn about sales and distribution networks, since a majority of sales and marketing interns are given sales projects. Revise statistics and learn how to conduct research. A lot of marketing interns are required to conduct consumer research and administer surveys. Pre-reading on the topic will help you avoid common mistakes that interns often make while creating surveys, for example choosing a biased sample, asking leading questions that lead to inaccurate results etc.

Last but not the least, read up about the company. It is important to know the values the company stands for and the traits they value. Read up on their product portfolio and different CSR activities. This knowledge will help you make conversation, if needed, with the HR, and also portray you as someone eager to join the company.

To conclude we would like to stress that you only get one summer internship. It is a unique learning opportunity, unlike any other you will get during your MBA tenure. This is when you get to try out in real time all that you have learnt in theory. It gives you a sneak-peek into the domain and helps you decide what kind of a career you want to pursue. While this is an opportunity for the company to decide whether you are a good fit for the organization, the intern too gets to judge whether this is the company and domain he/she wants to work in. It helps you develop the skills you require to succeed in the workplace afterwards.

Remember you only reap what you sow. Hard work during your summer internship and the preparation you put in beforehand will not only help you learn invaluable skills and gain experience in the domain but in most cases will also translate into a PPO. Dedicated efforts will surely be rewarded. Go forth confidently, and conquer!

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