Business internships -- a twist in the search for jobs and employees

When the annual on-campus recruiting rites begin this winter, a number of businesses and financial institutions will be checking out first-year MBA students with the same degree of interested attention that they have usually applied only to graduating second-year students.

These first-year students are being sought to participate in programs that have become increasingly popular with the larger banks and corporations as top-notch MBAs have become harder to woo -- summer internship programs.

"The MBA today is what the bachelor of science was in the 60s," explains Kate Armstrong, an administrative coordinator in the placement office at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. "It's the thing to have."

Toby Fisher, second vice-president of college relations at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, agrees."In the past 10 years, the MBA has become a very attractive commodity, and recently commercial banking has had some difficulty in attracting the top MBAs."

Consequently, new hiring strategies have been plotted, and one of these is the summer intern program.

These internships vary from company to company, but generally they take some 30 students fresh from the first year of an MBA program at some of the nation's more prestigious business schools and pay them to spend the summer taking an insider's look at the business. These programs may include seminars, luncheon meetings with top level executives, and work experience either on one specific project, or sometimes on a rotating basis in a number of different departments.

Such internships differ from traditional summer jobs in that they are usually financed by the company's personnel department, and the program's administrators don't really expect to get their money's worth in terms of job output.

Chase Manhattan, Chemical Bank, IBM, Xerox, and General Foods are among the corporations now sporting such programs. Growing interest in summer recruitement possiblities can be seen in the fact that while about 35 companies recruited on campus for summer jobs at Harvard University's School of Business four or five years ago, this year over 100 will be coming to hire specifically for summer jobs.

Thomas Talco, assistant dean for placement at Cornell University School of Business, says the real payoff for the corporations involved in such programs comes in "good school relations." Students who have enjoyed their summer experiences become walking, talking advertising for the companies that sponsored them. At Cornell, when second-year MBA students receive an average of four job offers apiece, even a big name employer like Xerox or Chase appreciates the extra edge such good exposure might provide.

It is not unusual for corporations to eventually extend permanent job offers to a third or more of these interns; some of these offers are made at the summer's end, others during the normal recruiting period the following winter.

In spite of the fact that they do offer a head start in the job search, not all students are interested in the internships. Although a chance at a foot in the door with a prestigious corporation is alluring to many MBA candidates, others prefer to spend the summer at a "real" job, scorning the internships as less challenging.

Winn Price, director of placement at Harvard Business School, says a traditional summer job has more appeal for some students because "they get enough of the seminar-type thing in the classroom."

However, there are still many students who do consider the intern option an ideal one. It looks attractive on a resume -- especially because the companies that offer these programs tend to be the very prestigious ones. "Today," Cornell's Mr. Talco points out, "who you work for is often more importan than what you do."

Also, many students see these internships as a kind of experiment, a chance to determine whether the reality of day-to-day experience in the corporation of their dreams measures up to expectations.

Carol Solomon, a second-year MBA student at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology Sloane Graduate School of Business, was one of 36 students to participate last summer in Chase Manhattan's internship program. She calls it a "great introduction to banking."

She and the other interns met and talked to many of Chase's upper-level executives, including David Rockefeller, and the bank's president, Willard Butcher. They were also given much access to workers closer to their own level and thus were able to get a feeling for the kind of job Chase might be able to offer them.

"They took great care of us," he says, recalling that she lunched two or three times each week in Chase's executive dining room.

However -- business students take note. One year in an MBA program does not guarantee a summer of lunches with David Rockefeller. MBAs are not in such short supply as all that. "We're also getting more selecttive," says Toby Fisher.

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