The future of jobs: internships, the new final job interview
The Business Standard newspaper hosts a B-School Summer Project Competition every year, sponsored by Crompton Greaves. B schools across the country are encouraged to send in what they consider to be their “best summer internship project report”. As readers know, most two-year MBA programs have a mandatory 6-8 week industry internship. This often carries a full credit or two, so students and faculty take it very seriously.
Business Standard gets around 150 reports [one per school] B schools spread across India. These are reviewed by a knowledge partner and 15 of them are then selected and sent to a jury for review.
I have been fortunate enough to be part of the jury for a few years now. The other members of the jury include business leaders from digital, consulting, banking, IT and human resources. Of the 15, six are selected for a final presentation to the jury and other guests from B schools.
Over the years, I have witnessed a transformation in the quality of these summer project reports. This year, I thought a cohort affected by COVID would have struggled to find and complete solvent projects. But I was pleasantly surprised. The projects were all carried out in May / July 2020 by current students.
A theme common to all the projects was the use of data and analysis. Whether it was to study the quality of suppliers in an automotive company or to study employee attrition rates to help people with disabilities, the jury was impressed by the diligence of the students. What was a revelation was that many of the projects presented had immediate application: one presenter even quantified the financial impact of her project.
No more scramble for placement
It is more evident than ever now that summer internships are no longer distributed by Indian companies in favor of B schools. What does this mean for the whole summer internship process?
More and more companies are starting to use summer internships to get new projects executed at a fraction of the initial cost. More importantly, unlike in the pre-COVID era, companies now use the summer internship process to assess a candidate’s suitability for permanent employment. And B schools no longer only measure placements, but also the number of students able to land a PPO, a pre-placement offer.
Students are congratulated for turning a summer internship into a PPO. The B-Schools proudly announce, in their internal newsletters, that “our students could convert 70% of summer internships into PPO”.
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This number becomes significant as many companies accept double the number of summer interns they previously held. Thus, the chances of converting to PPO are 50% or less. Yet some companies have completely abandoned the final year placement process and are betting entirely on their summer interns to fill vacancies.
This process of front loading the recruiting system has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you are able to assess a candidate through a deep immersion and not just through a 40-minute interview. the Indian Journal of Industrial Relations (April 2020) in an article on ‘Internship conversion ‘ says that already 33% of all internships in B schools take place as summer internships.
This path is also said to reduce the “ internal shock ” and help young MBA entrants to a company to develop realistic expectations of their job. But companies should also be aware that if a student, after their summer internship, is assured of a final placement offer, he or she can simply sleep during their second year.
Four-part assessment process
Companies who complete the internship in the PPO process have honed some of the critical aspects of evaluating their interns. On the one hand, the projects are well thought out and have an internal owner. Second, the intern has an internal supervisor who checks them weekly or more often. Third, the company wants the intern to also have a teacher as a supervisor, who the intern can talk to, to clarify any doubts. Fourth, each project should be evaluated at the end and the trainee should present their findings.
It’s almost like a final interview and companies that want to go this route need to have systems and processes in place to ensure that these four steps are followed rigorously.
So what should B schools do if the summer internship is going to become the critical window for getting a job?
The best B schools have created two parallel student support flows before the start of the internship. First, senior students (who are all on campus in their second year) are strung together to lead sessions on the dos and don’ts of an internship. Second, teachers take sessions on the importance of the internship and the tools needed to do well. Young graduates are also mobilized to conduct mock interviews and training sessions.
This brings us back to the most important player in this game. The student.
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Students are ready to face the test by fire when they enter one of the best B schools. They know they will face intense competition for the best jobs. When this author was doing his MBA (1977-79), the most favored companies on campus were Hindustan Lever [now HUL], CitiBank, AF Ferguson, Godrej, Nestlé, TAS, Madura Coats, ITC, Asian Paints.
It was therefore interesting to review the list in Forbes India (April 2021). The top ten dream companies to work for according to B-School student reviews were Google, HUL, Amazon, McKinsey, BCG, Microsoft, ITC, TAS, Goldman Sachs, and P&G.
Thousands of students will likely try these great companies. My first tip is not to become obsessed with a “dream business”. You may not be able to get an internship with them. Be prepared to pivot. Better than having a “dream business” obsession, have a “dream industry” orientation.
A few simple rules
Some B schools encourage students to dive into a dream business analysis; it’s too narrow. The first year of MBA training should be used to study as wide a range of management topics as possible, instead of obsessing over search engine optimization or consulting paradigms.
The first decision the student must make is what internship opportunities are you going to look for? Choose only those that you will be happy to get a PPO for.
Once you’ve landed an internship, what should you do? Before you even start, you need to do enough homework on the business to be well prepared. A simple step is to talk to seniors who did an internship at the same company the previous year. What did they learn? How did they transform an internship into a PPO?
An HBR John Coleman’s article (July 11, 2016) has very simple tips on what to do when you start your internship.
- Treat your internship with the seriousness it deserves, so start with relentless punctuality.
- Always be on time with your assignments and give 100%.
- Complete every assignment or project with excellence in mind.
- Do more work, without being asked: deliver more than what you were asked to do
- Be resourceful: go the extra mile, before asking questions, try to find the answers yourself. Use the time with your supervisor well, invest in learning as much as you can.
- Finally, use the internship to build professional relationships in the company.
Pavitra [name changed] got a summer internship at a large pharmaceutical company with another student from his Mumbai-based B school. Pavitra was assigned to Delhi and her classmate in Mumbai, the company’s headquarters. Both did a good job. Pavitra probably did a better job, but it was the other student who got the PPO.
When I asked what could be the reason, Pavitra made a good observation. She felt that she had spent all her eight weeks in Delhi and hadn’t even been to the company headquarters once. It was his loss. Her friend had spent time building relationships in the company on many levels, which earned her the title of PPO. Pavitra had no great regrets but learned a life lesson from this non-PPO experience.
I know smart students who work hard on their internships. They also use resources that will help them score points with their supervisors. Ravi (name changed) was in the company of his dreams but had a tough branding challenge. He did his homework and reached out to people like his consumer behavior teacher, who helped him develop new ideas for the brand. He made the PPO cut.
In the future, it is likely that, as in B-Schools in the United States, 70% of the final placement will be through the PPO route. Students should therefore consider each summer internship as a potential PPO. As PPOs become the norm, it is all the more important for businesses and B-Schools to ensure that second-year MBA courses don’t become a chore.