Are you anxious about the upcoming internship season, the uncertainty with shortlisting, the performance pressure, the fear of rejection?
Of course, you are, we all were, we all are for our careers. But you see, the whole internship season is like the “first kiss” with “the employer.” You feel slightly uncomfortable, sweaty, your heart might be racing, and you want to try hard but not too hard. Just go with it. Heck, try and enjoy it if you can. If it doesn’t work out the first time, at least you gave it a shot. No matter how perfect you want your first kiss to be, hiccups are in-built, and the way around it is to take that leap of faith. It’s going to be alright, and you shall be great – one way or another, just sit tight.
Hey there. Have a good read. I’m Shubham, a fourth-year undergraduate pursuing a dual-degree in Energy Science and Engineering. I’ll try to take you through a little journey of mine and a peculiar turn of events from electrochemical research to consulting to business research. One mantra that I followed throughout my life in insti (and otherwise) – explore and eliminate. This summer, I am a research associate at Harvard Business School, and consulting analyst at Mercer – a global consulting firm and subsidiary of global professional services firm Marsh & McLennan.
So, for me, this all started with my last summer internship at UC Berkeley as a research assistant. There, I worked on a project around electrochemical reduction of CO2 to usable automobile fuel (fancy stuff, right? :3). It was a great experience, and I can’t be grateful enough for the opportunity (I wrote a separate entry about it last year – you can find it here https://summerblog.insightiitb.org/uc-berkeley-shubham-gupta/). I was convinced enough to do more research in the field and eventually go for a Ph.D. Still, I wanted to explore other fields to make a more informed decision – old habit – explore and eliminate. The project was about to end, and it was time to bid farewell. As soon as I came back to insti, internship season was round the corner, and there was a LOT of fuzz around consulting, finance and analytics. I already had a taste of analytics in my second-year winter internship at IIT Madras and didn’t like it. So, I started talking to seniors and fell for the idea of engaging with multi-million dollar companies to improve their performance and design strategies in a structured manner. But it turns out, me being a dual-degree student can’t sit for any consulting firm. If I’m honest, it was a little heartbreaking due to the slanted PT cell policy for a certain portion of students.
Anyway, it is what it is. So, after a month-or-so, I got shortlisted for McKinsey Knowledge Center. I was excited as this opportunity was as big as it could ever get for a naïve thirdie. Still, the project description was unclear in the IAF, so I asked for more details from the interviewer. He was nice and we had a good discussion around it, but I realized this isn’t something I am looking for. So, I gently requested to withdraw my application and stated my inclination towards other domains. He respected that and complimented my photography skills – yeah, at the start of my interview he asked me to click a couple of photos of anything in the LT because it was on my resume. So, take away, NEVER-EVER-LIE on your resume, and always be genuine in your approach – if you don’t like something, then it’s completely fine to say NO instead of weeping later. Desperation is not attractive. When you’re seeking a job, you’re not asking someone to do a favor for you; you’re offering the company something they want in exchange for getting something you want. Also, don’t just go for a company just because all of your friends are going.
After taking some time off to analyze the situation, I decided to start apping in the same research field and explore consulting in my fourth-year summer. It wasn’t my first apping, so I knew how things would go, and after sending 100s of emails, I finally decided to go to ETH Zurich. Things were good; I started the application and visa procedure. Rolling to March, even after we were sent home, I was optimistic about joining my position in May – clearly a poor judgment there. It was late March when things started to fall apart piece-by-piece; first, I got an email about preponed summer vacation; then I got an email from ETH about cancellation of all summer intake; and lastly, out of the blue I fell really sick due to some rare joint infection and had to take complete bed rest for god knows how long. This was the hardest time I have ever faced in my memory. First, it was hard to accept all these facts, and then there was just a numbness within, to not be able to do anything – to break this line of thought, I decided to start some reading or watch a movie or do anything apart from lying there and thinking. It took me around 2 months to stand on my own, and I also learned why it’s hard for robots to walk unaided, haha – each step indeed matters. Also, it taught me it is okay to not do anything productive for a while, take a break, and lay there in pajamas all day.
It was mid-May and the time to gear up as I desperately needed an internship. I knew I can’t do an internship in my research field as it majorly involves laboratory experiments. So, the new plan was to find some work to enrich my understanding of business strategies. I started to target some boutique consulting firms and non-profit foundations on LinkedIn. Simultaneously, I started apping at top B-Schools (I’ll write a separate blog exclusively focused on apping). To my surprise, I got a slightly positive response from HBS within 10 days, and followed by a casual Skype interview, primarily pertaining to my interests and the value I could add – I got confirmation. And the very next day I closed Mercer position – that was the best weekend :)). I went for both the internship as I wasn’t involved anywhere else and thought it’d be nice to experience two close-but-very-different work cultures.
Why HBS? Work at HBS?
Because, why not? It is one of the best schools in the domain and has a wide range of areas to work on a specialized topic. I targeted professors working in the field of business strategies. My sole motivation was to understand what it takes in decision making. Yes, apping is full of rejection, but the key is to look for honest-to-goodness motivation and be consistent.
Coming to my work, I am working as a Research Associate with one of the professors for a duration of 4 months. Yeah, not a typical 2-month thing mainly because the project needed longer commitment for completion. I am developing a case study focused on the expansion strategy adopted by a leading technology company for the Asia-Pacific market. HBS case study is a teaching vehicle that presents MBA students with a critical management issue and provides the faculty with the opportunity to assess and develop ideas. My work started with reading a couple of cases relevant to my project to get a sense of how things roll out. It was fascinating; a case is basically a detective novel where a protagonist makes a certain life-or-death decision for the company. I soon started my research to first understand the company’s operation from the surface level, along with that I have discussion sessions with my guide to build a storyline and structure the case with a balanced mixture of industries, topics, geographies, etc. As it is essential to figure out the sequence to reveal things; ensure you give enough backstory to draw people in; set up enough tension around the key question, and be sure to have left enough clues scattered through the text to ensure that your audience can figure out what you need them to. I am currently about to complete phase 1 of the internship, i.e., digging up the company’s critical operations, product launch, and people involved in a particular geography. And the next stage would be interviewing relevant people from the company responsible for a specific strategy to understand their line-of-thoughts.
While working remotely, communication is the key. You might get a lot of autonomy, and in the process, the project might slack here-and-there. In my case, the guide has provided me all the resources, and now, a lot of work is to do research at my end – so he rarely contacts me, but I try to send him updates every third-day to just stay in touch. Sometimes, I don’t have anything particular to ask, but after talking to him, I always get a fresh perspective to mold the project or fill the gaps – it’s always good to stay connected. Secondly, always try to clear the expectations from the start, like it might be possible they are just looking for basic research, or it could be extensive with all the citations – these small things change the whole process. So far, my work as an RA has allowed me to expand on my background and exposed me to how decisions are made at a senior level. And it feels good to be part of HBS culture.
If you like to explore and understand an industry from a business lens then an internship at a B-School won’t fail you. I believe It provides you a balance between industry, academia, finance, and quantitative thinking – as at the end of the day you have to crunch some numbers to assess the situation. I have attached a couple of programs that might be helpful – I was way too late for the application.
Stanford Graduate School of Business: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/programs/research-fellows
Harvard Business School: https://www.hbs.edu/global/Pages/interns.aspx
Closing up, I believe we all like to have a blueprint and know exactly what we need to do and how. We like certainties. But a career is not like getting on a flight to Delhi, taking an auto to HN, or ordering a pizza. Here, we can’t know exactly what’s the next opportunity lined up. We can’t know exactly what we are meant for. What we can do is keep exploring our interests, make the best use of resources around us, and eventually things would make sense. This isn’t the last job you are going to do, this is just a start. KEEP HUSTLING.
A curious mind,
If you’re still here, thank you for bearing with me through this long article – it stretched longer than I had planned. I hope this will help you on your journey. Feel free to reach out for any queries.