Finding the Right MBA Internship: A Framework – Alex Dea, Kenan-Flagler ’15

Each fall, thousands of MBA students embark on a tried and true ritual of finding a summer internship. The internship is a vital, hands-on learning experience for an MBA student, and provides a test drive for a student before deciding in which direction to head upon graduation.

Selecting an internship is an exciting but challenging experience; however, there are plenty of resources to help you find the right opportunity. Most MBA programs have career management staff and other resources dedicated to helping students find the right internships. Furthermore, these resources are augmented with today’s digital job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed and resources like Relish MBA which not only provide internship postings but also give you plenty of content and advice on the key job hunting topics such as interviewing, cover letters, and networking. Due to these resources, the issue for students isn’t about finding internship opportunities, but rather, sorting through the myriad of good opportunities to find the opportunities that are most desirable and relevant.

The Framework

As someone who has gone through the internship search process I’ve often been asked how to know which internships to pursue and target. This is a loaded question, and one that ultimately depends on one’s own desires and interests. To help people sort through these question I’ve developed a framework that can be used to evaluate internship opportunities. The framework consists of five key criteria:

Role – If you know you are very specific about the work you want to do, consider searching first on the role or position. For instance, do you know you are great with data and love numbers? Consider looking specifically at consumer insights/analytics positions. Are you interested in finance? Well, then look at financial analyst positions.

Function – Some people prefer to be functionally aligned. Perhaps you know you enjoy marketing but aren’t necessarily tied to a particular role or position. Or, maybe you like a number of roles within marketing. Aligning yourself to a function is less specific than aligning yourself to a role, but provides you with some level of specificity. Furthermore, there are many “leadership programs” that are functionally aligned (ex: marketing leadership program, operations leadership program.) These are great opportunities to get a diverse set of experiences within a particular function.

Industry – Some people know they want to work in a particular industry (ex: technology, financial services.) Maybe you are less concerned about the day-to-day work, but have a particular preference toward working in a specific industry. For those coming from consulting backgrounds – this is a great way to parlay your past consulting experience into an MBA internship. Ex: if you’ve worked on previous engagements for healthcare companies, consider a healthcare internship.

Geography – Are you drawn to a particular part of the world? Consider focusing on the geography of the companies you target. Geography is often correlated with industry. For example, many technology companies are based in Silicon Valley while many financial services companies are based in New York. If you’re considering industry or geography, it probably makes sense to consider the complementary criteria.

Size – Are you someone who enjoys knowing every single person in your company? Do you want to work for a company with significant resources and a prestigious brand name? The size of a company plays a critical role in the pace of the day-to-day work along with the kinds of interactions you have with your fellow colleagues. At a 10-person startup, you might have lunch with your entire company every day. At a 100,000-person organization, you might get to work from home but never meet your colleagues face to face. When thinking about the type of work environment that best suits your needs and skills, size is often a critical factor. Note: This is probably one of the more subjective measures. For example, I worked for a 25,000-person company; so when I interned for a 15,000-person one this past summer I considered that “small,” which would probably be “huge” for someone working at a 5-person startup.

Guidance – After thinking through these measures and searching for positions, the next thing you want to do is align each position to how many of the criteria they fit. Here are some suggested guidelines/rules of thumb:

5/5 – Awesome! While it’s not impossible to find the “perfect internship” it doesn’t happen for everyone. If you feel like you hit all five then go for it!

4/5 – You’re in great shape. Sure, you didn’t go 100%, but it looks like you’ve found an internship that really aligns with what you’re looking for. Make sure you do your homework on that missing bucket.

3/5 – You’re still in good shape. Going 4 or 5/5 is pretty tough, but I think as long as you have 3 you’ve aligned yourself to an opportunity that fits within the direction you’re looking to pursue with an internship. Make sure to do your due diligence on those two buckets that aren’t met. Probe the company on what can be done to ameliorate any concerns you have about those areas.

2/5 – This is not ideal but it sometimes happens. I think you can still have a position internship with one of these, but it might be a little bit lower of a priority on your last than others.

1/5 – Again, less than ideal. Perhaps this internship isn’t meeting the criteria you’ve set for yourself. Might be time to consider another opportunity.


  • Brand manager for a large CPG company (3/5)
  • Corporate finance for a large tech company on the West Coast (4/5)
  • Product marketing for a West Coast technology startup (5/5)

As you continue to search for internships, consider evaluating and prioritizing opportunities based on these five characteristics. With some self-reflection, preparation and a good work ethic, you will be on your way to finding the right internship opportunity.

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