MBA recruiting programs focus almost entirely on on-campus recruiting. Students are wined and dined literally on day #1 by large companies such as McKinsey, BCJ, General Mills, JP Morgan. It's an unbelievable process with expensive dinners, networking sessions, mountains of shwag. Remember, MBA programs are designed to help people prepare for the very careers these companies are offering. The integration of the career development office and the structure of the MBA program is almost seamless. Most of that process takes place in the fall, culminating in on-campus interviews in late January.
By the time you get to April/May/June when startups are ready to seriously think about hiring interns, the vast majority of the class already has their BigCo internship. And because those BigCo internships will most likely lead to full-time offers, those MBAs have a sense of certainty and stability that can be very alluring. They have large paychecks coming, pre-internship retreats at fancy resorts, Facebook groups filled with successful, attractive people, mentor assigned, etc.
There are two types of MBAs that apply for a startup job in the late spring: those that failed at snagging a BigCo internship and those that deliberately waited. For the former, they are beaten down and depressed, desperately looking for a plan B. For the latter, they deserve kudos for sticking to their guns. Regardless of whether it was deliberate or not, an MBA pursuing an internship needs to understand that the process can take just as much work as getting a BigCo internship--only, there's no career development process bringing startups to campus to make it super easy.
I've seen most MBAs fail at getting good internships with early stage startups.
I had an MBA come into our office a couple of weeks ago to seek advice on getting an internship with a startup this summer. I asked him what he wanted to do, and he responded:
"I'm willing to do anything. I could help do analysis, anything with excel/powerpoint, could help raise money--really anything. I just want to be involved."
Let's translate this sentence from the perspective of a founder:
Willing to do anything: You have no idea what we do on a day-to-day basis and you'll need me to figure out something to do to keep you busy.
I could help do analysis, anything with excel/powerpoint: You basically have two skills, both involving Microsoft office products. You'll spend a week on the most complex, gorgeous spreadsheet I've ever seen, totally ignoring that fact that it's garbage in, garbage out.
could help raise money: You think that your presentation skills are so good that you'd be better in front of investors than the actual founder. You don't understand that investors look for determination, passion, technical ability, and authenticity.
I just want to be involved: Your classmates have sweet-ass internships with consulting firms and banks, getting paid $25k to party all summer. You're making a huge sacriface to be here. We should be so lucky to have you! We just have to make sure we keep you entertained all summer.
There's a place for an MBA like this--it's just with a bigger company that has a more formalized internship program. Series A and pre-funded startups don't have time for this sort of mindset. They need 100% of the people on board building stuff, not strategizing on stuff. A non-technical startup person needs to be kicking ass on user experience mock-ups, business development, marketing, social media, SEO. They should be bringing their execution skills to the table, not asking for a good learning experience.
Contrast this with a hacker that contacted us recently for an internship. He first contacted us through twitter by RT'ing us and responding to interesting posts. He then showed us his open source projects and then offered to spend his spring break hacking with us. In two weeks, he really helped us move forward on some big architecture problems. I would do anything for him--hire him, recommend him, anything. I've never seen his resume, read his cover letter, or checked a reference on him. But he knew how to contribute.
MBAs! You too can contribute through an internship! But YOU have to go the extra mile.
A few suggestions for getting a job with a startup:
1. Pick the right size of start-up where your current skill set can be utilized
2. Read the startup's blog and add to the discussion with insightful comments
3. Follow the founders on Twitter and RT and @respond when appropriate
4. Engage with the general startup community: Build up your twitter account, blog readership, and Hacker News karma score
5. Learn the startup's actual challenges by talking to people in advance of requesting an internship
6. Propose your own internship project
7. Do an unsolicited proof-of-abilities project in photoshop or balsamiq if you want to be product manager
8. Do an unsolicited SEO analysis if you want to do marketing
9. Be respectful but uber-persistant
10. Move to where you want to work
11. Accept the fact that the best opportunities become available in May and June
12. Get other founders to highly recommend you
13. Throw away your resumes and cover letters--they're no longer needed.
Most importantly, try to internalize the risks a startup CEO faces when bringing in a non-technical MBA intern. The actual cost is probably not much if the company has already raised money and if the internship is subsidized by the MBA program. The real cost is in focus, time, and company culture. Getting a startup to devote their time to you is a huge risk to them and you need to prove that that risk is worth it.
In contrast, a large company will treat its internship program as mostly an advanced hiring process. You don't actually need to contribute that much since the internship is little more than an extended interview process. For startups, they can't even think about hiring that far into the future, so you have to be worth it on contributed value alone.
Find discussion of this post on Hacker News.
I'm Jason Freedman. I co-founded FlightCaster.
I would be remiss not to recommend the following opportunity: @JasonFreedman.
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