Five Tips for Landing a Successful Supply Chain Internship

From the Editor: Our Smart Moves column usually features insights from academic experts, but this month we feature a student’s perspective. MBA candidate Sweta Ashwarya’s sound advice on finding an internship applies to anyone delving into their professional network to pursue career advancement.

Albert Einstein once said, "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." This statement reflects the educational focus of the past century: Students were taught to be "book smart," but often lacked the business savvy real-world experience could provide. The best way to equip supply chain students with this knowledge is to provide them with internships.

For undergraduate and sometimes post-graduate college students, internships are temporary positions—typically held over summer break, but often longer—that offer the opportunity to work in a role that aligns with their career goals. Internships help supply chain students evaluate the nature, culture, work environment, and career advancement opportunities within an organization. Some even lead to an offer of full-time employment after graduation.

As an MBA student with a concentration in supply chain management at the University of San Diego (USD), I sought an internship to gain hands-on work experience on industry projects; learn new skills, tools, and best practices in a new or related industry; meet and learn from other talented interns attending top-notch business schools; and network with people in the industry.

Steps in the Right Direction

In my experience, these five tips can help supply chain students find the right internship.

  1. Be focused and realistic, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Starting with a list of approximately 20 companies, I began networking through LinkedIn, USD faculty, alumni, classmates, friends, and family. I researched the companies, including their executives and job descriptions, then contacted people inside and outside my network who were connected to my target list.

    I also consulted with USD Career Services regularly, and met with faculty to get advice for streamlining my search. Joel Sutherland, managing director of USD’s Supply Chain Management Institute, was my self-appointed mentor. Asking him to help me connect with people in the industry resulted in numerous interviews and multiple internship offers.

  2. Develop a plan that aligns with your personal strengths and professional goals. Speaking with people from different industries gave me great insight into various jobs and the roles I might play. This helped narrow my list to seven companies in which I could network extensively.

    I also targeted diverse industries that aligned with my skills, interests, and goals. It didn’t make sense to accept just any internship. I wanted an internship that would best use my skills and provide valuable experience to help achieve my career goals.

  3. Take the initiative. No one cares more about your career than you do. Networking is tough and exhausting—until it becomes a hobby.

    I took the initiative to connect with people during organized events, conferences, and seminars. I was prompt and professional in my email responses, and dedicated time every day to work on my internship search.

  4. Don’t get frustrated, never give up, work hard. My first interview was a phone screening with Facebook. Because I had not practiced interviewing over the phone, it was a disaster. My answers were not crisp or brief, and we ran out of time. And, because I’m an international student, the interviewer may not have understood my accent.

    I quickly realized I needed to work on my interviewing skills. I consulted with a more experienced international student to help me prepare and share insights into the interview process. I also reached out to family and friends who helped me conduct mock interviews over the phone and face-to-face.

  5. Supply chain jobs are not limited to one industry, so stretch your search parameters. I applied to multiple companies in several industries, including electronics manufacturing, social media, food producers, and fashion startups.

Lessons Learned

While interview questions might have their own nuances based on a specific industry, proven supply chain practices and principles typically apply to every industry. As a result, I attracted offers from six of my seven targeted companies, and eventually chose to intern at eBay.

Internship windows of opportunity are limited, and you need to be organized, fearless, and tenacious in pursuing opportunities before they are gone. Because of my experience, I am committed to mentoring students seeking their own internship opportunities.

Industry professionals highly value internship experience in prospective employees, according to a recent survey of supply chain executives by USD’s School of Business Administration and the Supply Chain Management Institute.

To help develop proven supply chain talent, many organizations are establishing internship programs. Find the one that best suits your goals, and use your professional network to make it happen.

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