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Internship Insights: My Internship Search Process

Hong XuBy: Hong Xu MEMP ’15

Yesterday, August 7, marks the end of my summer internship as a data scientist in McKinsey Digital Labs (MDL). This summer in New York City has been a humbling, challenging and a life enriching experience. In retrospect, many things that once looked so daunting and mysterious now seem clearer and more manageable. I think it would be great to write down some of my thoughts and lessons learned here.

First, start early: Compared to most MEMers, I started pretty late – I began actively seeking internships at the start of the spring semester. Like most of us, I attended career fairs, networking events and coaching seminars held by career services. One key takeaway is that you should prepare for interviews even before you eventually get one. In my case, I didn’t hear from any companies regarding interviews until early March. And before I knew it, the interview invitations started flooding in and I remember I had about nine interviews in two consecutive weeks, including interviews with McKinsey that finally got me there. I cannot imagine myself capable of handling all those interviews in such short period of time had I not been consistently practicing.

A waiting game: But I have to admit, before I got to this exciting and intense interviewing phase, there was a long period of nerve-racking waiting, anxious mailbox refreshing and relentless resume submitting. I realized I needed to find myself some “other things” to do during that time. This means sharpening your tools – learning the materials you are going to use in interviews and down the road in your future job. From January to March, I made it routine for me to study data science and prepare for both technical and behavioral interview questions.

The value of research: Understanding the industry you hope to get into is another important task but somehow it is always overlooked. It is not something you can learn intuitively and it requires a lot of proactivity. I studied the company profiles and job descriptions on websites like Glassdoor and Quora. There are also numerous experienced people you can find on LinkedIn, who are working in the roles you are seeking. I was lucky enough to find two of them who were willing to talk to me. They gave me insights into the data scientist/analyst role and the outlook of the industry.

Interviewing preparation: As for the interview experience, I found it more of a natural representation of your personality and knowledge rather than a rehearsed performance. This, of course, is given that the position you interview for is a right match and you know how to master your nerves and tame the butterflies. As for the latter, I learned that there is no magic trick for coming off as confident. It is just practice after practice after practice. Mock interviews definitely help. Talk to your interviewers and ask what they think of your performance. Trust me, you will be surprised by their feedback! I had no clue that my hand gestures were very distracting for the interviewer until after my first mock interview. Learning from actual interviews, no matter how bad they turn out, are of course more important. I finally found myself comfortable talking to people about my relevant experience after I botched several interviews in the beginning.

Making the most of your internship: You have an internship offer and you decide to go with it. Now what? For technical roles, talk to your team, if possible, and learn the tools/environments/stacks you will be working with. Go to career service and seek advice. They hold a pre-internship panel discussion Ready, Set, Intern! as well. Don’t forget about setting expectations and action plans. I set three goals for myself before this summer: get to know the consulting industry and find out if it fits me; understand the applications and impacts of data analytics in different industries; meeting people and establishing lasting relationships. I found I had to remind myself of those goals constantly during the internship.

Internships might not be the most important part of our career, however it is such an invaluable opportunity where you can learn a great amount of knowledge, explore your true passion, and enjoy the early establishment of your career or the freedom to change to another path. The first day at my internship, people told me that being an intern was the best position in the firm. I think I now understand what they meant.

Hong photoSushi making class at McKinsey


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