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by Vault Careers | April 01, 2009


It's MBA summer internship search time. This week, HBS first-year Brent Brown shares his strategy for landing the perfect gig.

Tell us your story: Why are you in business school? What did you do before this?
I was an intelligence officer in the army. I worked in the Middle East and Central and South America, doing counterintelligence for five years. I left the military in March 2000. The military gave me some great experiences, but I knew I would not make it a career. As a result, I began to explore several opportunities and eventually decided to go for a MS in Engineering part time from 1997 to 1998 to give me some additional leverage once I separated from the service.

How did you manage to work in the military and get a Master's Degree at the same time?
I used the weekends and evenings mostly. I took classes at SMU in Texas through a new system they established within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. My attendance at the school was not required. They would simply FEDEX the videotapes of the classes to me next day air, and I would watch them in the evenings. I spent a great deal of time on the phone with the professors, esp. when more complex subject matter was being taught; but that was ok, because I developed some great relationships with them that way.

According to your resume, you also found time to start your own company.
Yes, after I received my MA, I founded the Venture Consulting Group- a firm that offered strategic consulting and advisory services to new businesses. Through my wife, who worked in the technology arena in Atlanta, it was easy to network and develop relationships by attending several VC-related networking and social events. This was a very small endeavor, but it really gave me some perspective about what the business world was all about.

...So when did you decide to go to Business School?
After working with several companies, I realized that I needed some higher-level skills to really help them take their operations to the next level. In addition, it became readily apparent how important a strong network of relationships is to the success of any business venture. ~What industry do you want to work in? Why?
I am very interested in technology, but I can work in numerous industries that could satisfy that interest. I'm searching for the right fit. I've been attending several functions at school over the last semester, trying to learn as much as I can from company presentations. As I learn about each industry, I consider the skills I have developed over the last few years to determine where I might best be able to apply them in a successful manner.

Do you have a dream job/ dream company?
So far I've been looking for opportunities with established players in the industry. Spending a summer with a large, well known company can be extremely beneficial. With large firm experience, you can increase your [marketability] upon graduation, especially to the smaller tech firms who are looking to take advantage of best practices in a more nimble fast paced environment.

Because of the economy, however, it is harder to get the big name jobs right now. Many of the companies have scaled back their internships this summer, or even cancelled their programs all together. But, I'm not feeling too much stress. The right opportunity will come along soon.

What stage of the search are you in?
I'm still doing some research right now. I have had several interviews already and have received some offers. I am considering a split summer program that will allow me to explore several areas.

How are you conducting your company and industry research?
Harvard provides an excellent database for research through both the Baker Library and the alumni network. Whatever you seem to be looking for never seems to be more than a phone call or click away. It's fantastic. The cost to go to HBS is clearly worth the resources you are able to leverage.

In addition, I also learn a considerable amount from my section-mates. They are a true source of unbiased information, and a great way to really get a sense of the culture of a given company. Also, I have tried to visit some of the companies in order to conduct some informational interviews. These have provided a way to both learn about the industries and companies, and also develop some great relationships along they way. ~Tell us about your interviews so far.
Most of my interviews happened off campus. The first one was by far the most stressful - I had not done an interview in 11 years. After I got through that one, I realized it's really about fit - you just have to be yourself. If you try to tell the interviewers what they want to hear, it doesn't work. It's been smooth since then.

Recruiters want to see if you can articulate and communicate your thoughts. Because I am coming from a military background, it is critically important for me to explain how my skills and experience relate to their needs.

I had one practice interview - I went into that cold in an effort to really identify my interviewing weaknesses. Needless to say, I had many. The things you think about saying sound so much better in your head than when you actually say them aloud.

One piece of advice: [if you haven't worked in the industry before] no interviewer wants to hear, "I want an opportunity to see what it's like." They want to know that you would actually be a good full-time hire. If they are hiring you for the summer, it's not to let you just try out an industry for three months.

You mentioned that you have to explain how your military experience relates to a company's needs - how have you done that?
I really needed to explain what I could bring to the table with my military background. The leadership and management skills are easily identifiable. In the army, I managed millions of dollars - in machinery and budget - and was responsible for large numbers of people. Yet, traditional business skills were a bit more difficult to articulate. As an intelligence officer, it was important for me to build strong relationships with foreigners abroad. Business is all about building strong relationships.

There are hard skills (crunching numbers, analyzing problems, understanding how to look at a balance sheet), and there are soft skills (the ability to lead, communicate effectively, and work with and understand people). Almost anyone can learn hard skills - it's the soft skills that are in serious demand in the business world today. These are the selling points I have emphasized in my interviews.~Do you find it difficult to balance your job search with homework?
It's not too hard. I generally read and prepare for the next day's classes during the afternoon. The evenings are strictly reserved for social activities with my wife and/or friends. During those times when I really wanted to get some research done, I simply just spent the evening working on my job search rather than at the pub.

It is easier to balance work and school this time of year. During the first semester, you are still trying to get into the groove and manage your time effectively. Because I didn't come from a business background, it was a little more difficult to adjust. But now the class work is a bit different, and my workload is more manageable.

How important is salary?
It is not that critical at this point in time, although I haven't seen anyone willing to work for free. Yet, if there was a huge future benefit that could be derived from taking a low paying job, like the ability to secure a full-time opportunity in a field that does not hire too often, I'd do it.

It is not about whether this company will pay more money than that company - at this stage of the game. It really comes down to establishing yourself. It's more important to find a place where you like the people and you enjoy the job.


Filed Under: Job Search