Q&A With a Top Intern
by Phil Stott
In recent weeks, I have focused on the internship program at Northwestern Mutual—a firm that has featured in our list of our Top 10 internship programs every year since its inception. We have seen what goes into making the program, and also found out what it's like to participate in the program. To complete this exclusive look inside the firm, this week and next, I will be sharing interviews I conducted with a current Northwestern Mutual intern, and a full-time advisor at the firm who made the transition from the internship program.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Bilal Afolabi, a current intern with Northwestern Mutual. Here is a transcript of our conversation about his experiences with the program:
PS: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
BA: I was born in Togo, Africa and moved to the United States when I was eight years old. I was fortunate enough for English to come naturally to me because at that point all I spoke was French and my native language Ewe. I am pursuing a finance degree with a minor in economics at Central Connecticut State University. I have been interning at Northwestern Mutual since the summer of 2012.
PS: How did you find out about the internship with Northwestern?
BA: I found out about the internship my freshmen year of college through networking with the seniors at the time. One of my friends invited me to the internship recruitment event because he saw how eager I was to have an internship my freshman year.
The fact that it was one of the top 10 internships in the country played a huge role in my decision to take it. I was pursuing other internships, but this was the best decision I could have made.
PS: I know that Northwestern recruits a lot of its interns for full time positions. Given your experiences so far, is that something that you are interested in pursuing?
BA: I am definitely aiming for a fulltime position. I love it here and it is difficult for me to visualize doing anything else at this point in my career.
PS: What does a typical day look like for you?
BA: A typical day for me is to show up at 8 am and record my activity from the previous day. I then reach out to clients to set up meetings and then I work on expediting the turnaround of my policies in underwriting. I then leave the office to go to class and after class I usually see about three clients a day. Our meetings tend to be around either setting up financial plans, taking actions on my recommendations, or purely networking.
PS: Do you think the experiences you have had so far would prepare you for other careers, or are they specific to this company?
BA: The experiences I have had so far are very transitional. I feel prepared for other careers if I was put in that situation. I realize this when I meet other companies and I tell them I am currently interning with Northwestern Mutual, it draws attention. Other companies want Northwestern Mutual interns, especially successful ones.
PS: What has been your biggest challenge on the internship so far?
BA: My biggest challenge so far has been realizing how much more I actually know about finance compared to other individuals. There are many Americans that could really use the advice and recommendations from Northwestern Mutual interns based on the training we receive.
PS: Is it difficult to balance the internship with school and other priorities?
BA: It is difficult, but it is manageable. I am very active on my campus with organizations I am a part of as well, but time management is key. It takes effort and structure but the results are always worth it.
PS: I saw that you received an award at the firm's annual meeting this year. What was that like?
BA: The annual meeting was phenomenal. I achieved the Impact 40, which is the highest level that an intern can achieve, so I was honored on stage. I also had the chance to meet advisors from other offices throughout the country. It was great to get tips and advice from them, and to see the possibilities and examples of success.
PS: Any tips for others who might be thinking about the internship?
My tip would be that after you receive training from Northwestern Mutual, you will be so much more knowledgeable in financial services than just about anyone you know. Reach out to everyone to help them and in return you'll help yourself.
This post was sponsored by Northwestern Mutual