Do I Need to Intern in the Industry I Want to Work in?

Career & Internship

Do I Need to Intern in the Industry I Want to Work in?

During my junior spring at Duke University, I was stressed out. Campus was buzzing as students prepared for interviews in the finance and consulting worlds. Earlier that year, I had secured a fully funded internship in South America working with a small non-profit. As a public policy major, I was really excited to work in the public sector. And the international travel was a huge part of why I wanted to apply to the program in the first place. However, that spring, I started doubting my decision.

That said, the rumor mill started up and I kept hearing that most firms hire all their interns and don't have any spaces for seniors applying to their firm. Did I make a mistake? Did I close some doors by following my passions to South America?

Fast forward to senior fall when on campus recruiting was in full swing. My internship turned out to be a little disappointing - the organization didn't have much work for the interns to do and my supervisor was new so he was just learning the ins and outs of his role. My experiences over the summer had me leaning towards a post grad job with more structure and with a formal new hire program.

I had heard a lot about consulting and my parents had always suggested it as something I should consider. After some reflection and soul searching I decided to focus on consulting roles (and a few other business rotational programs). Because I didn't have previous relevant work experience and majored in something so different, I found the hardest question to prepare for was the "why consulting?" question.

I had to make clear to interviewers that this job was something I wanted to do even though my past experiences and resume didn't necessarily support that. In the end, I came up with something along the lines of the following: as a public policy major, I was passionate about finding a role in the public sector. However, my internship last summer made me realize that I also want to find a role that will have a steep learning curve and will challenge me right off the bat with lots of responsibility. I feel like consulting is one of the few areas where new hires are expected to start performing within teams immediately and own portions of the project. Although I am still interested in the public sector, it's something that I think I will participate in with my free time and potentially return to after business school when I can contribute to the organizations at a higher level where I feel the most value is added.

I spent a long time figuring out how to craft that answer. One that explained my decision to change my path and also expressed my interest in the current role I was applying for. In the end, I found that it was a good (and honest) answer and told a story about who I was and why I was in that interview room. They also usually asked "why consulting" as one of the first questions so it was a good segway into questions about my international work experience, etc.

I ended up with a few offers for roles that, on paper, I may not have seem qualified for. However, I was able to shape my personal story and make it clear I wanted to challenge myself and was ready for the role. And as I start a job with crazy work hours, in retrospect I'm really happy that I was able to live in South America for two months last summer while doing a very low-stress job.

Although I wrote specifically about the transition from non-profit to consulting, I think it is applicable to most changes.

In summary:

  1. Think about a way to articulate your decision to apply for a job that is different from what you've done before.
  2. Be able to relate your past experiences to things you would be doing in the role you're applying for (be it leadership at school, sports, etc). Though it might seem on paper that you don't have a lot of relevant experiences, think about how you can frame it in a way that actually makes you more unique.
  3. Do your homework and be prepared! You will be competing with candidates that have interviewed with similar (or the same) company before. So make sure you find out as much as you can from recent graduates what the company looks for and any curveballs they might throw in an interview.
  4. Consulting specific: some people focus solely on case prep and forget to prepare for the behavioral questions. These are important too and can set you apart from others that do just as well on the case.