Thursday, January 27, 2011

Plant Trek, Internships, and Interview Fest

Plant Trek
It has been a surprisingly busy winter break for the LGO '12s. Despite getting nearly seven weeks off from school, we have managed to squeeze in quite a bit of action, primarily during the past three weeks. This started with the annual first-year tradition of the Domestic Plant Trek. I won't write too much about the trip here, since Patrick (one of my classmates -- and my roommate for the two-week trip) has one on the LGO page. Additionally, Braden wrote a blog post at the start of the trip, and a few others will likely post in more detail over the coming weeks.

However, I will quickly say that the Plant Trek was an amazing experience, during which we completely immersed ourselves in everything LGO. We spent nearly every day touring facilities of partner companies (UTC Pratt & Whitney, GM, Ford (not a partner), Boeing, Amazon, Dell, Amgen, and UTC Hamilton Sundstrand), roamed the streets in every corner of the country as large packs at night, and enjoyed each others' company everywhere in between (when not desperately trying to catch up on sleep wherever possible -- see picture on right for a typical sight on the plane rides). Stay tuned for more on this from my classmates.

This past week, while still recovering from the plant trek, we faced an endurance challenge unlike anything most of us have experienced before: "Internship Fest." This was a three-day event in which the first-year LGOs engaged in a speed dating game with representatives from partner companies that are offering this year's internships. In my case, I had 15 20-minute interviews in two days; most others had more.

This rapid-fire interview approach was tiring for both interviewer and interviewee, with both bleary-eyed and on the verge of delirium by the end of each day. Sitting in the LGO office area, I heard a number of interesting stories of exhaustion-induced screw-ups, such as:
  • Forgetting which internship the interview was for
  • Remembering the internship, but using the wrong company's name
  • Interviewee answering a completely different question than was asked
  • Interviewer and interviewee staring blankly at each other for two minutes
I scheduled most of my interviews for early in the day, but I did have a couple of late-afternoon spots, and I nearly lost it right at the start of one of them. Here's what happened: As I walked into the room, I started to take my suit jacket off -- not because I wanted or needed to, I just did it (think: Steve Lyons [see video below], but less embarrassing or revealing). So, rather than do something smooth like continue to take it off and sling it casually over my shoulder, I abruptly stopped and jerked it back on. The interviewer couldn't help but notice my awkwardness and was nice enough to tell me that I could take it off if I wanted to. I mumbled back something weird like, "I don't even know what I'm doing," and we got underway with the interview. Yup, I go to MIT. Interestingly, it turned out to be one of my better interviews. Go figure...

The interviews themselves varied quite a bit from one to the next, and even from student to student with the same interviewer. Typically, the interviewer started in one of two ways -- by asking me to quickly run through my resume or by letting me ask questions about the internship (the latter approach always led to a few terrifying moments of wondering if I had asked about the correct internship). Some interviewers then asked a few typical interview questions, such as "what are three words you would use to describe yourself?" or, "what was a achievement you were proud of?" I liked these questions because I knew the answers. What I didn't like were questions about the company or the internship (e.g. "What do you know about us?" or, "What is our industry's biggest challenge and how can we overcome it?" or, "Why would someone with your background be a good fit for this internship?") As I stumbled through my answers to these questions, I couldn't help but wonder what the interviewer was thinking. Were they embarrassed for me? Did they feel bad, like they had just run over a cute rabbit with their truck? Or, in the least likely case, were they impressed with my improvisational prowess, deciding on the spot that I was their top choice? I'll never know.

Now that the interviews are over, the next step is to rank the internship projects in our order of preference. Simultaneously, the companies are doing the same with our names (a most frightening thought). Then, in a very-MIT procedure, all of this information will be plugged into an algorithm that will spit out the optimal combination of students and projects, and that's how we get matched for our internship. No offer letters, no decisions, no guarantees, just a paired ranking system. In an ideal situation, a student will be every company's number one choice and will know that she will match with whichever internship she ranks first. In the real world, no one will have this luxury. We are likely to get something in our top 5, but that's not even a certainty, especially if everyone likes certain projects more than others. So, for now, it's just a game of wait-and-see...

Interview Fest
For all of the perspective students coming in for Interview Fest over the next few days, congratulations! It's a great accomplishment to have made it this far in the process. In case you haven't already looked, two LGO '11s have put together great posts on the interview process, so check them out (see Kacey's blog and Derrick's blog). Also, Adam Markus (the "Graduate Admissions Guru" I have linked to previously) does a nice job breaking down the MIT Sloan interview style. I will just quickly add this reminder: know yourself. Remember why you're doing this, and tell that story in as compelling a way as possible. Know your best and worst moments and be prepared to talk about them. Know your application and essays and use the interview to build on them. You want your interviewer to finish the interview convinced that you are the perfect person to add to the LGO class of 2013. Good luck!

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