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Why Your MBA Internship Is Best Spent at a Tech Startup

Startups like Betterment are nimble enough to get interns up and running quickly and small enough for them to lead impactful projects, allowing them maximize their summer impact.

Articles by Robert Greer

By Robert Greer
Operations Intern, Betterment  |  Published: August 17, 2015

Startups like Betterment are nimble enough to get interns up and running quickly and small enough for them to lead impactful projects.

If you really think about it, the expectations of summer internships are kind of crazy.

Even for an MBA internship, it seems pretty idealistic to expect a company to integrate you with a team, give you a role with real responsibility, and allow you to build anything that might affect customers within a two-month period. All you can really hope for in an internship is the chance to meet some interesting people, learn a thing or two, and maybe—if you’re lucky—add value in some way, right?

Not when it comes to working at a tech startup, and especially not in my recent experience working as an MBA Operations Intern at Betterment. Startups like Betterment are nimble enough to get you up and running quickly and small enough for you to lead impactful projects.

I first found Betterment as a customer, and then found the internship while making one of my frequent visits to its Careers page. After submitting my application and having several phone interviews, Betterment invited me to come visit its offices and meet the team.

Meeting the team in person is critical to standing out as a candidate for a competitive startup job because fit is so important. Interns at Betterment make big contributions in a short amount of time, so the differentiating factor between you and the ever-increasing percentage of first-year MBA students from top programs who are choosing startups over major corporations every summer is your ability to integrate with the team and hit the ground running on day one.

Interns at Betterment make big contributions in a short amount of time.

Fortunately, Betterment saw a fit and gave me the opportunity to lead on three projects for the summer: conducting a company-wide risk assessment, building an automated check-writing tool, and designing an implementation plan for improved tax-related features.

On my first day, after a brief but necessary morning of computer setup and systems onboarding, I was scheduling meetings with coworkers across job function and seniority to better understand both the operations of the company and what current employees viewed as its key risks. I was stunned by how eager my new coworkers were to integrate me into the company’s culture and to provide the information I needed for my risk assessment.

At a tech startup, all of your coworkers are genuinely interested in you, the intern, and your success because your projects are important to the growth of the company—you wouldn’t be doing them if they weren’t. Looking back, that instantaneous integration was essential to completing a meaningful risk assessment in just two months.

By my second week, I was leading a project that would integrate Betterment with a banking partner to automate the currently manual check-writing process. For an MBA student, this project represented an opportunity to use everything I learned in school; I got to lead a small team, manage a vendor relationship, learn about engineering systems, and design process flows. That sort of opportunity isn’t supposed to exist in a real-life internship, but it did at Betterment because the team trusts the abilities of their employees, interns included.

Throughout my summer at Betterment, I spent quite a bit of my time researching federal and state tax laws and requirements. I know—reading IRS publications in detail sounds decidedly awful, but in reality it may have been the most rewarding thing I did all summer. Figuring out a way to further automate this complicated tax-related feature became a problem I had to solve; I wasn’t merely contributing to the team, I was the team. By the end, I had written a detailed plan for implementation, which the rest of the operations group can use as a guide after I leave. To think that at some point in the future I will be able to look at a Betterment feature and say, “Hey, I helped build this!” is a truly amazing feeling and something I owe to the incredible culture and employees of Betterment.

The conditions that made my summer internship at Betterment so enjoyable and rewarding were not accidental—the processes put in place to make interns feel heard and valuable are strategic and intentional. Startup culture is unique because it places supreme trust in the ability of employees to perform. Despite evolving into a company with more than 100,000 customers and 100 employees, Betterment has maintained a distinct startup culture, which ultimately enabled me to make a difference this summer. At Betterment, interns aren’t for getting coffee—there’s a tap for that.

This article is part of a three-piece series. See the full series here.

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