The Internship: Navigating the Non-traditional Job Search

Although summer seems like a distant memory at this point in the semester, I wanted to take an opportunity to share a little bit about my summer internship experience and more specifically the path that led me there.  I spent this past summer working for a very small (read: I was employee #3!) fashion start-up here in NYC called Little Borrowed Dress, an online bridal boutique offering bridesmaid dresses for rent online.  The company was started by an LBS grad and after having my fair share of bridesmaids dresses taking up space in my closet, I immediately fell in love with the idea and knew this was a business I could totally get behind. This was by no means your traditional MBA internship in the regard that there was no structured program, no intern class and no set outline of what my summer would look like. There was also…no salary…(gasp!). After spending the six years prior to business school working for a large corporate retailer, this was exactly the experience I was looking for.  I absolutely loved everything about my summer and wouldn’t have traded any part of the invaluable experience for a paying, corporate internship!

I knew coming into Stern that I wanted the start-up experience to see what it was like in real time to be an entrepreneur running your own business and what it was like to work in that environment. Working in such a small environment, it is completely an all hands on deck mentality, so my role was not very clearly defined, although I spent a large part of my time strategizing new marketing initiatives for the brand, developing our social media presence and doing market research to learn as much as possible about our customers. One of the benefits of working in such a small company is that I was able to implement so many of my ideas in real time. If I came up with a cool email campaign idea, like sending out color inspiration images to customers who requested free fabric swatches, I was able to execute it by the end of the day. There were no layers to go through, no process that needed approving, it was truly up to me to make these decisions and act on them to see what stuck. I also had the benefit of attending every meeting with my boss, from investor pitches, to potential collaborators, etc.

As I am sure you will read in many of the posts on this blog, the recruiting process is a huge part of your time here are Stern and definitely occupies most of the first semester of your first year, especially if you are following a traditional path like consulting, banking, marketing, etc. However, as someone planning to go a non-traditional route, my experience was quite different. I spent the first semester going to some corporate presentations just to hear what they had to say, but really focused on developing my network and talking to as many people as possible to figure out what opportunities were out there for me in the world of start-ups. For those of you interested in pursuing opportunities at a start-up, here are my tips for finding your perfect internship:


Go to events for the industry you are interested in. While most of my classmates spent their first semester preparing for corporate presentations and attending meet and greets with the companies that came on campus, I went to as many events for the fashion & tech industries as I could. Through the clubs here on campus like EEX (The Entrepreneur’s Exchange) and the Luxury & Retail Club, as well as outside of Stern through groups like Meetup, I  was able to find out  about all sorts of events such as the Fashion Digital NY conference, the EEX Speaker Series, and Future of Fashion at The Projective Space. I took the opportunity to network and talk to people to get an idea of what kinds of start-ups they were working on, what they were looking for in interns, etc. This is definitely the hard part and something that put me waaaay outside of my comfort zone. But you just gotta do it.  It was at one of these events that I got to chatting with a woman who worked for a small e-commerce start-up herself, but had a friend who was starting a bridesmaid dress business and was looking for interns. After a few more conversations and a meeting with my future boss, my internship was secured.


Keep up with industry news and happenings. Read blogs, follow industry leaders on twitter and keep yourself informed with what is going on not only in the world of start-ups but also in the industry you are interested in. Some fabulous blogs about the NY start-up scene that I would recommend are Wakefield: Start-up Stories Daily, TechCrunch, and Mashable . Here is a list of some great blogs for entrepreneurs.


One thing start-ups look for when bringing new members onto their team is passion. They want someone who truly believes in the company vision and can add value to the organization. This is something you need to show, not tell.  After you have done your research, choose a few companies that you really love and start digging in. Show them you want to work there by doing some work up front before you get the internship offer. For example, research their current social media efforts and come up with suggestions on what they can improve or new campaigns they can launch. Spend time on their website navigating the user experience and come up with a plan for points that can be better executed. Research their competition to see what they are doing better and learn best practices. If you have some ideas to bring to the table when first meeting with your potential new boss, they will no doubt be wow’ed by your dedication and effort.

Until next time,