The Staircase: Summer Internship Reflections with Alyssa Rinck, MBA Class of 2018

The following blog post was written by Alyssa Rinck, MBA Class of 2018 and former summer associate at Cognizant

Nail the GMAT. Get accepted to a top school. Land your dream internship. Convert that internship into a job offer.

If you’re interested in business school, it’s likely these things are on your radar. They were on mine too when I started my business school journey. These things remain important. There are a lot of resources out there to guide you through this process, and I am certainly not here to tell you what to do. But I am here to give you a piece of advice: how to survive when you have the high expectation to achieve all of these things. Business school is stressful, but if you take a deep breath and take things one step at a time, you will thrive.

While you will be defined by the big decisions you make during your journey, you will be remembered by the combination of small choices you made along the way. Small steps in the right direction lead to great opportunity. People notice the little things.

When I started searching for a summer internship, I was focused on the big picture. I had just been accepted to Simon. Shortly after, I signed on with Cognizant Consulting as a summer associate in their retail practice. For a moment, I felt a huge sense of relief but then was immediately overwhelmed with a rush of anxiety. I landed the internship but getting the job offer seemed like a big feat.

Cognizant is a technology-driven consulting firm, and I was assigned to support an engagement with a top fortune retailer’s innovation lab in Silicon Valley. I knew very little about technology. On top of feeling the pressure to network with executives and showcase my work ethic, I had a lot to learn quickly about the tech world. Instead of taking the mindset that I was at a disadvantage, I took this as a great learning opportunity. I headed in to my first day on the job motivated to make the best of the experience.

When I arrived that day, I met my supervisor. He was a data scientist by trade and consultant by twist of fate. He told me I would be working on a project building machine learning solutions. These solutions would allow our client to add more third party products to their website (in order to compete with Amazon). I had spent several years before business school working for Macys.com/Macy’s Inc. so I was confident in my retail knowledge, but I had no idea where to start with machine learning.

After the meeting, I was stressed. What if I couldn’t add value to the engagement? I was not an expert on the subject by any means. I consciously reminded myself to have confidence, to move forward. I spent my evenings on YouTube researching. I woke up to get into the office early, so I could build a rapport with the main client point of contact. Soon I could speak the language of the software engineers on our floor. Eventually, I felt comfortable asking our client contact for help because we had a standing meeting to grab tea every morning, right after he got settled. By the time I was midway through my internship I had hit a groove.

I used this to accelerate my learning even further. I kept putting myself in positions where I was the least knowledgeable in the room. My perception of consultants before I began my internship was far different than it was at the end. At first, I thought consultants had to know everything and were paid for that expertise. I soon realized that consultants are valued for their ability to continuously ask the right questions and gather the right information.

When it came time to deliver my final recommendation based on the work I had done throughout the course of the summer, I was confident. I knew almost every stakeholder in the room. I was not shy to ask them for help building my final deck. I had their buy in, what could I be worried about? In full disclosure, I was very nervous, but I knew what I had to say was supported by months of hard work. I left that final meeting with several pats on the back and some smiles from the client.

alyssa_rinckThe morning following my final day as a Cognizant summer associate, I packed up for a long awaited trip to Peru. I had plenty of time for personal reflection throughout the trip, but I reached a moment of clarity on a hike along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. About two thirds of the way through the hike, we reached what felt like the billionth stone staircase. Each set of stairs built by the Incas seemed steeper and longer than the last. My legs were already burning–there was no way I was making it to see the end. I wanted so badly for the guide to leave me right then and there to lay down and rest with the llamas. Somehow I found motivation to take on those stairs, and it was so worth it. This staircase was quite literally a metaphor for my summer with Cognizant.

When it all seems overwhelming, remember to take that deep breath. Take that one small step toward your goal. In the end, those small steps add up to something really incredible.

I came back from Peru with an offer from Cognizant, the aptitude to build my own machine learning models, and the newfound confidence to take on the world.

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