Last summer, Susan Hedglin (UNC Kenan-Flagler, ’17) interned on the Corporate Finance team at Eli Lilly. Knowing that the summer was short, Susan started preparing for her internship as soon as possible, and during our interview, talked about how her preparation and early start enabled her to navigate her summer internship.
MBASchooled: What did you do last summer for your MBA internship?
Susan: Last summer I worked in the treasury group at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, helping Lilly’s pension and investments team plan investments into private equity funds on behalf of the corporate pension plan. I worked closely with Lilly’s internal team, but I also had the chance to work with Lilly’s outside investment partners. It was a very interesting project to work on, because so few companies have pension plans anymore. I had fun learning about corporate finance within Lilly and putting on an “investor” hat on behalf of the pension fund.
MBASchooled: Was there anything you did leading up to your internship to prepare for it?
Susan: One of the first things I did after I received my assignment was ask my supervisor what news sources he read to keep up with his work. He recommended several sources to better understand pension plans and institutional investing, which helped me understand the lingo before I walked into the door. I also read several healthcare industry news sources daily, including Fierce Pharma and In the Pipeline. Together, those helped me understand both the healthcare industry in general and the particular finance function I was walking into.
MBASchooled: What was the biggest surprise that came up during your internship?
Susan: How willing everyone was to help. Whether it was an informational meeting, or a walk-through of my project, so many people were game to meet me or make time for feedback. Of course, be cognizant of others’ time–but companies want their interns to succeed, and people realize you’re going to need help learning how to get things done in a new environment. Don’t go overboard or be clingy, but do reach out; most people want to help.
MBASchooled: What was a challenge that you faced, and what did you do to overcome it?
Susan: Delays! My project depended heavily on inputs from several external investment partners. They did a great job helping me get up to speed in a short amount of time; however, they were juggling their own priorities, and of course I wasn’t always first. One vital piece of my project took two weeks longer than originally expected–a huge forced pause when my total project timeline was nine weeks! Luckily, I had reached out early and I was able to work on other parts of my project while waiting for the partner’s inputs.
Lesson learned: don’t procrastinate on your project. You never know when an unexpected delay might compound into a huge issue. Give yourself way more time than you think you’ll need to get things done, especially if you need information from other people.
MBASchooled: During your internship, who were the people that were most helpful to you?
Susan: I was lucky to receive both a very supportive supervisor with 15+ years of experience, as well as a peer mentor who was already at the MBA level. They were both clear about what a successful Lilly intern looks like, who I should speak with over the summer, and what a career path might look like for an MBA at Lilly. I had regular check-ins with both to make sure I was on track with my project and meeting expectations.
MBASchooled: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Susan: Be less stressed! Trust that you found a good fit–you got your foot in the door and landed an offer, so chances are good that you’ve at least got the groundwork to succeed. Of course, you can’t sit back; you need to execute well. But even if you’re working in a new industry or function, you probably do have the tools to figure things out. By definition, most MBA internships involve stretching yourself. The MBA internship is almost as much about learning how to work effectively as it is about the end product you produce.
MBASchooled: Going into the summer, did you have any goals for your internship? If so, how did you feel about how you did in achieving them?
Susan: For me the internship felt like dating. I wanted to join a company with a leadership development program, where I’d have room to grow for a long time. So I wanted to see if this was the right long-term fit for both the company and me. I spent a lot of time networking with people across many types of finance functions to better understand what the arc of a career at Lilly would look like. I talked to everyone I could, then asked those people who else I should be speaking with. I had conversations with people at all levels, from new hires to senior executives. Some of the best conversations were with other people at the MBA level, because they were able to get deep into the nuts and bolts of what work would be like for the next several years. At the end of the summer, I came away with a much clearer understanding of the finance function at Lilly and what the company was like. I felt like I achieved my goal–I’m going back full time after graduation!