The Penguin Random House Internship
Tiffany Guo (MBA2021)
Although interning at a company that sells books may not be the average MBA's idea of excitement, I was captivated. I am currently finishing up my summer internship at Penguin Random House's subsidiary, DK, a British multinational publishing company of general reference and children's books. In the past few months, I've been building out our marketing analytics capabilities, which will help stakeholders better understand marketing effectiveness. I've also been conducting customer deep dives about our readership on Amazon, especially given the channel's growing importance during COVID-19. From learning how to use Amazon Vendor Central to gaining a broader understanding of the publishing industry, my internship has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I'm deeply grateful that I got to work with some of the warmest people I've ever met.
My favorite thing about working in publishing was that the titles people purchased acted as a window into their lives. During this pandemic, our sales were a reflection of what people cared about most and how they wanted to spend their time, whether it was children's workbooks for homeschooling or guides on how to start a backyard vegetable garden. In an age when people prefer 15 second videos to illustrated pages and bullet points to prose, it was kind of magical to see that in times of crisis, people still find comfort in books.
Treat recruitment like a conversation
During this MBA, most of you will be funneled into the same internships at the same companies, which is why recruitment will feel so competitive. If you consider that as high as 80% of jobs are never published, knowing the right people can significantly increase the number of opportunities within your reach. I got my summer internship from a relationship I developed over the course of a year, and the internship itself didn't exist until the hiring manager met me. I came to know this recruiter from being rejected from Bertelsmann's data scientist development program in early 2019 (Bertelsmann is a German media conglomerate and the parent company of Penguin Random House). Despite my not being a good fit for the program, the recruiter and I hit it off during the interview and left things on a positive note. After my first few months at LBS, I sent over an email updating the recruiter on how I had moved to London for my MBA and was interested in continuing our conversation. She recommended I meet an old coworker of hers who had transferred from Bertelsmann to Penguin Random House. I met up with her old coworker for a 45 minute coffee chat, which felt more like a get-to-know-you rather than a formal interview. A week later, to my surprise, I received an email saying that she thought I'd be valuable to the team and had gotten budget approval to take me on as an intern. If you leave a good impression with a recruiter, work hard to maintain that rapport. Let them know you're still interested in the company even though it didn't work out for that specific opportunity. Sometimes, it can go a long way. Similarly, if you can't find an internship that you're excited about, keep reaching out to people in your target industry. It might be that the person capable of creating your desired role just hasn't met you yet.
Manage yourself dynamically
Job descriptions are only a snapshot in time of what the team actually needs. For my internship, what I was hired to do and what I'm doing now are miles apart, which has forced me to exercise different sets of hard and soft skills. Every couple of weeks, I would take some time to think about the future of the company and recalibrate: How has the company shifted priorities? What skills should I proactively work on to be top of mind for emerging high-priority projects? Leverage your strengths to build credibility in your new work environment, but don't rely on what made you a star performer in the past to carry you through. In any role, it's important to treat the most critical skills for success as a living, breathing organism. Creativity, for example, has been at the top of the list of most in-demand skills in recent years (probably from all the spotlight on automation), but it didn't even make the top five back in 2016. So even if you check all the boxes of must-have skills for your role today, it's important not to get too comfortable. As coronavirus has proven, the world can change in an instant.
Diversify your experience
Don't be afraid to veer off the beaten path once in a while to explore a new interest, especially if it's something that few people are doing. What you undergo in this MBA will not be markedly unique from your peers, but what you do differently will. Don't discount any opportunities to learn just because they're not the obvious choice or because they're not directly in line with your career interests. I spent a decent amount of time attending non-LBS speaker events and workshops around London that had little to do with my previous and current jobs, all just to flex my curiosity. My rationale is that life is cumulative, and it is only in retrospect that people can piece together how a seemingly trivial experience later played a pivotal role in their development. My favorite example is how Steve Job audited a calligraphy class back in college purely out of interest, and he later credited it to influencing how he designed the revolutionary Macintosh. Take the time to seek out new perspectives in unconventional places. You never know how it might help you in the future.
With the current state of the world, this may not be the MBA you envisioned, but opportunities to learn and grow are everywhere. The first year will be overwhelming at times with the sheer number of decisions you'll have to make, but I believe this is part and parcel of having a memorable experience. If my first year wasn't so hectic, I probably wouldn't be missing it as much as I do now. Just remember to breathe, and enjoy the ride.
Tiffany Guo (MBA2021)
MBA2021, London Business School