Product Management: Your Coveted Internship This Summer?

Richard Qian
Richard Qian

Back in August when we incoming RCs were too intoxicated by the joy of starting business school or just too intoxicated from Yacht Week, we vaguely heard in the news that Harvard MBAs are shying away from investment banking and finance jobs.  Then, the first two days of START coincided with the S&P 500 tanking 5.2%, and while we were in exotic foreign countries with FIELD 2, it fell another 6.0%. But no need to worry because according to the Wall Street Journal earlier in March, the new coveted job for MBAs is product manager – a job that’s the antithesis of banking and finance.

Public media tells us one story, but the case method taught us to look at the underlying data. Has there really been a shift away from finance and consulting to tech? Together, the three industries hire more than 60% of HBS interns and 70% of graduates, but the truth is that in the last three years, the allocation did not vary more than a couple of percentage points in any clear direction for internships as well as full-time jobs.

The more pressing question for a majority of RCs is – how is it looking this year? Historically, only half of the class has signed an internship offer by spring break. Many are still in the market, testing to see if the coveted PM role is out there and if it’s not too late to secure their dream job. While job offer data is not available at this time, Career Hub job posting data could be a good proxy for the type of internships students end up getting.

Given that Career Hub postings result in roughly half of internships, I took a look at internship postings from the end of the school year through spring break in the last two academic years and compared the industry and job composition year over year.

First, it’s a relief to find that the number of postings were essentially unchanged from 1,054 last year to 1,045 this year. Despite the media, financial services firms are still recruiting the hardest at HBS, posting 38% of internships both years. Technology job postings saw a slight increase from 14.6% to 15.9% while consulting postings declined slightly from 8.4% to 7.7%. This is good news for the would-be unicorn PM interns, especially coupled with the fact that postings by self-identified startups increased from 10.5% to 14.2% year over year.

There is also data to suggest that technology companies have a higher hit rate on campus than financial services firms. The 38% of postings in financial services only turned into 30% of internships while the 15% of postings in technology led to 19% of internships. RCs, it appears, lack the eagerness to fill all financial services opportunities and instead search for technology internships on their own.  Given the uptick in technology postings and overall media frenzy, it would not be shocking if the 19% goes higher for the class of 2017.

Taking a closer look at internship postings specifically for product management, the number of postings has declined year over year, from 66 to 53. One bright spot, however, is that more than half of the product management postings are for startups, positions which traditionally have to be secured through informal networking.

What does this mean for those still looking for that dream summer internship? If history repeats itself, another 200 or so internships will be posted on Career Hub from now through early June, and start-up roles will represent a disproportionate 35% of the postings. With names like Khan Academy and Castlight Health posting product management internships in late March last year, spring could be a rewarding time for those future PMs who are stretching their patience.

Richard Qian
 (HBS ’17) is a proud Section (New F) Career Rep. In addition to enjoying telling stories from numbers, he would take up anyone’s challenge in tennis, squash, badminton, golf, basketball (if you are under 5’10”), and table tennis.



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