Park Perspectives: Mastering influence in our summer internships

By Hannah Cohn, Two-Year MBA '18, and Hannah Zweifler, Two-Year MBA '18

By: Katelyn Godoy
Photo of Hannah Cohn and Hannah Zweifler, Park Leadership Fellows in the Class of 2018

Park Perspectives are authored by Johnson’s Park Leadership Fellows.

“Tell me about a time you influenced others.”

It’s a classic MBA internship interview question—and for good reason. When we each started out at Johnson in pursuit of careers in general management (Hannah C.) and brand management (Hannah Z.), we heard a LOT about the importance of influencing skills in our chosen career tracks, and this summer we each learned why.

A large part of being a Park Fellow is learning about yourself, and the handful of assessments we take help us understand our preferences—that is, what behaviors we are most inclined to exhibit given various circumstances. One such assessment, the Influence Strategies Exercise, presented each of us with the influencing strategies (there are nine in total) that we most often use. For example, when we took this assessment last year, Hannah C. found that she most used Empowerment, Interpersonal Awareness, and Organizational Awareness, and Hannah Z. found that she most used Relationship Building, Interpersonal Awareness, and Logical Persuasion.

Influencing in our pre-MBA careers

These preferences felt rooted in our pre-MBA professional experience. Empowerment, defined as making others feel valued by involving them in decision making and giving them recognition, was heavily utilized by Hannah C. in her role in management at an online, fine art auction house. For example, to motivate members of the client service team (a role that is many times frustrating and thankless), she would incorporate these employees into larger technology development meetings, in which they could learn about company-wide projects, provide input and feedback, and connect their work to the organization’s goals.

Hannah Z., who worked in marketing and business development in a global law firm, relied heavily on Interpersonal Awareness (defined as identifying—and addressing—other people’s concerns) because her role largely involved catering to internal clients. For example, when she faced resistance from law firm partners to efforts to get them to adopt LinkedIn as a business development tool, she worked to understand individual concerns and address them. For those who did not feel confident in their tech savviness, she offered one-on-one tutorials and continuous support. For others who did not want competitors to see their professional connections, she walked them through the platform’s privacy settings.

Choosing tactics for our summer internships

As we entered our summer internships, we quickly realized how critical it was to employ different influence tactics. As former art history majors from “non-traditional” professional backgrounds, the transition to roles as MBA summer interns in very large, established corporations was a significant one. We both found it necessary to identify key stakeholders quickly, leverage the people around us for information, and gain buy-in for both our recommendations and for ourselves as potential employees throughout the summer.

In reflecting on our experiences, we found that although we were at different companies in different industries, we both used Relationship Building, Organizational Awareness, and Logical Persuasion as our primary influence strategies. For example, in her role in strategy at a large insurance provider, Hannah C. needed to rapidly get up to speed on industry knowledge, as well as project specifics. To do this, she used Organizational Awareness (identifying and getting the support of key people) to guide her outreach to various personnel from whom she could gather information. She also heavily utilized Relationship Building (establishing and maintaining constructive relationships with people that you may need to influence) by scheduling coffee chats, attending all meetings and functions, and providing continuous updates to invested stakeholders. This enabled her to not only collect critical information and feedback throughout the internship, but also gain buy-in from parties across the company.

Similarly, Hannah Z., who knew she would have to rely heavily on colleagues from the consumer insights and customer teams, for example, spent the first few weeks of her internship at a global CPG getting to know her cross-functional team members. By hosting a cross-functional brainstorm, she was able gain support for her project recommendations by involving others in the decision-making process. Finally, her ultimate recommendations relied heavily on data analysis to get buy-in from the brand director.

Influence techniques for Sage and beyond

Although we preferred to utilize certain influence techniques before business school, we learned that many methods have value and that the most effective method is likely situation dependent. In school, we’ve flexed our influence muscles on some of the techniques that we used heavily during the summer. For example, Relationship Building is a crucial part of the Johnson experience; from networking with recruiters at a corporate briefing to catching up with friends at Sage Social.

Similarly, our Logical Persuasion skills are honed through time in the classroom, as well as experiential learning opportunities, such as case competitions. Unlike the other techniques, Organizational Awareness was primarily learned and implemented over our summers in Boston. However, because we were aware of these nine influence strategies, we could adapt our preferred styles to new environments and successfully leverage multiple influence techniques throughout our internships.

Click to learn more about the Park Leadership Fellows program

About Hannah Cohn, Two-Year MBA ’18:

Photo of Hannah Cohn, Two-Year MBA ’18

Previous Academic Institution(s): University of Vermont
Previous Employer: Artnet Auctions
Internship: Liberty Mutual
Interests: Cooking, Reading, Ancient Art

About Hannah Zweifler, Two-Year MBA ’18:

Photo of Hannah Zweifler, Two-Year MBA ’18

Previous Academic Institution(s): Bates College
Previous Employer: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Internship: Procter & Gamble
Interests: Marketing & Brand Management, Hiking, Art, Travel