Mason MBA student completes dream internship at 2016 Summer Olympics

Large scale event management can be an exciting career, but to land a position, even the most talented professionals need experience. For Mason School of Business graduate student Valerie Williams, that experience was gained at one of the largest events in the world – the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Williams, who will receive her MBA from William & Mary in May 2017, beat out more than 1,000 hopefuls to earn one of just 40 internship slots with NBCUniversal, the broadcast company providing Olympic coverage.

Along with other students from around the world, Williams directly participated in a number of events including the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work as a guide at the closing ceremonies. The experience was a dream come true and provided invaluable skills that will help her pursue a career in the event industry after graduation.

Below, she shares more about the experience.

Why were you interested in an internship with the Olympics?

I have loved the Olympics since I was a child, and I wanted a unique experience for my internship. I have never had aspirations of competing in the games, but I love how the Olympics brings people from all over the world together. You see victories and defeats, but at the end of the day everyone is proudly representing the best that their countries have to offer the world.

What was the interview process like?

The first round of interviews were video interviews, but it wasn't a typical video interview. There were about five questions that flashed on a screen, and I had 30 seconds to read the question and come up with an answer before time was up. It was a first in the world of interviewing for me. The second round of interviews were phone interviews.

Describe a typical workday. Did you get any downtime?

There was definitely no typical work day! The only constant was the lack of sleep; I averaged about 4 hours a night, and most of my day was taken up with work. I worked a variety of tasks including hospitality desks, tour and event guiding, and guest customer service. If I did have a few spare minutes, I was generally napping in preparation of the next wave of excitement. However, as I was working in some of the most beautiful and exciting parts of town, this was not a hardship.

To be honest each day was unique and had its own surprises. The experience was incredible!

Did you get to visit Olympic Village?

Only athletes are allowed into the Olympic Village, but I can say that each country decorates their section of the village with their flag, so when you drive by the complex you see flags from around the world.

What about working at the Olympics surprised you the most?

I have been extremely impressed at the level of detail that goes into taking care of our guests. Everything has been created and considered for their experience. From gift bags and local tours to coffee cups with branded logos the NBC brand is everywhere, and no detail is too small or beneath the notice of the organizers.

Do you have any favorite experiences?

I was able to attend a portion of the beach volleyball games where Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross were playing. I had never been to a beach volleyball game, and was surprised at how much fun the event was. Crazed fans, upbeat music, and tons of fun were had by all. I also had the opportunity to meet NBC sportscaster Mary Carillo.

I have enjoyed meeting and working with people from all over the globe and nation. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of this opportunity.

What is your favorite Olympic event? What about a favorite Olympic athlete?

That's a hard one! I think that my favorite summer events are diving, gymnastics, and the new Rugby Sevens. Winter events include the bobsledding and figure skating. Favorite athlete - also difficult, but I loved watching Kerri Strug, the original men’s basketball dream team, and Michael Johnson.

How did your education prepare you for this opportunity?

The Mason School has given me the fantastic opportunity to expand my knowledge and acumen in regards to finance and economic development. It has also afforded me the ability to expand my personal network while making amazing friends in the process.

Mason's career center also helped with suggestions on how to make the most of this experience. Stephanie Joynes, (Associate Director, MBA Professional and Career Development), has been an absolute rock, and I can’t thank her enough for all of her support.

What advice would you give other students looking for a dream internship?

Look at the things that you love to do in life, and try to find an internship or job that includes those things. That way, you never feel a burden of work, only the joy of sharing your favorite experiences with others.

As internships are all about making a great impression always say yes to anything people ask you to do, no matter how menial. Great things come when you least expect it.

And don’t forget to smile.