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by Phil Stott | November 06, 2014


As a consistent member in our list of top internship programs, it's fair to say that Northwestern Mutual must be doing something right. Here, we take a look at some of the answers from Northwestern's respondents on this year's internship experience survey. What they have to say underlines just how highly-regarded the program is.



Before we get down to the details, here are some of the best bits of the Northwestern Mutual internship experience, as told to us by the most recent crop of interns:

"I learned more than I did in school. I was able to grow up as an individual while getting real life experience. I didn't have to grab coffee or do administrative work."

"The best parts of the internship are the fact that I have the ability and capability to run my own business. I set my own appointments, do my own amount of work, and am compensated accordingly. I can hire and fire employees, and I can market my business to the public, all driven by myself. Nobody tells me how much I make, or what I'm worth on the balance sheet this year. I make my own income, build my own relationships, and love life and people more every day because of it."

"The training and support from peers and home office coupled with the autonomy and unlimited opportunity to grow, continue your education and not have a corporate glass ceiling. Working for a company that puts investing in their employees and delivering value before anything else."

"This internship was the reason I got into this business. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and feel so lucky for having been in this program."

"I got to build my own business. I even hired my first employee while I was a senior in college. I also got to work face to face with clients and really help them."



As noted in a previous post, interns at Northwestern Mutual don’t just show up and make copies: they are treated as independent  contractors, and each is expected to build their own book of business, essentially performing the same role that a full-time advisor would. Here is a sampling of what that work involves:

"As an intern, my job was to build a practice identical to full time advisors. From setting meetings, going over financial plans with clients in person, giving recommendations and building a clientele."

"Perform comprehensive financial planning for individuals and businesses, including analysis and recommendation of risk management techniques and products, education and retirement savings techniques and products, long-term care needs and solutions, systematic budgeting, and estate planning techniques; direct sales and marketing for all markets previously mentioned."

"I was building long lasting relationships with the people I work with and potential clients.  I was taking potential clients through our unique financial planning process which in the end was educating them and helping them achieve their goals personally and financially.  I was able to have a positive impact on my community and family daily. Every day I was able to work on my communication skills, networking skills, and time management skills which will help me grow personally and professionally no matter what I choose for my future."

"I am a business owner. Every day I try to grow my client base: Making phone calls, setting appointments, meeting with prospects and clients, trying to find new people to call, etc. I also spend time prepping in the office. I learn communication skills, sales language, and run our computer software to provide our clients with analysis of their financial situation and future goals."

"As a financial representative intern with Northwestern Mutual, no one day is the same as another. While weeks and days vary, usual daily activities would involve case preparation, phone scheduling of future weeks, computer input and application and communication with our Home Office in Milwaukee. Outside of the scheduled daily activities, each day varies greatly in meeting new potential clients, and building relationships with families that last a lifetime."

"This internship is about figuring out who you want to be in life and how hard you're willing to work to make that dream become a reality."


The down side

In case it's not clear already, internships at Northwestern Mutual are not for everyone. The firm is seeking candidates with a strong work ethic, the willingness to build their own business, and the resilience to overcome rejection from potential clients on a regular basis. As a result, one of the most interesting insights from our survey this year came from looking at responses to a question about the hardest aspects of the internship—at some companies, this is the section where we'd see complaints about lack of rigor or investment in training, or interns being asked to make coffee and copies for 6 weeks. As the following selection demonstrates, the downside at Northwestern comes from a different end of the scale altogether:

"The autonomy can be a lot if you haven't yet established or are unable to establish an independent work ethic. Also, the job is mainly commission based, making sustaining a living at the beginning difficult."

"You have to create your own consistency and accountability structures." (Note that the firm does have structures and support in place; the respondent is referring to the personal discipline and accountability required to succeed in the role.)

"It was all up to me!"

"The challenge of not knowing what tomorrow might bring."

"Balancing school work with running a business."

"Lots of rejection—very tough."

"A lot of training."


Building a long-term career

Unlike many programs, an internship at Northwestern Mutual is a true test of whether an intern has what it takes to make it at the firm in a full-time role. As noted previously, the firm sees its internship program as a major recruiting tool; accordingly, by the time the internship comes to an end, both the firm and the interns have a strong idea of whether they will be a good long-term career fit. Indeed, 97 percent of respondents at Northwestern told us that they had or would accept a full-time offer from the firm. Here's what they told us about why:

"I accepted because the internship was a life changing experience. I grew up as a person and worker while interning here. It made me realize my full potential."

"I accepted the full time job because I am able to do exactly the same thing I am doing now but full time. I was able to test drive a career and I enjoyed impacting people's lives. I like helping people achieve financial security and being their go-to guy with financial matters. The career is very rewarding and has unlimited income potential. You get out of it what you put in, and [it's the] same with the pay."

"I accepted a full-time offer because of the autonomy and leadership I got from the internship. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and Northwestern Mutual allowed me to be independent and gain real life financial planning experience. It taught me about my strengths and weaknesses."

"The training that Northwestern has and will continue to provide me is second to none. I understand that the first few years in the business will be tough, but when I see full-time reps around the office, I can tell that they're right where they want to be. Anyone who has been here for more than 5 years will NEVER leave this place. The opportunity to provide for my family financially while still having the freedom to be there personally is something that I don't take lightly. I've grown so much as a person and a professional in my time with Northwestern, that I can't imagine how much more I can grow during my career. I wouldn't consider any other career than a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual."

"In a nutshell, I've drunk the blue Kool-Aid. Northwestern Mutual is a phenomenal company. Their financial strength is superior, and their commitment to being 'the policy owner's company' isn't just talk. The other reps I work with truly care about their clients, and I feel like I've grown as an individual in my time here. I guess ultimately, I've become a solid believer in planning for your future, and I believe that this is the best company for clients to do that with."

"I accepted a full-time position after my internship because I already had the skills and tools that I needed because the internship program mirrored the full time position. It was an easy transition from the internship into full time after graduating college."


This post was sponsored by Northwestern Mutual.