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Interning at Intuitive

Thomas Tiernan

In the spring of 2021, long-time recruiting leader MJ Perez left her role helping lead Apple’s university programs and operations to join Intuitive as global head of university programs. Intuitive was looking for someone to shake things up and rethink our intern recruiting strategy, and after nearly a decade at Apple, MJ was ready for a new challenge. “Oh my gosh, that’s my favorite thing to do!” recalls the Texas native, whose work history includes recruiting at some of the world’s biggest companies, including Grant Thornton, Cisco Systems, and AMD. “The opportunity to come in and take things to the next level—I love that!” 
Just over a year later, MJ has grown Intuitive’s University Hiring Programs (UHP) 144% and is already hard at work improving the program even more for the next season. But she doesn’t do it alone. Mary Saetern has been at Intuitive for nearly seven years and is one of the four employees on MJ’s team. Mary joined the company as an associate recruiter right out of college and has since worked her way up to UHP program manager. “It’s been a great place to work,” says Mary. “I just love how well people collaborate here. It shows that everyone really cares.”
What else do MJ and Mary have to say about Intuitive? And about the company’s UHP? Below, we pull back the curtain on what it’s like to intern here. Read on for insights about the interview process, examples of what characteristics they’re looking for in interns, and more.

Can you share a bit about how the program is structured?

MJ: Managers are trusted to guide their interns. We provide some guidance since some may be new to managing an hourly employee, or even someone more junior. We always suggest that interns are assigned a peer mentor so they have someone to ask the basic questions like, “Where’s the printer?” 

As our company continues to grow, this will be a priority for us to ensure we’re not just supporting the development of our interns, but our managers.

What about onboarding? How does that work? Getting started on the right foot affects the intern experience so much.

MJ: We have three sets of onboarding dates, which helps each group build a cohort experience. This past year, there were about 60 students in each cohort. Everyone goes through an intern-specific orientation where we lay out what their journey will be over their 10 to 12 weeks, explain their benefits, and go over the events we have planned for summer.

What kind of events?

MJ: We have a number of touchpoints for our interns to socialize and network with each other, and we provide professional development and a chance to meet company leaders. This year, we were able to bring all of our interns together in Sunnyvale.


MJ: In-person! We strategically planned it for the week of what’s celebrated as National Intern Day, which is the last Thursday of July. We had social and networking opportunities, and an executive speaker series with our CEO that was moderated by our chief human resource officer. Then we did social events for MBAs, graduate-level students, and undergraduate students, which also included their mentors and their managers. It was a chance for interns to get to know their peers better.

Sounds like there’s a real feeling of community among the interns?

MJ: Definitely. We work with our talent management team to help connect our interns and introduce them to each other. We want them to be able to build community with and meet other interns, across all locations, fields, and teams.


What’s the interview process like?

MJ: Our process is actually a little flipped, compared with how some other companies do it. We have our hiring managers (HMs) reach out to the interns first—that’s the first screen. Once the HM finds a few candidates they would like to bring in for a longer interview and talk to other folks on the team, that’s when they connect with their recruiter. The recruiter then reaches out to do a basic pre-screen and ensure all of their questions are answered.

We have a flexible approach to recruitment. Sometimes interviewing with the hiring manager is enough. Other times the HM says, “I need this person to meet at least two or three other people on my team.” So it varies.

For finance, mechanical engineering, and MBAs, we do things differently. First, we do some pre-screening, then, we actually do what we call a “Super Day.” This is when a group of prospective interns meet with a number of folks during a very short period of time. Decisions are made after that.

Can you share a bit about what kind of questions may be asked during an interview?

MJ: We have a rubric called C-C-E-E that we incorporate into all of our recruiting processes. It stands for Character, Capacity, Energy, and Experience. All managers assess these characteristics in our applicants, at all levels—not just interns.

Assess how?

Mary: I understand how it may sound strange. Like, okay, how do you assess someone’s character in a brief interview? But the types of inquiries we suggest making include, “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you figured it out and fixed it.” This helps identify problem solvers and people that can take accountability. And that’s what we mean by character. For energy, we might say, “Tell me about a time when you jumped in to help on something when you weren’t asked.” Energy doesn’t mean you have to be bouncing off the walls. It means that you want to do what you can to help.

What else do you look for in an intern?

Mary: We recruit for skills—what someone brings to the table based on their experience. One thing that stands out is that we’re very school agnostic. 80 different schools were represented in the class of 195 interns this past year. We have new schools on the list every year. 

MJ: Mary makes a good point. When companies focus on key schools, those are usually the same schools that everybody else goes to. Typically those schools are very homogenous. Our ability to attract more diversity—not just for gender or even ethnicity, but even just how students approach things—is certainly something that we can be proud of.

Are there certain traits that help interns thrive at Intuitive?

Mary: I think adaptability and being able to ask questions are very important, especially at this entry-level. The ones that succeed are the ones who can navigate ambiguous situations with grace—those who can watch with a careful eye to pick up on what’s going on. We’re such a fast-growing company and people are always there to help with questions, but it also takes that person stepping up and asking. Seeing the bigger picture.

MJ: I would agree with that. I think asking questions is really important. I remember a high-level leader trying to determine whether or not they wanted to hire somebody. Here’s what it came down to: The intern didn’t attend a lot of events and didn’t ask a lot of questions. We want somebody who’s curious, and we highly encourage our interns to ask questions—now is the time to ask them. Later, you’ll be glad you did.

What other advice would you give to an intern to help them make the most of their experience?

MJ: It’s so important to build relationships. It’s something we really encourage. Try and sit in on as many meetings and network as much as possible while you’re here. It’s not just meeting people to try and get a job after graduation. It’s learning to truly understand how their team works, what their team supports, how you collaborate together, and how you can better work together. 

Mary: Agreed. I hear a lot of positive feedback from the interns about the company being pretty flat in terms of leaders being very approachable.

MJ: We also encourage the mentors to help build those relationships—to try and connect their interns to other folks on the team, or even to internal partners. Building networking skills needs to start early. And I know networking is awkward for some people, especially many of our technical interns who seem to be a little more introverted. We try and make it a little less uncomfortable for them by having their mentors act as an icebreaker, or even someone who can help make those introductions.

Mary: Exactly. You don’t need to be super polished and ready to go. The point is actually that they have to have a lot of intellectual curiosity, be thoughtful, and be very engaged and interested in what’s going on in the bigger picture.

What is it about Intuitive that you think is most attractive to an intern?

MJ: I think it’s similar to what it was for me. First, the people are great. When I was interviewing, I kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, these people are so great. I would love to work with them.” And the leadership is great, too. I need to truly believe in the leadership where I work, so I did some research on our CEO, Gary Guthart. I just love Gary. He’s high integrity, very down-to-earth, very transparent. This is a company that you can be proud to work at, and that’s incredibly important to me. 

Mary: Yes, I completely agree. What MJ hit on about our leadership is definitely part of it for me, too. So many of our leaders have been here since its early days, and I think that you can sense that they really care, and that trickles down. Our mission is clear and people are very respectful of each other. Plus, the company’s growing, so there’s no lack of opportunity for career development. Also, I think a lot of our prospective interns are drawn by the opportunity to do very challenging, technical work all while getting to make a difference in health care.

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Thomas Tiernan

Thomas Tiernan, Recruitment Marketing Lead, has been at Intuitive for 2 years supporting Global Employer Branding and Recruitment Marketing efforts throughout the company.

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