How to crush your summer internship at an investment bank
Congratulations! You made it all the way through grueling interview rounds and landed a summer internship with an investment bank. I won’t annoy you with any of the overused phrases like “this is when the real work begins”, because you’re already prepared for that. And if you’re not, now’s the time to start!
The summer internship program is a bank’s best recruiting process, so use it for what it’s worth. In the end, a good portion of the people you started with, will end up getting a full-time offer at an investment bank. And that’s what you want as well, isn’t it?
Give yourself the best possibility to succeed as an analyst or a summer intern by following these rules.
Who will decide if you get an offer or not
If your goal is to land a full-time offer, you should start by getting familiar with the hiring process of the firm. It’s usually not the people highest up in the hierarchy who will decide if you get the job or not.
So who will decide? There’s a short answer for this. The people you work with the most will decide.
The full-time analysts and associates need support on the deals they are working on, and they will let people know if you did a good job or not.
Most likely, they will all fill out forms about your performance when your internship ends, and they will also discuss who they think should be hired.
An MD or a Partner will always have the final say in who gets hired or not, but they will likely not have worked with you directly and will listen to what the analysts and associates tell them.
Make sure you have made yourself helpful to as many of them as possible. You need someone who would fight to hire you. You also need to not have pissed off anyone enough for them to want to veto you.
What exactly will you be doing over the summer?
To make yourself useful, you need to know what you’re supposed to do.
Analysts and associates will be working on live deals, creating huge models and participating in meetings. You probably won’t do that, but that’s ok.
Most deals go on for months or years, and it’s hard to step into one without having been a part of the team from the start. 8 to 12 weeks won’t give you enough time for that.
Your most important asset is your work capacity. You can do a lot of the “boring” tasks that need to be done on those deals, or on other projects.
You will do research, screen companies, create comps slides, print, read through presentations, and help on pitches.
Your job is to do anything that will help unload work from your team members, and they will appreciate you.
What really matters in a summer internship at an investment bank?
1. Always offer to help
If the analysts are working the entire night, and you sneak out the door at 6 PM to go for dinner with friends, that’s not the best way to make allies.
Simply ask people if there’s anything you can do for them. If there isn’t, you can probably leave, but make sure you help with anything you can. Asking and then leaving is always better than just leaving.
2. It’s better to be right than quick
Don’t bother turning in something that’s full of mistakes. Don’t get me wrong. You will make mistakes. Tonnes of them. But try to make less.
Print your work and read through. Be critical of everything you have written, and ask someone else close to you in the hierarchy to help read through as well.
An analyst that looks stupid in front of her boss because you fucked up, isn’t likely to say she wants to hire you.
3. Details matter
The silly details as font types and color schemes matter. Care deeply about them. Adopt them as your own standards.
Reformatting correctly is one of the value adds you can bring. It takes a lot of time, and it isn’t hard to do. It only demands attention to detail.
4. Correct your mistakes right away, and with pleasure
When someone points out your mistakes, thank them for making you aware of them.
They’re not (most of the time) saying it to be a dick, but because it needs to be right for a client. It’s quicker for them to fix it themselves, but they tell you what’s wrong so you can improve.
Offer to fix it right away, and then bring it back to the analyst or associate when it’s correct. If people have to ask you to correct mistakes several times, you will not be asked to do things again.
5. Manage expectations
As I wrote above, it’s better to be correct than to be quick. This doesn’t mean that you can deliver your work two days, or two hours late though.
Let people know early if you’ve taken on too much or need help. If something isn’t finished, you better have warned the analysts or associates in time.
You don’t have to pull an all-nighter every time you see that you’ll have a hard time finishing though. A lot of the deadlines are only internal and can be moved.
6. Take ownership of processes, even if they’re simple
Do yourself a favor and read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin before you start.
If someone asks you to finish a slide, but you need someone else to give you input on it, it’s still your responsibility to make sure that’s done.
Don’t deliver a half-hearted product saying it wasn’t done because another person didn’t give you what they were supposed to.
The exact same is true if something breaks down and you’re not able to finish. Then it’s your responsibility to fix it, and then finish what you initially started. Excuses are lame.
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7. Respect the process
Some processes in investment banks can seem rigorous and unnecessary. The bigger the bank, the more procedures.
Don’t be openly critical of them your first day on the job. The procedures are there because someone someday did something that cost the bank a lot of money.
You don’t have enough experience to laugh at that yet. Feel free to ask why something is the way it is, but don’t just state that you think it’s stupid.
8. Do your research before you ask
When you’re supposed to create comps and you don’t know what the different multiples mean, or you have no clue how to fix something in Powerpoint, don’t just run over to an analyst right away to ask them to fix it.
Most problems can easily be googled. You should, of course, ask if something about the task is unclear, or if you really can’t figure it out, but try to solve it independently first.
9. Be a fun person to be around
The social stuff matters. It’s not bullshit.
If you’re nice and can offer people something on a personal level, you will have analysts cheering for you.
Join the team for drinks, tell them something about your personal life. Maybe even let a tired analyst vent after two nights straight without sleep. Be friendly and nice.
10. Ask for feedback before it’s too late.
Ask one of the people you work with if they can give you feedback halfway in your internship so you have a chance to correct anything before going into the last end of your weeks there.
People appreciate the initiative, and you’ll likely get the opportunity to improve.
11. Answer all questions beforehand
Are you wondering why the P/E ratio of a company suddenly jumps up to 56 one year? The Associate or Analyst you’re handing your numbers to will be asking the same question.
The number is either wrong, in which case you should correct it, or something unexpected happened that year.
Read the company’s newsflow, or annual report and find out what happened. People will love you and think you are super knowledgeable.
This is one of the things I never did in the beginning because I thought it wasn’t a part of the task. It is. Big time.
12. Don’t get the task wrong
Make a habit out of repeating the task back to the person giving it to you. Do you know exactly what you’re supposed to do? How is the end product going to look like? Who will read it?
This is also your chance to ask when the deadline is. Does she need it tonight, by tomorrow, or next week?
A lot of analysts put in time and effort only to come back with something that’s not usable becuase they didn’t understand the task correctly.
How much do you need to prepare?
No one will expect you to know how to do a transaction when you start. But people will expect you to know how to use Microsoft Office, especially Powerpoint and Excel.
You won’t be set to create a model from scratch, and you’ll likely not be allowed to make changes to one either.
But you will create slides. Tonnes of them. Know the basics, and try to ask someone if they would like to send you an example of a pitchbook in advance so you can familiarize yourself with the concepts.
Your chance of getting a full-time offer depends on the market
If you get an offer or not isn’t just going to depend on how good you are. You can be a superstar and still not get an offer if the year is 2008.
In bad times, fewer people will get hired, and in good times, almost everyone will be offered a job.
You also need to consider the competition from your fellow interns. Remember, this is basic supply and demand. There may be a set number of spots, so only a percentage of you will be given offers in the end.
I’m not saying this to get you to sabotage your fellow interns, quite the opposite.
Know that many of them will decide that they don’t want to do investment banking over the summer. If people start to leave early and complain, they’re not even interested in getting an offer, and your chances increase.
How to fuck up all your chances of getting a full-time offer at an investment bank
Is all that matters your work? No, clearly not. There are several things you can do to ruin your chances of ever getting an offer from a bank. Don’t worry though, it’s all common sense.
Don’t get wasted and do something stupid in front of the bosses.
I know of one person who got so drunk that he undressed and jumped into a pool in front of both clients and senior bankers. He never got an offer.
Another one carried two Champagne bottles around, shaking them and screamed that he was going to dominate. Let’s just say he didn’t get the chance to dominate anything after that.
Don’t make inappropriate comments about colleagues or others at work. Basically, don’t seem like a douchebag.
When you know that you have an offer
You’ll all have a conversation with an MD or similar at the end of your internship. They’ll present the feedback you’ve gotten over the summer, and this will end in an offer or not.
A sneaky way of asking is to say “so if you would have received an offer today, what would you have said?”. It’s a test. The only correct answer is “yes, I would happily accept”.
What to do if you don’t get an offer
Unfortunately, some people who are motivated for a career in banking didn’t get an offer simply because they didn’t have a great fit with the team. They’ll need to go interview elsewhere.
Everyone will ask why you didn’t get a full-time offer from your internship. The smartest thing you can do is to not lie.
People will find out if you did, so don’t lie and said you got an offer and turned it down. Not getting an offer won’t ruin your chances, but lying about it will.
I look forward to seeing all the summer interns march in. Most of you will do a great job and hopefully figure out if finance is something you’d like to do full-time.