The Secrets to Dominating Your Investment Banking Internship
If you are about to embark on an Investment Banking internship, what I am about to share with you may mean the difference between receiving a full-time offer and going home empty-handed. The start of your internship is an exciting, exhilarating, and prideful time, and you should be proud because you worked hard to get to where you are. Celebrate and catch your breath but know that once you show up for work on day 1, the party is over, and it’s time to get down to business. Your journey to a full-time offer begins immediately, and it’s to your distinct advantage to realize that everything you do from that first day on out is being judged.
This article offers you specific tips on what to do and how to comport yourself during the duration of your Investment Banking internship. Following these tips is no guarantee of obtaining a full-time offer (there just isn’t a silver bullet); however, applying certain elements and taking the majority of these tips to heart can increase your odds of success. I’ve compiled this list from direct personal experience, my own and others’ trial and error, and polling my insider friends on what set them apart when they through their own internships at bulge bracket, boutique, and emerging market Investment Banks. These insights reflect what every aspiring analyst or associate wants to know from upperclassmen or 2nd year MBA students who’ve been through the gamut. Competition is fierce; arm yourself with as much information as you can find to help you.
Show up to work as early as possible. Find out from the HR director running your internship program what time the business day starts at your Investment Bank. There is variability among the coverage groups in IBD where people in LevFin show up at 8:30am while folks in Research or Sales & Trading might have arrive earlier at 7 am ( sometimes even 6 am) to go over the day ahead. Once you have this information, figure out the most efficient route from your place to get to the office on time.
Punctuality is expected of every intern, no matter how small or insignificant a role you think you may have on your specific team. The internship you have is an opportunity hundreds of others would kill to have, and Investment Bankers are quick to judge interns who sneak in to their desk at 9:45 in the morning when everyone else is in at 8 or 9. Moreover, once you show that you cannot be punctual, you get branded as the “late intern” and can be the butt of jokes. While the ribbing can be innocent and playful, word gets around and your personal and professional brand can take a hit. Avoid this scenario by proving that you are serious about your job and keen about the opportunity by making every effort to get in to work on time. You may be hungover, or you may only have four hours of sleep from pulling an all-nighter, but you still need to get into your seat the next day on time ready to do it all over again.
A really easy way to lose points with members of your team is to be so late and consistently tardy that they clearly notice you. Maybe you’ll get one or two free passes (everyone misses a train connection or had an alarm mysteriously turn itself off the night before) but more than that you are digging yourself an unnecessarily bad reputational hole.
Putting in facetime is simply a reality of working in the Investment Banking industry, and interns are not immune. No matter how efficient you may be in completing your own assignments – if others in your group and on your floor are still working, and working into the night, you cannot go home. You have to remain in your desk ready to help at a moment’s notice. Many firms claim to be attempting to make work-life balance more of a priority for interns (I believe Morgan Stanley was in the news about implementing new rules mandating all interns go home no later than 7 pm), but in practice the expectation remains that interns are to stay as late as the latest-staying analyst in a particular group.
It’s simply bad form, or perceived to be bad form among the full-time members of your banking team, if you are the first one to leave while others still have work to do. As the most junior available resource, the expectation is for you to stay and demonstrate your dedication to the job and your team by going above and beyond. Unless you are given explicit instructions from your staffer or group head that you are not to stay past a certain hour, you NEED TO STAY. If you find that you have absolutely nothing to do, you must ask around for ways you can help to let your teammates know that you have capacity.
Even as an intern you can add value, especially when the work is turning a deck, putting together company profiles, or mining data. If after walking the floor and asking around you find that no one has anything more for you to do that day, then and only then can you can feel free and safe to go home, your brand and reputation intact.
Read & Research; Track the News
As an Investment Banking intern, you will have periods of down-time, some longer than others as the needs of the deal or project you are on ebbs and flows. If this is a summer internship that you are on or about to start, June, July, and August can be pretty dead months at a lot of banks due to banker and client vacations. If you need to fill your time, read, read, and read. Devour as much material as you can specific to your firm, group, and function. Ask the analysts and associates around you to show you sample pitch presentations, valuation decks, and merger analyses to see that actual work product looks like. Check out your team’s creds (or credentials, the general marketing document every banking groups has to share with clients to showcase product capabilities and team member bios).
Fill your desk with as much relevant material as you can process so that you will always have something to read about and learn. As for tracking the news, as an Investment Banking intern you need to be doing this as a default. Keep an eye out for interesting stories, opinion pieces, and market analyses that may impact the coverage group you are in. Doing this will allow you to engage with other members of your team in an intelligent way should someone, especially a senior banker, ask you about something related to a company to which he may be about to pitch a merger, sale, or IPO. You don’t want to be caught flat footed with no opinion about what’s going on in the markets. If you are lucky to have Bloomberg installed on the PC the bank assigns to you (rare), staying on top of breaking news as much as you can is a best practice.
Ask for More Projects
Successful interns who earn full-time job offers at the end of their internships prove that they can function as a first-year Analyst or first-year Associate by taking on a solid set of projects that they can manage, execute, and complete on time. There is a fine line here that you have to manage to make sure that you can deliver what is expected from you and meet expectations. Failure because of over-commitment is the worst thing that can happen to you and for the most part avoidable.
The rule of thumb is to take on more and as many projects as you can, but not at the expense of the quality of the deliverable you will be expected to achieve. The trick is to get input from the first- and second-year analysts on your team to get their opinion on how many additional projects you’ll be able to take on without self-sabotaging. Asking for more work is a must-do and you cannot be shy when you have excess capacity. A typical 10-week internship goes by quickly so keep yourself busy and adequately challenged as much as you can.
Become an Excel Master
If there is one clear and tangible goal that you should have during your Investment Banking internship, it’s mastering Excel to the point where you can function effectively without the use of a pesky mouse. Increase your productivity by learning and applying all of the keyboard shortcuts you can. Most groups will have a cheat sheet handy – take one on Day 1 and post it on your wall. Unplug your mouse and lock it in your drawer. There are shortcuts for everything—EVERYTHING—and the earlier you makes yourself do this the better off you will be weeks, and months into your internship. This skill will remain valuable to you and enhance your standing with your group and firm if you can show technical proficiency early on.
Ask Everyone Out to Lunch
A critical component of your internship is demonstrating your ability to network effectively and build relationships. To this end, plan to ask as many people in your group, your firm, and your function to lunch. At a minimum, you should ask every Analyst, Associate, and VP who can impart knowledge and tips to you on how to manage your work to at least one meal, coffee, or cocktail. Don’t be afraid to approach anyone with a meal request – they will understand exactly what you are doing and should react favorably. They all had to do the same thing when they were in your position, so nothing more needs to be said or done other than extending a simple invitation as formally (via calendar request) or informally (stopping by their cube) as you need to.
The point is to be proactive in initiating relationships and showing that you care about getting to know the people on your team. Your likeability index is a huge predictor of whether or not you will receive a full-time offer; the firm knows you are smart enough to do the analyst/associate job you are gunning for, but will you be someone they like and trust?
Attend Every Social Event
Team happy hours, dinners, random hangouts, and planned outings for your intern class—go to all of them. Your HR lead will have a plethora of team- and morale-building activities planned during your internship and will usually involve a core event (say, going to a Mets game) followed by socializing over cocktails at a bar, pub, or club. The social aspect of your internship should not be discounted, and your limited time with the firm is really just an extended interview process where they pay you and get to test you out.
I completely understand that being enthusiastic about the social activities might be a big challenge, especially if you are sleep-deprived or need to finish a comp for the next day, but juggling work deliverables and a social calendar is a skill decision-makers at your firm value. Proving that you can be organized enough to function at a high level professionally and socially can be a significant differentiating factor when it comes to earning a full-time offer at your internship’s end.
Meet with Every Senior Banker
A senior Investment Banker’s opinion of you may not determine you getting an offer (usually the associates & VP’s have the most influence) but you should still make it a point to reach out individually to all of the MD’s, ED’s, and Directors who are willing to give you 30 minutes of their time. They all understand that they need to sell the firm to you to entice you to join and commit to a full-time role should you be offered one, and will generally be very receptive to meeting you in their offices or head out for a coffee or even a meal.
The opportunity to meet with senior bankers face-to-face is undoubtedly one of the brightest highlights of the internship experience, and you should take advantage to get to know them and gather as much intelligence about a possible career path with the firm. Being unafraid to network with senior bankers demonstrates fearlessness and initiative and can only enhance your confidence and solidify your goals. On the last day of your internship, you’ll likely go through an exit interview, and being able to do more than name-drop when it comes to conveying what relationships you’ve made with senior bankers can be a big boost to your candidacy for a full-time role.
Complete All of Your Work
Your internship experience will be a success if and when you complete all of your work. On time. It can’t get any simpler than that – finish your assignments and tie up every loose end before your time is up. The first question that will be asked when the bankers huddle up to determine who gets a full-time offer is “Did she do everything we asked?” Do not let the answer to this most fundamental of questions be no.
Practice Your Final Presentation
Most if not all Investment Banking Internships will require you to give a summary presentation to members of your team and group during your last week of work outlining the results of a continuous project you were given your first week. Normally the topic is valuation-centric or strategy/advisory-related, with the project designed to mimic what you would be doing as a full-time analyst or associate. It’s essentially a case study 9 times out of 10. The key to delivering a great presentation is your advanced preparation. Practice in front of a few people you trust, perhaps another intern and one of the full-time analysts who can give you honest feedback on what to do to improve your delivery. Scripting out exactly what you are going to say is a great way to calm your nerves before you have to speak, and can keep you focused when you start to feel the pressure from speaking in front of a live audience.
The difference between which interns who prepared and those who didn’t is stark and immediately evident to the bankers in attendance tasked with judging your performance. Think of the presentation as your final interview question and test—kill it, and you essentially guarantee yourself an offer; blow it, and you might be going back to school with no offer and no signing bonus—opportunity squandered.
Ask for the Full-Time Offer
If you are able to apply of these insights and best practices during the internship you are about to start, you can expect to have a very favorable end-of-internship review before you leave on your last day. During this exit interview, it’s fair game and perfectly acceptable to lay out the reasons and ways you excelled during your time from completing all of your work, giving a well-received presentation, and establishing relationships with the bankers around you to demonstrate that you have earned a full-time offer.
Being direct about your interest and expectation of a full-time offer may seem abrupt to an international candidate from outside the U.S., but aggressiveness is generally not seen as a negative in this context by decision-makers at an Investment Bank. Hence, asking for the full-time offer, if you have a strong case to do so, is another tactic you can apply to encourage, rather than force, the issue of securing your ultimate goal. You know what you want (an offer) and when you want it (at your internship’s end) and you, from reading this article to its end, now have the how.