What no one told you about internships in investment banks

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If you're reading this, you might be doing an internship with an investment bank this summer. - Or maybe you're thinking of doing one next year.  That's nice, but I bet you have no idea what internships are really about. Most people join a bank for the summer thinking it will be all about working hard, running Excel, making decks..

They're wrong. None of that really matters. Summer internships in investment banks are not about getting work done. They are mostly about three things, and three things only:

1. Getting a full time job offer.

2. Know more about finance then when you went in.

3. Coming out more valuable then when you went in.

Internships in banks usually last 10 or 12 weeks. As part of the recruitment process, their main purpose is to get you a full-time offer. If you don't get one, it's not the end of the world (I didn't get an offer after either of my internships). If you want to get a full-time offer, you're going to need to take a few things into account. -

A. Does the team have headcount for the next year? In other words, can they hire you if they want to? Not all teams have this luxury.

B. Do you have the skillsets and personality fit for the team you're interning with?

C. If so, who’s your sponsor and are they senior enough?

D. If not, can you find another team quickly where there's headcount, where the fit exists and where someone will support you in the process of becoming a full-time employees?

Once you've achieved this, you need to work on making sure you come out knowing more about finance than when you go in. You might think this will be a given, but only the top banks have a structured summer internship program. If you're not interning with the top tier  you may be assigned to a team that doesn't know how to use you. In this case, the VP or associate you're helping won't necessarily have time to focus on your education. You therefore need to take matters into your own hands.

A. Try to meet five new people a week from new areas of the bank that you don’t know about.

B. Schedule 30-45 minute meetings with them, where you ask questions and request things you should read and other people you should meet.

C. Follow up with everyone you meet after a few weeks of the internships and also once you leave.

Your final aim is to come out of the internship as a more valuable employee then when you went in. This is going to be a function of what you learnt and who you met. Your entire early career trajectory is about those two things: What are you learning ? Who are you building a relationship with?

In all decisions you make in your internship, optimize for the three key aims. A job in finance isn’t like University. You cant just do what you are told and get all the answers right and think you have aced it. You are playing a different game now.

The author is one of a group of senior bankers who blog at the site What I Learned on Wall Street (WilowWallStreet.com).

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