Memo to Summer Associates: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

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If you're a summer associate, it's tantalizingly easy to get diverted from what should be your first and only goal: convincing your summer employer to offer you a permanent job.

"There is no downside" to getting a job offer, writes Wall Street Journal columnist Evan Newmark in DealJournal. "It shows other employers you are a hot property. Try explaining to a new employer why you didn't get it."

Yet, students and early-career professionals are bombarded with contrary information masquerading as career advice. Well-meaning counselors, friends and even HR staffers in the firms they work for assert that a summer intern or summer associate assignment is a vehicle for getting a taste of the real world, trying out a business area (like investment banking) to see if you like it, or simply spending a few months in New York City and getting paid for it.

Newmark cites still another false path that he himself got waylaid on while working the summer of 1990 at McKinsey after his first year at Harvard Business School. Building a good relationship with the consulting client, a "faltering Rhode Island luggage company," lulled him into thinking he was succeeding in his assignment.

Instead, he writes, "It was actually my boss at McKinsey who had issues with me. And deservedly so. I was an arrogant know-it-all who thought the summer job was about getting a taste of consulting and proving myself to the client. Wrong.

"The summer job was about fitting into McKinsey, learning its culture and ways of doing business. My boss was my real client. And why would she give me an offer when I so frequently reminded her of my genius and her shortcomings?"

To recover his boss' respect and get that all-important job offer, Newmark had to not only apologize, but "grovel." "I promised that I had learned my lesson and would be a faithful servant of McKinsey come next year. And that is how I got my job offer."

Members of Generation Y who find themselves in the same situation as Newmark might find it especially tough to follow his example. Yet, that is exactly the advice he has given to "dozens" of summer associates he has since met at Goldman Sachs and UBS. While endorsing what he calls "the usual clichés" - "Always work hard, be humble, be helpful and be happy. If asked, always go drinking, dining and dancing." - Newmark concludes with this further lesson from his own experience: "If wrong, apologize and grovel. Above all, get the offer."

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