Another summer is underway, and banking interns have descended upon financial institutions like an infestation of locusts. Soon they will be appearing everywhere: previously empty cubicles...the cafeteria at lunch…even the after-work watering hole will be crawling with them.
Seasoned bankers are hunkering down, hoping that after ten weeks of long hours and intense training, the interns will be able to complete more work than they create. But it will be long ten weeks of nearly constant irritation. As an intern, it’s up to you to prove them wrong.
Wait, I’m a What?
Yes, you’re a pest. While your internship may be a novel experience for you, to everyone else it is just part of the annual banking lifecycle. Interns appear. Interns disappear. Some interns return. Others don’t. But most irritatingly, the same mistakes are repeated year after year after year.
No one can blame you for the errors of interns past, but when the years blend together, it’s hard for senior bankers to remain objective.
“Ugh, we’ve gone over this a hundred times!” they exclaim. “But I just started yesterday,” you think.
Good senior bankers recognize that internships are an essential training ground. They want you to succeed, and they know that this requires time and patience. But at 6pm on a summer Friday evening, they would also much rather be on the train home rather than explaining what a Beta value represents.
I’ve seen it from both sides, first as a snot-nosed analyst on Wall Street who drove his manager crazy, and then years later as the summer intern program manager where I was on the receiving end of the misery. A few lowlights are emblazoned in my memory. Learn from others’ (and my) mistakes. You will not be a pest!
You know nothing, but that's OK
Admitting when you don’t understand something is never fun. But as an intern, it’s assumed that you don’t know anything. So the worst thing you can do is pretend that you know everything, hoping to impress, and then get caught when it becomes clear that you don’t.
I had given the intern a simple enough exercise: build a basic three statement model and a DCF. I wanted it to be as simple as possible. The intern assured me that he was more than up to the task. “We did this a lot in school!”
It was an afternoon project, but I was giving him two days while I traveled to get me a draft. “If you have any questions, call or email.”
Two days later I returned to the office, arriving early. The office was empty, aside from the intern who was asleep at his desk and wearing Monday’s suit. On his screen was the model that he had been building since I left. Or rather, he had Excel open. In one cell was written “Capex”.
We had a problem.
Since he was an intern, I hadn’t expected him to know how to build this model in his second week on the job, but he told me that he knew how. Big mistake. What made the situation worse was, when he realized he had no idea what he was doing, he didn’t ask me for help. He didn’t ask the other interns for help. He just froze.
I went to my office to quickly build the model, the completion of which was now time sensitive. It was a rough beginning to what would be a less than successful summer.
Confidence is great, but you need to be able to back it up. If you don’t understand something, you have to ask questions. Always under promise and over deliver. You’ll stand out if always exceeds expectations. And it’s up to you to properly set those expectations.
Show competence, not clinginess
The hardest part of starting any new job is learning how to work with a new team, carving a niche and proving your value without being obnoxious.
When I started in banking, I was far too eager to please. Not only would I say “yes” to any assignment, I would constantly ask for more. I was obnoxiously detail-oriented. Skills became weaknesses. I needed to simmer down.
While I was easily one of the most productive members of the team, I came dangerously close to not getting an offer. My manager couldn’t stand me. Looking back, I don’t blame her.
I can see myself now, pacing by her office door, hoping to catch her eye so I could ask another unnecessary question or provide another needless progress update. By the third week, she would sit with her back to the door. By the fourth week, she kept her blinds closed. By my interim performance review, she had lost her patience, and she made it known.
My evaluation was devastating. The high marks for analytics were completely buried by a lack of interpersonal savvy. I had lost sight of how nothing else mattered if no one wanted to work with me.
I had five weeks to take corrective action. I limited my questions to once a day, sparing my manager the constant interruptions. I still met every deadline, but I stopped providing a constant stream of incremental status updates. By the end of the summer, not only were the office blinds raised, but my manager seemed to enjoy my company. When she took me out to lunch on my last day, she laid it bare. “I honestly thought I was going to kill you – I mean really kill you. It would have been strangulation. But I’m glad I didn’t!”
Never assume you've won
The internship isn’t over until it’s over. As often as people assert that first impressions are lasting impressions, the reality is that some first-week rock stars go down in flames (and some late bloomers rise to the challenge).
On the very last day of our intern program offers are formally extended. But everyone knows how things stand before the fateful day. Those who will not make the cut have seen the writing on the wall. There should be no surprises.
One summer, in a particularly strong market, we were able to offer every intern a full-time position. Everyone knew it, but we still maintained the final-day formalities.
One by one, the interns arrived to the office in previously scheduled 15 minute increments. Some appeared noticeably tired, the effects of the previous night’s celebration still fading. But eager to be handed the official offer letter, they had cleaned up, thrown on their business suits for one last sweltering morning commute, and arrived well in advance of their scheduled times.
All of the interns, that is, except for one. When 12:15pm rolled around, there was no one standing at eager attention outside of the program coordinator’s office. By 12:20pm, the once faint whispers among the assembled interns had grown frantic.
“Where is he? Has anyone tried calling his cell?”
We had. Many people had. But one too many celebratory drinks the night before led to a missed alarm, a missed meeting and, later that afternoon, a missed flight.
When the intern arrived at the office later that afternoon, he was noticeably nervous. He also smelled faintly of tequila masked by a not-so-faint cologne. We were glad to confirm that he was okay, but this was not the intern with whom we had worked all summer.
Then we gave him the bad news. He would not be receiving an offer with the rest of the interns. He had been so confident of his offer that he made a material error in professional judgment, incorrectly assuming that nothing could affect his prospects. That attitude was enough to give us pause. Did we want someone like that on the team? After all, the market was hot.
A few of many real-life examples. No matter what happens this summer, pay attention and work hard. And if you find yourself repeating any of these mistakes, or inventing new ones, learn from them.
Mark Franczyk is a former investment banker of ten-years. After becoming a vice president, he finally decided to leave finance, attended culinary school and became a pastry chef in New York City and food blogger (https://www.outsideofthebreadbox.com/).