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The sad fate of the banking interns who didn't get an offer

Banking interns spend almost a full summer grinding out 80-hour weeks with one clear goal in mind: leverage the internship into a full-time offer. Unfortunately, an offer is far from a sure thing, even for those who put in the maximum effort. Banks will never disclose their offer rates for interns, but they typically fall between 50% and 75%, depending on the firm, the division and the year.

Summer analysts who don’t receive a golden ticket are faced with needing to get an offer at a competing firm that doesn’t know much about them other than the fact that they likely didn’t make the cut at a rival that had 10 weeks to make an assessment. While small boutiques sometimes need to turn away interns who they may have hired in previous years due to a limited number of seats, large banks rarely withhold offers from top recruits based on a lack of space, recruiters tell us. They’ll over-hire for a year if they need to.

The good news for those who interned at tier-one banks is that they’re likely to receive an offer from another firm as long as there are no major red flags. The bad news is that the offer is more likely to come from a lesser-regarded firm, according to recruiters. “Goldman Sachs isn’t going to pick up the scraps left by J.P. Morgan or Morgan Stanley,” said one New York recruiter who asked to remain anonymous. Second- and third-tier banks will, but only after a vetting process, he said.

Of course, starting a career at a less prestigious firm is far from a career death sentence, just like getting a job at a top-ranked firm is no guarantee of future success. Still, an emotional toll can be taken on those who earned a shiny internship yet failed to convert it into an offer. “For a while, I felt like I was carrying around a Scarlet Letter,” said one former Goldman Sachs intern who now works in consulting after failing to receive an offer. “When people found out I interned at Goldman, a few asked why I didn’t want to work there,” he said. Most didn’t inquire, however. They already knew the reason.

“Sometimes I wish I never even interned at Goldman” he added, despite enjoying the experience. “I feel like some look at it as a blemish on my resume, like it implies some sense of failure.”

A former J.P. Morgan intern who likewise didn’t receive an offer said he was disappointed and frustrated that he had to re-start the job search but stopped thinking about it after getting an offer at a different investment bank. “Once [the job] starts, why look back?” he said. The main pain points outside of needing to interview again were social and short-term. But seeing fellow interns who became his friends receive offers was difficult, as was starting at a new firm with analysts who had already developed relationships during the past summer.

An uphill battle

Hiring managers at other firms will almost always ask candidates about their last internship within the first few minutes of an interview, according to the headhunter. Of course, it’s a two-way street. Some interns won’t like the experience, the division or the hiring manager, and will turn down an offer and voluntarily seek work elsewhere. But this is rare at tier-one banks. Firms like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan consistently tout an acceptance rate of around 90%.

If you didn’t receive an offer, don’t outright lie and say you did, advises the headhunter. “It’s a small world – someone at Bank A will know someone at Bank B.” Instead, steer the conversation toward what you learned during the internship and how it’s applicable to the role for which you’re interviewing and move on, he said. And never badmouth the other firm or manager.

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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor

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