Discover your dream Career
For Recruiters

15 ways you’ll screw up your banking internship

Woman carrying coffee cups

Ask any bank how many of their summer analysts they 'convert' into full time hires and they'll almost always say, "as many as possible." Even so, anything from 30% to 50% of a summer analyst class usually leaves in August without an offer. If you're one of the abnormally fortunate young people interning in an investment bank this summer, how can you also ensure you're one of the special portion who gets to come back after graduation? It will help if you do none of the things below:

1. Say 'I'm also thinking about consulting as a career'

Banks are looking for people who are committed. They aren't interested in people who are "exploring." As long as you're at work, banking is the career for you. Equally, don't let it be known that you see banking as a stop-gap to your career in hedge funds or private equity.

2. Over-promise, under-deliver

If you don't know that banks work you hard, you know nothing about banking and probably shouldn't be working for one this summer. You need to manage your workload so that you can last the full 10-12 weeks, especially if you're handed a range of projects. "Don’t insist that you can deliver something in a few hours when it will take a day," say ex-M&A bankers Thomas Viguier and Guillaume Tardy-Joubert of Coaching Assembly. If you're being handed a lot of work (this may not happen), Mae Busch, a former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe suggests you ask for advice o prioritizing your workload. She advises all young bankers to say, “I’d love to take that on too, but I’ve got three other projects. How would you like me to prioritize this because it won’t be possible to do them all.”

3. Fail to connect with your other interns

Although you're effectively in competition with everyone else in your intern class, you can't behave as if you're aware of this. Banks want 'team players' and that means getting along with your peers. In a recent Google hangout run by Goldman Sachs, ex-interns at the firm said bonding with other summer analysts brings big advantages: "If someone’s already worked on a desk you’re moving to, ask for their advice. Ask what you should read, who you should talk to."

4. Make a lot of small mistakes

As an ex-Deutsche Bank intern helpfully pointed out recently, being an intern in an investment bank is a lot about doing really boring work that requires huge attention to detail and offers ample opportunity to make mistakes. You must not make these mistakes. "This, essentially, is the test," the intern said.

5. Wear some ostentatious jewellery or clothing

You might think that because you're interning in a bank and banks are filled with people with money then it will be acceptable to signal your own relative wealth using costly garments and trinkets. Don't. Don't wear a Hermes tie. Don't wear Gucci Loafers. Don't wear fancy cuff links. "Leave your Breitling at home," says one trader. "The watch your mamma gave you for getting to uni is NOT a good show. Unless your people are hedge fund managers and you will bring their biz on the floor, no one likes a spoiled brat as a junior."

6. Take the holiday to which you are officially entitled

You'll get a little holiday allowance during your internship. You might feel a little like making the most of it. This would be tantamount to coming into the office smeared in manure. “Interns are young, fit, bright and enthusiastic people,” says the head of graduate recruitment at one bank. “The internship is their chance to prove themselves, not to book themselves a weekend break."

7. Go home early, come in late

It's the summer. You might feel like staying out, lying in, chillaxing, languishing etc. but you're on an internship. In a bank. In 2013, Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt died in the shower after allegedly working 72 hours straight. You absolutely do not want to work these kind of hours. Erhardt already had a reputation for incredibly hard work. He was also said to be in line for a job offer.

8. Do nothing, conspicuously

Yes, some interns will be stupidly overworked but others will have the problem of not enough work and not being sure what to do. If you don't have any work, quietly ask for some. Try to find ways in which you can contribute (tidying up databases, putting together contact lists, writing a report on something relevant etc.)  “Most interns are incapable of doing anything except answering the phone,” one equity salesman told us. “You usually just throw them a pile of work and make sure they’re out of the way. The work has to be unimportant, but they have to be made to feel that it’s very important and you have to turn the screws on them to get it done.”

9. Fail to ask questions

You have to ask questions to make the most of your internship, but they have to be the right kinds of questions. They should be simple, concise questions about the task in hand rather than anything fancy that's designed to show off your knowledge. You also need to make sure that you're not asking questions at an inopportune moment. “Situational awareness is key,” said an ex-intern at Goldman Sachs.

10. Fail to note the answers

When you ask questions, you MUST WRITE DOWN THE ANSWERS. DO NOT ASK THE SAME QUESTION OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Equally, note down all other interesting pieces of information and technical words that are imparted. A notepad should become an extra appendage throughout the internship.

11. Fail to connect with anyone

It's not just your fellow interns you need to get alone with. It's everyone. It's the full time analysts and associates. It's the senior bankers. It's the HR people. Everyone must like you. They need to think you're a human being - not an uber-overachiever who's fanatical about getting a full time job.

“I was talking about work too much,” says ex-Goldman intern Serrena. “I was sitting on the desk, trying to talk about markets and different asset classes, but the people I was with wanted someone they could sit down with for eight to ten hours a day. They wanted to be able to form a personal connection.” An intern who didn't get an offer told us the personal connection was where he went wrong: “90% of the interns are capable, so ultimately it’s all about finding a team you can click with. Unless you’re a complete genius, the team aren’t going to take you unless you fit in. ”

12. Fail to connect with your buddy

It's not just your fellow interns. It's not just the analysts and associates, the senior bankers and the HR people. It's also your buddy. "We will assign mentors, buddies or sponsors – an extra go-to person outside of the hiring manager. Take full advantage of those resources. Ask questions, get advice and get feedback," says a senior recruiter at J.P. Morgan. 

13. Assume banks are only interested in profit

You've read the stories, you know the rumours.  Banks are only interested in one thing: money. Actually, no. They're also interested in abiding by the rules and regulations that will stop them perpetually suffering enormous regulatory fines. And theyy're interested in avoiding losses. “While obviously important, banks should not solely be interested in whether you end up losing or making money,” says Hesketh. “Interns, grads and junior traders lack the same level of information as their professional superiors. ”

Instead, it’s all about how you respond to loss. 'What banks don’t want to see is arrogance,” says David Hesketh, a former trader at Bank of America Merrill Lynch who now runs a company providing trader training software. “They don’t want to see that you think you know best and that the market is wrong. They don’t want to see you holding onto losing trades longer than winning trades and most of all, they don’t want to see you doubling down.”

14. Demand some more interesting work

The work you do as an intern will be boring. Embrace it. Spend all your working hours doing it. Don't make mistakes and don't complain. "The work has by and large been more dull and monotonous than I expected," complained one of our intern diarists in IBD.  "I’ve learned that an analyst’s job is basically manipulating data and collating information to put into pitches whilst also occasionally assisting superiors in the management of a deal. Banking isn’t particularly glamorous and isn’t particularly for geniuses. It’s not about having super stamina or enjoying late night work. It’s about being reliable, accurate, driven and astute."

15. Get stuck in a team that's not hiring

This is a particular problem for sales and trading roles. “The vibe that’s given out by these firms is that you’ll get a job offer just as long as you turn up and you don’t mess up. But that’s not really true – it all depends upon finding a team which is actually hiring. On rotational internships, you have no choice about where you’re placed. It’s just pot luck whether you end up in a team where there are actually jobs on offer,” warns one unsuccessful banking intern.  

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

Sign up to our Newsletter

The essential daily roundup of news and analysis read by everyone from senior bankers and traders to new recruits.

Boost your career

Find thousands of job opportunities by signing up to eFinancialCareers today.
Latest Jobs

Sign up to our Newsletter

The essential daily roundup of news and analysis read by everyone from senior bankers and traders to new recruits.