Over my three years at LSE, I have done so many internships and work experiences that I now deleted many of them from my LinkedIn profile because it has become too long. The workplace became a severe obsession. Some of my friends called me the “Internship Queen”, an irresistible distraction from studies and a reliable source of income that made me financially independent from my parents in the past few years. As I have tried so many different things, from teaching to NGOs, from technology to charity to banking, I am grateful to land the job that I love, the team that I like and the firm I am so proud to work for.
Along the way, I have also mentored many others. Just about this time of the year, my inbox started to be filled with an enquiry for “general advice” for Spring Internship and Summer Internship from the young, eager students who were like me a few years ago. After replying and repeating this advice, again and again, I decided to write a more detailed version of it in a more organised manner so one can refer back to it if it’s helpful to them.
I will be brutally honest, and there is no attempt of sugar coating. These are genuine hands-on advice of someone who was, on many occasions, an intern and will be particularly applicable for those looking into a career in IBD:
Rule 1: An internship does not make or break you. It will make your life easier because there is a high chance of a return offer, and you won’t need to reapply again, but if you fail to get your desired one, it doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means the bank that didn’t get you have lost a great potential talent. I only applied to five banks and got to IBD ACs for all five. The first three rejected me. It was painful because it took a lot of effort and interview rounds to get to ACs. But I quickly got back on my feet, learnt from these three failures, and got my first offer. I then use this offer to leverage to where I am. Now I think of it, thank God the first three rejected me! Because if I were to get their exploding offers, there is no way I will get to where I am because that year, they did not open ACs before Christmas. So it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. If you don’t get this one, that means they are not the right one for you. Failure at this early stage seems to be painful and so significant right now, due to what they call the “present bias preference”, but when you look back, it will be one of those “Ah ha” moments when you see how all those failures are destined for you to come to the eventual success.
Rule 2: The single competitive edge of one intern over another is how much they “know”. Not about how technically competent they are, how hard they work and how much they are liked. There are three things you need to “know”:
– Who matters
– What matters
– When matters
If you want that return offer, deliver what matters in *high quality* to who matters and within the time that matters. That’s all you need, try to find *every possible means* to get to know these three elements, whether from your trusted mentor who knows the team well, or by observations, or in some cases, by overhearing.
Rule 3: If you want a promotion, be that person you want to be promoted to long before the promotion is due. If you want to be a full-time analyst, you need to display all the qualities of one during your summer internship. If you want to be an associate, you need to take responsibility, assume leadership, take the initiative and perform all the tasks of an associate during your analyst year long before you get promoted. This rule works in every single desk, every single division in every single firm, with no exception. Perception creates reality. You need to sow the perception that “Oh, this guy will actually make an excellent associate” into your boss and your team’s minds long before the opportunity arises. Once a chance for promotion comes by, you’ll be the first one to be considered.
Rule 4: Treat your immediate bosses like the one and only God. If they ask you to do something, by all means:
DROP EVERYTHING AND WORK ON IT.
I’ll tell you about time management in a second. This is so important that I need to repeat it again:
When your immediate boss asks you to do something, drop everything *IMMEDIATELY* and work on it.
Let’s talk about how you can manage your time if you have *multiple* immediate bosses. The one who wins in banking are not those who work hard. It’s those who work smart. Imagine a situation when it’s 3 PM, you are working on desk research given to you by analyst X due this afternoon at 5 PM. Associate Y comes along with the task of creating a PowerPoint presentation that is due at 10 PM. According to the above rule, you should:
Drop everything and work on Associate Y tasks.
Does it mean you need to abandon the Analyst X task? Of course not. What will happen is:
– 2 minutes later, you responded to Associate Y. “Thank you for the assignment. I am working on it straight away and will revert within the next 15 minutes.” You think it will only take you 5 minutes to pull out something for associate Y, but surely you want to under promise-over deliver, so you set it at 15 minutes.
– 5 minutes it takes for you to pull out the title, three bullet points for each slide and a good layout for the PowerPoint.
– Another 5 minutes it takes you to check everything to make sure there is no silly obvious mistake.
So in total, 10 minutes later, you send Associate Y a preliminary draft and say:
“Attached is the outline of the presentation based on what I understood of the tasks. Please let me know if there is any correction or change of direction. Otherwise, I will work on this template and get back with a more detailed version in the next couple of hours after dinner time.”
What you just did was:
1. You bought yourself some time. Associate Y will take some time looking at that layout and make changes, say at 4 PM he got back to you with a more detailed version. Now the longer you take, the more hard-working you’ll appear to associate Y. You make him believe that even if you turn in the work at 9 PM, this guy has been working on that PowerPoint for the past 6 hours. In reality, you only work on it for 10 minutes before 4 PM and however long it takes in the real term after the 5 PM deadline.
2. You made someone feel good. Associate Y felt like he was your top priority. He did not need to follow up to remind you of the task. You brought him peace and pride. Who will he turn to next time when he has some big important thing? It’s an easy answer.
3. You simultaneously satisfy Analyst X as you turned the work to her on time.
Rule 5: Overcommunicate, over observe, under-promise, pack your ego and throw it out of the window.
1. Over-communicate: You always want to keep everyone in the deal posted of what you are up to, how long it will take for you to finish, any concerns or clarification. You should get the task right the first time and understand fully what is asked of you, rather than spending 10 hours on it and finding out that’s what you’re not supposed to work on. Not asking questions when you should is just sheer stupidity. Asking a stupid question today is better than being foolish tomorrow.
A benefit of over-communicating is that people can have peace working with you and that they know you’re on top of things. So if you disappear for one hour going to the gym, no one will freak out, not knowing your progress or where you are.
2. Over observe: Many things about team culture can be learned just by observing. How early do people start arriving in the morning, and in what order? Does your MD usually drink black coffee or one with milk? What is in the post-it notes on the desk of your analysts? Why doesn’t your associate wearing any make-up today? By observing more, you can sometimes surprise and give people the comfort that you understand and care about them.
3. Under promise: this one is self-explanatory and has been discussed in great detail elsewhere. The idea is that you set the expectation lower than what you are capable of, so when you exceed it and exceed it often, it makes your performance more outstanding.
4. Pack your ego and throw it out of the window: Do not take it personally when someone criticises your work. This is another crucial lesson that interns just don’t get:
WHEN SOMEONE CRITICISES YOU, DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
That’s just how banking works. It’s a world of perfectionism, so 9 out of 10 times, your work will be corrected, criticise and/ or throw into the bin. Do not take it personally and throw your ego out of the window. What you should remind yourself is that you are serving in the best interest of the firm. The more criticism you receive, the better your work will be at helping the client and the firm. There is no place for ego in teamwork. Once you take it personally, people will avoid you and avoid working with you, just like avoiding a contagious disease. Taking things personally is the number 1 No, No on the street.
That’s it for today, folks. If you want more “smart” tips, please comment and share this article with others. For those who finish their Spring Internship tomorrow, good luck to you and may the odds ever be in your favour.
I have collected over 100 of my friends’ cover letters and published them at Cover Letter Library to help you. This member-only library includes successful cover letters from people who secured jobs at all major investment banks, big 4 firms and others. Check it out 🙂
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Again, thanks Mai for constructive tips
I was really inspired in your profile and especially the experiences that you shared.
You wrote about 3 things that matter, could you please give an easy explanation for that ?